Lesson 37: Working holidays, a.k.a isn’t translation the best profession in the world?

Lesson 37: Working holidays, a.k.a isn’t translation the best profession in the world?

You’ve had a long break from me, haven’t you? A couple of weeks with no posts and almost no Twitter and Facebook presence. How is that possible? Well, for the first time in my life I went on working holidays, which in total lasted just over a month. Imagine translating from a sunny terrace over a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice served by friendly staff. For days. Isn’t translation the best profession in the world? It surely can be something to be envious about, but it’s not impossible. It’s also not as carefree as it sounds.

In general, I enjoyed my working holidays. I went to see some places I always wanted to visit, spent time with friends and consumed masses of delicious food. I also learned that Finnish is extremely difficult, and that my poor German is better than non-existent. I rested, I got a new perspective on my life, I found new sources of inspiration. I also received a valuable business lesson: how not to manage your business on working holidays. So here come some notes to remember for the next time.

Reliable laptop

You can’t work without a laptop, can you? I recommend checking it up, updating and running scans before taking off. Believe me, realising that your battery is permanently dead on board of a plane is not too nice, especially if you assumed you will spend these three hours translating to deliver the file on time. And if you use Trados, just run it once before departing, as it has the annoying habit of breaking down just like that. Anti-virus scans are needed, the same as anti-virus software. Another point to remember: if you’re used to your two 22 inch screens, wrist foam and sensitive mouse pad, you will be much slower on a 13 inch laptop with a touchpad.

Cloud solutions

Make sure to upload your essentials to a cloud storage system. USB keys or flash drives get lost or damaged, or yeah you took the wrong one. This year I used my mobile as an emergency drive, but stored all my files on Dropbox. Convenient, but see below.


If a hotel in Wales states they have wi-fi, expect it in the lounge only. If the connection breaks down for no reason and you ask the staff where free wi-fi is available, you will surely get a difficult explanation how to get to a place with free wi-fi that’s only 20 minutes by bus from here. Oh but it’s Sunday evening, there are no busses there today. Don’t expect even the most globalised places to have wi-fi. Berlin train station doesn’t, or am I just so unlucky? I recommend using wi-fi wherever possible, but also check data roaming packages with your mobile operator. Mine had a cheap and convenient package covering whole Europe. If only there was signal in Wales…


It is very useful to decide how much time a day you are going to spend on working. Because I’m an early bird, I didn’t mind waking up at my usual 6 a.m. and working until 9 a.m. in peace. I had it all planned and knew how many words I had to translate each day to deliver on time. I had no mercy for myself and I really did work when I was supposed to, even if it meant missing out on a dinner, or an early morning walk. You also have to realise that holiday time is different from office time. Every minute spent translating runs either two times faster (when you’re really close to the deadline) or ten times slower (when you just want to be done and stroll down the beach). I was dreadfully slower in just about anything during my working holidays.


Most of you are freelancers as well, so you can understand me. I can’t just go away for 3 or 4 weeks without doing any work, checking my email or answering calls. I’m a business, I can’t casually disappear from the translation horizon and then rebuild my professional connections. But try explaining that to your partner, who conveniently left his business phone behind, or your friends and family, who are all in the holiday mood. Be ready to repeat and educate.

Survival mode

Because of the reduced working hours, you have to be very selective about what you’re going to spend your time on. I call it a survival mode. It explains no blog posts and scarce updates online. At some point you have to make a decision what is essential for you to carry on with your business (accounting, invoicing, replying to enquiries, emailing, translating), and what can wait. You should also have a plan for your return, in order to be able to cope with all these things that were put on hold for so long.

Business cards

You would be amazed by the variety of settings and situations you can use your business cards on working holidays. For example, you can meet a Polish family near the Snowdon summit, or realise that your acquaintance wife’s friend is doing some business in Poland and struggles to communicate with his business partners.

Summing up

I’ve always been rather a 3-days-away-holiday fan, and I think I’ll stick to this model. The amount of issues to deal with after my return was overwhelming. And I simply missed WantWords. Have you? 🙂


  1. Lisa Carter , on Aug 20, 2012 at 15:12 Reply

    But of course we missed you, Marta! Glad you got a good holiday in, even if it was a working one. Like you, I found from my three months in Costa Rica last year that when I’m away I really just want to travel and enjoy, not deal with all of the things that make working from the road just a little more difficult. Still, it was great to try!

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Sep 4, 2012 at 08:04 Reply

      Thank you, Lisa! I agree, it’s great to try, but you don’t really feel like doing that ever again. Holidays should be holidays!

  2. Jan Snauwaert , on Aug 20, 2012 at 15:52 Reply

    Sure we missed you, Marta, and Wantwords too.
    It is one of the challenging things, as you make very clear in this blog, for freelance translator to go on working holidays and not to lose part of their business. Thank you for the interesting observations you make, I will go on holidays myself on 9th September (destination: Crete, will do the Samaria gorge of course) till 20th September and I will think about the advice you give. Will be challenging too, I think, I wonder how well the WiFi will work in the hotel.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Sep 4, 2012 at 08:03 Reply

      I hope you’re enjoying your holidays, Jan! Let us know how did it go.

  3. Carolyn Yohn , on Aug 20, 2012 at 21:28 Reply

    Welcome back! I hope you feel at least somewhat relaxed from your vacation— sounds like you were still quite busy. I’m planning a 2 week vacation in a few months, in the middle of really settling in to full-time freelancing. For all the reasons you mention here, I’m a little nervous about that business-wise. At the very least, I’ll be taking business cards!

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Sep 4, 2012 at 08:02 Reply

      Looking at it now, after a month, I think I would’ve done some things differently. I think I would’ve told everyone I’m on holidays and just didn’t bother trying to acquire new clients over that period. We all deserve some holidays!

  4. Transliteria , on Aug 20, 2012 at 21:59 Reply

    Another excellent post from you, Marta! I just came back from my holidays and I’ve realised that as much as I love translating, it is twice as difficult to work when you’re away. Family time seems so precious then!
    All sorts of things happen on holidays: this time my netbook broke down (the power switch – can you believe that!). Fortunately, got all my files on an external drive and my Mum has a brand new laptop, so I used hers. Can’t imagine what I’d have done, if I’d been on my own in a hotel!

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Sep 4, 2012 at 08:00 Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Ewa! I second your thoughts – when visiting your family, you don’t really feel like translating anymore. But they try to understand

      We always have to expect the unexpected. Power switch? That’s a real misfortune.

  5. Aleksandra Milcic , on Aug 24, 2012 at 21:22 Reply

    Excellent post, Marta! I had similar experience with laptop, WiFi and “relativity of time” last June on my way to linguistic conference in Katowice, Poland. I’ll make sure to bookmark this post in case I decide to have working holiday next year.

    As much as I enjoyed your beautiful pictures on Facebook, I must say I missed your blog posts! 🙂

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Sep 4, 2012 at 07:58 Reply

      I know, and I suffered a lot in Poland with WiFi as well. Trying to find a hotspot is a real nightmare!

      I’m back on track now 🙂

  6. Alexandra Stephens (@Alejandrita1976) , on Apr 30, 2013 at 07:44 Reply

    Excellent post Marta! And so true. I only just posted a blog entry myself the other day about computer maintenance…even more so if you plan to work on holiday. After years of searching for the right balance, I agree that short holidays are preferrable as you can afford to make them real holidays wihout disappearing.
    Welcome back!

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on May 1, 2013 at 15:06 Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Alexandra! I don’t have any extravagant holiday plans for this year, and business trips don’t really count, do they?

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