50 lessons from living 500 days in Bali as a Digital Nomad

Being a Digital Nomad is often something desired by many. But what if I told you that not everything is as easy or hard as you expected?

I have spent exactly 500 days living in Bali, Indonesia.

I came with the idea of becoming a filmmaker and I left being a business systems coach and course creator.

I came as a corporate person and left being unhireable.

And now I want to take you through 50 lessons that starting from scratch in Bali has taught me about business and life.

Posing for a photo with a laptop in Amed

Business

1. If you work from home, your home has to be bigger than you would otherwise need

Working from home means you’ll spend countless hours in the same space.

In corporate, I had an office, so I didn’t care much about the place I lived because it just served one purpose. Sleeping.

But once that changed and I started working from home, I started to value how much a good place can actually affect me.

I spent 6 months in a tiny house in Ubud with my girlfriend and that started to affect us in every single way.

It was not comfortable. We needed to move the furniture depending on what we needed to do. If I had calls, she needed to get out of the house and vice-versa…

Once we moved to a bigger place with private spaces, everything became much easier.

2. Commutes are not that bad

My corporate routine was waking up, going to the office, coming back home.

If I were to follow the same routine working for myself, that would be waking up, going to my desk, going to sleep. Everything within the same 4 walls.

I started to miss my commutes.

4 months in, I started taking walks around the house in the mornings and evenings. Those became my commute.

My mind felt fresher and I finally had a way to separate work from fun.

3. Working “until I feel the need to rest” is never a good idea

“I’m free to take breaks whenever I want! I work for myself now!”.

Naive Me

These were my words during my first months.

The reality was that I was never taking breaks and I was always working.

I had zero income and all I could think of was ways to get money.

I burned out twice and my mood got so bad that I almost break up with my girlfriend.

Working until we need rest is NEVER the way. It’s not sustainable. Please don’t do it.

Scheduling periodic and obligatory resting days is a must no matter what’s going on in your business.

4. Being a solopreneur is the fast track to all business learning

I have learned more about business by trying to earn a living through creating content and helping others than during my 6 years working in corporate.

And I needed to learn which area of the business to focus on as I saw fit.

When my marketing sucked, my sales numbers told me.

When my emails sucked, my open and click rates told me.

When my presentations sucked, the engagement told me.

When my videos sucked, the average view duration told me.

I have never felt so vulnerable and learned so much about business in my life.

5. What can seem a drawback can become your biggest opportunity

During the 5 months prior to coming to Bali, I was imagining how I would be making videos for businesses and tourists.

I dreamt almost daily about it.

I even recorded a video talking about it.

And when I realized I wasn’t going to be able to become a filmmaker in Bali I felt lost. I didn’t know what to do. More on this later.

That lead to a big exercise of introspection. What should I do? What am I good at?

I found the solution.

Engineering (systems mindset) + Salsa Dance teacher (teaching skills) + love for Notion = The Notion Academy.

Had I been able to develop as a filmmaker in Bali, I wouldn’t have had much success during the COVID era.

6. Living in a different timezone affects. A lot.

If you’re working online and speak English, chances are that most of the people you interact with are in the west (i.e. Europe and the US).

For a bit of context, Bali is 7 hours ahead of Europe and 12 ahead of the West Coast.

People on the East Coast? We won’t connect, sorry. I sleep when you’re awake and viceversa.

The only way to fix this was to change my sleep schedule.

I went to bed at 3AM and woke up at 11AM.

I can admit that I didn’t like this schedule. I was up working till very late so this prevented me from having a normal social life in Bali.

7. Working for yourself means facing your fears every day

In corporate I was challenged almost daily, but if the product we were developing failed, we all failed. It was never only my fault.

When starting a business, things changed.

All of a sudden, if I fail, I’m the only responsible.

Some months the first sale may come on the 15th of the month. And until that day I was rethinking what I was doing with my life and doubting if this is really for me.

Sometimes I would send a more salesy email than usual, nobody would buy and I would feel like a fraud.

I have experienced lots of ups and downs. The ups are wonderful and the downs are crazy scary.

