Designing a lifestyle business: Moving to Bali – here’s what I learned

- November 23, 2015 6 MIN READ

Thinking about moving to Bali, designing a lifestyle business and living the dream? Well, Jeremy Britton’s done it and today he shares what he’s learned in the last seven months.

I first came to Bali over 10 years ago, as a low-cost alternative family holiday. It was cheaper than going to China (which I also enjoyed, for a month), and I was assured that many more local Indonesians spoke English. With airfares and accommodation, it was actually cheaper to fly 6000 km from Brisbane to Bali and stay for 11 days, than it was to travel 1700km and stay in Port Douglas for a weekend. All it took was a leap of faith, and to operate outside of my own state of mind, then outside my state of Australia.

Since that first holiday, I’ve done around half a dozen trips, each for around 21 to 30 days at a time. That’s OK, as you’re a tourist, you have a tourist visa, and you expect to return to your country of departure soon. The occasional annoyances of having dodgy electricity, unsafe tap water and periodic wi-fi hiccups are easily manageable if you’re a short-termer who’s going back soon.

Trialling ‘living like a local’ is a whole new ball game. You have to source accommodation, find out how to set up your own utilities, hire your own help and make your own way around. You must discover where to get laundry facilities, haircuts, groceries, water, crockery, cutlery, pans and appliances.

You will discover that foods are completely different, even if they say that they’re not. (I have found watermelon in varieties of red, orange and yellow, passionfruit in both yellow and white flesh, beef-bacon and turkey-bacon, cucumber fruits, dragonfruit in both white and hot pink, plus the infamous ‘animal coffee’. For US$500/kilo, you’d expect this coffee to be somehow, well, not so much passed through the digestive tract of someone else before you ingest it.)

It’s almost like being an alien or a pilgrim in a new land. You’ll be expected to learn at least a few basic phrases in the local language, not just as a courtesy, but as a necessity (if you wish to avail yourself of the special discount prices which locals and long-termers enjoy).

And you’ll make mistakes. I have overpaid for items by a huge factor: buying $4 pants for $40, and paying $16 for supplies that would cost a local person under $2. You can pay $6 for a massage or you can pay $80, you just have to know where to go. Buy the wrong type of internet access and you’ll burn through your data in 17 minutes instead of a month. The good thing is that mistakes aren’t fatal, and you learn a lot.

Some people will be trustworthy, others will take advantage of your good nature or your naivety. You will not be able to tell these people apart, until much later. You don’t know what you don’t know, until you know it, you know?

But if you ask a lot of questions, remain open to the experiences and learn from your mistakes, you’ll be OK. I had to learn that the Hindu sacred day of Silence (‘Nyepi’) was observed by the entire country (not just the Hindus) and was enforced by armed guards! You are not allowed to leave your house or turn on any electrical devices; not even the bedroom lights (candles are OK, just burn them quietly!).

Yes, the men patrolling the streets armed with Uzi submachine guns are serious: do not leave your house, do not turn on any power, do not make a sound, just for 24 hours. On the plus side, you do enjoy the silence, and the view of the stars when an entire island observes no electricity all night long is spectacular.

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I also had to learn the concept of ‘jam karet’ or ‘rubber time’, and that when you arrange to meet a realtor for a house inspection, he can turn up 45 minutes late with no apology. It’s part of the culture. Some service people will turn up five days after the agreed time, then explain it away with a religious ritual or village festival. Did they not know about this before they planned their week? Or they did, and just didn’t want to upset you by promising late delivery? Patience is something which you must have, or acquire when dealing with people who have another set of millenia-old customs.

So those have been the challenges … what about the payoffs – both from a personal and business point of view?

1. Travel broadens the mind: viewing another culture from an outsider’s perspective allows you to also examine your own culture from an outside perspective. Which customs, habits or belief systems do you hold that are not necessarily 100% ‘right’, but merely a result of growing  up in your own society? Which ones can you let go?

2. Living amongst peoples of other cultures allows you to see new ways of doing things.

Did you know:

  • It’s possible to live for a few days without power or internet? Many people have this as reality, so they discover innovative ways to get by.
  • There are $48 mobile phones with solar panels on the back, for when electricity is unavailable?
  • That people can send you money via SMS when internet banking doesn’t work?
  • That you can ‘withdraw’ funds without an ATM by going into a shop, texting $20 to the owner and he will give you the cash?

