How much does it cost to spend 30 days in Bali remote freelancing?

My living expenses for 30 days in Bali were US$1,892. (Only $34 more than the “nomad cost” of $1858 nomadlist.com lists for Ubud, Bali.) That includes:

  • $855 of ATM withdrawals. (Food, rides, tourist excursions, bar tabs, entrance visa, SIM card)
  • $35 in bank fees
  • $290 for a month of coworking at Hubud in Ubud
  • $63 for clothes appropriate to the tropics
  • $643 for lodging. (I always had my own place with en suite bathroom.)

The above total doesn’t include flights. I spent a total of $1741 on flights for this two-month trip to Asia.

  • $758 for Qatar Air from Barcelona to Bali,
  • $85 for AirAsia from Bali to Singapore
  • $898 for Air China from Singapore to NYC

I spent more money than you need to and was pretty comfortable in Bali. I ate in restaurants every day, drank beer, ate ice cream, went to cafes, went on guided excursions like a hike up Mount Batur, and rented nice places with air conditioning and a western-style en suite bathroom in convenient locations. On the other hand, you can certainly spend a lot more than I did in Bali. There are beautiful resorts there, gourmet restaurants, nightclubs, and other such things.

My digital nomad “to do” list: I need to change my bank account to get rid of foreign withdrawal fees. (I still have the same checking accout from when I was under 18 years old!) I need to get smarter about frequent flyer miles. (A hacker friend helped me jumpstart my American Airlines membership to Platinum status, I’m going to work to maintain that.) I need to pack appropriate clothes for the weather where I’m going.

My tips and warnings for a remote worker in Bali

The number one most important thing to understand about Bali is that the internet sucks there. It has slow speed, low thoroughput, and it works intermittently. My workflow was to always have my phone plugged into my laptop, and switch back and forth between wifi and the tethered phone, but there were still times when it was unusable. I was happy when the speed got above 100 KiB/s for a while. Also, when the power goes out for an entire day (which happened to my Airbnb and the entire surrounding neighborhood), it’s a little hard to get anything done. If you need reliable internet, don’t go to Bali. If you do come, get familiar with command-line tools for downloading files in such a way that the transfer can be resumed if it fails partway through. (e.g. `wget -c`)

Bali doesn’t have any public transport to speak of. By far the most popular method of transport is low-powered motor scooters. I met a lot of expats who’ve wholeheartedly embraced these scooters, personally, scooters and motorcycles are not for me. Bali intersections generally don’t have traffic lights, there is just a huge mass of scotters and a few vans gradually going past and around each other. Despite this, I never saw a single person get road rage or act impatient. Balinese people are seriously the most chill and relaxed people I’ve ever met, and I’ve visited over 25 countries on five continents. If you like the idea of riding around on a motor scooter, they are very cheap to rent and the fuel is cheap too. I prefer to walk, and the sidewalks were pretty dangerous (lots of steep, unmarked holes) and often times non-existant.

I didn’t like staying in Ubud. Ubud is a village away from the coast among the rice paddies of central Bali. I read a lot on the internet about how it was this great place for digital nomads, but I don’t agree. The city closes down at 10:30, so if you work late hours you’ll be stuck with no dinner and nowhere to have a beer at the end of the day. The sidwalks are full of dangerous holes, covered in debris from construction sites, and generally used as parking lots/places to drive on. There are few street lights, so if you’re out after dark (the sun goes down at about 7pm), you need a flashlight to avoid all of these obstacles. Ubud is a nice place if you get up early and go to bed by 10 or 11, rent a scooter, want to eat vegan meals, do yoga, and are interested in neo-hippie stuff like crystals and energy fields. Balinese entrepreneurs in Ubud are fulfilling the demand of what certain westerners think Hindu culture is, and anything authentic about what’s being sold was gone a long time ago. Having said that, I met quite a few expats who consider Ubud and the surrounding area to be paradise and have made it their permanent home.