8. If you don’t love the person you’re working with, don’t work with him/her

What you do is as important as who you’re doing it with.

And this applies also to clients.

Good news is that our gut feeling is quite good at detecting crappy clients/business partners.

It doesn’t matter how much money there is on the table, if your gut feeling is warning you, follow it and run away.

9. People don’t respect free.

I started working for people for free and agreeing on revenue share. I had no experience so this was my way of lowering the cost of hiring me.

In my first project, I put two months of work into it, and guess what? It never launched.

Total revenue: €0

If there are no stakes for the client (i.e. no money on the line), he won’t take it seriously.

Charge your clients unless you’re doing the work for building a case that’ll help you sell more in the future.

10. Having a private place to work is essential to focusing

When moving places often is quite difficult to feel any place as your office.

I realized that when I couldn’t make the place I was living in work-friendly, my mind wandered at all times and my productivity was like a 5-year-old’s.

Once I took my working place seriously, bought some candles and incense, had my camera always set up, and bought a water bottle, everything changed.

Once I sat down there, it was go time.

11. Burnout affects every part of your life

Our work-life affects our personal life. That’s no secret.

So what happens when we’re burnt out from work? When we have exhausted ourselves and turned into a useless piece of meat?

We will pay it with our partner.

No work deserves being burnt out so I will repeat it again; Resting is a must.

12. Trying to make every minute of the day productive is not healthy

When I had zero income I was trying to make every single minute of my life productive.

I could hear the tick-tack of my savings running out.

But trying to make every minute productive was the perfect recipe for burnout.

I would get angry at myself because I had breakfast for too long.

It doesn’t really matter in which situation we are in, we cannot be productive at all times.

It always pays to stop to enjoy a sunset or two…

13. Creating is scary

Bali was the first time in my life I started creating content online.

But it wasn’t easy.

It took me 5 months to record my first YouTube video and an extra 4 more months to edit it and publish it.

9 months to feel the fear and doing it anyway.

If you’re struggling with getting started, do not worry. This sh** takes time.

14. Creating > Consuming

Once you start creating you realize how little you knew about the topic you wanted to create content around.

Creating is the BEST way of actually becoming an expert.

Teaching to other people sheds light on things we do not fully grasp, which makes us research more and improve our knowledge.

I honestly don’t know any better way to become better at any topic than creating content about it.

15. Impostor syndrome never leaves you

I am not a productivity expert. I’m not even productive myself. I just play around with Notion, everybody can do that. I am a bit too young. English is not my first language. I’m not as creative as he is. Why would anyone come to my workshop?

I have had every single one of these thoughts.

And after being in this for almost a year, they’ve never left me.

16. Leverage should be a monthly habit

Once I started delegating my video editing (thanks to PTYA) I started to realize how AWESOME outsourcing is. (“Awesome” to be pronounced as Barney Stinson would)

Outsourcing video editing led to outsourcing copywriting which led to outsourcing the setup of this very blog.

Services such as Fiverr or Upwork can really save us a ton of time for little money.

You and I know which is a solopreneur’s scarcest resource, right?

17. Monetising a YouTube channel feels like free money

I spent 8 months creating weekly videos until my YouTube channel was monetized.

During those 8 months, I kept pumping out videos for no reward from the platform and that was normal.

Once my channel got monetized and I got paid for doing the same I’d been doing for the past 8 months, it truly felt like free money.

18. Morning routines can make or break your day

I have tested this a gazillion times.

Days where I follow my morning routine = My mind is sharp and I don’t get unfocused.

Days where I don’t follow my morning routine = My mind is everywhere and there’s no Pomodoro technique that can help me focus.

19. Opened my mind to Real Estate investing in other countries

Living in Spain I was always drawn to Real Estate investing. I just never had the money.

But lots of foreigners invest in Real Estate in Bali. Why?

It’s crazy affordable compared to the west.

For around €60,000 you can build a 2 bedroom villa which then can be sold at 2x the price in 6 months.

Not a bad ROI.

And while the house is getting built, I could continue working on your online business.

20. You don’t have to use a particular social media if you don’t feel it

I lived the TikTok boom from Bali.

As a content creator myself I wondered whether I was missing out by not being active on the platform.

