Working in Bali
Finally the time had come: the plane took off, heading to Southeast Asia, to the other end of the world, where it was summer.
In December 2022, my long-awaited dream came true. At the beginning of this year, I made a firm resolution: “I won't be spending next winter in Berlin!” No sooner said than done. At this point, I'll keep the rather complex, eventful and lengthy process up to that point to myself.
It really started: the workation! For the first time longer than one to two weeks and for a relatively indefinite period of time. In the end it was six months, but at the beginning of the trip the end date was deliberately left open to be able to see whether I like Bali, whether working on the road works and whether the principle of working and vacationing together can work.
Bali – sun, sand and coconut
The choice fell on Bali. I can no longer say exactly why. I fell in love with the idea of living temporarily on an island, with great beaches and at the same time a jungle, diverse locations and flora and fauna, plus an infrastructure designed for remote workers. Admittedly, I also fell in love with the Instagram image worlds, which made me realize that I wouldn't miss out on any culinary specialties either. After all, I'm pretty spoiled from Berlin. And not having been to Indonesia or Bali before made it all the more adventurous.
I arrived in the late afternoon and wanted to go to the beach immediately after the luggage had been left at the accommodation. The first sunset on the west coast was so breathtakingly beautiful that I knew I did everything right!
Live in Germany's future
From December to March, up until the time change, I was seven hours ahead of Germany, and then only six from March. Either way, I could practically live in the future of Germany. For me, this meant that no matter what time I got up in the morning, if I started work at 14 p.m., 8 a.m. CET, I would always have a few hours to myself, without work. I had "closing time" before I worked and worked into the evening. Of course it took a little time at the beginning to fully settle into the new work rhythm, but once I got used to it I really enjoyed it. In the mornings and lunchtimes you could find me by the sea, in the pool, with a book in my hand, in one of the beautiful cafés with delicious food or even on an excursion: Since the trip, I've been a big fan of booked experiences such as AirBnB, GetYourGuide and other providers. The highlights include: The night hike on the second highest mountain, Mount Batur, an eight-course Balinese cooking course on an ecological farm, where we previously picked the ingredients fresh, such as 20 chillies, ginger and lemongrass, or visiting temples , waterfalls and an organic coffee plantation.
Work-life balance or working late?
I not only let my clients, coachees and other projects know where I was, but also that meetings should be scheduled less early in the evening if possible, since it was already later in the evening for me. Nevertheless, there were times when I moderated meetings or answered e-mails until after midnight. Let's be honest: I used to do that in Berlin from time to time, so I worked things through in the evening or wrote e-mails, only I didn't send them at 23:20 p.m., but only the next morning... For me, the work I won was -Life balance is much more important: The leisure program can be wonderfully easy and varied: yoga, fitness, mediation, surfing, snorkeling, spa visits, massages, relaxation programs can be easily integrated into everyday life because everything is on site.
Travel at a snail's pace
Bali is one of the most popular travel destinations. It was therefore no wonder that I received numerous tips from friends and acquaintances for the island, and surrounding islands were also recommended to me, because once you are there, it makes sense to visit one or the other beautiful place. You just have to consider that compared to my other vacation trips or city trips, I was traveling at a snail's pace. That was clear to me from the beginning and it wasn't a big deal, because that's exactly why it was good to be on the road for so many months. A snail's pace because I work full-time, although I enjoyed the early end of the day, but still had much less time for long excursions, trips to the other end of the island or island hopping. The weekends were mostly used to change the accommodation/location and then it was time to get back there: In other words, check the WiFi in the accommodation, if it was too bad, you had to find a new “workplace” quickly, like a café, that wasn’t is too crowded (which can be a challenge in Bali) and the music is not too loud. After all, the noise-cancelling headphones don't catch all noises and you don't like to see that you're working from there.
There are also a few coworking spaces in Bali, such as this Outpost, which I discovered and tried in Ubud. There I was able, among other things, to work in air-conditioned rooms with a no-noise policy or to book boxes in order to conduct coaching sessions and meetings in peace and at high-speed Internet. The Outpost has two locations in Ubud and one location in Canggu. There are always organized networking events, which is of course useful for those who are on site longer and want to get to know other remote workers.
No WiFi, no money
"No Wifi, no Money" sounds very dramatic, of course, but in Bali I clearly realized how important a well-functioning Internet connection is and at the same time I had to be able to deal with the Wifi connection just not being strong enough or other unforeseeable events arrived: I remember a good travel meeting that I attended from the roof terrace of my accommodation, so I could see the sunset next to the lovely people from the team, but suddenly it started to rain lightly - not good at all for Laptop and Co. – which is why I had to move to my room quickly, after which it rained so heavily that I hardly had any connection. But thanks to an understanding team, that was of course not a problem. I was only allowed to learn to stay calm and take things as they came.
