What it’s like to be a digital nomad in Bali

After suffering a heavy blow to tourism due to the pandemic, a small party town in Bali remains home to a different kind of traveler.

Lombok is what Bali was like, you know. I have heard this statement a lot in Bali. Here on Gili Trawangan (Gili T) – an island about 2.5 hours by boat from Bali – there are no motorcycles, no traffic jams, and no traffic. There is only the sound of breaking waves and horses galloping in the distance. Gili T is a reprieve and a break from Bali.

Bali is a popular stopover on the Southeast Asian Trail known as the “island of the gods”. Its fan base of spiritualists, occultists, and yogis is known to ‘eat, pray, and love’ far from normal life. In the 1970s, industrious hippies played an important role in exporting the Balinese art and culture moved westward, causing a boom in demand for Balinese products by those with esoteric tastes.The following decades saw more temples and statues built than ever before.

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As Bali’s popularity grew, the island gained a reputation for disappointing the expectations of tourists. After being drawn to filtered photos on Instagram, travelers complained that they were catfish on arrival on the small Indonesian island. Visit any travel thread on Facebook, and Bali is a regular contender when asked for overrated places to visit. The problem with Bali can often be its hordes of tourists, traffic jams and rampant pollution.

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Pre-COVID, Bali hotspots—Kuta, Ubud, Seminyak and Cangguhad been a victim of overtourism. Kuta had become the destination for retired tourists, Ubud was a magnet for yogis, Seminyak attracted the wealthiest travelers, while Canggu had become the center of the party. When the pandemic struck, these towns – once teeming with tourists – suddenly became something of a ghost town.

“If I had to compare Bali now to what it was before COVID, it’s completely different, especially in Kuta,” says Vic, a Bali resident. “Previously, Kuta was completely packed, but now it’s empty. Canggu is always quite busy, even with restrictions. It seems that another type of traveler is now keeping Canggu alive.

What it’s like to be a digital nomad in Bali

A digital nomad is someone who works remotely while traveling, often staying in foreign destinations longer than the average traveler. Often confused with influencers, digital nomads come from all over the world. I have had one for four years. I traded stories with nomads from India, collaborated with Kenyans and Catalans, and broke bread with Russians and Americans. The digital nomad community is a community where we share recommendations, comfort each other when needed, and warn each other of dangers.

Digital nomads often create new hubs when old ones die. New cafes and coworking spaces seem to be springing up behind us everywhere we go, along with more and more bars, restaurants and beach clubs. Chiang Mai, a popular digital nomadic center, is a major pipeline for nomads in Bali, attracting nomads who could not handle the fire season or those who carry out visas. Bali ticked all the boxes with its low cost of living, abundance of beaches, and Instagrammable beauty.

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Once considered an empty part of the island, Canggu is now a popular hotspot for digital nomads. In Canggu, nomads worked in coworking spaces like Dojo, ate lunch at Crate, and partied at La Brisa or The Lawn. The vibe was “work hard and play hard”, giving way to business in the morning and hedonism in the evening. Digital nomads don’t want it in Bali.

Being a digital nomad has its advantages. I was able to see Bali beyond the charges against it because I could do more than the average tourist. When I wasn’t on my laptop, I explored my surroundings slowly and intimately, visiting less popular coffee plantations, rice paddies, and waterfalls. Never once have I seen the very popular Monkey Forest in Ubud.

I have become a regular at Warung– food stalls selling traditional Balinese food – and I often spoke with the locals. I went to language meetings, cooking classes and ceremonies. I haggled in the markets and partied. It doesn’t mean that I never had any problems. A few run-ins with the local Banjar (Bali Police) taught me to always wear my helmet, take the gojek in designated areas, and never have more than 500,000 rupees in cash on me.

I ended up at Gili T because I didn’t want to leave, but needed a bit of a break. It was much quieter in Gili T. Here I went snorkelling and cycled through the pink skies every evening, reflecting on my current life.

