An article contributed by Elise, a relentless traveller and a freelance translator specialised in literature. After her master’s degree, she has devoted herself to living the digital nomad way of life across 3 continents.
“So what do you want to do after your translation master’s degree?” Anything but be a freelance translator, I thought. Why? Where do I begin? First, you have to unlock a series of administrative mysteries. Then, you have to build yourself a network, accept translation projects you don’t want because you’re poor and hungry and, finally, say goodbye to your social life, because any time is the right time to accept a new project. Nope, not the right job for me. And this is where I was wrong.
The freelancing pitfall
I became a freelance translator by accident. I was doing an internship in a Canadian publishing house and I needed some extra money. I responded to a few translation offers here and there, and without even noticing it, I had started creating a network. This experience turned into an incredible adventure and I knew the journey couldn’t possibly end there. I had to travel more. Next stop: Australia. So yes, freelancing was the way to go: I could travel without worrying about finding a job. Three days spent here, two months there… My game, my rules. My computer and my brain were the money makers. But this was only temporary, right?
This is Wonderland!
Again, I turned out to be wrong. Somewhere along the way, either in the heat of the Outback or in a billabong, I realised how lucky I was. I was truly experiencing the “free” in “freelance”. Neither the comfort of an office nor the many advantages granted to employees could ever take this away from me.
I was now free to choose where I’d be working the next day. On a paradise island, sea kayaking and turtle-spotting during my breaks? On a sixth-floor terrace in Darwin, watching a terrible storm shaking the city? In Canada, in a B&B, trying local specialties, getting an insight on the culture and hiking around a fjord at the end of the day?
I was also able to arrange my own schedule. First scuba diving session of the day is cheaper? Want to visit this museum without hordes of tourists? Name your time. The only condition is that you meet the deadline set by your client. As long as they know you’re reliable, no one will ask you what you are doing during your extended lunch break.
Survival as a translator
However, don’t think being a digital nomad is all about exotic places. It’s also about managing to work in hostile environments, and by hostile I don’t mean crocodiles, I mean drunk and loud backpackers singing and pounding their fists to the beat of the music on the exact table you’re working on. Or sometimes having to search the hostel for that one square metre with the strongest Wi-Fi.
Another thing is being able to restrain yourself. Do you have any idea how hard it is to sit on a computer and translate tyre brochures when you could be snorkelling or having a drink with your new international best friends? Once I even found myself shortening a trip I had scheduled far in advance because of a major project I couldn’t possibly refuse. So there I was, in the middle of New Zealand, sitting all day long in the camping kitchen (and then in my tent after the camp manager kicked me out at 9pm) instead of perfecting my haka moves. Not a very fond memory.
I learned the most important lessons the hard way. I found myself starting a business but I had no time to attend marketing webinars or browse translators’ blogs. I learned how to spot scams by being twice their victim. I learned how to keep track of invoices and deal with late payments by first forgetting about an unpaid project. I learned how to find interesting jobs by dozing off over dreadfully boring documents. Luckily enough, I learned how to make the most of it fast.
A translator’s sixth sense
Over time, I developed my translator’s sixth sense. Wherever I go, I can spot in half a second the Wi-Fi logo and the power points lined up on the wall. I also know if a café will be work-friendly. And even if I am at first perceived as a computer-addicted nerd, I always make hostel, hotel and café managers swear on their turnover that they have everything I need.
For those who enjoy freedom in their work, I can only recommend being a digital nomad, but be prepared to face tough moments. In the end, however, it’s more than worth it.
Cheers and navisdenje from Ljubljana! Elise, a fellow translator-on-the-go
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