Love the “work from anywhere” concept? Thank Rolf Potts. Photo of Sentral DTLA 755 by James Baigrie.
How to Live Like a Digital Nomad
By Liz Sheldon
The concept of digital nomadism has gone from being a fairly niche concept to a widespread way of life, spurred on further by pandemic-induced push towards remote work. After all, if our tasks are digital, a stint in Los Angeles or Austin (or Tahiti!) suddenly becomes a lot more possible. That’s exactly the kind of freedom and flexibility Sentral was created to facilitate by offering beautifully-designed work and living spaces and flexible leases, all within walking distance of the coolest neighborhoods.
Dabbling in a nomadic existence without checking out is something traveler, writer, and essayist
has spent years perfecting. One of the earliest to define a modern way of taking your life on the road, Potts chronicled his approach in his 2002 book
The book has a devoted following, including time management guru Tim Ferriss, and Potts has gone on to pen four other books and teach writing courses around the world. We caught up with the seasoned digital nomad for his advice on taking the plunge, how to manage work without missing out, and more.
Writer Rolf Potts pioneered the digital nomad movement. Photo courtesy of Rolf Potts.
Your first book is called Vagabonding, but that’s not exactly the same thing as digital nomadism. Could you define the differences between those two terms?
Vagabonding is taking time away from your life for an extended period of time. It’s not an escape from reality, but a way of taking yourself on the road in a way that’s transformative. It’s more about personal travel — I imply in the book that it’s possible to work while you’re doing that, but even since I wrote it, technology has made it more possible to work remotely. Why work in Cleveland when you could work in Cusco, Peru? Digital nomadism is the idea that there’s not a separation from your work life; instead it’s about taking control of the location where you’re doing it.
Any initial words of wisdom for new digital nomads?
If you’re traveling within the states, just try it. Internationally, because digital nomadism is a better understood concept now, some countries have compounds where they coordinate a lot of the logistics for you. My advice is don’t go to the compound first. I don’t want to disparage them, but you can go to Bali, and leave having not had any Balinese experiences. Travel as a vacationer or a vagabonder first.
Don’t be afraid of uncertainty. A week of walking around and getting lost will teach you so much. Convenience is sometimes less fun, and mistakes teach you everything.
I also encourage people to contextualize digital nomadism in their daily life. Since it’s a trend, people can subscribe to it without really understanding it. For me, digital nomadism is in the interest of making life more rewarding — not just going somewhere because it sounds cool, but thinking about how it can help you improve your life and live with intention.
What advice have you found for people new to working while on the road—especially if they’re in locations with widely different time zones? How do we maintain our careers from afar?
Knowing your own work style. Often the biggest challenge for people is not having a boss breathing down their neck, and figuring out how to strike a balance. Constant connectivity can mean you’re getting work emails at all hours, especially if there’s a time difference. You have to train yourself to set boundaries so you haven’t moved halfway around the world to work 100 hours a week and never go outside. If you can, set the terms and let work know you’re not available in this window. This applies even if you’re not in a foreign time zone. We’re afraid we’ll alienate a client or a boss by not being contactable all the time, when in reality there’s often relief on all sides when we’re very clear about parameters.
You have a pretty well-defined stance when it comes to advance planning vs. figuring it out when you land. Could you share more about that?
Meeting new people is essential to adjusting to a new location. Photo of Sentral DTLA 755 Rooftop Lounge by James Baigrie.
For all the planning you’re doing in your home office, you’re going to be able to make better choices once you’re there. The you who has been somewhere for a week is always going to be much smarter than the you before. Find a stable home base when you arrive, and really give yourself that week to get oriented. If you’re going to a city like Bangkok, there’s pretty cool guest houses that are $4 a night, but those are harder to find from afar. Book somewhere easier and plunge into your adventures. Walk around without knowing where you’re going.. Meet new people, get to know the city on your own terms. There’s also a no-shame aspect to this — some people might feel like they need to micromanage their plans and if that works for them, they can incorporate it into their process.
How have you seen the vagabonding and digital nomad communities been impacted by the pandemic?
We do have an advantage as digital nomads because we’re used to working like this. It’s only getting easier, and now people who never planned on remote work are proving successful at it, whether they’re doing it from their apartment in Brooklyn or the other side of the world. It’s opened a lot of people’s eyes to the possibilities.
The OG digital nomads also know that uncertainty is a huge part of the experience, even before the pandemic. Things will go wrong. You might get stuck in the Republic of Georgia longer than you thought, and that’s a challenge but you could also find happiness you didn’t expect. That’s always been a reward of travel and I think that mindset makes us all more resilient to uncertainty in general.
Any packing advice for taking your life on the road?
The vagabonder’s mantra: Pack less, buy more. Photo by Vlada Karpovich.
The old vagabonding maxim is the longer the trip the less you take. A lot of people fill up those bags and by the first week are getting rid of things. Keep in mind you can buy things as you go—they sell toothpaste and socks everywhere in the world. We’re at our most neurotic when we’re packing a bag, but when in doubt pack light. Digital nomadism differs a bit from vagabonding since you’re likely not like you’re living out of a backpack, so you’re less beholden to this. But it also leaves room for purchasing things as you need them as part of your experience.
One of your many projects is teaching travel writing. Do you have any go-to advice for people looking to turn their travels into content?
It always comes back to storytelling, which is one of the oldest technologies we have. To convey information as we convey drama, suspense, character. The technological specifics have changed and we’re in a clickbait age, but all the more reason to find ways of holding people’s attention. I learn from my students every year how they’re using different formats to share their stories, but the best content still relies on these foundational techniques. My nephew
Luke Van Cassel
is an artist and a TikTok influencer, and even within his short videos he uses the same ancient storytelling devices we’ve been practicing forever.
Ready to hit the road? Sentral’s managed homesharing program helps you earn extra income so you can live the digital nomad existence.