What it's really like to live the digital nomad lifestyle

Planning to swap the nine-to-five for a poolside in Bali? A location-independent professional gives us the first-hand lowdown.

Have a productive holiday with coworking and coliving spaces like Hubud.
  • Jenny Hewett
  • April 2019

Dress for the job you want, they said. So here I am, barefaced and sopping wet, clad only in a Baywatch-red one-piece swimsuit, squinting to read the emails on my MacBook. The sun is beating down, it's barely 9am and the villa pool is already beckoning. Kites are quivering in the sky overhead and roosters are reverberating next door. This moment has all the hallmarks of a Bali holiday. But it's not.

Three years ago, after travelling to recover from near-burnout from work, I moved to Canggu to live life on my own terms. Some call me a digital nomad but given my work as a freelance travel journalist, I could well be a pro pool player. Step into my office.

Dojo is a popular co-working space in Bali
Dojo is a popular co-working space in Bali.

Surrounded by coconut palms, rice paddies and amazing beaches, it's not hard to see why I’ve swapped button-up shirts for bikinis and sunsets.

My situation is not unique. I'm part of a growing community of remote workers who have given up their traditional desk jobs to pursue an untethered life, which can be more freeing and fulfilling.

Over the past five years, this new-wave work ethic has begun to thrive. According to a report by research giant Morgan Stanley, about half of the US working population could be freelance by 2027. Similar numbers in Australia also reflect this shift.

Joining a co-working space helps make the nomadic life less lonely
Joining a co-working space helps make the nomadic life less lonely.

Those who have made the switch tend to have careers that lend themselves to working remotely – think digital marketers, wellness entrepreneurs or online counsellors. Their careers now slot into their lifestyle, rather than the other way around.

With decent Wi-Fi, affordable living, co-working clubs such as Hubud opens in new window and Dojo opens in new window, nuanced cafés such as The Slow opens in new window and ability to captivate creatives and dreamers, Bali is a no-brainer as a base for freelancers. According to online travel resource Gap Year Escape opens in new window, it was the number one destination in the world for digital nomads in 2018. Thailand's Chiang Mai and Bangkok also made the top 10.

Most co-working spaces clubs as Hubud in Bali also offer meeting spaces for professionals
Most co-working clubs such as Hubud in Bali also offer meeting spaces for professionals.

Whether I'm sprawled out by an infinity pool or jetting across to Nusa Lembongan, my job is always at my fingertips. Like most of my peers here, I rarely work past 3pm and travel whenever I want.

Of course, the hard part is that the immediacy of online work can make it hard to ever truly take a break. Not having a regular income can also be stressful and room-hopping every few months has become the bane of my existence. I won’t lie – there have been times I’ve wanted to give up. The life of a digital nomad isn’t just swanning around from one Insta-perfect pool to another (although there is a lot of that). Like most things, this lifestyle takes persistence and hard work, but the rewards are rich.

Talk about an office with a view!
Talk about an office with a view!

Not only do I find it empowering to make my own rules, I also feel lucky to be surrounded by such beauty – Bali is an inspiring place to live and work in. Since I've been a digital nomad, my whole perspective has shifted. Living out of a suitcase most of the time, I desire fewer material things and like many of my peers, I value experiences over possessions and status. And although I’m from Sydney, travel has always been a constant in my life, so being a global resident feels natural to me.

As late French philosopher Albert Camus said, “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”