3. Discovering that some cultures can embrace high-tech (internet speeds in Indonesia or Thailand can be 1500% to 2000% faster than Australia) yet still retain their ancient wisdom. Many masseurs, healers, dentists or doctors will prescribe special fruit and vegetables, herbs or essential oils instead of artificial medication. No side-effects!

    • Salmonella poisoning? Fresh green coconut. Upset stomach? Snakefruit or celak. Man troubles? Fresh pineapple or watermelon juice are more effective than Viagra. Malaria? Fresh guava beats a trip to the hospital. Sick and don’t like antibiotics? Try clove oil. Keeping snakes away? Lavender and clove.

4. Daily spirituality or reverent rituals keep the peace inside of each person, as well as keeping peace in the neighbourhood.

5. Cost-effectiveness:

    • Yes, $6 massages are good.
    • You can rent a 2-bedroom house with a private yard and swimming pool for under $200/week; walking distance to the beach.
    • A home without a pool, further from the beach can be yours for $300-$500/month.
    • Electricity between $50-$100/month, depending on house size.
    • Internet access via fibre-optic (20Mbs) or 4G WiFi (4Mbs) is around $5-$10/mth.
    • Hire a car for $100/week, or a motorbike for $10/week.
    • Hire a driver, so you don’t get lost for $25/week.
    • Use Uber or Go-Jek for small trips or errands and pay $0.60 to $1.
    • Breakfast at a five-star cafe can be under $4.
    • Dinner out in a restaurant can be under $2 for a main course, if you go to a local small outlet, you’ll pay from $0.50.
    • If you get sick of eating out for all of your meals (as I did), you can hire a chef or maid for around $50-80/month, and enjoy home-cooked meals without the preparation or clean-up.
    • Groceries are amusingly cheap in the stores (for local goods. Imported wine or Vegemite will cost you extra). A carton of eggs is $1, bag of mushrooms $0.40, a loaf of bread is $1 and avocadoes are $0.50. A trolley-load of fresh coconuts, fruits, vegetables and the occasional beer or bacon will be $50/week for two. Prices are less if you shop at the local markets, rather than the supermarket, and everything is 100% organic.
    • Hire a PA for $2-$3 an hour, either for small errands, or upgrade to have a VA answer your phonecalls, answer your emails and take care of social media, marketing, web design or other tasks.
    • Medical: A root canal that I was quoted at $3000 in Australia was completed for under $150 with a western-trained dentist in Bali.
    • Glasses can be 20% of the Aussie price, due to the award wages of an optometrist being lower.
    • Mobile phones, laptops and other high-tech items are much cheaper when you get them ‘from the source’.
    • Clothes: expect to buy brand-new items for thrift-store prices. T-shirts from $2-$4, pants or jeans from $5 and a beautifully tailor-made suit for under $100, or tailor-made leather jacket for $25. Hand-made shoes a specialty for ladies or men.
    • Discover that many retirees choose to live overseas, because a $300/week pension provides a very low standard of living in their own country, whereas you can live like royalty with hired help in another country for the same price.
    • My aim was to live on 50% of my previous expenditure and save the rest. However, there are so many cool things to buy, trips to take, or experiences to enjoy, that you may find it hard to say ‘no’ to island tours, snorkelling and socialising.
    • In addition to having a great time, it’s also possible you may discover a hidden niche, business idea or export opportunity: buying items in third-world countries, or having them manufactured, and selling them for profit back home.

6. Learning a new language can be a great challenge,and also makes you look at your own tongue in a new way. The majority of people I meet here are multi-lingual, and if they speak ‘broken English’, it’s still better than my Indonesian! There are millions of Bali locals who speak Balinese, or people from Java who speak Javanese, as well as expats from Holland, Australia, England and so on, with most groups als0 speaking the official language of Indonesian. My VA speaks three languages, and our maid speaks four, so there is really no excuse for me to just stick to one!

So there you go – that’s been my experience of moving to Bali and designing a lifestyle business seven months ago. Anyone here considering making the same move? Feel free to ask any questions you might have below!