This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Olumide Gbenro, a 34-year-old digital entrepreneur who was based in Bali for almost four years. It's been edited for length and clarity.
I consider San Diego, California, my hometown. I attended graduate school at San Diego State University and studied public health and epidemiology. I also worked a full-time job in marketing. I loved the idea of living in the sunniest city in the US, and that I lived close to the beach.
Unfortunately I never got to experience life that much because of how hectic school and work was. When I graduated, I had to make a choice: to do a PhD, attend medical school, or travel the world.
I chose to leave San Diego and ended up living between Mexico City, Copenhagen, and Hamburg before moving to Bali. I lived in these cities as I had friends there from graduate school.
This is what inspired me to launch a digital marketing agency in 2017. The agency's goal was to help Web3 and AI companies launch products. I also run a group coaching program for people who want to quit their 9-to-5 jobs and become a digital nomad, and a weekly newsletter for people working remotely.
These streams of income enable me to earn around $140,000 a year. I make around $38,000 from my digital marketing agency, and have worked on the Ballies NFT project and the Bricktopians NFT project. I also make almost $30,000 from cryptocurrency. Consulting throughout has led me to make over $66,800, and more than $6,3000 from hosting virtual events for digital nomads. I also make a nominal amount from the sponsors on my newsletter that pay for a banner advertisement in the emails I sent to my newsletter subscribers.
I moved to Bali in 2019 after seeing friends post photos of themselves enjoying the island, drinking coconuts while lounging by the sea or at the pool. When I first moved there, it wasn't as easy and fun as it seemed. I struggled with loneliness as I didn't have a community to connect with or friends to spend my free time with.
But there were also upsides to living in Bali. When I first moved there, money in Bali went far — it was far less expensive than living in the US. Balinese culture is also much more relaxed than the US, where people are in hustle mode every day of the week. In Bali, locals were welcoming and I was always greeted with a smile. I had the freedom to set my own schedule too, which gave me the time to meet and connect with people in Bali, who came from all over the world.
One misconception of being a digital nomad in Bali is that it's a vacation. I've heard people think that living there meant you won't have to work or do anything, and you just chill on the beach most of the time. The reality is that digital nomads spend most of their time on their laptops, working at cafes and co-working spaces to make ends meet.
Obtaining a digital nomad visa to live in Bali isn't easy. The visa allows certain foreigners to stay in Indonesia for either five or ten years. It also requires applicants to deposit $130,000 in Indonesian state-owned banks — but you can't touch the money for years.
Now, Bali has gotten too commercialized. It's not as relaxed as it once was. The beautiful natural landscapes have warped into this alternate reality where people film weird influencer content. Bali has been gentrified, just for some people to save a few dollars.
The traffic is insane and a five-minute drive often becomes a 30-minute wait in traffic. The beaches are dirty and unpleasant, and the pollution seems out of control. I have to wear a mask when I'm on a motorbike to avoid inhaling the exhaust smoke from construction trucks. What's a beautiful sunset at the beach when your lungs are filled with pollution from construction trucks that litter every corner of Canggu?
The traffic and pollution reminds me of life in major cities, so I thought to myself, why should I stay?
There's predatory behavior, too, from some locals. They overcharge foreigners even if their services are poor, which has led to many scams. I think most people who stay in Bali only do so to save money. But for me, I don't care about the cost. I want quality for the money I'm paying, and Bali was no longer satisfying that.
The quality of life in Bali has dropped, especially when compared to some cities in Europe like Prague and Barcelona. It's become more expensive to live there. For example, rental prices for standard apartments have doubled since before the start of the pandemic. Now, $2,000 can only get you so far in Bali. But in these European cities, it might afford you an ocean-front luxury apartment or one in the city that's close to a garden or park.
Geographic arbitrage — moving to a place where the cost of living is cheaper than your hometown — is what drives digital nomads. But if you're paying to live in a wooden shack in a noisy, overcrowded city, is it worth saving some money?
While I enjoyed the four years I spent living in Bali, I've left for southern Europe. Many places now have digital nomad visas and have a welcoming attitude towards remote workers. I'm looking forward to spend my time in Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Greece. I'm also interested in living on the coast of Europe and Africa called the Macaronesia region, which includes places like the Canary Islands and Cape Verde.
These are the places where digital nomads will flock to, once they realize the downsides of living in Bali. I believe more people need to speak up about these issues, rather than romanticize the once-perfect island to promote their personal brands and businesses.
Although I've left Bali, I still hope to grow my business and help as many people as possible become digital nomads. I've recently started a family, and so they are my priority. Moving away from Bali means that I won't have to worry about my kid inhaling fumes from construction trucks, or the constant stress of being stuck in traffic everyday.2023-03-31T07:12:44Z dg43tfdfdgfd