As I write this, I’m sitting in the shade a few meters from the ocean on a small island near Bali in Indonesia. I’m eating a banana pancake with chocolate syrup, and am wearing nothing but my bathing suit.
Earlier today, I went snorkeling and swam with sea turtles for the first time, along with countless brightly colored fish and beautiful coral. Off to my left, the sun is just starting to set over the ocean.
What I’m doing, thanks to Time Doctor, is trying out life as a “digital nomad”. I’ve been in Indonesia for about 5 weeks, and have about 3 left before heading to the Philippines for the first time to meet some of the people I’ve been working with for years, but so far have only met virtually.
At Time Doctor, this is one of our goals: to enable anyone to work from anywhere.
That might mean a Canadian like myself living & working in Indonesia, or it might mean someone working from home in their own city, as many Time Doctor users do.
How does Time Doctor enable people to work from wherever they want? By creating trust.
Although there may already be trust between employers and employees, and among coworkers, some doubt can always creep in when people are working remotely. I’m happy to use Time Doctor – screenshots at all – to give peace of mind to the people I work with. What would I want to hide? (In addition to the trust maintenance, I find Time Doctor’s time management and other features to be useful also)
I chose Bali as a first digital-nomading destination on the advice of our CEO, one of Time Doctor’s customers, and a couple of well-traveled friends. I’d told them all that I was looking for nice weather, ocean, surfing, easy socializing, stable internet, and opportunities for personal growth. Bali delivered on all points.
Traveling & working VS just traveling
Although there are obvious benefits to traveling without work (more free time, and a break for the brain from a full-time focus on work), I’ve found that there are also benefits to working while traveling:
1 – Meeting like minded people. There are a lot of digital nomads trotting the globe, and they’re not hard to find. There are groups online where you can connect with them, as well as co-working spaces (more on co-working spaces below).
2 – Avoiding travel fatigue. I meet a lot of travelers who are trying to cram in as many activities as possible into their short trips.
Interlude: Let me show you what I’m seeing right now. I’ll just step out onto the beach and…
…I’m back. Here you go:
Back to the story: As I was saying, I see a lot of travelers desperately trying to fit in as many activities as possible before their trips end. I’d find their schedules exhausting. I’m happy to have a work routine for part of my day to keep me grounded, and then fit other activities into my spare time.
I’m also glad that since I’m working, I’m able to travel for a longer time, and more slowly. I like to think that I’m at least partially following Tim Ferriss’s travel advice – to “experience [the world] at a speed that lets it change you”.
One of the best parts of traveling is meeting new people, and co-working spaces are a great way for digital nomads to do that.
A co-working space, in case you don’t know, is where you can rent desk space on an hourly or monthly basis. They often have faster & more stable internet than other places, have optional quiet rooms where you can work in silence, and hold interesting events.
I spent a couple weeks in a town called “Ubud”, and while there I often set up my laptop and worked at a co-working space called Hubud. Hubud has events happening almost daily, and I attended a few of their talks, lunches, and networking events.
I met all kinds of people at Hubud, from writers to startup founders to software developers, and from people on short vacations to true digital nomads like a woman from Greece who has been on the road for 5 years, financing her life primarily by freelancing through Upwork (formerly oDesk).
Another co-working space in Ubud that I visited and attended an inspiring talk at is The Onion Collective.
I also stopped by a newly re-opened co-working space called Salty Volt, which is much closer to the ocean than the others (just 100 meters away), and in the middle of surf country.
I also recently heard about Liv.it, a live-in startup incubator in Bali. I haven’t met the folks from Liv.it yet, but I hope to, especially since they’re Time Doctor users.
You can also check out companies like Coworkation. They are making the combination between work and travel not only possible, but inspiring and extremely rewarding both for yourself and your work.
The Economics of Digital Nomading
Let me start by saying that although I’m seeing that living long-term in a remote location can cost much less than living in modern Western countries, I myself am not saving any money on this 9 week trip. Not only do I still have my most significant expenses back home to deal with (rent & car payments), my constant moving-while-traveling has kept my expenses relatively high.
However, I’ve seen and experienced how to keep costs down while traveling and can offer some advice:
Eliminate expenses back home
To really live a cheaper life on the road, you’ll need to commit to it long-term so that you can significantly reduce your expenses back home. Depending on your situation, this may mean selling your house and car, cancelling your phone & internet plans, etc.