Its organic reach seemed to be helping influencers grow highly profitable businesses.

But every time I opened the app I felt neurons dying inside.

I tried to create educational content there, but the restrictions of the platform didn’t allow me to go deep into anything.

I decided to give up on it and I secretly hope that TikTok videos don’t become the preferred way of content consumption.

That would make me very sad.

21. We don’t need stress in our lives

In corporate, being stressed and having lots to do meant you were doing your job well.

Since I work for myself, even if I still have tons to do, I just focus on one thing at a time.

I don’t have to carry in my head the status of a million things at the same time.

And I have realized that I don’t miss that at all.

Posing for a drone in Komodo Island

Life

22. Having no money makes you miserable

Since I left university I’ve always had a paying job.

When I was living in China I had a very high-paying job.

Truth be said, I have never had money problems.

Until I started my own business and my income dropped to zero.

This led me to care about money way too much to the point of comparing kitchen pans to save an extra $1 (which then I had to rebuy because it was so low quality)

It was very difficult for me to adjust to the no-income life.

Thinking all the time about how much I was spending put so much pressure on me and indeed made me miserable.

23. Having no money will affect your relationship

If I was overthinking how much more I was spending on pans, you can imagine I was also transferring this worry to everything my girlfriend wanted to buy or do.

This was the reason behind several arguments about her wanting to spend money on what for me were non-essential things but what for her were.

24. Starting an online business in South East Asia is way less risky than in the west.

When I came to Bali with my girlfriend, we were spending around €1,000-€1,100 for all our expenses. After we moved to a better place and we started to do more fun stuff, we spent around €1,600 per month.

So if money is the only thing holding you back from trying this out, you can easily save €10,000 and try your luck for 10 months.

In the west, you would probably need 2 or 3 times that amount.

25. Balinese are happy

The first thing you may realize when you arrive in Bali is that everybody is happy.

It’s like they’re on drugs.

In the beginning, I thought they were doing it just so you can tip them, but I watched them relating with other Balinese and they were the same way.

After some time I came up with what I think is the reason for this happiness.

Family.

Balinese normally don’t have a lot of money or possessions, but they always have their family together.

Every time there’s a ceremony in the temple (which is more often than you can imagine), the whole family dresses up and go there all together.

Traditional residencies are compounds with multiple houses that can host entire families, therefore they’re always together.

I think this is what makes them happier than any of us in the west, no matter how richer (money-wise) we may be.

26. Work should never be put before friendships

During the first 8 months staying in Bali, I just focused on work. I had no time for friends. My money was running out! I got more important things to do….. right?

Nothing further from the truth.

We’re social animals and we cannot go on a social detox for too long before we start feeling isolated.

In retrospect, I would never do this again.

What’s the effect in my business meeting once a week with some friend anyways?

27. You cannot live long-term in a place where you cannot befriend the locals

This one took a long time to figure out. 463 days approximately.

I never felt at home in Bali and always felt like a foreigner.

All the people I interacted with were foreigners. We’re just too different from Balinese people.

And as you probably imagine, there are very few foreigners that really stay in Bali for a long time.

This leads to lots of people coming and going, which really lowers the chances of creating deep relationships with anyone.

And what is the source of feeling at home? The people from that place.

And who are the people that are mostly going to live in one place for the rest of their lives? People who were born there, a.k.a. locals.

Being able to create relationships with locals is essential to feeling at home.

28. Walls and windows separate us from nature.

Bali has a stable temperature around 25-30ºC (77-86ºF) during the whole year.

This allows cafeterias and other social places to be window-less.

Everything feels like an open space in Bali and this made me feel much more in contact with nature than in Spain, where we need to have windows everywhere to protect us from the winter cold.

29. You start valuing the small things of your homecountry

In my experience, this starts to kick in after the first year spent abroad.

A simple photo of your parents eating bread may uncover that you really don’t enjoy rice so much.

Or a price tag in Euros can summon a tear or two.

Or a glorious photo of La Gran Vía can pause your day so you can start daydreaming.

30. You cannot just eat local food

It’s awesome to travel to new places and try all their cuisine.

