Posted by: patenttranslator | September 11, 2013

What Is the Least Busy Time of the Year for Translators?

After more than 26 years as a freelance translator, I still have no idea.

And I would like to know if there is such a thing because that would be the best time to take vacation when you are a freelance translator.

I used to think that the end of September was a good time to hop on a plane to good old Europe (when I say go on vacation, I invariably mean visiting my old haunts in Prague and Bohemia). But in fact I chose end of September because I had read in a Lonely Planet guidebook when I was planning a trip to Japan that at that point, hotels are no longer booked up as there are not that many tourists needing a place to stay. This is true, and it is probably applicable to any country. And the weather is often perfect in Central Europe in September – not too cold and not too hot, kind of like San Francisco without the fog.

So I used to go on vacation around the end of September for many years.

But then I had to switch to summer months for a while because that was the only time when I could take vacation together with my sons. Summer should logically be the best time because most people go on vacation in summer, which means that there should be less work for translators in summer.

But Lonely Planet was right, there are definitely too many tourists everywhere in July and August.

A long time ago I went to Yosemite in August and there were almost as many people around me as there are now on Charles Bridge in Prague in August (watch out for gangs of pickpockets on the bridge, mostly Gypsies as I found from an old friend of mine who used to work as a tour guide). Yosemite and Charles Bridge are just like two huge human anthills in summer, one overseen by a granite monolith called El Capitan, the other one kept under a constant watchful gaze of the statute of St. John of Nepomuk who was tortured and then thrown into the Vltava River by order of the King Wenceslas IV six centuries ago (and that was one of the better Czech kings).

The fact is that summer is just as unpredictable as far as supply of work is concerned as any other season of the year. Some summer months I have relatively little to do, and some summers I work like a slave, air conditioning at full blast, which is the only way to stay sane and productive in the hot and humid summers here in Chesapeake.


How busy or idle I am each month probably does not depend on the time of year very much. It just so happens that some months I am dealing with a number of long patents, each taking about a week to translate, and some months I have only a few short patents or articles to translate, in addition to relatively small translation projects for myself and for other translators, which come regularly every month. These are small projects that I could probably safely postpone by a couple of weeks, or in a pinch do them from a hotel room if I have my laptop with me. With access to Internet, there is no need to carry heavy dictionaries  anymore.

Even while on vacation abroad, I used to check my e-mail and respond to requests for price quotes every day in an Internet Cafés to make sure that I don’t lose too much business. Last year I was able to do that from my iPhone – at no additional charge to my usual phone bill.

Maybe  there is a formula, a neat algorithm for figuring out when is it most likely that there will be a couple weeks in a given month without much need for our expert services. But when I tried to find out what is the least busy month of the year for me by comparing how busy I was every month over a period of several years, nothing jumped at me.

It’s different months every year.

In theory, freelancers can go on vacation any time they want to …. but only in theory. Reality is very different.

I hope you can let me know your formula for figuring out the perfect time to go on vacation, if you have one.


  1. No, Steve, there is no way to figure out when is the right time for vacation in a year. A freelancer must try to be able to work even on vacation. This happens to me all the time.

    A freelancer has to take his time for vacation, even when he has to work on a trip. We don’t want to lose business, right? A smartphone is good companion. You don’t miss any message anywhere you are travelling.


  2. Here’s mine: never 😦


  3. @Wenjer and Marco

    Agreed. We are slaves – slaves яre us.


    • Never a truer word said!


  4. 6 months of the year we live in a cold and dark world up here in Sweden. This plus generous statutory vacation regulations (as an employee, that is) lead to an unwillingness to work during summer.
    Obviously, if most of your clients are direct Swedish clients, they will not produce much text for you to translate in the summer. But if you work with mostly IT texts for agencies, the text flow seems to be never ending . And since most of my Swedish collegues still take their summer vacation this has prooved to be my busiest time of the year by far.
    Fortunately, my kids are still small and have not started school yet, so I can go on vacation in January or February (abroad) instead as these are months without much to do for some reason.
    I have not done it yet, however so the conclusion must be as stated above: never.


  5. […] After more than 26 years as a freelance translator, I still have no idea. And I would like to know if there is such a thing because that would be the best time to take vacation when you are a freel…  […]


  6. @Stephen and Sasha

    See my response to Wenjer and Marco.


  7. I hope that next time you’re over here we can invite you to visit with us in Kutna Hora and we will be able to invite you for an Alchemical Lunch in one of our best restaurants and for vacuum-pot coffee at our favourite Kavarna!


