Travel While You Translate

Not only because it allows me to work in the comfort of my own home and on my own schedule, but another reason why I like the profession of translation is because it gives me the freedom to travel around the world while maintaining an income. All you need is a laptop and an internet connection and you can do this job anywhere, any time.

For example, when I first started traveling through Asia, I was worried that the different time zone will cause me problems, but I found that it actually helped. After all, my major customers were located in the US and Europe, but with some fancy manipulation I resolved all issues and found that my value increased while my stress decreased.

Accepting Jobs and Doing the Jobs

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Motorbike bridge across river, northern tip of Borneo, Malaysia (roadtrip video).

The trick is to pay for some service, such as mobilem.cz or sms.ac, which forward emails from important customers as text messages to my mobile phone, wherever I might be.

For this I set up a forwarding filter on my primary email account with gmail. A copy of any email coming in from my most important customers is forwarded to my email-to-sms service. Any email sent to one of these special email addresses will be converted into a text message and sent to my mobile phone.

Whenever I move to another country, I always get a local sim card, so that I do not have to pay for incoming calls or text messages, and because internet through mobile phone is much cheaper rather than any roaming plan.

In the Discovery Rainforest outside of Sandakan, travel while you translate

In the Discovery Rainforest outside of Sandakan, Borneo, Malaysia (rainforest workstation video).

When I switch sim cards, my phone number changes, and I likewise change this with my email-to-sms service.

I may be having a picnic on a mountain top, or spending my evening with good friends in a restaurant. I’ll hear the incoming text message, or feel the phone’s vibrator. I’ll quickly check to see that it is an email from one of my important customers, in which case I’ll use the credit on the sim card to check my mail. Gmail supports smartphone viewing so that the costs are minimal and the correspondence is fast.

I’ll check my email and respond quickly to the customer. After all, it is a time game. Almost every translation agency sends job offers to many translators, whereby the ones who respond the fastest most often win the project. It really does not matter what time zone you are on, as long as you respond quickly to job offers.

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Botanical garden in Discovery Rainforest, Borneo, Malaysia

Sometimes I have to forward the attached file to another email account which I use specifically to download and view PDFs and other file types on my smart phone. Other times I might ask the customer to send a screenshot or sample of the text, so that I can view it and give my final confirmation that I can take the translation. Always make sure you know what you are accepting and that you can meet the deadline.

Once I accept the job, the customer confirms, sends the PO and I confirm etc., after which  I can relax for the rest of the evening, assuming I have accepted a job that will keep me busy for at least the next day. Other times I will accept many smaller jobs. The bottom line though is, because of the time difference, I generally accept work during my evenings (during working hours in Europe or the US), and do the work my next day.

I’ll usually finish all my translation work by 2pm, which is well before the offices start up in the US or Europe. This greatly alleviated any stress for timely delivery while my customers are happy because they have someone they can depend on if they receive a job offer towards the end of their business hours. I may have to wake up at 4am to accept a job, but I will deliver before they start up the next day. What chances do they have of finding a translator on their time zone willing to work late into the morning to get it done by the time they start up the next morning? Most translators will charge extra for such overnight service. I don’t have to, or I can, even though it is a casual work day for me!

In this way you can see that the time zone difference really does not have to be an issue.

Internet Connection is Crucial

From the example above, you can see that having a smartphone with internet connection (in Asia, unlike Europe or the US, it is easy to get a prepaid simcard with cheap internet capabilities, not requiring a permanent residence or long term contract) is crucial to quickly respond to customer requests. But once you start translating, the speed offered by such packages can often be too slow to do proper internet research, such as with online dictionaries when searching for specific terms.

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Exploring caves in Malaysia (photo album of caves).

For this, a faster internet connection directly to your laptop is desirable. Although it is true that many times have I used the internet package on my sim card to turn my smartphone into a wifi zone so that I could perform such research, albeit slower, and deliver my projects while riding a bus or train across a country!

In any case, with some creativity, it is becoming increasingly easier to find faster internet connections for this purpose. You may have to stomach a McDonald’s “happy pack”, a lunch at Tim Horton’s or Wendy’s, or perhaps surreptitiously slip into the lobby of a fancy hotel, but there are always options. When I first started traveling while translating more than eight years ago, it was more difficult and, heaven forbid, I often had to take a local bus to an internet café in a neighbouring town! A small price to pay though for the freedom to enjoy the fruits of the world at your own pace.

Some instructions on internet connection while traveling I wrote a long time when I first started out with this wonderful concept.

Taxes and Paperwork

Inevitably on the mind of anyone considering the same venture, but solved easily enough! In places like Beliz, Hong Kong, the Channel Islands and many others, it is perfectly legal to set up your business and pay a flat annual tax without the need to fill in complicated tax forms and other unnecessary headaches! If your bank account is in another country than where your customer is located, everything is smooth sailing. Since I have started traveling I have gone fully digital. No need to kill trees for paper at my corporate headquarters, or hire expensive accountants, or deal with the migraine of all that paperwork. More details here.