If you choose to rent out or sublet your residence back home, that’s also done more easily if your place is available long-term.
Stay in one place for a long time
Renting a place by the month can be much cheaper than renting a room at a “hotel” or “homestay”. I’m currently paying around $12 USD /day for a room with two beds, air conditioning, and the ocean a 46-second walk away (I just timed it). $12 is a small fraction of what I’d pay for a similar room in Canada, but in most of the parts of Indonesia that I’ve been, I’ve had to pay about double this price for a reasonable room in a convenient location.
Costs can be reduced even further by paying a monthly rate, and getting a place with more than just a bedroom & bathroom. If you have a kitchen & refrigerator you can also eat in and save on food costs: Other travelers have told me that the rates for houses closer to the center of this island (a 10-15 minute walk from the ocean) range from $150 to $300 USD per month.
On this trip I’ve eaten out for every meal. At the places I’ve lived I simply haven’t had the facilities to do any food preparation on my own. Restaurant prices here are ½ to ⅓ the cost of restaurant food back home. They can be even cheaper if you eat at non-tourist restaurants. Once I had a filling lunch for about $0.75 USD, but didn’t eat there again because I was concerned about the cleanliness & food quality.
Either way, food is cheap, but in Canada I don’t eat out nearly as much. I estimate that my monthly food costs here in Indonesia are roughly equivalent to my mostly-eating-in food costs in Canada.
Get a reusable water bottle
In a lot of places (like here in Indonesia), tap water isn’t potable. Almost all the tourists that I see solve this problem by buying individual water bottles whenever they want a drink. This is not only bad for the planet, it’s also a waste of money. By buying water in 19L (5 gallon) jugs and using them to refill my re-usable metal water bottle, I pay less than one fifth the price per liter than I would otherwise. If I’m not staying in one place long enough to use up a 19L jug, I get restaurants to fill my bottle for me. They charge for that, but not as much as for bottled water.
Travel outside of the high tourist season
As demand rises, so do prices. We’re approaching high tourist season here in Indonesia/Bali, and I’m bracing myself for the increase in accommodation prices as I continue to move around.
Get a local SIM card for your phone.
It’s probably far cheaper than the travel plans offered by your carrier from home. It was for me. And I’ve found the 3G from my SIM card is often faster & more stable than the free wifi at the hotels & restaurants. Right now I have my computer connected to the web via my phone’s 3G.
Negotiate / haggle
This depends on where you’re traveling. Here in Indonesia, most prices are negotiable.
It can give you a rough idea what living costs are in different cities around the world. However, be aware that even within one city, costs can vary significantly. I’ve found some of NomadList’s data for the Indonesian cities that I’ve visited to be not entirely accurate.
Here’s a comparison of some typical costs between Ottawa (Canada) and Bali:
|Monthly Rent||$500 – $5,000||$150 – $2,000|
|Hotel Room / night (excluding hostels & dorms)||$75 – $200||$15 – $60|
|Meal out excluding drinks||$8 – $50||$2 – $25|
|Fill up on gas||$50 (car)||$1.60 (scooter)|
|Lease vehicle per month||$200 – $700 (car)||$75 (scooter)|
|Monthly gym membership||$40 – $60||$9 – $40|
|1 Hour Massage||$50 – $100||$5 – $20|
Arranging Flights & Accommodation
For flights, use Skyscanner.com to compare which sites have the best deals, but also investigate smaller local airlines which may not be listed on Skyscanner. If you have concerns about airline safety, check this list. We’ll be publishing a more in-depth article soon about arranging cheap flights.
For accommodation, use Booking.com or Agoda.com, or if it’s not high tourist season then you may want to wait to look for a place to stay until you arrive at your destination. You can often find deals that aren’t listed anywhere online by talking to people and walking around.
What might you lose?
Although I painted an idyllic picture at the start of this article (and my experience has been idyllic at times), this trip hasn’t been all roses & butterflies. There have been ups & downs. Based on my experience, a few of the things you might lose are:
- Real-life contact with friends & family back home. You’ll definitely lose that. Skype & emails just aren’t the same. Although I missed family & friends from home, I’ve intentionally limited contact with them so that I can be fully “here” rather than “there”.
- Comforts & conveniences. At various points in my trip, the comforts that I’ve missed have included potable tap water, air conditioning, fast internet, hot water for showers, a refrigerator that I can raid anytime I feel hungry, sidewalks, street signs, and extended periods of silence.