But when you’re living permanently in a foreign country, you will miss your food.

For Spaniards, food is more than just food. It’s our religion.

So while I can enjoy a Nasi Goreng from time to time (fried rice typical from Indonesia), it’s impossible for me to just eat local.

I need my Western food dose.

31. Everybody has their own interests.

We cannot forget that Bali is a tourist island. This means that locals are used to having tourists.

Which means they really know how to get you to pay double. They’ve been practicing with thousands before you!

While haggling is not something common in the western world it’s the day-to-day in South East Asia.

Once you accept people will try to always charge you double, you learn you should always offer half.

32. Haggling can become fun

I don’t know about you, but I have never haggled in the west.

In Asia, this is common practice.

Being forced to haggle on a daily basis will make you see it as part of every deal.

And after some months it’ll even become something fun to do!

I now wonder if this new skill will transfer to my life in the West…

33. Religion can bring people closer together

Everybody in Bali practices Hinduism. Every. Body.

This means that everyone on the island has at least one thing in common which creates a sense of belonging I haven’t seen anywhere else.

They cannot be prouder of their religion. They talk about it all the time. They try to explain to you how it works. Their faces illuminate while they’re doing it…

It’s such a wonderful thing to see.

34. Europe becomes the exotic

I can’t just speak of my Balinese experience over here. I have been living in Asia for more than 4 years now.

It took this long to start seeing the world from the Asian perspective.

The West is seen here as something exotic and luxurious.

Of course, I never had that idea… For me, crystal clear beaches and coconuts were way more exotic.

But after spending this much time in Asia I can understand why the West is so exotic as well.

Clean streets, educated people, good service, historical buildings, strong economies…

Now Europe has become more exotic to me

35. People can be controlled with the right incentives

There are huge incentives for people to denounce foreigners working illegally in Bali.

Guess what happens?

Locals are always checking whether you’re working illegally or not.

I haven’t seen this happening in any other country in the world but this has taught me that having a good incentive can make people do whatever you want.

As sad as it sounds.

36. You can get robbed in paradise

Bali is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. Before Bali, I lived in China for 2,5 years, which is the safest country I’ve ever lived in.

This means I wasn’t used to taking care of my belongings anymore. If in China you leave your phone in the middle of the street and you come back after an hour, the phone will still be there.

In Bali? That’s not the case.

As Bali’s tourism grew, also did its criminality.

Our phone got stolen from my girlfriend’s hands while we were driving our motorcycle and during our stay in Bali we heard at least 6 or 7 other similar cases (some of them with violence)

37. It’s scary to live in a country where the police is corrupt

Police in Bali are corrupt. I think the government is trying to fight this, but the truth is that it’s still corrupt.

When we got out phone stolen we felt defenseless going to the police. Nobody lifted a finger for us.

The police often stop foreigners and fine them for whatever they can find. Of course, you pay cash and there’s no receipt.

Also, if you’re caught doing something illegal, you can also pay so they forget what you did.

This left me feeling very vulnerable if I was caught in something serious where I would need the police.

I always thought of the police as the last resort in case I needed urgent help, but when the police are corrupt, you got no one to help you out.

38. Never travel overnight if you’re driving

We traveled from Bromo to Canggu on the same day. This consisted of 8 hours by car plus 1h of ferry plus 4 extra hours on the motorcycle. This is not counting stopping for food and stretching our legs.

We started our trip at 12pm and arrived in Canggu at 6am.

This was one of the scariest experiences I’ve had traveling.

It was almost impossible to maintain my eyes open or my brain focused on driving that late at night.

Every hotel was already closed, so the only option was to continue our way home.

I will never do that again and I will rather spend an extra night in a hotel and rest than think I can do a 15h trip in a day.

39. Bali is not JUST what you see on Instagram

While there’s a lot of luxury in Bali, there are thousands of people living with less than $100 a month.

And I dare to say, those are the majority.

So in Bali, you will also see poverty. Kids with damaged clothes. Grandpas working in the fields. Grandmas asking for money on the roads…

40. Bali is not overhyped – Having everything in one island is possible

Before going to Bali I avoided it at all costs.

