Interview: Ubud Girls

Wonder women trying on their (shared) crown...
left to right, Kintan, Lena + Nevena

This interview series tells the real stories of people living a life of their own design, as a traveller, digital nomad or expat, in the hope that their stories inspire you and provide some pointers to creating a life of your own design, whatever that may be.

I'd seen these three girls floating around our workspace, Hubud, talking, laughing and working on their laptops around a big table together often. I immediately wanted in on their girl gang, so the idea for this interview took shape. I did some asking around and discovered they all worked remotely for various start-ups in Marketing roles.

What was planned as a short interview turned into a two hour deep discussion, on the realities of life as a digital nomad, experiences they'd all had to go through to get to this place, experiences I realised I had been through too.

This is the inside story of how three girls from all across the world, Nevena from Amsterdam in Holland, Lena from Bucharest in Romania and Kintan from Jakarta in Indonesia, came to be working side-by-side for remote start-ups in Ubud, Bali out of Hubud coworking space.

If you don't already know, remote work, sometimes called local independence, involves working remotely for a company. You have a job, a salary, a role and responsibilities, you have emails to answer, colleagues, a boss, meetings to attend, you just aren't physically in the same room, city, country or even continent as your colleagues, or boss for that matter. It sounds great I know but in this interview we were keen to get to tell the honest truth about this lifestyle, the ups and the downs.

On How They Came to Be Working Remotely in Ubud, Bali

Nevena: I was volunteering at a school for children with mental disabilities in Ubud and I was supposed to just stay for a few months but I found out that I really wanted to stay here longer. I heard about Hubud and I came here and I started working for a friend of mine, I never ever worked in online marketing or anything, I didn’t know anything, didn’t even know what Wordpress was, really I had no idea.

My background is in psychology. I was really interested in marketing though so then I just started to hang around here (at Hubud), doing the courses, the workshops, and started to work for a friend of mine, like easy things. I was looking for something where I could learn about online marketing and doing some organisational things. Kintan told me about the job opening for my role actually!

Lena: I worked in advertising for a couple of years in Romania and at some point I just couldn’t take it anymore. It was just going so fast and everything was so fake, everything was so money, money, money...And then I was like, ok I can’t take it anymore. I didn’t know what to do, it all started with a panic attack in the middle of the night.

Katie: Oh, that’s how a lot of these stories start…

Lena: It was 4am and I couldn’t breathe and it was 4am and I just realised that I was so happy because I had four more hours to sleep, that was my only happiness. And in the morning I remember the Director just came to me and said, ‘Hey, we won a pitch, you’re going to get this client, on top of your other work' and when I heard that I was like, ‘No. I quit.’ Then I just picked a random destination, well I had heard some things about Bali so it was not totally new, but it was pretty random.

“I was like, ‘No. I quit.’
Then I just picked a
random destination.”

Katie: So you just got here and you said, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do but I’m going to do it here?’

Lena: I just, I know myself and I know if I really want it I’m going to do something. I was hanging out at Seniman (local coffee shop) and then I worked for another remote start up but it didn’t quite work out. And then, I didn’t have a lot of money but I was working with my boyfriend at some point on some projects. And then this job that I'm doing now came along…

Kintan: For me I was planning to stay here for nine weeks because there is this coding bootcamp at Hubud then I got a scholarship to do that, I was like ‘Oh coding, OK!’ and then afterwards I had a friend here and he offered me something like, ‘hey you’re just fresh from the coding bootcamp, why don’t you work with me as a web developer, just continuing your knowledge’...then ever since I just came here and was working here (for a few different start ups) in marketing and web development.

Nevena: I think we all kind of did all different things, small things, to find something bigger.

On Wanting to Give Up, Regularly

Photo: Nevena Tamis

Lena: I remember when I first got here in Bali, I was had my huge backpack and I just I came there and I saw the airport and all the taxi drivers were like, ‘Taxi! Taxi! Taxi! Transport! Transport! Let’s go, let’s go!’ and it was so overwhelming and I just sat down on the pavement and I just looked around and I remember I said it out loud, ‘What the fuck am I doing here?’.

Katie: I’ve had so many moments like that.