- A regular schedule & regular friends (depending on your travelling style). I’ve rarely had a regular schedule or consistent friends. I meet new people all the time, but soon afterwards, they leave. Or I leave. Such is life on the road. The transient nature of friendships has been the most frustrating part of travel for me.
- Your health or sanity. There’s not actually much risk of literal insanity or death, but there can certainly be stresses placed on mind & body. I had a rabies scare that ended up being very expensive & kept me up at night. A friend I met while traveling is just now recovering from a case of dengue fever (a non-deadly but serious disease transmitted by mosquitoes). Another friend told me about being chased by 4 dogs down an unlit street at night in Thailand. Etcetera.
- Your glasses. A monkey snuck up and stole mine off my face when I wasn’t looking, and I wasn’t able to get them back.
What might you gain?
A lot. Again, this list is based on my own experience:
- New friends or business contacts around the world.
- A deeper appreciation for your life & relationships at home – in part as a result of temporarily losing items from the “what might you lose” list above, but also as a result of seeing the way other people live, and experiencing different environments.
- New ideas to implement when you return home. Ideas that wouldn’t likely have come to you if you weren’t traveling.
- Great memories. Like surfing, watching traditional dance performances, snorkeling, riding a motorbike/scooter through remote back roads in the mountains, finding strange animals in tide pools, and sharing my salad with a small gecko that crawled onto the table one night.
- New perspectives. As an example, I got a new perspective on the flexibility of marriage relationships while spending time with a happily married 63 year-old woman who was backpacking alone through Southeast Asia.
- An expanded mind. I think this is an unavoidable consequence of new experiences.
- A deeper appreciation of Time Doctor and the freedom that it can provide 😉
What are you waiting for?
If you’re not currently using Time Doctor, and you’ve ever wanted to work from home or from a remote location, Time Doctor may be your ticket. Introduce it to your boss, and suggest a work-from-home trial period of just a few days. Chances are that your boss will be even more comfortable with your productivity than he/she is when you’re at the office.
If you’re new to working remotely or managing remote employees, check out our 21 essential strategies for managing virtual teams.
Upcoming opportunities to travel & work in Bali:
1 – Chance to go to Bali for a month for free
A company I met in Bali (Coupofy.com) will be sponsoring one entrepreneur to spend a month in Bali. Included is:
- Round-trip airfare from anywhere in the world
- 1 month accommodation
- 1 month unlimited membership at The Salty Volt
- Travel insurance
- Mentorship & support
For more information and to apply (free), visit this page. Application deadline is only until October 10, 2015. Good luck!
2 – Join 19 other entrepreneurs for a month in Bali with Project Getaway
Project Getaway is an annual month-long event in Bali for entrepreneurs from around the world. It’s hosted by Liv.it – one of the co-working places mentioned above. The number of participants in Project Getaway is limited to 20, and there’s not much time left to apply for their 2015 event which is happening in October.
At Project Getaway you’ll be among friends – the people putting on this event are Time Doctor users.
Other articles about Digital Nomading
Manon De Heus, a Berlin-based journalist and sociologist who has lived in five different countries during the past 10 years has written an insightful article about some of the harsh realities of long term travel.
Entrepreneur Jon Yongfook moved out of his house in Singapore and spent a year-long life on the road while building his business.
Mark Manson, a psychology expert who travels the world shows the dark side of the digital nomad. I’ve thought Mark Manson’s writing was great for years, and this article is no exception.
Traveling as a digital nomad doesn’t have to be expensive. Roxanne Tamayo, a Filipino virtual assistant shares her life and travel experience as a digital nomad.
Joel Gascoigne, co-founder and CEO of Buffer (a fully distributed team) outlines the highs & lows of the digital nomad lifestyle when he traveled to 11 cities in 3 months.
From Berlin to Istanbul, Casablanca to Tokyo, Goa to Bali and many more, Mathilde Berchon a location-independent entrepreneur shares the lessons she learned from one year around the world as a digital nomad.
The digital nomad lifestyle is not for everyone. Travel blogger Ashley Fleckenstein worked on the road and realized that she doesn’t want to be a digital nomad. What bothered her the most about long term travel is exactly what bothered me the most.
Conni Biesalski’s life as a digital nomad in Instagram photos. She is a full time nomadic solopreneur.
For his company, Colin Nederkoorn ran an experiment for two months where everyone would be working in a different place. They eventually became a remote company.