In February 2023, I set out on a three-month adventure to Bali, Indonesia, a beautiful island that had long been on my list of dream destinations. Between the phenomenal food, stunning views, and exciting surf culture (hello, lifelong dreams of becoming a surfer girl!), everything I knew about Bali drew me in. So when the opportunity came to visit Bali, I jumped on the chance—with my laptop in tow.
As I had read online, and as I would come to find on my trip, Bali is an incredible place to live as a remote worker. Known for its endless beaches, beautiful greenery, and relatively low cost of living, Bali is often referred to as the digital nomad’s paradise. However, no place is perfect—it took some trial and error to figure out how to make my remote work fit in with island life. Here’s what my experience taught me about digital nomad success.
Prepping for remote work
In 2022, I worked while travelling abroad for two months. That trip taught me that prep work is everything—and I’m not just talking about planning outfit options. Good preparation and research beforehand helped me make the most out of my travel while balancing work and fun.
The first step was figuring out where to stay. Finding suitable accommodations was extra important to me since I’d likely put in a lot of hours in my “home office”. When booking our AirBnB, my travel buddy and I had two priorities: a solid wifi connection and a working AC unit. Prioritizing those two things really paid off on the scorching hot days when we decided to work from home. AirBnB reviews helped us figure out which places had genuinely good wifi and which ones were just claiming to.
Next, I researched the best types of SIM cards to get and where to find one so that I’d always have a backup internet connection—and so that I’d always have Google Maps to help me get to the beach, or *cough* a working cafe. I also looked into what kind of electrical plugs are used in Bali so that I could make sure to bring the right kind of adapters. Most importantly, Lauren and I planned out how we would collaborate while I was gone, since we’d be working with a 12-hour time difference and opposite work schedules. With that, I was ready for takeoff.
Challenges of remote work
Once I arrived in Bali, it was difficult to find a balance between taking advantage of what the island had to offer and sticking to a work schedule. With countless restaurants, surf lessons, waterfall tours, and everything in between, Bali is a place that offers endless opportunities for fun. Ultimately, I realized that it wasn’t realistic to try to stick to the same schedule every week as I typically do back home. Instead, I prioritized making good use of my downtime early in the week so that I could say yes to any fun adventures that came my way later on.
Another big challenge was not having the conveniences and comforts of a home office. My roommate and I were both working remotely in a studio apartment-style AirBnB, which presented lots of challenges. Don’t get me wrong—most of the time it was really fun having a work buddy. On some days, though, it felt impossible to find enough space and quiet to focus. On the days when a little extra space was needed, working cafes, headphones, and Spotify were real lifesavers.
Dealing with different time zones also naturally presented challenges when it came to communication with Lauren. Going without our regular in-person meetings and following completely different schedules made it trickier to stay in touch, but we found ways to work around those barriers—more on that later.
My work travel essentials (including digital tools)
On the first day that my roommate and I worked together after arriving in Bali, I made the devastating discovery that my AirPods were missing. The “Find My” app on my phone confirmed my suspicions: they were in the Jakarta airport, which was a two-hour plane ride away. (Likely, they made their escape while I was frantically running to my gate.) Thankfully, I had a backup pair of wired headphones with me, which I protected more fiercely than my last hair tie. I ended up using them almost every time I worked, whether it was for a Zoom call or background music while my roommate was FaceTiming friends back home. Moving forward, I will always make sure to bring headphones to use while working—and a backup pair just in case.
To help bridge the communication gap while travelling, I leaned heavily on a few digital tools. Here’s 3 tools I used daily.
My personal favourite of all the digital tools that we used was Loom—a video messaging tool that lets you record a video and your desktop screen at the same time. The truth is, sometimes an email just doesn’t cut it. Every time I had a question about something or wanted to give a more in-depth explanation, I sent a quick Loom video. Recording a Loom video felt like screen sharing during a Zoom meeting and made it much easier to express my thoughts and ideas.
As writers, the majority of our work takes place in Google Docs, so a lot of our communication happens right in the app. Leveraging features like suggesting edits, leaving comments, and tagging each other in documents was integral to our workflow. When you mention someone in a comment in Google Docs, it triggers an email to alert them to the comment. This feature made it easy for us to keep each other updated with what we were working on and reach out with questions in a simple and effective way.
Airtable is like Google Sheets on steroids. It’s an application that allows you to customize how you organize your data. It meant Lauren and I could keep tabs on what everyone was working on and what we were each responsible for without needing to send constant updates. For our team, we use Airtable to stay on top of:
- Projects we’re working on
- Who’s in charge of certain tasks
- Due dates
One of the biggest lessons I learned from my time in Bali was how important it is to find work/travel balance. When you’re working and travelling at the same time, you need flexibility paired with discipline. If your friends decide to go snorkeling last minute, you’re probably going to want to go with them—and that’s okay! As long as you’re disciplined enough to make up for it and catch up on your work later, even if it means working early in the morning or late at night. The key is to leave room for spontaneity so that you can fully experience everything around you without causing your work life to suffer.
I was fortunate enough to be able to lower my working hours for the duration of the trip, which made a huge difference in my productivity and overall experience. I know this isn’t always an option, but I would highly recommend it if you can. A lot of digital nomads overcommit to work hours and end up feeling burnt out from trying to fit in as much fun as they can in between. Committing to a reasonable amount of hours allowed me to find the balance between income and making the most of my trip.
I also really came to value the benefits of slow travel as opposed to constantly moving from place to place. I pretty much stayed in the same place the entire time I was in Bali, with lots of small weekend and day trips peppered in. This gave me more time to fit in everything I wanted to do without feeling pressure to abandon my work schedule. If it’s an option for you, I would highly recommend prioritizing this type of travel. It might be fun to discover an entirely new place every few days, but by staying in one place for long periods of time you can fully experience your surroundings without feeling rushed, and avoid burnout.
Another major lesson that I seem to relearn every time I travel is to expect the unexpected. Travel can be unpredictable and things happen—especially when you’re trying to work at the same time. You can’t always count on getting work done on the plane as you planned, you might end up sick or with a power outage, or you might miss the bus that was your only chance of getting to your next destination. The point is: even if you try your very hardest, you can’t always plan everything out. To help deal with the uncertainty, make sure to build buffer times into your schedule, avoid procrastinating when it’s time to work, stay flexible, and don’t panic. After all, even though things don’t always go as planned, you usually come out of it with a great story!
I also learned the importance of finding “third spaces” to work. For the days when I had trouble focusing and felt like I just didn’t have enough space, being able to work uninterrupted in a cafe made a huge difference in my productivity. Bali is full of co-working spaces and cafes specifically designed for remote workers, many of which have delicious food and drinks with stunning views to boot. I highly recommend finding some cafes where you can work while travelling, especially if you’ll be sharing a room with someone. Bonus points if you can find some that are on the beach, have enough shade for you to see your screen, plenty of outlets, and great coffee.
Lastly, I know it’s a cliché, but communication really is everything if you’re working with people in different places and time zones. Staying in touch and prioritizing regular check-ins with your team can prevent frustration and ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.
One of the biggest advantages of a remote job is being able to travel. Although it can present unique challenges, when done the right way, working as a digital nomad can allow you to have amazing adventures while still giving your best at your job.