Nevena: Yeh I’ve had so many moments like that too. There were a few months (at the start), when it’s really uncertain, it’s really difficult, you need money, you want to learn, you’re making connections but you don’t know where to go, you don’t know where to find things, it’s like sometimes you’re like, ‘What the fuck am I doing here? Why am I doing this?’.

Katie: Because it’s not real at the start, it’s not real yet.

Nevena: I think it happened like ten times that I was sitting behind my laptop looking for a ticket back home and then thinking, ‘OK you know what? I’m going to give it one more week, see how it goes’. And also in the beginning you don’t know anyone, you’re just fucking alone and you meet new people, you’re all nice and social because you want everyone to like you but then when you’re alone you’re like, ‘Uhhhh what am I doing here?’. I think everyone has this experience.

Photos: Kintan Ayunda

Kintan: When you said every time you wanted to go back then you would give it a week? I did that too. In transition from doing the web developer (coding) thing, I didn’t have a job for like a month, and I was like ‘OK let’s give yourself one month, and then we’ll see.’ And then actually, I already got accepted in an (advertising) agency in Jakarta and then the interviewer said, ‘Woh so you’re having such a good life in Bali hey? Are you ready to go back to Jakarta?’ And I was like ‘I’m a Libra, don’t give me that question! Like seriously!’

Nevena: I remember I said, at one point I just didn’t know anymore what I wanted to do so I went to the mountains by myself for a weekend to think about what I was going to do. Because I had the feeling I maybe just had to go home and face the reality. And I said, ‘OK I’m going to give it one month and otherwise I’ll go home.’ And at the end of that month I got this job.

“I said, ‘OK I’m going to
give it one month and
otherwise I’ll go home.’
And at the end of that
month I got this job.”

On What Their Parents Think About Their Chosen Lifestyle

Kintan: For me, my Mum and my Dad are like, well this is very rebellious for them, I am the youngest daughter, it’s just me and my brother, and I’m the youngest and they’re like keeping me as their baby. And when they found out I wanted to work here they were like, ‘Oh my god why don’t you get a corporate job blah blah’. I don’t think they understand because they come from the generation where they want a safe kind of lifestyle and then they want like a mortgage and that kind of…everyone’s life.

Photo: Kintan Ayunda

So they don’t think I’m working! And it’s also hard to explain to them what I do here. So I would say to them, ‘Yeh I can just fly to Jakarta and still work’ and they’re like, ‘How can that be possible?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeh remote workers!’ and they’d be like, ‘What’s that?’. And then my brother also, well he’s more like, do whatever you want but still hoping that I will go back sometime and have the normal life that everyone’s having.

For my parents it’s still a struggle. They think I’m not doing well here and stuff, and they are afraid that I don’t have friends! Because whenever I call them, they say like, ‘What are you doing?’, and I’m like, ‘eating’, and they’re like, ‘With who? Your friends or alone?’, I say, ‘I have friends here!’

Nevena: Well your Mum knows now you have at least one friend…

Kintan: She (Nevena) met my Mum and then right after, I think their worrying about friends is done.

Nevena: Like last weekend, she (Kintan) said, ‘Can we make a selfie to send to my Mum?’ and I was like, ‘Yeh ok whatever’.

Lena: Well my Mum doesn’t really understand what I’m doing and why do I need to go abroad and do that and she doesn’t really get why I’m almost 27 and I still don’t have this career success, professional success, like having people already committing to credits and houses and cars and saving money to have a family and everything and she always gives me these hints of like, ‘Oh you’re already 27 when are you going to have kids?’ and you should think about that and this and maybe it’s enough for you. Some moments come where she feels that I’m not a real success in society. And it’s kind of hard because I know that I’m doing what feels right for me, but it’s kind of hard to listen to this, to someone who I really care about from my family.

“I know that I’m doing
what feels right for me,
but it’s kind of hard to
listen to this...”


Photo: Lena Holban

Nevena: Yeh they’re your family.

Katie: You’re used to listening to them your whole life and I mean, they gave you life! And you thought they were God, they’re your parents.

Lena: Yeh and at some point...I told my father I was going volunteering for a couple of months, like I didn’t give him all the details but I already knew that I wouldn’t come back soon. I told everyone, in my family, ‘It’s going to be like around a year’ but now it’s been almost two years.