  8. @Michal

    Thank you for the invitation.

    Sounds like fun.

    Once I fell asleep on a train from Berlin (when I was 17) and instead of in Prague, I woke up in Kutna Hora. When the train conductor saw my ticket, he thought that I was German and started explaining to me in German how to change trains to get to Ceske Budejovice … and I said “Sprechen Sie doch Tschechish, Ich bin Tschecher” because I was still half asleep.


    • At least you didn’t say “Ich bin ein Berliner”! That might have had the poor guy thinking he’d met a ghost and jumping off the train :).


  9. When I used to work mostly for the Belgian judicial system, I could go on vacation (abroad) and be sure to get work as usual (i.e. 7 days a week) when I got back. The only difference was a half monthly remuneration if I took 2 weeks off, but I could quickly catch up thanks to loads of work (before the economic crisis).

    So I guess if you work mainly for the State (it could be for several ministries & branches (judicial, executive, legislative) to spread the risk), you can take time off as you like.

    I always avoided going away in July and August because these are the hottest, most crowded… and most expensive months of the year. You want to leave that to parents of children who are still going to school.
    Moreover, as someone said above, when other translators go on vacation, you get their work. And, since there is a much smaller choice of translators, the customer is stuck with you and you can ask whichever price you like (or at least you do not have that downward pressure).

    When you work for non-State(-like) customers (translation agencies, commercial companies,…), it’s more difficult to take time off, so apart from working during your vacation, as someone mentioned above, you can try to avoid (useless) stress in daily life and live in a pleasant, quiet area, with a terrace/garden where you can enjoy the sunshine and, if you love your job, which is the case of most translators, then every day can be a vacation.

    Personally, when I have sunbathed for 45 minutes on my terrace, I have had enough and I go back to my translation. The sunshine is the same everywhere, plus it damages your skin…
    I guess I have had so many vacations in 2005-2010 that I don’t miss it.

    Of course it’s different when it’s an opportunity to see relatives and close friends, which is often the case for people who are multi-cultural and that is why they are translators… Isn’t it possible to keep in touch via other means (telephone, Internet) and see them every two years instead of every year, for example?

    Steve, I thought you had the solution when you once wrote on your blog that the solution was to refer your customers to colleagues who were more expensive than you. Is that not a solution any more and is everyone so cheap nowadays? (it’s possible, with the economic crisis – so this was a solution of the past, before the economic crisis?).


  10. Erratum (although I proofread once…): When I used to work mostly for the Belgian judicial system, I could go on vacation (abroad) 3 or 4 times a year,…


  11. “Steve, I thought you had the solution when you once wrote on your blog that the solution was to refer your customers to colleagues who were more expensive than you.”

    Somebody else suggested it and I replied that this was something that I was doing too.

    I used to transfer my main phone line to Marc, a friend of mine who is running a one-man agency, every time when I went on vacation for quite a few years, and one reason for this was that as a pure agency, Marc was charging slightly more then I am charging as a translator/agency hybrid, which meant that clients’ defection was not very likely.

    I have not done it recently, mostly because Marc is semi-retired now and I don’t want to bother him too much, but also because unlike in the nineties, existing and potential customers mostly communicate with me via e-mail instead of by telephone and it does not take too much time to take care of business by checking e-mail, even when I am on vacation in Europe.


  12. […] I would like to say a few more words on the subject of “vacation for freelancers” while considering it from a different perspective then the narrow-minded perspective I was somewhat obsessively taking into consideration in my last post on this subject. […]


  13. […] 12 Common Words with Nautical Origins Extra sausages, tap-dancing bears, and idiomatic tomatoes What Is the Least Busy Time of the Year for Translators? Translation project management in Wiesbaden… no bull Translationum & UNESCO […]


  14. […] It was fun to see the spread of work over the course of the year and how it corresponded to projects. I remember that October and the Christmas period were quiet, not only because I took holidays, but many clients did too. However, I had thought that April and May had been quiet months (again, I had taken some holiday) but the numbers tell me otherwise. Some of the difference in my recollection of the month compared to the reality could be attributed to the type of projects I was working on. For example, if I have steady work throughout the month the word count can be quite high, but seem very relaxed. On the flip side, a month with lots of small jobs with tight deadlines can seem extremely busy (and lucrative!) but the figures say otherwise. So, the result is that I’m still not sure when the best months are to take time off! […]


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