Back in 2015 while on my digital nomad quest around Australia I heard about a co-working place in Ubud, Bali called ‘Hubud’. I’d been wanting to see Bali for ages and Ubud in particular – one of those times I was strongly drawn somewhere and just had to go. I imagined eating healthy organic food, working while looking out onto lush rice paddies, chatting excitedly about the future of work and sustainable living with like-minded people. The reality of my month in Bali turned out a little different with a lot less work and a lot more play…a lesson in nomad life and discipline.
While this is a ‘warts n all’ account, I want to make it clear that I absolutely adored Bali and any mishaps were solely my bad planning or judgement. This trip made me realise how much alcohol affects my judgement, functioning and rhythm, and I’ve barely drunk since then. Bali is among my fav places ever and I cannot wait to go back.
I had been a digital nomad for around a year by this stage, mixing work and and travel. I was working on setting up a remote agency focussing on meaningful digital marketing and planned to work on the website and client-base while in Bali for a month. Although I’d originally planned to go alone, my friend from England decided to come out to visit for a week on a whim. I hadn’t seen her for almost ten years, and we used to do a lot of partying.
Silliness in Sanur
My first stop in Bali was Sanur, a chilled beach resort not far (40 mins drive) from the airport. It’s sometimes known as ‘snore’ as it’s fairly laid back and tends to be quiet after 9pm. We probably inadvertently chose it hoping it would reign us in. No chance!
There are some lovely restaurants, a couple of yoga shacks, loads of crappy cheap spa and massage places and a fairly nice beach.
A lot of the time in Sanur I was stressed about where I was staying, moving hotels to escape roosters (I stayed in four different locations) sleeping badly, worrying about my next move or stressing that I wasn’t getting any work done.
There were, of course, fun times. But the upheaval overshadowed my time there as I hadn’t done my homework and had taken ‘leavings things to fate’ to the extreme by agreeing to share a room with a friend I hadn’t seen in a decade.
The first night we were both exhausted after our red-eye flights and said we’d go for a quiet dinner. We had lots of catching up to do and had a few drinks. Some lads from Leeds (England) came and sat near us… The night ended practically komatose in the garden of their villa…as far from a quiet night as I can imagine. It set the tone for far too much partying and too little sleep.
We had a silly but fun night clubbing in Kuta (known for it’s nightlight and drunken Aussies). I met a hot surfer from Costa Rica. We had many nights whizzing through Bali on the back of scooters. After a few days of cheap meals and bad massages my friend left and I finally went inland to Ubud. I thought I’d left that kind of excessive drinking and partying behind me and it was not a good idea to revisit at a time when I needed rest and focus. After one of the more excessive nights in Sanur I had a very clear, certain vision of how I wanted to be. I saw myself present, healthy and calm. I decided this trip would be my final hurrah of drinking and excess.
Above – en route from Sanur to Ubud my driver stopped off at a few tourist spots including this small scale coffee and spice plantation which was actually worth a visit. They included the bizarre coffee that is eaten then shat out by some poor caged cat-like creature called a civet.
Ubud – nomad heaven
Ubud is where loads of digital nomads and spiritual types go to co-create entrepreneurial ideas and do yoga. A lush tropical hippyish town in the middle of Bali. Full of Liz whatsername (Eat, Pray, Love) wannabes, expats…too many scooters, amazing old temples and fascinating intricate restaurants. The streets in the centre of Ubud are a lot busier and more touristy than I expected, with narrow roads filled with scooters and touts. It’s still beautiful off the main drag though, and the little back alleyways are magical.
Accommodation is cheap, and if you splash out a bit you can stay in luxury at very reasonable prices. I found a lovely little detached hut (above left) with ornate wooden shutters for around AU$45 / £30 per night. A girl I met had recommended it as I’m a light sleeper – it was quiet with no roosters nearby!
Once in Ubud I was relieved to be alone for a while to pursue my goals of writing, web development and freelancing. I slept better and finally relaxed a bit. I checked out the monkey forest which is an incredible old ruined temple set amongst jungle and over-run with cheeky monkeys. Afterwards I had dinner with a lovely girl I’d met in Sanur and her friend. We went to see a ‘local’ fire dance which seemed to be put on to entertain tourists and was actually a bit boring.