On Those ‘Working From My Laptop on The Beach’ Photos on Instagram

Photo: Nevena Tamis

“It’s not all about sunny days
and monkeys stealing
your banana.”

Kintan: It’s not all about sunny days and monkeys stealing your banana.

Lena: There’s a lot of fakeness and hypocrisy in the posts people do who are travelling. And then, I feel like, hey this life isn’t only about beaches and pools and sun and all this. It’s so untrue for the people who are watching it and looking at it. And I realised that I’m doing it too, I’m not posting a lot but I still only choose what’s beautiful and what’s best and not say the downsides of it.

Katie: Like when I fell off my scooter.

Lena: Yeh that. Or like, I have no money and I have nothing to…like I had these moments literally where I had no money, no phone, no laptop. Literally I was in the middle of the street waiting for a miracle, you know, like what the fuck am I doing? These are really, really hard times and no one posted about them. If you post about them, you post about it in a positive way.

Nevena: Well I think I told you that Jared and I are starting a project (check it out at Remote Boys & Remote Girls, soon to be, what we really want to do with that is to share the real stories. So like inspire people by telling them, for example, Lena just quit everything and she left and that’s super brave and she’s having the time of her life but how did she do that? We all have these experiences but what if we could just share it and talk about it as well and just, it’s not perfect.

On The Downsides of Digital Nomad Life

Lena: You cannot get real, like those exact connections that you do with the people who share the same language or the same culture with you. It’s a challenge, it’s a beautiful challenge, but sometimes it’s like I can’t take it anymore you know. Where people who don’t really understand you, where people who just don’t do it the way you are used to it, and you know that it’s more efficient the way you know because you’ve experienced both ways and this cultural thing. Also having no money.

Katie: Sometimes those threats make you question, is it worth it?

Lena: Yeh like, is this struggle worth it? Also you miss some feelings that you are used to like, oh I sometimes miss dressing up and going for a cocktail. I miss those moments and you cannot really do that here.

Nevena: To drink good wine! But then you meet so many beautiful people and you meet so many inspiring people and you are driving your scooter in the mountains and…it’s all worth it.

“But then you meet so many beautiful people...and you’re driving your scooter in the mountains and it’s all worth it.”

Photos: Nevena Tamis

On Romance When You’re Always Moving

Nevena: I think the most, for me, the most difficult part is saying goodbye all the time. Not only in romances but friends in general. That breaks your heart every time. And with romances you all come here for your own adventure and you all have your own plan. If you meet someone, I mean you meet each other very briefly actually and it’s very intense right away.

Because I mean, you’re in this place and it’s really beautiful but then one of the two is going to leave eventually. So you know it, you prepare yourself for it. So you think, am I gonna do it? Because I know he’s leaving. But then you think, ‘Oh ok you know what, whatever, I’m just going to do it.’

On Routines and Productivity

Nevena: We have this bot on Slack, automated thing, at 10am and we kind of do a small kind of report. Like ‘What did you do yesterday? What are you going to do today?’

Katie: That’s awesome!

Lena And are there any obstacles. So it kind of gets you motivated to always be at work around 10, around to just give the reports.

Katie: That’s so cool, what’s it called?

Kintan: Standuply, it’s in Slack. It just makes the goal clearer. Because sometimes, for me, I always list everything in the morning before the bot appears. For me personally, routine is really important, to do the same things, and then working away from your boss, I mean I’m so grateful to have this kind of culture in the company with the flexibility I really like it. For me, it works.

“I’m so grateful to have this kind of culture in the company with the flexibility, I really like it. For me, it works.”

On Remote Work as The Future of Work

Lena: Three years ago, I remember that even at that time there were already four co-working spaces in Bucharest and now they are everywhere! Everyone tags themselves in a cafe with their laptop at a coworking space. I remember when I was looking for a job at the end of 2015, I knew that I wanted to work remote, and I knew that I wanted to work for a fun company and an exciting brand. And something that makes me excited but also lots of fun, this is like one my principles, if I go for something it needs to be fun.

Photos: Lena Holban

So I remember I was researching, and I got this updated list of 250 super big companies that hire remote employees. Of course Buffer was amongst them and then all these social media companies or like digital marketing and everything. But even like big companies and brands that would hire you, this is where the world is going. It has so many benefits, especially cost-related.

