The digital nomad life: combining work and travel
It’s time to flee the rat race and find remote working freedom and the nomad life in Ubud. Supercharge your work-life balance in Bali’s spectacular spiritual hub.
When it comes to places we’d rather be working from right now, Ubud is right up there at the top of the list. Who doesn’t want to wake up to picturesque rice paddies or stroll buzzing morning markets in shorts and flip-flops? How about feasting on sensational Balinese cuisine, and don’t even get us started on the plunge pools.
We’re not the only ones eyeing a longer stay. Following the ancient nomadic lifestyle of generations before, a steady stream of digital nomads and dreamers are sampling the good life in this jungled oasis in the heart of the Island of the Gods.
The extended workcation, also known as “packing it in to live the dream for a few months,” has found a welcoming home in Ubud. Here you can hash out that business plan, finally get some work done on that website, finish that manuscript or just go about your regular day job from a bamboo desk above a sea of green. Along with other movers, shakers and change-makers, kiss goodbye to mind-numbing boardroom meetings and hours stuck in perpetual gridlock. Welcome to your new life.
Co-working in Ubud
The nomad life has been part of Ubud for generations. A century ago Eurpean painters came (and many never left) in search of sunnier climes and inspiration. Now laptop warriors have made it a home away from home. There are now several co-working places in town to meet and mingle with other digital nomads and ensure your Ubud workation hits the ground running.
“Imagine the co-working space Google would create if they opened in Bali,” so says the tagline at Outpost, and in many ways it’s an apt description. There is more than 600 square metres of funky interior space, including meeting rooms, a chill-out zone and Skype rooms plus a garden and outdoor deck space. Outpost Creative Space members get coconuts delivered to their desks and on-site massages, and this being Ubud, emerald green lush scenery pervades every vantage point from the breezy open fronted deck space. It sure beats that cramped little cubicle back home.
It’s busy and buzzing so it’s a great spot to bounce ideas around (and sink a few Bintang beers) with like-minded digital nomads. There is a ton of regular events to keep you in productive mood; everything from personal development, how to pitch a million dollar idea, marketing 101 and stress management. There is also the usual non-geeky social and schmoozing meet-ups too after the day is done including pool parties and wine dinners.
Just a short scooter ride away is Ubud’s original co-working space Hubud. It brings a taste of traditional Bali, resplendent in all bamboo, and however big your goals are on this workation, you’ll immediately feel connected to its sense of place. A self-styled bamboo haven of big ideas, it has that cosy vibe where you may just happen across the world’s greatest growth hacker or a new BFF to share all your ideas with.
It is the polar opposite of your average minimalist urban style co-working space with open fronted decks overlooking the lush scenery, sun loungers and beanbags to sprawl out under shady frangipani trees .
Although there are meeting and conference rooms and a multitude and little nooks for private refuge in the garden, there are few physical barriers. That means you get a very genuine social and collaborative vibe at Hubud with a surprising mix of ‘Hubudians.’ You’ll no doubt rub shoulders with the odd budding fintech billionaire, but also boomers along for the ride, corporate escapees, like-minded dreamers, poets and part-time philosophers.
Looking to supercharge a six-month sojourn in the tropics? Hubud has a range of transformative programs to meet those professional and personal goals, plus a regular calendar of social gatherings. Did we mention the awesome healthy food and drinks at onsite cafe, Kantin? Grab a silky smooth cup of Joe to kick start your day.
3. The Onion Collective
The self-styled ‘Temple of Chill’ is an altogether different proposition for the Ubud nomad life. The Onion Collective’s ‘Passion Lab’ has a languid vibe much in keeping with Ubud itself. Intimate in size, this eccentric space oozes personality with its soft beanbags to sink into and playfully mismatched furnishings and artwork. It’s not all work and no play – turn off the laptop and go hang by the pool, take a dip or sink a few cocktails. There is ‘super-fast geek powered Wi-Fi’ a private podcast studio, small conference room, and did we mention free coffee, tea and water all day long?
If you crave a less structured co-working atmosphere, or perhaps want to keep your secret blueprint for world domination under wraps a little longer, the Onion Collective’s easy going ambience is a good bet. Also comprising an artsy homestay and awesome restaurant, it has a more diverse makeup of worldly-wise travellers, yoga teachers and resident artists beyond the usual nomadic working crowd, which is definitely no bad thing.
Best Work-Friendly Cafes in Ubud
If you just have the urge to wake up and smell the coffee and do your own thing day by day, there is a raft of cool cafes with blazing fast Wi-Fi across Ubud. For all the bustle at Ubud’s co-working hubs listed above, there are many more travellers making the most of the nomadic lifestyle advantages by doing their own thing.
A big proportion of these are solo long term travellers too, holding down nomadic lifestyle jobs, while benefitting from the safety net of a vibrant remote worker community. Ubud really embraces the whole organic, creative artistic, mindfulness, yogi lifestyle and you’ll see it reflected in its multitude of cafes and restaurants. Here are out top five Ubud cafés to power up and get productive.
1. Black Beach
One of my all-time faves, Black Beach has been around seemingly forever, and certainly before broadband arrived in Ubud. While the Wi-Fi has kept up with the times and is speedy enough for most laptop warriors, the timeless Italian menu and laid back vibe remains unchanged. It’s easy to while away a few languid hours sipping a double decaff or slurping homemade gelato. Then give the keyboard a rest and pop back after dark for arthouse and classic Euro movie screenings on the terrace.