Having some time on my own in one location for a few days really brought home how important my own time and space is to me, and how much energy it drains when you move constantly while travelling. I realised I had become too open to other people coming into my life and influencing my plans.
However I wasn’t alone for long. I’d been Skyping Cam, a lovely guy I’d met at a party in Darwin a couple of weeks prior, and he decided to fly out to visit me for a few days. I wanted to see him, but I was frustrated to be further distracted from my work goals. We had a fun few days in Ubud and overindulged on lush meals and too many cocktails. It was the opposite of what my body needed after weeks of partying. And the opposite of the original plan I’d had for Ubud. I was constantly battling between sticking to my plan and being open and ‘going with the flow’ which had served me so well while travelling before.
There are some incredible temples just outside Ubud and we visited one a day trip. I either lost or had my wallet stolen which was a real pain. We went to the local police station where they were sitting around watching TV, on the off chance it had been handed in. I never found it and lost the equivalent of $20 and some cards which proved a pain to sort out.
When Cam left I met a few fellow travellers and nomads and had a nice organic veggie meal. I finally visited Hubud with a nomad I met but hadn’t allowed much time to stay and wasn’t in work mode so just hung out and had a smoothie before scooting off to a spa. We also visited Green Village, a beautiful village of bamboo houses just outside Ubud.
My body must have been run down and my immune system weak, as I succumbed to one of, if not the worst food poisoning episodes I’ve ever had. I had to get antibiotics and various other remedies. It took days to recover and really threw me off course. This wrecked my rhythm and I ended up shaky, weak, stressed, and wracked with indecision on next steps. I met some amazing people doing fascinating things in Ubud, but didn’t make the best of the opportunity because I exhausted myself from too much partying, and consequently I didn’t follow my original plan.
Relaxation at last on the Gili Islands
After I recovered from the ‘Bali belly’ in Ubud I was desperate to get some rest and relaxation. I was drawn to the islands as somewhere my options would limited so I could chill and recuperate. The Gili Islands are actually part of Lombok, not Bali and are quick and easy to reach from Bali. Gili Air and Gili Meno are the chilled quiet islands and Gili Trawangan is the party island (which I avoided it like the plague). I headed to the coast and got a boat to Gili Air. The boat crew were great fun and let me sit in the cabin with them.
I may have been swayed by the fact the hot surfer I’d met in Kuta was there. I asked him to find a quiet room with two beds for us to stay in. Apparently there wasn’t much choice and he had booked a place with one bed next to the Mosque, surrounded by roosters. I was glad to have a few days with him and his cheery attitude lifted my spirits. He worked for his family’s melon farm in Costa Rica.
When he left I started wondering if I could move to Costa Rica and be a farmer’s wife…then reminded myself not to get so deeply involved with people so quickly! I moved to the other (quiet) side of the island and finally had a few days by myself and it was bliss! I relaxed, reflected and naturally fell into writing with no distractions. I stayed in a simple cheap shack that was quiet and chilled, read, swam and cycled round the island.
Scooting round Sanur and Seminyak
After a chilled week on Gili Air I headed back to Sanur for a few days before flying back to Australia. I’d given up on work by then and just made the most of it. I met a lovely glamorous French guy who whisked me around the island on his Scooter to some incredible places.
Seminyak in particular has some really incredible bars, restaurants and clubs. El Kabron Spanish Restaurant and cliff club in Uluwatu is a must-see. It’s at the end of a long windy track which feels like the middle of nowhere, then you go through these amazing big fancy doors into a beautiful space with an infinity pool and amazing gourmet meals.
I realise now that a month wasn’t enough in Bali. I should have got the travel out of the way then chosen somewhere to settle for a few weeks or months. I’ve been dying to go back ever since but now I’m back in a 9-5 job I don’t have enough annual leave.
Reflections on why my digital nomad month didn’t work out
- Drinking frequently really affects my discipline and health in a bad way
- Being too open to new people and experiences, especially men!
- I hadn’t given myself time to travel and explore Bali before working
- Instead of spending time alone as I’d felt I needed I was swayed by friends
- Not following my gut when I knew things weren’t right
- I missed opportunities to connect with truly like-minded people as I was on the wrong wavelength and not in tune with myself after weeks of partying