Katie: Yeh well that’s what I was going to say, like, so we’re obviously moving towards this because it’s a benefit to humans, so why wouldn’t we do it.

Nevena: It’s also a benefit for the company because you don’t want your employees to be stressed and come to a certain point that they can’t do anything anymore. And that’s what’s happening a lot right now in the Western world. This is like the other extreme, working fully remotely and I mean, I don’t think that everyone would like to work they way we do and travel the world. It’s not for everyone. But I think, even if you work in an office or whatever and you just get a little bit more freedom, even that’s just better. And seeing your children a bit more, work from home, have lunch with your children.

On The Importance of Physical Connections in a Digital World

Lena: We need the human factor, like the physical presence of my co-workers because I just, I know myself. Of course I can work remotely, I can do it online but I also need to feel some physical connection, like just know I’m around colleagues, we can share on a different. I remember when I was working totally remotely, I felt at some point, ‘I’m working with robots’ you know, who are these people I never see them!

Photos: Kintan Ayunda

Katie: It’s like people still need connection, even though we have this internet, we still need it. I guess that’s why workspaces like Hubud are good too because I mean I don’t work with my colleagues but just having people like you around to say, ‘Hi!’ it helps so much.


On Their Tips for Aspiring Digital Nomads

Lena: Everything digital, can be remote too.

Kintan: I think networking and coworking spaces.

Katie: Yeh there’s so much work to be done and people always need help, it seems to be how you found your remote jobs...

Kintan: Yeh and because in coworking spaces, people have the same mind, so you come and then you want to network amongst digital nomads and they already know, ‘Oh like OK we have the same kind of path.’

“ want to network amongst digital nomads and they already know, ‘Oh like OK we have the same kind of path.”

Photos: Kintan Ayunda

Lena: Also like networking is essential for everyone.

Katie: Just even getting to the place where you want to be and starting to get to know people first.

Lena: Yeh just make connections at the beginning you know. Get yourself exposed in this area.

Katie: And be open-minded, just open about everything.

Nevena: And also, if you want to do it, just realise, it’s ok that it’s going to be difficult, it’s OK. Everyone has that and don’t expect that it’s all going to be one beautiful adventure. It is beautiful but it’s also…other things. And also remember that everyone goes through it, it’s not only you. And in the end you’re never really alone. You live alone, but you’re never really alone because we all need each other in the end.

“...don’t expect that it’s all going to be one beautiful adventure. It is beautiful but it’s also…other things.”

On Trying to Travel and Work at The Same Time

Lena: This travelling all day long and working at the same time is just a fake thing. You need some stability you know? You cannot just be travelling every day and then work in the night, it’s not working.

Photos: Lena Holban

Nevena: It’s not possible. I think from now on I was here now for one and half years, I want to go to Lisbon, I might stay there a year or whatever I don’t know, probably I’m going to go somewhere else for a long time. To work! But from there like how I do here, I went to Flores, I went some days to Jakarta, you travel from there, just a bit. And then when you travel you don’t work. I mean maybe a bit.

Kintan: Maybe some people can adapt to this kind of lifestyle?

Katie: Yeh I think some people can! I cannot!

Kintan: But again it’s not for everyone. I tried it when I was in India!

Katie: Me too! It was my nightmare. It was horrible.

Kintan: I was just distracted by all of these things around me.

Katie: Like blackouts, no wifi.

On What Makes Hubud So Special

Nevena: Well the karaoke nights…

Katie: Are you guys all going?

Kintan: Yes, I’m going to sing Snoop Dogg, Drop It Like It’s Hot.

*Spend about a minute singing Drop It Like It’s Hot*

Kintan: I think Hubud, compared to others, we work in other working spaces here in Bali and then I also went to a couple of coworking spaces in Jakarta. Hubud has the warmest community here. But here, it’s very dynamic and the people are so warm.

Lena: I like that you can learn so much here, the events and you never get bored. You can learn so much from others and like you can create connections so fast and you can see the outcome out of them in terms of work-related. It’s amazing how fast it is. The community feeling is just, you feel a part of it, you get that instant feeling of belonging.

If you're interested in the digital nomad life and setting up a location independent life for yourself, Hubud coworking space offer their free 60+ page Guide to Going Location Independent for download.
The Travelling Light ©2020
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