Can you be both a successful freelance translator and a digital nomad?

If you own a freelance business, chances are you’ve already come across posts of digital nomads promoting their lifestyle while stating it’s the ultimate lifestyle. Is it, though?

Let’s assume it’s possible to build a successful career as a freelance translator while travelling (spoiler: it is) – how can you earn more and position yourself well in your market while travelling? What’s a year in a digital nomad’s life really like? What are the pros and cons of choosing this alternative lifestyle?

What are the pros of being a digital nomad?

Even though being a digital nomad isn’t (only) about living the dream, it definitely comes with a lot of advantages. 

 

#1 Money 💲(and time zones ⏱️)

You’d be surprised to know how much money you can actually save up while staying in certain countries! There are many contexts in which you’ll save up money if you decide to grab your backpack and leave.

 

This basically means you don’t have to pick between travelling and working, or between travelling and saving up. If you travel to places such as Thailand, you’ll be able to find decent (clean and functional) accommodation for as little as 5 to 10 $ per night, and you could have delicious street food every day spending 3$ per meal.


Indeed, if you make $, £, or € but spend ฿, , your money will go a long way! This makes it a perfect way to spend less if you just opened your business and don’t make a lot of money, or a very pleasant way to spend less money and be even more relaxed when business is going well!

 

#2 CPD 💡

 

Even though you work as a translator, the better you speak your source language, the easier it will be for you to make a good impression on potential clients. If you translate from languages such as Spanish, English, or French, you can make the most of your status as a digital nomad and improve your speaking skills in places like the Canary Islands, Mexico, or Canada. Not bad!

 

Did I mention that being a digital nomad will boost your credibility if you specialise in tourism?

If you decide to give a try to the digital nomad lifestyle, you’ll be able to attend conferences, workshops and training around the world easier. Are you planning to go to Lithuania this winter? You could attend Elia. Are you planning to go to Spain or Romania next spring? You could attend BP or Translate Cluj!

 

You could either pick your destinations depending on the events you want to attend or search for events around you.

No matter what conference or training you attend, those are all great opportunities to meet inspiring people which brings us to the next advantage of being a digital nomad…

 

#3 Networking 🙋

 

Differentiate yourself while maintaining excellent relations with your clients in real life!
Whether you collaborate with translation agencies or direct customers, you probably work with nice human beings who would love to have lunch with you in real life. Treating them with a nice lunch to thank them for all the business they send you is highly recommended 😉

 

 

London, Berlin, Lisbon, Madrid, Budapest, Medellín, Mexico City, Chiang Mai, Tenerife, Ubud… 🌍

Chances are you will soon or later be tempted to visit one of the numerous digital nomad hubs (I highly recommend you do it). As stated in the next part of the article, solo travelling and travelling while managing a business can be both daunting and exhausting no matter how much you kill it in a regular context and how experienced of a traveller you are.

 

Since this lifestyle comes with a whole set of disadvantages, working in coworking spaces can be an excellent way to meet other entrepreneurs from all over the world, and join a community of people who face the same challenges you do and are willing to support youSome of them could even be your next customers.


Coworking spaces are places where you can unleash your productivity and focus in a very nice context (they’re often located in the capital city centre or next to the beach). Some of them include telephone booths, swimming pools, auditoriums, bars…

 

What are the cons of being a digital nomad?

#1 Loneliness 😖

 

Solo travelling isn’t that solo…
If you’ve already travelled alone, you know how easy it is to meet other solo travellers in hostels and in the numerous backpacking hubs. However, working on the go is a very different story. Focusing on your business while travelling means you will get to spend your days off in really cool places, but it also means you’ll often do it alone (or with other digital nomads who will soon leave the city).

 

All seasoned digital nomads can tell you the impact loneliness had on their lives: even though we have friends all over the world, we’re lonely. 

 

We’re lonely because we’re far from part of them.

We’re lonely because maintaining relationships (any kind of relationships) while working and travelling is really difficult.

We’re lonely because we miss our loved ones (and they are in a different time zone).

We’re lonely because the friends we just made might also hop on another flight the next day.

We’re lonely because back home (if we still have such a place) people don’t understand our lifestyle.