There’s a coworking space in Ubud called Hubud that advertises reliable internet, but doesn’t deliver. I went there every day for two weeks, and they sold access to way more people than they can handle. Every day the internet goes completely down for over an hour at a time, slows to a crawl at other times, and is overall useless. As of right now, don’t go to Hubud if you need to use the internet. (They claim they’re working on the internet problem, so maybe it will be fixed by the time you get there.) It’s a great place to have lunch, meet other expats, and take an action shot of yourself with your laptop overlooking a rice paddy or sitting in a rattan swinging chair, but it’s a terrible place to get work done if you need internet access. What Hubud is awesome for is meeting people, and the price I paid to be a member was more than worth it for the conversations I had there about business, entrepreneurship, and southeast Asia. I don’t like saying negative things about a place online, especially when the founders and employees are nice, friendly people, but there’s a consensus online that Hubud is this life-changing place with no flaws and it’s just not true.

If you go to Bali, take a day trip to Ubud, see the Monkey Forest (one of the coolest places on Earth) and head back to the coast. Stay in Kuta or Seminyak, within walking distance of the water.

I love food and am a great fan of all kinds of Asian food, but Indonesian cuisine didn’t grab me. Maybe I didn’t find the good stuff. What I did find was a lot of “deep-fried meat with a scoop of rice” dishes that were pretty dull. I was also probably too adventurous with eating from food carts, because my first-world stomach couldn’t handle it sometimes. In countries where you can’t drink the water, locals will use it to wash vegetables, which they are able to eat without a problem due to a lifetime of exposure to small amounts of the microorganisms in the water. Foreigners are not able to handle it. My disappointment with Indonesian and Balinese cuisine was more than made up for by all the other Asian food that is readily available everywhere. There’s a lot of good, cheap food available in Bali.

There was only one food or beverage place that really stood out to me: a cafe called Whale & Co. It’s a meeting place for entrepreneurs, both Indonesian and foreign. I had more good conversations in that cafe than anywhere else, and the coffee is top-notch (and blessedly free of grounds). Do make the trip.

The whole “digital nomad” internet self-promotion circuit

One last thought I want to convey to anyone thinking about taking the plunge—there’s a tremendous amount of bullshit floating around the internet about this lifestyle. As the saying goes, “it’s easy to run a company that loses money.” Some of the so-called “digital nomads” I’ve met out here aren’t making money and imo never will, but their facebook is full of artfully staged “laptop on the beach” pics and rants about sheeple working in cubicles. The people out here who are making it work are focused, driven, and have a specific business plan they are executing on, which is exactly the same kind of approach that works in the US or Berlin. I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I want to do in business from talking to nomads and expats who are making money. (More later on what I’m going to do with myself professionally.)

OK! Thanks for reading, I’ve received so much support from so many people and it’s helped me a lot. Personally, I choose to interpret my tweets getting favorited and facebook likes as “I completely endorse this and you as a person!” Right now I’m sitting on the 26th floor of a Chinatown residential building in Singapore, hiding from the afternoon heat and looking forward to my next meal because the food is amazing here. More on Singapore later! And if you want my opinion on your plan to be nomadic for a while, drop me a line.

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2 comments

  1. crfritch · May 20, 2015

    Nice post, you should get ally bank. No withdrawal fees ever from any atm worldwide. I’m currently making the switch.

    Oh, and how are you on the road to American platinum status? I’m interested.

    So when are you going to be here again? Looking forward to it.

    I’m off to San Diego right now. Back to Coronado. You seriously considering Cali again?

    If you are still interested in Bitcoin let me know, I’m around to discuss.

    Hope all is well.

    Chuck

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

  2. Valentine · June 1, 2015

    Hey Dennis! I stumbled upon this website via the Westlaw post on HN — seems like you did an interview with this guy! It was great meeting you at the WordPress Singapore meetup. Pity I didn’t get a chance to chat with you more at HackerspaceSG.

    I’m looking forward to what you have to write about Singapore. Keep in touch!

    Like

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