The perks of being a digital nomad

Landscape of cliffs and blue skies

Adidas brand manager and New York member Sophie Winckel makes life on the road look easy

By Landon Peoples   Photography by Elisa Melero

You’ve seen them on Instagram, working from tropical havens such as Tulum or Bali, and wondered what life as a digital nomad might feel like. But first, you’ve probably asked: how do you even land a remote, on-the-road career?

Even before the pandemic hit, Sophie Winckel had chosen to become a nomad (or at least willed it to happen). While at college, the adidas brand manager and New York member came across a Henri Cartier-Bresson quote that would end up directing her life’s compass: ‘For the world is movement, and you cannot be stationary in your attitude toward something that is moving.’

Last August, Winckel set out to Formentera on what was supposed to be your average time abroad, but it turned into an eight-month stay across Europe – from Barcelona to Milan, Madrid, and back.

Below, she explains what brought her overseas, why she stayed longer than she planned, and the key takeaways for anyone curious about work life beyond the office.

Black and white portrait of young woman hair blowing in the breeze backdrop of a beach
Photo of sunset with small boats in the distance on the water
Landscape with sea in the background and trees taken at dusk image is blurry taken on film
Shadows of two women in the sand arms outstretched held high above their head
woman wearing bikini crouched down on the edge of boat out at sea

How did you decide on where you wanted to go? And what effect did that have in terms of transitioning from a stable lifestyle to something more unpredictable?

‘If the pandemic taught me one thing, it was to buy a one-way ticket and plan as I go. It was all random, but the decisions I made always felt right. Before COVID-19, I’d viewed travel as an inevitable or unpredictable experience. There’s only so much you can control out of your comfort zone, so déjate llevar [let yourself go]. We can learn so much about ourselves in unpredictable environments, and the new people that cross our paths only add value to the experience.’

Spanish style rural house with stone wall in front, large bag is sitting on the wall
Landscape of boats out to sea shown very small in the distance

What are the ups and downs of being a digital nomad?

‘Ups: we don’t need a lot. I arrived in Europe in August with a carry-on suitcase and only ended up buying enough fall/ winter clothes to last me until I returned to New York. I was able to reconnect with friends from my university years with whom I hadn’t truly lived with since I left in 2015. And déjà vu is real. Now, I’m back in New York and wake up asking myself, “Wait, where am I? Miami, Madrid, Barcelona?”

‘Downs: the logistics of finding a nice, clean and cost-effective place to stay for two to three months. The rental market is still not used to the effects of COVID-19. Fortunately, I had friends who connected me with people who were following a similar remote path to mine and let me stay in their homes.’

What would you say to someone who looks at the lifestyle of a digital nomad as a life of privilege?

‘Travel and reinstalling your life over and over again can be costly. However, I also think of friends who didn’t travel and spent money on things such as home improvement, new furniture, or art. It’s a privilege if you’re not smart about how and where you’re spending.’ 

Black and white image of a beach with people sat on the shore
Close crop of a woman holding a red apple wearing a grey bath robe

What effects, positive and negative, has being a digital nomad had on your mental health?

‘Overall, the effects are positive. I chose to be nomadic in a place where I already had a large “family” of friends. The experience would have been different if I’d gone somewhere totally remote for me. I even had a little romance abroad, which turned out to be one of the most profound relationships I’ve had lately. But living out of a suitcase gets old, to be honest. You start to desire a sense of organisation and order.’

What does the future look like for you and the digital nomad movement?

‘As a kid, I always envisioned myself having a base somewhere, either New York or Europe, and having the ability to check in monthly or quarterly to my favourite places, like Mexico City, Miami, and Spain. I think this is an opportunity for individuals and companies to see this more nomadic lifestyle as a greater education for betterment and a true understanding of cultural nuances.’

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