I was sure this was just an overhyped location where influencers go to fine-tune their Instagram feeds and make the world think they’re having a ball.

I was wrong.

Bali is freaking amazing.

Breathtaking cliffs, wild jungles, sea turtles, crystal water beaches, diving spots, manta rays, waterfalls… You can find everything on this island (except snow).

I have visited 40+ countries and I can certify this is one of the best places on Earth.

41. It takes real effort to maintain your hometown’s friendships

Distance kills everything.

I have missed weddings, trips, friend’s difficult moments… I have missed everything.

And this cannot be fixed with a couple of Zoom calls.

Living abroad will definitely damage your country’s friendships. There’s no other way around that.

42. Being treated as richer just because I’m a foreigner bugs me a lot

This may be controversial.

There are a lot of places in Bali where you can openly see the Local price and the Foreigner price.

Sometimes the difference is 20x.

I don’t believe it’s fair to charge more for the same service because some people are believed to have more money than others.

This bugged me a lot.

43. Treating someone as superior will make that someone think you’re inferior

It is not uncommon in Asia to be treated as if you are some kind of God if you’re from the west.

In the beginning, it’s funny how people want to take pictures with you.

But then you realize that this makes you feel even more of an outsider and that you start to don’t take these people so seriously.

I was surprised every time I was treated as a normal human being rather than as something exotic.

44. This would’ve been very hard if I were single

I came to Bali with my girlfriend.

Starting a business has lots of ups and downs and living in a foreign country can feel very lonely.

It would’ve been very tough if I had been here alone during my business’ low moments where the only support I got was from my girlfriend.

Living abroad having a stable job is surely OK.

Living abroad and starting a business there, all by yourself, tough stuff.

45. Living the motorcycle life makes you miss cars

Everybody has a motorcycle in Asia.

It’s the most used means of transport. And in the beginning, it’s super fun.

The wind blows on your face. You’re more near nature. You see 360º around you.

But after a year JUST using a motorcycle, I started to miss the comfort of cars like never before.

46. Being born in a first world country is something to be truly grateful for.

We met several locals that haven’t even visited the opposite part of Bali from where they were born. All they have ever seen is their village and its surroundings.

They don’t have enough money to go nor they can stop working.

After being shocked, I started to feel immensely grateful for having been able to travel the world and visit so many different cultures and countries.

47. No news = No problems

We spent some time on the island of Gili Air.

It’s a quite remote island with no motor vehicles that you can walk from side to side in 20 minutes.

They were completely oblivious to all this COVID insanity. They haven’t been affected by the media because nobody watched the news there.

They were living their normal lives, just lamenting that there were not as many tourists as before.

It’s only in places where the media doesn’t have any effect where I can realize how much damage it does.

48. No control = Freedom

In Indonesia, traffic lights exist because they needed something to decorate each corner.

There are no speed radars, no fines for peeing on the street, you can camp everywhere, make fires, 12-year-old children drive motorcycles, you can bring alcohol to the beach…

The feeling of freedom is like no other.

This was one of the best feelings I got while living in Bali… The sense that you don’t have to worry about what you can do and what you cannot.

Everything’s possible.

And this is something I dread about coming back to the west… Let’s see how that plays out.

49. You can become carnivore in the island of vegans

I spent 2 years being a vegetarian.

I even didn’t eat jamón serrano the last time I was in Spain.

But it was in Bali when I started to crave chicken wings. Don’t ask me why.

I succumbed to the craving.

I went to a British pub and ate more than 20 chicken wings.

Not a single negative feeling. That felt like the right thing to do.

50. People envy the digital nomad life, but it’s attainable for everyone.

I used to envy those digital nomads living the laptop lifestyle from the beach but once I’ve seen what it takes, I can certify this is completely attainable for everyone.

The only thing necessary is a one-way ticket plane, at least €6,000 for your first months living expenses and a monetizable skill.

It took me around 4 months since I started working in my Notion business to start earning an income that could sustain our life in Bali (without luxuries).

So if you want to taste this lifestyle and have a bit of money in your pocket, you won’t regret it.

I am sure that this is going to be an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.

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