Pack (and travel) like an interpreter aka: teeny tiny fashion guide for interpreters


(I could not resist posting a pic of my ideal pieces of luggage… but sadly enough, this is not reality!) 

Interpreters are, for definition, all over the place. Or at least, for those who do not get to travel most of their 30 days in a month, some weeks can be certainly hectic. Mine was in July – originally I was supposed to post this a month ago, but given the crazy interpreting galore I was experiencing, I had to postpone. Mea culpa! 

In July I had to attend and work at approximately 7 events of different duration, some of which in the very same week, in different locations.

Finally the luggage-making skills inherited by my father’s even more skilled Navy background came in handy.

So, how does an interpreter pack and travel (or should, at least)?

Blog topic alert: I can’t deny I like fashion and looking tidy & organised, so exit now if you’re not interested!

You may remember my previous post on going to the “interpreting wars” from last year.

I won’t repeat those sections but will expand on what your luggage / clothing should contain and look like. Of course, my perspective is a little bit on the feminine side so pardonnez moi, gentlemen.

Going through different cities or countries? Or event time zones?

Make sure you have the right clothes. In the booth I suggest, again, onion-like clothing and possibly a sleeveless vest under your jacket. That minimizes sweat stains or unfashionable marks. And a deodorant at the ready. Last time it was the technician who left an unpleasant souvenir of BO in my booth and trust me, that spray was a godsend! 

But do not underestimate that the venue may be freezing: once I interpreted in a Devon, Harry Potter-esque mansion and boy, cold it was and the stoves didn’t really help.

Going for more than one day to the same event? With the same people?

Choose a black blazer and you can reuse it twice – make sure you have different tops and if the weather changes, pack an extra pair of tights.

Be confident but with a simple finish. I’d go for simple jewelry but just be true to your style and don’t overdo it. Scarves are a good and warm solution that defines the figure without being too-in-your-face. Plus, when you’re hot, you can take it off; if cold, use it as a shawl. 

Bear in mind that local dress codes may well differ. I’d recommend to always opt for a smart-elegant look in Italy eg. suit or dress and at least medium heels to be on the safe side. Depending on the event, in the UK, a different more relaxed dress code may suffice e.g. flats, a nice tailored top and even jeans-cut trousers can work nicely.

I like combinations and matching, so I always make sure I have at least a matching bag/shoe/blazer combo ie. my blazer is beige, my shoes or bag or scarf will be on those tones. Of course, my bag is usually big enough to fit:

– A tablet/netbook

– Pens/folder with sheets/paper

– A snack

– USBs

– Cables

– Adapter/s – last time the conference in Birmingham had hired Belgian equipment, hence the plugs were all European (with 7 booths of UK-based interpreters with UK laptop chargers!)

– Scarf / tights / glasses / business cards (always have plenty: last time I handed a few at the train station where I ended up with a serious gentleman who held an umbrella for me, carried my luggage, paid for my taxi AND my train and he’s willing to giving me work. Wowzers!)

For more tips on what to bring in your business bag, see Interpreting Wars here.

Going abroad? Or out of town, simply? When spending the night out, make sure you check whether the hotel has Wi-Fi or if not, top-up your dongle – you never know! Once when I was in Cardiff, the Wi-Fi was too weak and wouldn’t reach my room… and it’s very disappointing if you’ve paid for it!

As for the basics of every traveller: minis are a great solution. I pack shampoo / conditioner (sometimes they’re not available or they’re horrible…!) and slippers (I hate walking on carpets) or flip-flops. If particularly hot or with particularly sore feet (it happened that a colleague fell from the tube stairs and almost broke her shoe heel!) you will be relieved just knowing you’re able to swap high heels / uncomfortable shoes with those!

I tend to pack a nail file (Sod’s law, you always break a nail somewhere it’s not appropriate!) and also nail polish/remover, because there’s nothing untidier of chipped, varnished nails.

Depending on the location / length of the trip, I like to pack a hairdryer. I know, a bit extreme but this is simply because once there wasn’t any, once it didn’t work, once it was too weak and took me 1.5 hrs to dry my long hair and the list of dreadful experiences goes on. Unlucky, yes. Maybe also a bit fussy, but hey, you don’t want to get to the conference with bed hair…

You may not be a fan of makeup and that’s one less preoccupation for you. But if you are, always bring make up remover and cream – there’s nothing as bad as airplane or hotel a/c that dry up your skin and make you look much more tired. Evian or Avène also do very handy water facial sprays. Ideal in hot weather, they’re great when you feel dehydrated.

Never forget a small umbrella – especially in the UK. Make it foldable, most of the times you’ll use with very light drizzle but in any case, if it does pour down cats and dogs, you’ll get to the next shelter in a decent, dry fashion.

As for documents and papers – make sure you keep your essentials (tickets, ID, travel card, keys) in a small handy pocket that you can reach easily.

And never postpone what you can do it now, especially when it comes to printing important papers / presentations. You may end up with no chances to do it whatsoever so all things you need, print before. And for as much as I love Dropbox, sometimes the syncing goes wrong so calculate that into your routine for preparing material. Sorry Planet Earth, sometimes you DO need to print.

The luggage should be a trolley – easier to carry and can be loaded up and still easy to drag around. I find that 1 night or 5 does not change much in terms of size, and if you’re skilled enough, it won’t go over 12kg and fit as cabin piece.

For more on this, there is a very nice board on Pinterest that you can follow, called Trendy Terps (= interpreters) where a bunch of colleagues and I are collecting nice outfits and some terrible fashion faux pas that is better to avoid.

And here’s how I view it, in a nutshell:


…Buon viaggio!

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