The changing vision of digital nomads

The lifestyle of digital nomads has not escaped criticism on social media and online travel spaces. Reports in the news sparked complaints about our niche travel style, accusing us of gentrifying the countries we were invited to. Gradually, the synonyms of digital nomads changed from “remote worker ”to“ colonizer ”. For this reason, most digital nomads prefer to disassociate themselves from the term entirely, preferring substitute terms such as “high-end homeless” and “digital bum”.

There was an awareness of how nomads interacted with their destinations. Some nomads prefer to live like locals, with as little disruption as possible, while others choose to savor the new luxury that lower costs now allow them.

In the latest news, a digital nomad has been accused of encouraging her audience to visit Bali, while mistakenly promoting Indonesia as an LGBTQ + friendly space. This digital nomad flaunted the new privileges she couldn’t afford in her hometown, sparking a local and international outcry on social media, which subsequently chased her from the island. These reviews, along with the pandemic, made me wonder if the digital nomadic culture in Bali is on the way out.


When I returned to Bali, the pandemic frenzy had just started. The borders were scheduled to close as panic swept through online travel groups over increased aggression towards visiting foreigners. Some travelers said they were denied service in places such as restaurants and laundromats.

There also seemed to be an increase in crime. A popular YouTuber decided to quit after his villa was broken into twice. Many, including myself, have questioned their role in Bali during the pandemic. Of course, there has been a massive exodus of travelers. Suddenly, the place that welcomed millions of travelers a year had no more than 7,000.

Bali’s digital nomad and the COVID pandemic

Canggu manages to retain his personality despite the pandemic, with locals and nomads working together to bring the pandemic to fruition. I met a few people in Canggu who were happy to share their experiences.

Originally from Jakarta, fitness coach and consultant, Vic created an online niche by settling in Bali. Her work has put her in contact with many influencers and digital nomads.

“Influencers and Nomads have been very supportive during this time as they help local brands and restaurants by posting about them on Instagram,” Vic said. “Locals and foreigners have become more united than before. They pay more attention to each other now.

When it comes to party life in Canggu, Vic recommends travelers stay aware of their surroundings. “Unfortunately, some people have to survive by flying, so awareness is essential. I would recommend people not to go out too late. Having said that, I feel safer here than in Jakarta, ”she says.

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Christina, an online English teacher and travel blogger, came to Bali with her husband after visa complications in Vietnam left many foreigners, including herself, stranded. They entered Bali when the island briefly opened in May.

“We looked for a credible agency and took our chances when we were allowed in,” says Christina. “When we first arrived most places were closed and only accepted take out. We unexpectedly spent $ 900 on food! ” Southeast Asia has a considerably higher food budget, as nomads typically expect to spend less than $ 200 per month.

Christina is very optimistic about spending the rest of her time in Bali. “Indonesians are generally very helpful and welcoming,” she adds. “Even though they may be afraid [about the pandemic], they always try to help you. Personally, I feel safe, but like everywhere else, you have to be careful. Christina’s advice to tourists is to expand. “Don’t spend time in one place. It’s good to have a base in a popular area, but you miss a lot if you don’t explore.

Mikey, a digital currency trader from the United States, decided to stay because it was better than the alternative to leave. “A lot has changed since the start of the pandemic,” says Mikey. “Before the pandemic there was a party vibe, but now it’s really cool.”

Being the target of a crime also didn’t stop Mikey from feeling the good vibes of the island.

“I had to replace my helmet three times in Bali. Like everyone else, I left my helmet on my bike, and I came back, and my helmet would be gone, ”he laughs. “From what I’ve heard, beautiful helmets are being stolen for resale. This is my only real experience with crime here in Bali.

While foreigners can travel throughout the main island, COVID-19 protocols prohibit unvaccinated foreigners from jumping from island to island. “As a foreigner, I’m only allowed to go back to America, but I’d much rather be here than at home,” Mikey adds. “The general atmosphere has been quite loving and caring.”

As travelers await Bali’s much-anticipated reopening, it’s good to reflect on our impact on other communities. Some of us are not the best tourists. On the one hand, I have work to do, but keeping an open mind to learn and give grace to the destinations I go to has never failed me as a strategy. Bali is a beautiful place, and everyone should be allowed to experience its beauty, no matter where they are from. Respect Bali, and Bali will respect you.

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