33-year-old entrepreneur Olumide Gbenro grew up in Nigeria until the age of six, then migrated to London with his parents. After seven years, Gbenro and his family were granted visas to the United States through the green card lottery and relocated to Ohio. Now, he’s living the good life as a digital nomad in Bali.
“Being a person of color, I felt that there were certain times in my life where I just didn’t feel valued as a human being,” Gbenro said in an interview. “I always felt left out.”
As a young man, Gbenro dreamed of a life filled with traveling the world, art, and cultivating relationships with people of the world. But like most immigrant parents, they wanted him to become an engineer, lawyer, or a doctor.
Gbenro graduated from San Diego State University in 2016 with a double master’s degree in epidemiology and behavioral science. He then came to a crossroads, travel the world or choose the path of medical school and become a doctor.
“All of my life, I just followed the rules, whether it was from my parents, religion, or society,” he said. “But deep down I knew that if I took the position in the PhD program, I could never go back, I could never travel abroad … I’d be stuck to a lab, so I decided to say no.”
So he packed his bags to see the world, until a few years later he finally found his new home, Bali.
How I Became A Digital Nomad
His first three months abroad he spent with friends from graduate school who were living in Berlin, couch-surfing and living in hostels under a tourist visa.
Gbenro left the United States with barely any savings or plans. On his travels he began documenting travel tips and dance videos which built up his social media following. He realized creating content was more than a hobby and started collaborating with businesses and content creators and offered to help them grow their social media profiles for a fee, usually $250.
Gbenro recalls turning his hobby into a remote business being “really tough in the beginning.” Eventually he developed a steady clientele and made enough income to make social media marketing his career.
After the expiration of his visa, he moved to Mexico and then back to San Diego. He realized after moving back home that he wasn’t happy anymore.
“There was something about living in America that made me feel like I wasn’t growing. As a Black man, there was a psychological trauma and pressure I felt living there, especially as an immigrant too, feeling like I didn’t fit in.”
In 2018 Gbenro launched his business, Olumide Gbenro PR & Brand Monetization in San Diego collaborating realtors, influencers, celebrity chefs, and more. Although successful, Gbenro still felt he needed something different.
It wasn’t until he was on Instagram one day and saw one of his friends laid out on a beach with a coconut in her hand, that he realized, “It looked like the perfect place to live,” he said. “The difference between Bali and every other city I researched is that it seemed very peaceful – all the locals, in photos online, looked genuinely happy and like they spend a lot of time in nature.”
The following year, Gbenro booked a one way ticket to Bali and found an apartment through a friend on Instagram. From there, he never looked back.
Luxury Living For Less
“I’m never worried about money anymore because Bali has a much lower cost of living than the U.S.,” said Gbenro. After moving to Bali, he’s been able to spend more on travel and hobbies while saving more than he would in the United States.
When traveling to Indonesia, most travelers would require a tourist visa that is valid for 60 days, then the government allows for four 30-day extensions. This means you can spend half the year in Bali, take a flight to a nearby country, and fly back to restart your tourist visa for another 6 months. Gbenro would fly to Malaysia or Singapore and then return to Bali.
Eventually, Gbenro acquired an investor visa, and expanded his business to help people market their properties in Indonesia in order to contribute to the local economy to maintain his investor visa status. His investor visa only has to be renewed every two years.
Through his consulting business, Gbenro earns about $140,000 per year and hosts several conferences for digital nomads.
Most of Gbenro’s expenses go towards rent and utilities. He spends about $1000 per month on his one-bedroom condo with private amenities and a restaurant on the main floor.
“I’m probably spending about the same amount of money I would each month if I was living in San Diego, but my quality of living is much higher,” he said. “I’m living a life of luxury.”
Here’s a breakdown of Gbenro’s budget per month:
Rent and utilities: $1,010
Health insurance: $137
Adapting To Life In Bali
Gbenro shared that his biggest challenge in moving to Bali was his struggle with being alone.
“I was going to the beach every day, drinking coconuts and seeing beautiful sunsets, but I lived by myself and didn’t have friends here,” said Gbenro.
This motivated Gbenro to start networking within the expat and local communities at co-working spaces and meetup events.
“I’ve really been loved and welcomed by the Balinese. Everyone’s always smiling – there’s a really genuine, heart-centered tone here that you can’t get anywhere else.”
Gbenro also touched on the fact that in Bali he was never treated differently because of the color of his skin.
“Bali doesn’t have the same history as America with racism and discrimination — in my opinion, they’re more accepting to foreigners and people from different backgrounds … people just look at me as a fellow human being, not a Black man.”
He’s also adopted some of the Balinese traditions, waking up at 8:00 a.m. to meditate before drinking his tea and reading his emails. Hinduism is a popular religion in Bali and meditation is practiced often.
“It’s the best decision I’ve ever made,” Gbenro said who is planning to spend the rest of his life based in Bali while purchasing real estate in his hometown of San Diego, as well as in Turkey and the Caribbean, so he can have places to stay when he visits.
“Something about Bali grounds me here. It finally feels like home.”