Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The travelling translator ...reporting from around the world. Martina's story!

Next in our mini interviews is Martina Russo, an English, Spanish and German into Italian freelance translator who loves languages and living a truly location-independent lifestyle. Here's what she has to say about living life as a travelling translator: 

Martina, tell us a few things about your life before you became a traveling translator.

A trip to Holland
Well, traveling and living in different countries have always been part of my life. I started working very early in my life, mainly in the hospitality industry, in order to self-finance my studies. I moved out of Italy at the age of 18 and spent some time in Germany until an opportunity to work in tourism arose back home. Therefore, I relocated to Milan and truly enjoyed the international environment and lifestyle that you can experience when working for airline companies. 

The very same day I started my new job I also signed up at the faculty of Interpretation and Translation of the IULM University in Milan.

What languages do you speak and what made you become a translator?

My mother tongue is Italian and I can speak English, Spanish and German very fluently, and those are indeed the languages I work from. I have also started studying Russian and I am interested in Dutch. I can also understand a bit of Portuguese.

Cabin for interpretation
I have always been in love with the Italian language. As I grew up, this love spread to other languages and I soon realized that I wanted to do something with it. I was very undecided about what to do. Then one day someone came up to me with the brochures of a school for translators and interpreters... and I was enlightened.

What made you become a traveling translator and lead the life that you do now?

A few months after starting my career in tourism and my training as translator, I had my first translation job (and I still happily work with this company 3 years later).

However, I knew that in order to pursue my dreams and become a professional, trained  translator I would have to make some sacrifices, because the university I had chosen was quite expensive.
Cycling in the Cambodian countryside
After a couple of years, I needed to move out of Italy again because – as you might know – the Italian job market was not doing so well. The chosen destination was once again Germany, since for me it was a chance to dive deep into the German culture and language. I agreed with my university that I would continue my studies as a distance learner.

And this is where it all started. While in Germany I strengthened my translation and language skills. As time went by, other occasional projects added up to my curriculum. I was also continuing my training, occasionally going back to Milan to take exams at university. In Germany I also took part in the creation of a project called NGO Taxi South America. It is a very innovative “travel & work” project which aims to support local NGOs throughout South America.

After a while I was open to a change of scenery and got a job in the German part of Switzerland, where I lived for about one year. I just recently left Switzerland and moved to a beautiful house around the Garda Lake in Italy where I stayed for a few months. Afterwards, I decided that it was time for a reward and jumped on a flight to Thailand. Right now I am writing from Cambodia.

Describe a typical day in your life as a traveling translator.

Bangkok train station
It usually depends on the workload I have. On a typical day I wake up and (after having breakfast and all the other things that all human beings do) I check my emails. I prioritize my tasks using old good pen and paper to have an overview of my day and then spend something between half an hour and one hour reading articles, the news, etc.

The first working activity of my day normally involves 3-4 hours of translating/subtitling for a company that I have a fixed job with. Then I move onto any other job which is lined up, unless there is a deadline or an urgency that will obviously mean a change of order. After I have been translating for a while I stop and let my brain rest and fill in the “gaps” by carrying out minor tasks from my to-do-list, like replying to emails or doing some marketing.

During my working days I usually don't travel or go to see places. I'd rather take 1-2 days off and dedicate all of that time to discover the area where I am living.
The beach

I think that the beauty of it lies in the fact that you can choose where you want to work from and where you want to live. This means that you can spend one month in Thailand working from the beach; next month you can be typing while facing a beautiful river in a charming town in Cambodia; and, at some point, you can catch a flight back to Europe and work from a hut on top of the mountains to enjoy some good snowboarding (yes, this is my plan).

What are the advantages and disadvantages of living life as a traveling translator and how do they affect your translation business?

As far as I'm concerned, there are way more pros than cons in working as a traveling translator. You can take your job everywhere, and sometimes your job can take you places, too. You can enjoy different countries, cultures, people, food, different activities and lifestyles. Being “location-independent” is freedom. Your destiny is literally in your hands.

I believe that the combination of working for yourself, loving what you do and being able to do it from ANYWHERE on the planet gives you such a feeling of satisfaction, happiness and freedom that I couldn't think of doing anything else in my life.

I also appreciate very much that being in some parts of the world is quite convenient time-wise. For example, right now I am 6 hours ahead of Europe. This gives me more flexibility when dealing with deadlines.
My home office in Koh Phangan, Thailand
But of course there is the other side of the coin. For example, it is not always easy to find a fast and reliable internet connection. However, you would be surprised to see how – in 2013 – the internet has reached even the most remote of places.

