How do you become a traveling translator? There is not one set way, of course, and the following four translators will share how they travel around the world as translators, where they will be traveling to next, and how they BECAME a traveling translator in the first place.
Rhiannon | Wales to Wherever
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I received my BA in Translation and Interpreting with Modern Languages (Spanish, Italian and Catalan) from Swansea University, Wales. It was a four-year course, with the 3rd year spent abroad, split between Italy (studying at SSLMIT in Forlì) and the Universidad de Granada, Spain. The way my course was designed meant that we had to study at a specialized translation department and were unable to take up an internship. However, we did have an unpaid internship built into one of our modules in fourth year.
My first job as a translator was for a medical assistance company, which involved translating medical reports and liaising with medical professionals all over the world by phone and email. Nowadays, most of my freelance work is in the medical field. I’ve also recently began focusing more on transcription and am currently working on a project transcribing police interviews from Spanish into English. This type of work is still quite new to me and I’m finding it extremely enjoyable so hoping to shift my main specialty from medical to legal in the future.
My desire to travel actually preceded my decision to become a translator! I was always good at languages in school – we had to study Welsh as part of the curriculum, and Spanish was optional. When it came to decide what to study at University, I was torn between Math, something I excelled at but hated, and Spanish, which I had a passion and talent for. I knew I wanted to see the world, and a career in Translation seemed like the right path for me to do this.
The best thing about being a translator and traveler is the freedom. My career has enabled me to travel through 20+ countries, and right now I’m living in New Zealand with big plans to move on to explore the South Pacific soon. The main struggle when it comes to translating while on the road is finding that work/life balance. As a lot of my clients are based all over the world, I’ll often find myself up until 3am here in New Zealand trying to finish a rush job for a client in a different time zone.
Tereza | Czick on the Road
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I started working as a translator when I was an exchange student in Slovenia and couldn’t find any job. Though I’ve studied Slovene language and literature, this didn’t help me at all with my new career. It was on contrary – my stay in Slovenia helped me with my studies and as I was getting my bachelor degree, my language skills were above the skills of master degree students. Overall, I studied in Slovenia for 2 years. The first three semesters I had an internship for exchange students (a bit over 200€ monthly), and the last semester I had to rely fully on my job.
My first job as a translator was for one Slovene language agency. As a student, I was getting 5€/page. At the time I was agreeing to this rate, I had no clue it’s a gross rate and after taxes, it was even lower. I had quite a terrible experience with this agency, getting an enormous amount to translate over weekends, and in the end, not getting paid for the last month. But those are the beginnings; I learned the hard way that translation business is tricky and that not getting paid is for some people the normal way of doing business.
Now it’s my 6th year of working as a freelance translator and in this time I have started cooperation with many reliable clients, and all my invoices are covered on time. I rarely accept new clients and if I do, it must be a company with a good reputation or I try to start with smaller projects for them or get paid in advance. I also do copywriting in English and Czech and recently started with ORM – Online Reputation Management.
For long 5 years, translation was my side business while having a full-time job. I started traveling at the beginning of 2018 and now, still working part-time, I make just enough money to cover the travel expenses, though I have savings for rainy days. This whole year I plan to cover most of the countries in South America and the most challenging thing I find on my journey is to find a good internet connection, right now we are in the Andes mountains and the internet is very poor…
Iris | Traducarte
I got my undergrad at the Universidad de Murcia, Spain, and did one year as an exchange student in East Stroudsburg University. I specialized in audiovisual translation and ended up as a PhD candidate in that field (more specifically, media accessibility) at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.
It took me 5 years to graduate plus two to get the masters and now I am at my fourth year as a PhD candidate, hopefully the last. I didn’t have an internship, but I was teaching assistant in London, and a Fulbright TA at the University of Arkansas in Fort Smith. During my PhD, I also did a research stay at Syracuse University, NY.
My first job as a translator, for which I am eternally grateful, was for the International Union of Architects as a freelancer when their in-house translator was on leave. I translated CVs and their newsletter.
At the moment, I combine my PhD with my job as a freelance audiovisual translator, doing mostly subtitles and audio descriptions. I also use my love for traveling by taking on tourism translations.
I decided I wanted to travel way before I became a translator, and my career choice was highly influenced by the fact that I wanted a job that allowed me that freedom.
My current location is in Barcelona.
I will visit Venice in November and Berlin in February, and then I have a one-way ticket to South-East Asia right after I have my viva, by the end of March.
The best thing about being a traveling translator: the feeling that I am truly making the most of my freelancer lifestyle. More pragmatically, the fact that, for example, when I’m in the US, the time difference allows me to take jobs others can’t thanks to the time-difference, which is really convenient. You also make connections with people all around the globe. The worst: those connections are hard to maintain when you cannot go for coffee every time and again because, well, you’re 2,000 miles away. And that goes for any kind of relationship, really.
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I am not a full-time freelance translator. I work as in-house translator and Spanish book editor at a non-profit organization and have been doing so for approximately the past 4 years. Before that, I attended Universidad Espíritu Santo in Ecuador until I transferred to Hunter College – CUNY in New York City and obtained my Bachelor’s in Translation & Interpretation (Spa <> Eng). After living between the U.S. and Ecuador, I wanted to get a stable job in my field combining translation and literature, while having a 401K, health insurance and time off.
Luckily, I found that job. I have two weeks paid vacation every year, two personal days, and 12 federal holidays. And although I at times I envy the freedom of the translators above in this post, who can jump from country to country, this is what I wanted and continue to want in my professional life. Maybe one day I will stop being an house translator and decide I want to travel the world, but I love what I do and the ability to travel part-time.
I hope that whoever is reading this post realizes that you can get a degree in T&I that will allow you to travel as a freelancer, but that this is not the ONLY possibility. In previous blog posts, I have interviewed translators and interpreters who hold different positions. For example, in How I Travel as a Translator With a Chronic Illness, Maria Fernanda indicates that she obtained a Bachelor’s degree in T&I and is the head of the translation department at a university in Ecuador, which has allowed her to travel as an interpreter on behalf of the school’s professors and staff.
I have connected with interpreters over the years that specialized in conference interpreting and not in translation whatsoever. And there are, of course, many T&I professors at universities that combine their love of teaching and translation. As a translator and/or interpreter, there are many avenues and choices for you to make. What is your niche? Legal? Medical? Do you want to work as in-house interpreter or do you want to travel the world? Either way, remember that everyone who works as a T&I does so because they love it, not because they foresee themselves becoming millionaires. Ok, maybe you won’t become a millionaire, but can you make a living off it and travel the world? YES!