 

Yep, that’s a lot of loneliness!

 

Here are my favourite tips to co-opt with loneliness: 

 

  1. Travel slowly and learn languages to be able to make local friends
  2. Do your best to keep in touch weekly with the 3-5 people who matter more to you
  3. Use apps such as Meet up and Couchsurfing to meet people
  4. Talk to the other travellers in your hostel
  5. Work in a coworking space and attend events there
  6. Find your ideal rhythm: I live in Italy 8 months per year and travel the rest of the year – I have a fantastic group of friends here in Italy

 

#2 Tiredness 🥱

 

Travelling is always tiring.

 

What about travelling, switching time zones, and working?


Yes, it is incredibly tiring and you have to be well-organised and take great care of your health if you want to be able to do it. It might be difficult for you to fall asleep in certain places because of the noise for instance.

 

Here are my favourite tips to co-opt with tiredness:

 

  1. Stick to a routine no matter what ex: you’ll go to bed at 10 PM every night during the week
  2. Take melatonin-based treatments to ease jet lag
  3. Try to take some time off as you normally would
  4. Make sure the projects you accept are compatible with the place where you currently are so that you won’t have to wake up at 3 AM to call a customer (it will make you even more tired and your customer wouldn’t find it professional at all)

 

#3 Difficulty 😶‍🌫️

 

Let’s be honest, being a digital nomad is difficult. It’s not (only) about escaping cold winters and living your best life.


Travelling just adds up to the regular difficulties we encounter as business owners.

 

To succeed, you’ll need to be very well-organised and make sure you can always rest well (and refuse to party or talk all night long with the nice people you’ll meet).

 

You should always ensure that you will be able to have a reliable Wi-Fi connection.
Pockets Wi-Fi can save you, but they are not as good as regular Wi-Fi connections.

 

You may want to check websites such as Nomadlist or Nomadscore to understand if your dream destination is digital-nomad-friendly. Those websites will give you tons of information about the cost of living, the digital nomad community and the culture and infrastructure of most big cities around the world.

 

You might also browse Instagram and Facebook groups and ask your questions to people who are already there. I am personally not on Instagram or Facebook, so I rely on my network of travellers and digital nomads and I do some good old research when considering exploring new horizons.

 

How can I make sure things go well and what mistakes should I avoid as a freelance translator digital nomad?

 

Make sure you communicate clearly with your clients beforehand. Be transparent, be organised, and be reliable. Some customers will love the fact that you travel the world, it will reinforce the connection you have with them! In certain situations, the time difference means they can contact you very late (on their side). It also means you will have more time to work on the same project.

Always make sure the time zone you are in, your planning, and your health are compatible with the projects you want to accept. Should you have any doubts regarding your capacity to accept a project, it is always better to turn it down (or negotiate the deadline so that you can accept it once you are back home). As always, if you deliver bad quality, you’ll end up losing all of your customers and that’s not what you want.

 

Make sure your bank and mobile operator know where you are and make sure you can use your credit card and your phone without additional costs.

 

There are dozens of easy fixes for those issues. I recommend using banks such as N26 and mobile operators such as Free Mobile. I also recommend you have a dual sim smartphone (or a smartphone compatible with e-sims).

 

Here we are, folks! In collaboration with Mael Blivet (a French translator and copywriter who specialises in tourism and marketing), Tri-Trab shared with you a list of pros and cons of being a digital nomad. There’s no perfect lifestyle. It all depends on your goals and personality. By the way, your goals could change in the coming months or years so if you want to give this alternative lifestyle a try, by all means do! Just keep in mind no lifestyle is perfect. 

 

About the author

 

Maël Blivet is a French freelance translator and a digital nomad. He translates from English and Italian to French and specialises in tourismmarketing/transcreation and communication. Besides translation, he offers copywriting services and consultancies to help his fellow translators define their marketing strategy. Over the past 3 years, he worked in 7 countries (France, Italy, Germany, Turkey, Egypt, Portugal, India).

You can contact him on LinkedIn or visit his website www.treinnomad.com
NB: please note that he doesn’t accept LinkedIn invitations without a note.

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