Extra Battery Power

And if you do try something like this, you will definitely want some backup power. If you buy a laptop, you might consider buying at least a second, backup battery. Simply switch batteries once one is emptied. You never want to drop below the dreaded 3% remaining power just as you are about to deliver a job. To conserve battery power, turn off your wifi, on your phone too if need be, and you will see how quickly power may drop once you do use it again.

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More caves in Malaysia.

For my smartphone I purchased a few extra lion 12V batteries with a standard 5V usb output, which I could use to charge up my phone. Or I could use the 12V output to power a 220V, compact inverter which I could plug my laptop into. These devices are not heavy and you can get rather compact ones, but you never want to be enjoying a beautiful view on a mountain top and realise you are not able to deliver a big project on time. Be smart and set things up so that you can enjoy your freedom!

Some tips on electrical connection and consumption when I first started translating while traveling.

Incognito

And lastly, be careful about boasting of your new found freedom. Many customers can be conservative and quickly skeptical that anything like this is possible. When I first started traveling I lost practically my entire client base because most of them thought it was not possible and stopped sending me work. Give it a careful test run before diving in full throttle. You can do much of your work offline at the cottage, but always give yourself room for some quality internet time before delivering so that you can research terminology properly and hand in your work well ahead of time. Your customers need not know of your backend technical issues! Just make sure you deliver quality work every time and you should be all set.

Videos of my travels
Videos of translation workstations while I travel
Pictures of my travels

The most effective way how to get translation work

Work at Home Translation Jobs

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madmin

Head Honcho at KENAX
After translating and managing translation projects for more than 20 years, I'm happy to teach others the ropes and move on to other interests. My greatest perk from this profession is that it has given me the freedom to work when and where I want, and eventually to loosen the straps and travel freely around the world.
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9 thoughts on “Travel While You Translate

  1. Yeri

    This is an awesome confirmation that it can be done! I have been planning this for a while, but I am a little worried about having the amount of job that I will need… any suggestions…

    Reply
    1. madminmadmin Post author

      I’ll put it to you this way. In Prague I was shelling out 500 Euro a month for a reasonably nice flat near the center. Now I shell out $135 a month and I’m 30m from a beautiful beach (my present location: Island Hopping in the Philippines – Sibaltan). I figure I need about $600 a month to live comfortably, my greatest part of my budget, as usual, beers. Even in countries that only give you 30 days visa on arrival, the travel or air costs to get to another country still means I’m much better off than living back home, and Prague is much less expensive than countries in the west. You just gotta do the math.

      Reply
    1. madminmadmin Post author

      Yes, certainly have heard of some cloud based solutions, but find it somewhat impractical, because while traveling you can never be sure of having a fast enough internet connection, let alone an internet connection at all, so best to get everything offline – nice and fast, not dependent on internet connection.

      Reply
  2. madminAlfons van Hoof Post author

    Reply by Alfons van Hoof:

    I’m doing it for even longer (about 12+ years now), and can confirm that it works. But it often takes a bit more organizing. Forget about ‘working on the beach’. Most of the stories I read on the Internet are taking the work part too lightly. You do need a good office or working space. I’m hauling along two laptops and an extra screen. I try to travel mostly during weekends, and stay put during the week. That way, you have the best guarantees to keep in touch with your clients. Of course, a smartphone helps to answer emails when you’re on the move, but those days you don’t ?much work. I often stay several years at the same place, or at least keep the same ‘base’ while traveling around. While on the move, I often stay put for two or three months (the limit of most tourist visa). Renting a small apartment for several months is much better than staying in guest houses or hotels for a few days. It gives you more comfort and lower costs.
    Indeed, mobile communication/Internet is often much better than fixed lines in many developing countries. In my current base, Cambodia, I have a fixed line, backed up by a mobile connection. I don’t use my phone to connect my laptop(s), but have a separate SIM card in a dongle. Works like a charm.
    Even if you’re traveling through a larger country in a couple of days (weeks or months), you need to have a local SIM card. While WiFi is widely available, connection speed is often limited, and you spend too much on food and drinks to keep going. Moreover, the background noise can be intimidating. Business centers or networking offices are a good choice in most larger cities. They don’t only provide you with fast Internet, but also allow to network with other ‘digital nomads’. At times invaluable.

    Reply
  3. Viviane Blais

    Interesting post. Thank you. Two quick questions:
    1) How do you get paid? Via Paypal?
    2) Do you have a backup plan in case your laptop (and translation memory software, etc.) gets stolen?

    Reply
    1. madminmadmin Post author

      All payments are almost exclusively to PayPal, but in 2014 they took away the option to get a debit card without a US social insurance number, so since then I have been forced to transfer first to my Bank of America account and use that debit card to withdraw cash from bank machines. I have a second PP account in Europe, hooked up to my Bulgarian bank account, which charges no monthly fees. Best to have several debit/credit cards to withdraw from, in case something happens to one of them. Also best to try to have both visa and mastercard, as some islands or remote places serve only one of the two.
      My backup plan is google drive. Only uploads the actual changes to the files and not the entire files every time you make a slight change.
      For my agency, I have it set up so that I can access my database of translators online, including my accounting, so I can continue to operate from an internet cafe in the worst case scenarios. Took me a few years of meditation and preparations to put everything online before I hit the road, but I was busy with many other preparations as well, in particular the homemade campervan.

      Reply

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