2. Vespa Café
Perched above town in leafy Penastanan village, Vespa Café has become a de facto hangout for the area’s artists, writers and roaming remote workers. There is a good social vibe, hearty breakfasts to start the day and great artisan style coffee. In fact the baristas create some awesome latte art guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. It’s almost too good to drink. The home baked cakes and fruity desserts are sure to tickle those sugary cravings and of course the fibre optic connection hits the sweet spot when it’s time to get tapping on the keyboard.
3. Juice Ja Café
This funky café-cum-bakery will keep health food eaters on the straight and narrow with a full range of almost too good to be true veggie, vegan and gluten-free bites. Digital nomads have to stay fit, fabulous and in tiptop condition too. For organic food epicureans this is the real deal, and along with its prime location, can get busy throughout the day. If so, decamp upstairs to power up the laptop for a little more quietude and cool breezes. The free, fast Wi-Fi won’t disappoint.
4. Cat Café
With so many furry felines lounging around, we’re not sure how productive you’ll be at Cat Café. Still, it’s a cosy atmosphere which resembles a rustic living room and the Wi-Fi works a treat. The adorable dozen or so cats are there to be cuddled and played with, so when writer’s block kicks in, take time out for some feline fun. Anyhow, one day being a little less productive is hardly a catastrophe.
5. Localista Cafe
Sometimes you just need a little nudge of creative inspiration to kick on with the day’s tasks. That’s why we love Localista. It’s housed in the Rio Helmi Gallery, which features stunning photography from Helmi’s globetrotting nomad life over several decades. The images span the world, from the remotest corner of the Indonesian archipelago to nomadic communities in America. The café serves up top notch coffee and has Ubud’s best cupcakes; the swirl of icing itself is a delicious work of art. Despite the constant coming and going of curious art lovers, it’s a quiet oasis to linger.
HotelQuickly’s Quick Guide to Ubud:
Try to avoid June to August, or plan your days to miss the busloads of tourists that visit during this time. Apply for a 60-day visa on arrival if there’s a chance you want to extend your stay. Walking will take you most places in Ubud. Scooter rental is cheap but only consider it if you’re an experienced rider.
A primary reason for embarking on a digital nomad journey is to reign in those bad workaholic habits and start tweaking the work-life balance in your favour. It would be a crime not to make the most of Ubud’s awesome scenery, art and culture, and there is no shortage of other like-minded location independent workers around to enjoy it with. You’ll soon sink into Ubud’s easy-going pace of life, and it will definitely pay dividends by designating a full day each week (better still – two) as a time to lock away the laptop and swap the virtual world of work for real world adventures.
Get arty: Art quite literally comes naturally in Ubud, in the stunning landscape and the hundreds of private workshops, galleries and world renowned art museums. The Neka Art Museum in Sanggingan is a fine place to get acquainted with Bali’s artistic legacy or for something a little more offbeat, check out the Andy Warhol-esque art collective at Symon‘s ‘Art Zoo.’ Each of the surrounding villages are noted for their generations-old expertise in a specific strand of the arts, including Mas Village for woodcarving, classic paintings in Batuan and Penestanan, and Celuk for gold and silverware.
River Rafting: The deep river gorges that carve up the Ubud landscape are home to Bali’s biggest adrenaline rush – white water rafting. Go with the flow on the Ayung River at Kedewatan for the wildest, wettest ride of your life. You’ll twist and turn along 10 km of fast flowing, adrenalin pumped water, yet there are many flat stretches to catch your breath and take in the awesome riverbank scenery.
Scale a volcano: If you have a head for heights and don’t mind groping around in the darkness awhile, then a sunrise trek up Mount Batur is one for the Bali bucket list. It’s an easy journey from Ubud, kicking off at about 2.00am but those sleepy eyes will soon sparkle again once you complete the short hike up to the summit. It’s an awesome sight as a starry night sky reflects on Mount Batur’s glistening crater lake before the panorama magically transforms as the sun slowly creeps above the horizon.
Recommended hotels: Bali Spirit Hotel, Ubud Village Resort, Nandini Bali Jungle Resort
Best restaurants: Mama’s Warung, KAFE, Warung Sopa, Hujan Locale
Best spa experience: Splurge: Bali Botanica, Afforable: Jaen’s Spa
Best crispy duck: Bebek Tapi Sawah
Best souvenir: Recycled stationery from Saraswati Papers’ Kado Boutique
Events not to miss: TEDxUbud, BaliSpirit Festival, Ubud Readers and Writers Festival, Startup Weekend Bali (at Hubud)
HotelQuickly Tip: If you need a place to ‘test drive’ Ubud life for a few nights, use the HotelQuickly app to score the best deals on handpicked hotels in and around Ubud.
In Conclusion – Home is where the art is
While Ubud is not exactly a case study in how to be a nomad with no money, it certainly offers arguably the best bang for your buck regarding the quality of life balance. It is worth its weight in gold purely on the creative vibe it exudes, while the ability to spend the morning ‘commute’ wandering languidly through lush emerald green rice fields is priceless.
When freedom means powering up your laptop wherever there’s Wi-Fi, it’s no wonder Ubud lures us back along with countless other digital nomads seeking an escape from the daily grind. Cultured Ubud is not Indonesia’s cheapest place to live but neither are you forced into nomad living in camper vans. Just to put it all into perspective, it’s not unheard of to snag a gorgeous hillside villa for significantly less than your cluttered one-room city apartment.
Planning a trip ? Open the HotelQuickly app to see today’s best hotel deals and place yourself near the action.
Ray Montgomery is a seasoned travel copywriter and journalist based for more than a dozen years in Southeast Asia. Ray’s big passions are eating, tweeting and constantly seeking the next perfect ocean sunset.