Olumide Gbenro has never called a place “home” for a long time.
The 33-year-old entrepreneur grew up in Nigeria until he was six, when his minister parents decided to move to London. Then, seven years later, the Gbenros were granted visas to immigrate to the United States through the country’s green card lottery. Olumide, his parents and his two siblings therefore moved to Columbus, Ohio.
“Being a person of color, I felt there were certain times in my life where I just didn’t feel valued as a human being,” Gbenro told CNBC Make It of growing up black in the Midwest. “I always felt left out.”
Gbenro wanted a creative life: a life filled with travel, art, and opportunities to meet people from all corners of the world. But his parents wanted him to become a doctor, lawyer or engineer.
In 2016, he completed his dual master’s degree in epidemiology and behavioral science at San Diego State University. He found himself caught between two paths: go to medical school and become a doctor or travel the world.
“All my life I’ve just followed the rules, whether they come from my parents, religion or society,” he says. “But deep down I knew that if I took the job in the PhD program, I could never go back, I could never travel overseas…I would be stuck in a lab, so I decided to say ‘no’.”
Gbenro packed up all his things and left the United States to see the world – but it would take him years to land in Bali, his forever home.
Become a digital nomad
Gbenro’s first stop was Berlin, where he had friends from graduate school. He spent three months there on a tourist visa, oscillating between sofas with friends and hostels.
When Gbenro left the United States, he had “almost no savings and no plans”. He quickly grew his Instagram after posting travel tips, dance videos and other content. Gbenro decided to monetize his hobby: he messaged other creators and businesses on Instagram and offered to help them improve their social media strategy for a fee (often $250).
Starting a business remotely was “really difficult at first,” Gbenro recalls, but he soon had a full list of clients and enough income to make social media his full-time job. He took an online course in social media marketing that helped him structure his business, and an old friend in San Diego referred him to his first two clients.
After his visa expired, he traveled to Mexico for four months, then returned to San Diego. “But I realized that I wasn’t happy living in America yet,” he says. “There was something about living in America that made me feel like I wasn’t growing up.”
He continues: “As a black man, there was a psychological trauma and a pressure that I felt living there, especially as an immigrant too, I felt like I didn’t fit in. “
Gbenro officially launched his social media marketing business, Olumide Gbenro PR & Brand Monetization, in 2018 while still in San Diego, collaborating with celebrity chefs, real estate agents, business coaches and more. . Although he thrived at work, Gbenro always wanted change.
One afternoon he was browsing Instagram and came across a photo of a friend of his who was traveling in Bali. She was relaxing on a beach, surrounded by lush palm trees, a coconut in her hand.
“It looked like the perfect place to live,” says Gbenro. “The difference between Bali and all the other towns I researched is that it seemed very peaceful – all the locals, in the photos online, looked really happy and like they were spending a lot of time .time in nature.”
In 2019, he finds an apartment in Bali through an acquaintance on Instagram, booked a one-way plane ticket and never looked back.
“I live a life of luxury”
Since moving to Bali, Gbenro has been able to spend more on travel, meals and other hobbies, while increasing his savings. “I don’t worry about the money anymore because Bali has a much lower cost of living than the United States,” he says.
During his first nine months in Bali, Gbenro used a tourist visa. Indonesia offers tourists a single-entry visa valid for 60 days and allows four 30-day extensions, totaling up to a six-month stay. Gbenro would travel to Singapore or Malaysia for brief trips once his visa expired, then renew it upon his return.
Soon after, he switched to an investor visa, which requires proof that you are contributing to the local economy. Gbenro has grown his marketing business to help people advertise their properties in Indonesia to qualify for the visa, which he renews with the local government every two years.
As an entrepreneur, Gbenro earns around $140,000 a year. In addition to its consulting business, Gbenro organizes several conferences for digital nomads, including the Digital Nomads Summit, which attracts thousands of people and will be held in Bali in September.
His biggest expenses are his rent and utilities, which together add up to about $1,010 a month. Gbenro lives in a one-bedroom apartment in a building with a private gym, swimming pool and restaurant on the ground floor.
He spends about $600 a month on takeout and dining out, often ordering food from local restaurants on a popular app called Gojek. Gbenro’s other larger expenses include health insurance, transportation (he rents a motorbike), and travel.
Gbenro likes to travel at least once a month and often ventures to Uluwatu, a small area on the southwestern tip of Bali famous for its surfing.
“I probably spend about the same amount of money I would spend each month if I lived in San Diego, but my quality of life is much better,” he says. “I live a life of luxury.”
Here is a monthly breakdown of Gbenro’s expenses (as of January 2022):
Rent and charges: $1,010
Health insurance: $137
To travel: $300
Fall in love with Bali
Gbenro says the hardest part of building her new life in Bali has been dealing with loneliness. “I went to the beach every day, drank coconuts and saw beautiful sunsets, but I lived alone and had no friends here,” he explains.
Once he started visiting coworking spaces in Bali and attending in-person networking events, Gbenro says it became much easier to form close friendships with other expats and locals. He knows conversational Indonesian, but says many people living in Bali also speak English.
“I was really loved and welcomed by the Balinese,” he says. “Everyone is always smiling – there’s a really genuine, heart-centered tone here that you can’t find anywhere else.”