Most travelers in South East Asia will tell you: if you’ve never ridden a motorcycle, it’s not a good idea to start in Indonesia. Roads are narrow, steep, winding and full of potholes. Everyone drives as if they’re accident-proof by nature, which they aren’t.
With over 7 years of riding bikes in Asia, I still could hardly keep up with Raluca who rode her rented Honda Scoopy like a daredevil. The beach in Berawa was literally off-the-beaten track and, in order to get me there, Raluca took the bumpy sandy back roads that went straight through paddy fields and g(r)azing cows.
Upon arrival in Berawa, I got off my bike, wiped off the sweat that had been dripping down my brow and asked her in awe how long she had been practicing her scooter driving skills in Bali. She replied with a slightly proud smile:
– Just four months. But I adapt quickly.
– I’m looking forward to hearing the whole story.
A life changing journey
The 32 year old Romanian had graduated from Law School in Cluj, a Transylvanian city increasingly popular among techies, digital nomads and electronic music fans. She had a few jobs as an intern, then as an attorney at law before setting off on the greatest adventure of her life: a solo grand tour of South East Asia in 2013.
“Before departure, my main concern was that I might end up lonely and homesick.
I used to be very shy and reserved in connecting with other people. This shyness – which I was well aware of – has always made me unhappy, because it kept me from meeting new people.
Then, while traveling, I simply had to stop being shy, because as a solo traveler I only had two options: loneliness or sharing. I chose the latter.
We are programmed to want a stable and predictable environment, to know exactly what’s going to happen the next day, to have full control over our lives. However, when you travel without planning too much, you discover that there’s a whole different lifestyle out there, one that gives you more freedom. Traveling makes people more confident, it frees them of the obsessions for comfort and predictability.
I used to be a person who needed everything planned in detail and I didn’t react well to unscheduled changes. I still have negative reactions when things don’t go exactly as I expect, but I am learning to be more flexible and to take things as they come.”
A plan and a surprise
She went to Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Bali and India and, four months later, when she returned home, she knew that she had ‘the bug’. She quickly found a job with a software company, but deep inside her mind and soul, the longing for Asia -and especially for Bali – grew stronger and stronger by the day. Although her new job was great and her team fantastic, she knew she had to return to Bali one day, this time for longer.
She had a plan: to quit her job, take her sister Oana and move to the Island of Gods for a year or so. As both had certifications in foreign language translating, they hoped that they could make some money remotely. She took the plan to her line manager, Andreea, and then the unexpected happened.
The Best Boss in the World
“I told Andreea what I wanted to do. I wanted to give her time to find a replacement. Not only is she my boss, but also my friend. I didn’t want to cause any trouble to her or to the team. She answered: ‘I’m going to take it to the upper management. I have a plan.’ A few days later, I was at home when I received a message from her: ‘Ralu, when I come to Bali one day, I hope you’ll greet me at the airport holding a sign that reads: Best boss in the world!‘”
Andreea had managed to convince the higher company echelons that a legal consultant can work effectively from anywhere on Earth. Raluca was marveled. She could go to the island she longed so much for without having to quit her job and her team. But she had to prove that her boss was right. In January this year, she landed at the Denpasar Airport with her sister, a few clothes and a laptop.
Bali in the rainy season wasn’t as welcoming as Raluca remembered it from her previous visit. It was cloudy, wet and windy and it took a week to dry a T-shirt.
The sisters hadn’t found a house for rent yet and were living in a guesthouse among tourists. The most stressful thing was the speed and reliability of the internet connection. Raluca was supposed to be available online 8 hours a day, just as she used to be back in Cluj. She had to be able to stay in touch with her workmates and prove to her employer that she can work from Bali as efficiently as she did from her office back home.
About a month later, the sun shone again, both in the island’s sky and in Raluca and Oana’s lives. They found an adorable two-bedroom house in Canggu a mile from the beach, and a backup wi-fi router. T-shirts were dry in less than an hour. A new life and a new routine settled in.
“I work by Romania time. I have to be online from 2 pm until 11 pm, so I have mornings all to myself. Oana and I go for breakfast, then we head to the beach for an hour or two. I went to the beach every single day since our arrival. Then, at 2 pm I would go home, switch on my laptop and work until early evening when my colleagues back home have their lunch break and I have my dinner break. I usually take that time to watch the sunset, before returning home to work until just before midnight.”
With a schedule like this, which involves at least one beach trip per day, her colleagues must envy her a lot. But Raluca claims the opposite.
“One of my colleagues at work jokingly told me that he would unfriend me on Facebook because of the pictures I posted. But it didn’t happen. I think that most of the people I work with are genuinely happy for me and curious about my ‘experiment’. I get a lot of questions from them about life in a place like this.”
Technology and open mindedness
“My being here is the result of a combination between the power of technology and the open-mindedness of the people I work with. I think that the decision we took is beneficial for both myself and the company.
We were working well together and most of the things that I had listed in my job description could be done remotely. We have suppliers, clients, and team members all across Europe. Most of our work was being done online.
Technology dramatically improves our freedom to move around the world. Although it reduces our spiritual freedom, because we tend to depend on it too much, it really helps us to travel and see the world, and keeps us safe on the road.”
Doing your thing, feeling protected
“I feel secure because, despite all cultural differences that can sometimes be frustrating, the Balinese people are genuinely kind, friendly and helpful.
I also feel secure because I know I have options. I’ll always have options. I’ll always find something to do. I’ve moved around so much, I’ve changed my job so many times I’ve reached the conclusion that I will always find some work. If I’m fully dedicated, then I can make anything happen. I am confident in my strength and professional skills. It’s all up to me.”
After we finished our conversation, Raluca excused herself and rushed to the airport to meet a very special guest: Andreea, who had decided to spend her holiday in Bali, ‘auditing’ her team member.
I’m not sure if she was greeted with the “Best boss in the world” sign. But the few hours I got to spend with them over the next few days proved that working relationships can be so much more than they are now if technology meets an open mind.
Let’s hope your boss reads this story too.