Interview with Scott Ellsworth
by Michael Schubert
Michael: You’ve done what many of us have only dreamed about: You gave up your apartment in San Francisco and adopted the life of a digital nomad! How did the idea develop and unfold?
Scott: My first motivator was the high cost of living in San Francisco. I was not satisfied with my apartment, and although it was subject to rent control, the rent was a little high. But I knew that if I moved to a better place, my rent would triple. I considered other places to live in the US, but I was surprised to discover that the cost of living had risen significantly in all American cities that could offer me a good quality of life. So I turned my attention to places outside the US, and finally considered becoming a digital nomad. Then I started the process of planning and preparing for my move, which took a lot of work over several years.
Michael: Where have you been so far?
Scott: I started off in the Reno area, to test out my nomad choices before leaving the country: This was mainly about what to include in my luggage, and the details of my computer setup. Then when I was visiting my mother in California, just about to pack up and leave for Malaysia, the pandemic started, and I stayed put for a year and a half. Finally I went to Bulgaria, then Spain, and now as of March 2022 I’m in Romania.
Michael: How did you pick your destinations?
Scott: My main criteria are low crime, low corruption, good internet, and low cost of living. I have a lot of other criteria, but these four are the most important on my list.
Michael: I notice you’re not in the countries of your working languages. Did you want the extra challenge of new languages, and how have you been coping on that front?
Scott: The countries of my source languages didn’t measure up as well in my criteria. But I do plan to go to Germany at some point. I love languages, and I try to learn at least some of the local language in each country. My experience of language is different in each country: In Bulgaria when I looked at street signs, store signs, and product labels I could understand about 85% of it based on its similarity to Russian. But when I saw entire paragraphs of text, or when people talked to me, I understood almost nothing. So I was constantly amazed both at how much and how little I understood there. Romania has turned out to be pretty convenient: Even though the language was less immediately understandable for me than Spanish or Bulgarian, English proficiency is surprisingly widespread—it’s almost like being in Denmark!
Michael: How easily have you been able to continue your freelance work?
Scott: This might sound surprising, but my life is essentially the same as it was in San Francisco. The main differences are that now I have a language barrier, a lower cost of living, and a lot less stuff. For me it’s important to keep working just as I did before, and to continue developing my business in the directions I want. When I read articles from other digital nomads, it sounds like they’re full-time tourists. But I’m into my work full-time. Sometimes jetlag and travel planning can cut into my work hours, but in general I work just like I used to.
Michael: Have you met other digital nomads or interesting people?
Scott: I have, but so far not as much as I’d like. This is mainly because I haven’t lived in big cities, which would have larger nomad populations. Plus with the pandemic, until now I’ve felt like it’s not appropriate to spend lots of time face-to-face and unmasked with other people. I’ve met one other nomad so far, a young marketing specialist from Israel, and had a fascinating conversation with him over lunch. I’ve also had great conversations at a regular expat gathering, and in my second apartment in Spain I had roommates. I’m hoping that I will soon start connecting more with other travelers, and with locals.
Michael: How is the experience of the nearby war in Ukraine from your vantage point in Romania?
Scott: I’m horrified by what Putin is doing, and I’m really concerned about what this is all going to mean for the world in the coming years. I’m following events closely, through the Guardian and the BBC. On a world map the war looks pretty close to here, but I don’t feel directly threatened by it so far. There are lots of refugees here, though: Recently I was going to take a walk to the train station and buy a ticket to Bucharest. The national train company’s website cautioned that lines at the ticket office have gotten pretty long, so they recommended buying tickets online instead. I asked my Airbnb host, and she confirmed that the long lines are because of Ukrainian refugees buying tickets onward to other parts of Europe. I hear more people in the neighborhood speaking Russian now, and I think many of them are Ukrainian refugees. Russian speakers are always there now when I go grocery shopping, so I think the grocery stores are getting a boost to their business. Also, it looks like the sanctions placed on Russia will make it increasingly difficult to receive payments from my clients there, and for those clients to run their businesses.
Michael: What’s next, and how long do you expect to continue your wanderings?
Scott: In April I’m going to Montenegro, and I’m registered for the Wordfast Forward conference there in May. In late May or June I plan to move on to Czechia. After that I might go to Thailand and Malaysia, or if those countries haven’t fully opened up by then, I might go to Argentina. But I’m also getting interested now in conferences of direct clients, and those will mostly be in Europe—so client conferences could add a few more zigzags to my travels and keep me in Europe a little longer. I don’t really have plans to stop nomadding. In any case, you’re all welcome to follow my travels on Instagram, under the username scottellsworth2. I’ve posted over a hundred pictures there so far.
Scott Ellsworth translates from German and Russian into English. He is ATA-certified for German to English, and he specializes in information technology. He served on NCTA’s Board of Directors 2015–2019. More information is on his website at www.ellsworthlanguageservices.com
Michael Schubert is an ATA-certified German-to-English translator based in San Francisco providing premium translation services with a focus on corporate communications, information technology, and finance. He is also an Adjunct Professor for German-to-English translation at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. More at www.michaelschubert.com.