In another meeting, I suddenly had to jump up from my desk because I was totally shocked because a monkey made its way to my desk - the reason: he wanted to eat the pretty flower that served to decorate the table rather than out of it watch afar. So I just jumped up in the meeting and explained why you can no longer see me and only hear me. At the same time, I sincerely hoped that the monkey would not pay attention to my laptop, mouse and keyboard and leave them lying around, because it happens again and again that monkeys steal people's favorite objects.
How is Bali like? / How do you like Bali?
I was repeatedly asked by family, friends and work colleagues if and how I like Bali. Right from the start my impression was mixed! There are the warm, friendly people you see daily in their meditative Hinduism rituals, who always have a smile on their face and are always willing to help. The service in restaurants and the hospitality is also completely different from what we are used to in Germany. In addition, the warm temperatures, the high humidity, which I like, and of course the beautiful, lush green nature.
At the same time, the downsides become immediately clear because they cannot be overlooked. Before I go into that, I would like to say that I was definitely prepared for this, but things feel different when you see them with your own eyes, feel them with your hands and do it anew every day.
The island that never stands still
There is the traffic, which literally never stands still, at least in the regions popular with tourists. Here it becomes clear that the island is not designed for the large number of (long-term) visitors. In certain places the infrastructure is collapsing - long traffic jams, even on a scooter, are part of everyday life. Driving on a scooter is part of the special Bali experience. You can ride with or without a helmet, clothed or shirtless, alone, in pairs or fours, with or without a baby, with or without a dog(s), with or without deliveries of food or goods such as flour, rice or water canisters. No matter how short or long the route is, it is covered by scooter, because there are no classic pedestrian paths or only in some places. So if you like to walk, then on the street, where crowds of scooters zoom past you.
The two worlds between the tourists and the locals
After some time on the island, observing processes and conversations between locals and tourists, I realized how unfair the situation is. The Balinese and Indonesians who work in Bali often live from wage to wage, try to save money for their family, but do not get rich from their salary, work hard, sometimes from morning to night and often for several weeks. They hardly have any free time and most of them have never gone on vacation. Every day you see how wasteful tourists are with food, how privileged they are, hear how many holiday destinations they have already visited and see me, for example, who can work from a café. When I talked to them, I often heard how fascinating they find the fact that I can work from anywhere. A young Balinese told me that unless he fulfills his dream of working on a cruise ship, he will probably never be able to work anywhere else. That made me think a lot.
I also became thoughtful when talking to the Balinese, who told me that they had not yet left their own place or had never seen the south of the island. I kept asking myself how that could be possible. From further conversations I learned that many cannot swim. I couldn't believe that either, they live in paradise, right on the beach, for which tourists travel thousands of kilometers - and they can't swim themselves. It quickly became clear: Nobody teaches them, swimming courses are not part of the school curriculum and parents cannot teach them what they have not learned themselves. Fortunately, the initiative exists Swimdo, which, through donations, teaches children how to swim or techniques for surviving in the water and in currents free of charge.
Bali, the island of plastic
When I saw the mountains of rubbish that you could already see on the drive from the airport, I was shocked and when I saw more and more mountains of rubbish, only more. Everything from coconut shells to plastic bags is piled up there. You can also see tons of rubbish on the beach, some of which is deposited there, but unfortunately also washes up over the rivers into the sea. In many places in the water, whether in the east, south or west of the islands, you swim with plastic. Not always equally strong, but everywhere with garbage in and on the water. Once a week, the garbage truck drives through the towns and collects the garbage to throw it off at a large heap. In between, rubbish burns on the roadside and on the beach.
There are some organizations that have declared war on plastic. So too Sungai watch, who regularly organize island-wide beach clean-ups. I was also part of one and collected bags of rubbish on the beach. Of course it was a nice feeling to do something together. At the same time, I was told again and again that just as much rubbish would be washed up the next day...
Some locals are well aware of the problem and have taken action: The Museum of Space Available shows in changing exhibitions what can be produced with recycled plastic or new materials such as mycelia. They are also involved in educational work. Be sure to stop by when you're there.
Will I travel to Bali again?
I hope so! Of course I'm interested in how the island is developing and of course I'm hoping for the better. I hope that the government takes on the problem of waste and introduces sustainable solutions and also for more education on issues such as environmental protection, marine protection and recycling. I would also like to get more involved and help out when I am back on site. Participate in beach clean-ups again and collect rubbish, support educational projects and above all treat the local people and their nature with respect.
Was that my last workation?
No way! While writing the article, I was in Portugal for four weeks, working from Porto and Lisbon. What remains is the realization that you take more time to be able to be on the road, to travel slowly and to pay particular attention to the destination and the people, so you also try to look behind the scenes and think about whether it is an opportunity to get involved locally. Trying to take less and also give something, such as ideas and time, so that paradise places like Bali manage to preserve nature.
© Photos: Cecile Meier