One more thing that I am not specifically happy about is that sometimes clients might not pay on time, and when this happens they usually also forget to let you know. So you'd better be prepared for this inconvenience, as you really don't want to find yourself at the other side of the world with empty pockets.

Last but not least, I can imagine that anyone who likes traveling has a sparkling enthusiasm and a drive for adventures. It can sometimes be hard to concentrate when you know that you have to spend 8 hours working, while you see all those people chilling out at the beach. It often also happens that people are curious and would like to embark on a life-long exchange of thoughts and ideas which obviously won't do any good to your productivity. This is a matter of self-discipline. You should find a rather quiet place where you can concentrate, behave as if you were in a virtual office and politely let everyone know that you are busy. Isolating yourself with headphones might be a good idea.

Where do the majority of your clients come from?

The client I work most with is an American company with a branch in Europe. Otherwise most of my clients come from Europe.

What is your advice to anyone wishing to live the life of a traveling translator?

Becoming a “location-independent” professional is probably the best thing that could have ever happened to me and I wouldn't hesitate suggesting this to anyone. However, this lifestyle isn't for everybody. You might be more comfortable and productive working from home or in an office with all your equipment and your own internet connection.

For those of you who are considering to embark on this journey, here is my advice. Before starting, make sure that you have:

and tolerance: You will gain a lot of these as time and countries add up in your list – however, sometimes, especially if you have chosen an exotic destination, you will have to deal with random and sudden electricity blackouts or seasonal heavy rains which will cause the internet to slow down.

Travel with a proper smart-phone and buy a local simcard. Enable 3G and use your smart-phone to: 

A) always have an overview in case important emails flush in; B) use it as a modem and connect your computer to it when the electricity goes down. Unless you are on the top of Mount Everest, cellular connections nowadays usually work quite fast through 3G. TIP IN THE TIP: To really make sure you have thought of everything not to let down any clients in case of “emergency”, I also suggest you buy a portable power bank for your devices, even better if it is a solar powered one.

Equipment: Before leaving for a round-the-world trip or just visiting a few countries, equip yourself with a proper laptop. Out of experience, I would suggest one which is not too big as it would be heavy to carry around, but I would avoid one of those mini notebooks. The screen is very small and after a while it can be disturbing. It's also a matter of memory and software compatibility, so make sure you do proper research. Also bring an external hard disk for a back up and, in case anything broke down or got stolen, create a Dropbox or Google Drive account with an online version of (at least) all important files. And, if you don't already have one, you might consider buying an e-reading device.This can be a great break from your laptop to read articles or books without making your bags too heavy.                                                                                                              

Be constant:
Especially if you already have issues with this at home. Being flexible is a great thing, but it is also a good idea to set time frames and always stick to them, as if you were to go to an office. It is also a great thing to break the rule once in a while.
Related to the point above: Remember that you are not on holiday. Choosing a more flexible, enjoyable lifestyle and renting out an apartment on the beach doesn't mean that you should spend every day sun tanning. You have to keep up with what you did back home. This is crucial for a successful “location-independent” life.

Stay healthy:
We all know how easy it is to get lost in emails and files, this resulting in us sitting in front of the screen for hours. Whereas at home it is also quite easy to adjust your regular schedule and find a place to release all the stress by doing sports, if you're always on the move, it becomes less obvious.

Give yourself a limit, no matter what, and get up. Take a swim in the ocean, walk along the river, find a gym or go jogging. This will also reboot your mental system and boost your productivity.                                                                           

TIP: It can happen that you end up in a country where a gym is nowhere to be seen, or where facilities are way too expensive, or you just don't like running around that area. You could get yourself one of those elastic bands. They are extremely light, they don't take up any space and allow you to bring your own gym to your (temporary) home. 

Keep yourself informed about what's happening around the world and look for online opportunities for self-development within the industry. In 2013 there are countless resources to keep up to date and widen your knowledge, even if you can't buy your favorite newspaper or you can't physically attend a conference.


Enjoy your new life!

Martina Russo is an English, Spanish & German into Italian freelance translator with 3 years of experience and a BA in translation studies. She also offers proofreading, subtitling, transcribing and (light) post-editing services in Italian. Her main domains are Tourism & Hospitality and Marketing & Communication. Her main focus is her clients' peace of mind.

Martina also volunteers translating for NGOs and is one of the staff members of the NGO Taxi South America, an innovative Travel & Work project that supports and promotes development programs through South America.

Martina enjoys the advantages of working from home by taking her home to different countries. She likes experiencing new cultures and learning new languages – her dream is to become a polyglot. She is currently writing an essay about memorization strategies applied to language learning.

Would you like to get in touch with her? Have a look at her CV, browse her Moving Words  page or send her an email.

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