A lot of people dream about unplugging from their 9 to 5 jobs and hopping on a plane to paradise. Living the “freedom lifestyle” that’s being showcased by digital nomads all over the internet may seem a little too good to be true. There are so many potential factors to take into consideration – how do I continue working/running my business? How do I assimilate into a new culture and language? Is this lifestyle actually even possible? Is it sustainable? It can all feel more than a little overwhelming and complicated.
We’re here to report: we’ve been living the “freedom lifestyle” for just over a year now, running our business while visiting upwards of 12 countries! We’ve lived in the Basque country of Spain, operated from a yacht off the coast of Croatia and beaches of Thailand, and have spent the last five months working out of Ubud, Bali.
Bali is an incredible place to set up shop as a digital nomad. After having spent a considerable amount of time living this lifestyle in Ubud, we’d like to share some of the honest pros and cons of running a US based business from abroad.
GEOARBITRAGE IS REAL, AND IT ROCKS
Geoarbitrage is simple: relocation in order to take advantage of a lower cost of living. We run a U.S. based, online company. That allows us to take advantage of an American income, while living in places where the cost of living – rent, services, food, etc. – is much lower. We were able to live in Bali for a fraction of the cost of what we spent living in LA.
For example: going out for a gourmet brunch in LA – cappuccinos, omelettes, bacon, the works – would probably cost around $40 for the two of us. That same gourmet breakfast (with a killer view of a rice paddy or the Balinese jungle) would cost about $10 for the two of us. And with that extra money, we were able to continue putting money back into our business AND start including very reasonably priced services (a personal cook, groundskeeper, housekeeper, etc.) into our monthly budget. All the extra amenities weren’t costing us a fortune, but we felt like single-digit millionaires!
It isn’t just dollars and cents: sure, we were spending less money living in Bali. But beyond that, our quality of life had improved drastically.
THE TIME CHANGE WAS A GOOD THING, NOT A BAD THING
One of the biggest and most obvious roadblocks we faced when moving to Bali was the time difference. Depending on where you are in the States, the difference stretches between 12 and 16 hours! That can sound very daunting, especially if your work involves being in direct contact with clients.
One of our main concerns was that our clients would be upset and turned off by the idea of us being so far away. But the reaction was quite the opposite: our clients have embraced it completely! They remained interested in our adventures, and were as flexible as we were with scheduling.
Our other main concern was actually being able to service all of our clients from the other side of the world. When you really break it down, there is a 4 hour window (7:00am – 11:00am Bali time) when you can be available to US based clients. Whether it be meetings, one-on-one calls, or coaching sessions – there’s nothing you can’t finish in 4 hours!
Contrary to what we assumed would be a difficult hurdle to overcome, it taught us how to embrace forced batching. Meaning: instead of having a long window of availability, we had solid 4-hour blocks each morning. This prevent our workflow from being disrupted, and allowed us to get in the zone for the rest of the day! This also rang true with emailing – since we were asleep during the bulk of US waking hours (and vice versa), we woke up to full inboxes. We spent an hour responding to everything each morning, and then our inbox remained pretty quiet for the rest of our day. It forcibly cut out email ping-pong, giving us even more freedom to get in the zone!
MINIMALISM IS ABOUT MORE THAN JUST SHEDDING YOUR POSSESSIONS
Living the digital nomad lifestyle all but forces you to embrace minimalism. We move to a new country roughly every 3 months, and operate out of a new Airbnb. The only things we bring with us fit into two backpacks and two roller bags.
Not having much room in our luggage to accumulate new stuff – paired with the fact Amazon Prime doesn’t operate in Indonesia – caused us to spend our money on experiences instead of things. We invested in exploring Bali, getting massages, hiring a cook, etc. Things that improved our quality of life without adding to our possessions list. It’s had an unmistakably transformative effect on our happiness and health!
It gave us the opportunity to invest in a new hobbies, too. We had always been interested in Pilates while living in the states, but felt that the startup cost ($50/class in LA) was way too high to get involved. When we moved to Bali, we started taking Pilates classes that cost a quarter of what they would have back home, and now it’s become a permanent fixture in our lives.
Living such a minimalistic lifestyle in Bali has transformed our outlook on possessions, nesting and how we spend our money. Our extraneous possessions have been dumped, and all that remains is what is essential to us. Taking that a step further – we’re more aware of what’s important to us while we travel, too. We need a good workspace in our Airbnb and can’t live without coffee, but we don’t need a pool and can live without 10 pairs of shoes.
We’re fully committed to minimalism now – we don’t miss (and honestly, probably couldn’t even name the majority of) the stuff we owned before. We don’t remember the stuff in the catch-all drawer in our closet, but we’ll always remember the experiences we accumulated in Bali.
BALINESE RELAXATION IS CONTAGIOUS
In the States, we worked way too much. To the point where we both suffer from work-related chronic illnesses (that are now in remission). We tend to refer to ourselves as “culturally porous”: our work habits/lifestyle quickly adapt to the culture we immerse ourselves in. When we are somewhere like New York or LA, the uptight, overworked culture sucks us in. But when we were in Bali – where work and relaxation are equally as important as the other – we were given permission to slow down.
MEETING OTHER DIGITAL NOMADS
Moving abroad automatically makes you more interesting than the average Joe. Boring, passive people don’t tend to pick up and move to Indonesia. So generally, the people you meet while you’re abroad are exciting, risk taking adventurers – truly interesting people that you wantto surround yourself with. And anyone who’s spent time abroad can tell you that community is as important (if not more important) than location.
Ubud, Bali has a robust community of expat digital nomads from all around the world. We all came from such different backgrounds, but connected through shared life goals and experiences. We were thrust together in a new, unfamiliar place and forged unique, once-in-a-lifetime friendships.
It’s hard to form into words how incredible our Balinese experience was. We are more than happy we were able to spend five months in Ubud (so happy, in fact, we’re considering living in Bali for a part of the year EVERY year). Not only were the intimidating expectations that we had before all but squelched, there we so many more positive elements than we could have ever anticipated. People have the preconceived notion that it’s nearly impossible to move to a paradise like Bali – into a new culture and language, the visa requirements, etc. – but the negatives don’t seem as important now that we’ve experienced all of the monumental positives Bali has to offer.
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