Translating on the move

Translating on the move

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Tips for mobile working novices

As I’ve said in various posts, I really admire the translators I read about who seem to be always on the move, travelling and working at the same time as they hop from conference to translation event and back again. My working life isn’t normally like that, but recently, with an emergency journey to England followed by the MET conference in Portugal, I’ve had to move around a lot more than I’m used to and I think I’ve learned one or two things about mobile working which I’d like to share here.

1. Have good equipment

Some weeks ago, I mentioned in a post that I’d just changed my mobile phone and was about to replace my laptop. Thank goodness I did! On my recent journeys, the ease of use and splendid battery life of my new Motorola phone and new Asus computer almost made me forget my struggles of previous years to cope with failing technology.

2. Be prepared

Make sure your computer and phone are fully charged before you set off, that you’re carrying all necessary leads and chargers and that you’ve got any other equipment you want or need (pen drives, headphones, etc.). Check that you’ve got all the software you need installed on your computer and that your files are synchronised.

3. Don’t be too ambitious

With the best will in the world, you are not going to get as much done on the move as you would in your office at home. Even on a two-hour flight, you can reckon on losing around 40 minutes to take-off and landing and you can’t work all the time at the airport. That means you mustn’t be too ambitious in the amount of work you agree to do while you’re away. Remember too that you might have delivery problems if your Internet connection is not as good or as easy as you expect, so don’t cut deadlines too fine. The ideal work to do while travelling is a large project on a long deadline and I was fortunate enough to have just such a job to do while I was away.

4. Get comfortable

Obviously when you’re on a train or a plane you are going to have a seat, so you’ll have somewhere to work. On planes things are a little tight, but it is just about possible to use a laptop on a standard seat tray, at least as long as the person in front doesn’t tip their seat back (a sharp knee in the back is a good tactic if they do). On a train you can help yourself by booking in advance and taking a seat with a table. At an airport, go for a cup of coffee, which will cost you very little but will by you time at a table where you can comfortably get your laptop out and do half an hour or so.

5. Look out for wi-fi

It’s true that there are security concerns about free wi-fi networks, but they are invaluable if you’re planning to work away from home, for checking mails, doing Internet research and sending completed jobs. So keep an eye out for the opportunity to connect at an airport or station or even on a train (Portuguese trains, it turns out, have free wi-fi connections). And, when booking a hotel, particularly abroad, make sure it offers free wi-fi. This is easier to find in some countries than in others. In Portugal it couldn’t have been better in the hotel, but, astonishingly, in the conference venue at Coimbra University it was impossible to connect.

6. Leave the detail for later

For a lot of the time when you are travelling you’re not going to have any kind of Internet connection: on planes, for example. In those circumstances, you have to adapt your way of working to the situation, leaving any research or checking you need to do for the revision stage of the translation. The trick is to work as fast as possible, bashing out a very rough version you can polish up later. Fortunately, this is quite close to my normal way of working, described in a previous blog post.

7. Be flexible and inventive

When working on the move you’re bound to need to improvise once in a while. It helps if you can anticipate a little and carry a few gadgets to help you. On my recent trip to Portugal I was delighted I’d remembered to pack a pen drive I have that connects both to a USB port and to the smaller port in a mobile phone. This meant that when I couldn’t connect to the useless wi-fi in Barcelona airport to send a translation while waiting for my plane, I could simply transfer my work on to the pen drive, plug it into the mobile and send it via the phone network. Some of you will no doubt want to tell me I could have used Bluetooth to connect the two devices and I’m sure I could have. But the point’s not how you do it, it’s that you find a way.

8. Don’t lose anything

Travelling is an invitation to lose things, especially if you’re as absent minded as I am. So are plenty of other people, as I read this week when one well-known translator confessed in an online post how he left his laptop on a train. So when your plane lands or your train comes into the station make sure you’ve got everything. I thought I’d done quite well on my various journeys over the past few weeks, until I reached home with my family after a short break only to find I didn’t have my son’s glasses…

Now over to you. What are your tips for working on the move? Please feel free to leave you comments here.




  1. Timothy Barton

    The Wifi did work in Coimbra, but you had to manually set some of the settings. I was connected all the way through.

    Regarding the lost computer, a few years back I had to spend a fortune on an emergency passport because I’d left my passport at a snooker club in Barcelona without realising. The owner kept hold of it, but said he had no way of contacting me. Of course, he could have Googled my name, but this was a fairly old guy who probably rarely used the Internet, and he could have found the emergency contacts on the inside back cover, but he didn’t think to look.

    It made me think, how many times do I lose something and the person who finds it wants to return it but can’t?

    I decided to buy some adhesive labels on which to print my name and contact details. I now religiously put them in a visible location on absolutely everything I own (apart from clothes!) that I take out of the house or lend to someone, from expensive items to cheap items that I’d not want to be without. It has worked several times. One time I’d abandoned a phone charger at an event. They wouldn’t have had a clue whose it was were it not for the label. A few weeks back I left my computer in the bathroom at Geneva airport. Just as I realised I didn’t have it, my name was announced over the tannoy. Honestly, I’m kicking myself that I didn’t think to do this before, and I urge others to do it!

    A couple of years back I found a very expensive camera at Barcelona Airport. I handed it in to the police, but I doubt the owner got it back (I left a note for them to let me know if they did, but never heard anything). If only his name and contact details had been on there.


      Thanks for your comment, Tim. If you managed to get the wi-fi to work in Coimbra you were one of about two people who did. I had the instructions and it still proved impossible. The labels are certainly a good idea.


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