In addition to being a full-time translation manager, María Laborde is a twenty-something bilingual freelance travel writer & blogger that has lived, studied and traveled extensively throughout the Caribbean, the Middle East and Africa. Current mission: On a journey to become a full-time nomadic translator, travel writer, and TV host.
Through tales, tips, travel guides, and everything in between, she shares her knowledge and love for the Arab world at ArtOfBackpacking and her niche blog TravelTheMiddleEast. Maria is also the author of LatinAbroad.com. There, she shares her tales, photos and advice after travelling solo to more than 20 countries across 4 continents.
You’re a self-proclaimed ‘freelance travel writer, adventure junkie, nomadic translator, and polyglot-in-training.’ You’re obviously not short on ambition! Tell us a little bit about your goals.
My ultimate goal is to volunteer and visit every country in the world, absorb as much as I can, and share my adventures in multiple languages. I want to inspire as many people as possible to go out there and spread kindness beyond their continent.
After assessing my passions and talents, I have come to the conclusion that travel writing, translation, blogging, and strategic partnerships will help me on my ultimate journey. For this reason, I’m in the process of improving my Arabic, plan to start learning Indonesian, and grow my Spanish client base.
What inspired you to learn multiple languages? And how many can you already speak?
Since I was in pre-school, I have loved languages, history, and geography. I grew up in Puerto Rico (speaking Spanish), but Mom had cable TV with a few English channels. Flipping through I found NatGeo & Discovery Channel. They were fascinating. I watched them for years, with the closed caption on, and absorbed English. By the time I was in high school, I was fluent in written English, passed the SATs, and went to college in the USA. There, I improved my spoken English and was awarded a scholarship to learn Arabic in Egypt for a year. Not nearly as impressive as other travellers, so I’m inspired to learn many more!
How do you hope your translation skills will help people?
I look around me and there are many travel bloggers that not only write about travel, but also about life. They are making the world smaller and easier to navigate through their content. Many of them even give us contact info to great volunteer programs. The big problem? There are very few out there spreading all that advice and inspiration in other languages. Thus, I’m looking to partner with popular English bloggers/vloggers to translate their content, in order to spread their advice, valuable lessons, and inspiration beyond the English-speaking world.
What are the biggest advantages of being multilingual?
There are so many advantages. However, what first pops to mind are survival skills. With languages, not only are you able to get your most basic needs met in a foreign country, but you can easily find a job as well. Companies, hostels, and tour companies know that while they can train many candidates for a particular position, language skills are hard to come by. Thus, candidates fluent in multiple languages are valued highly. Learn as many as you can before you go abroad if you plan to travel indefinitely!
Most travellers rely on phrasebooks when abroad. What impact do you think it would have on the world if more travellers had a second or even third language under their belt?
Locals find it extremely humbling when foreigners try to speak their language. They value it even more if you do it without a phrasebook. I’ve been invited to local homes and special events just because I ordered food in the local language.
Also, the locals’ misconceptions about a foreigner may virtually disappear when they see one speak the local language. In other words, a whole world of experiences (and cultural bridges) would open up if more travellers had a second or even third language under their belt.
You’re incredibly open with your feelings on your website, particularly about the events and emotions that inspire you to travel. What advice would you give to other women with a desire to see the world?
If you want to see the world, listen to your heart. It truly has more “reason” behind its actions than people give it credit. As you start to pay close attention, your heart will slowly reveal the personal plans or “escape” that is right for you. It will usually take some patience and an additional dose of faith to pursue and accomplish those plans, but that’s what makes it all exciting!
Some might say it’s unsafe for a woman to travel the world alone; do you think there’s any truth to that? Would you rather travel alone or with company?
I prefer traveling alone and meeting up with locals as I move along. We women have a 6th sense, an instinct that truly guides us in the right direction. I have couch-surfed, hitchhiked throughout the Middle East, Africa, Caribbean, and Europe by myself. Whenever my heart raised a red flag, I listened. This happened even as I waited for a ride to hitch on the side of the road—my heart would say “not this car. Not this car either. Now that one, flag that one.” I’ve met the most amazing people, have had unbelievable experiences and, thankfully, nothing bad has happened to me to date.
Moreover, one must have common sense. Like at home, there are certain areas one must avoid and certain times one must not wander around—research the area you’ll be visiting and you should be fine!
Which country do you think has had the most profound effect on you as a person?
Egypt. I had such a love-hate relationship with the country because it truly brought out the best—and worst—in me. People who have visited know where I’m coming from. Once I left though, I missed it so much—there is something so unique about its people and its culture that had a profound effect on me. It is madness, it is happiness. It is simple, yet so complicated. One can’t accurately describe Egyptian lands with words. Thus, I simply call them that—truly Egyptian!
You seem to have a particular fondness for trying local food when you’re abroad, no matter how bizarre it might be. What’s the best thing you’ve ever eaten, and what’s the strangest?
Give me any type of curry and I’ll be a happy woman! I am absolutely obsessed with Asian curries. My favourites are butter masala and Massaman curry.
As far as odd food goes, many can say they’ve eaten crickets, cockroaches, or rotten cheese. Yet, I haven’t heard many say “I ate iguana in Curacao.” I’m from the Caribbean and never thought our cuisine was odd… until I got to the Netherland Antilles.
There’s a very honest post on your website about the depression you dealt with when you returned home from over a year of travelling. The ‘post-travel blues’ is something that many travellers struggle with. What advice can you offer to help deal with it?
In hindsight, it helped me find myself. The depression was so deep; it made me realize that travelling simply had to be an important part of my life. Since then, I have been looking for ways to establish a ‘mobile’ career—how could I combine my passions and talents to become a digital nomad? That’s how the Nomadic Translator was born!
Like Scott Hamilton once said: “Adversity, and perseverance and all these things can shape you. They can give you a value and a self-esteem that is priceless.” If after a couple of months of being back home you still find yourself “lost,” perhaps you were born to be on the road indefinitely. If so, do what I did: Look for ways to make it happen!
You’ve already been all over the world, but your travel bucket list keeps growing. Tell us a bit about the destination that’s been your favourite, and the destination you want to see the most.
Indonesia and New Zealand have been on the top of my travel bucket list for quite some time. Their incredible geography, unique landscapes, and culture have always lured me. The reason why I haven’t been to that side of the world yet is because I decided to cross off country number one from my list: Egypt. Once there, I fell in love with the Arabic language and ended up travelling extensively throughout the region for 16 months! Now that I have graduated college and have built my nomadic career though, I hope to visit the South Pacific very soon.
Do you think you’ll ever reach the end of your bucket list?
Never. Life is too short. I know that the more places I see, the more I realize is yet to be discovered.
What’s the next step in advancing your role as a nomadic translator?
The livelihood of a freelancer depends on the size of his/her client base. Otherwise, one must be constantly looking for work online. My current mission is to build meaningful partnerships and a solid client base, so that I have a steady work flow while on the road.
Soon after I establish a solid client base, I plan to move to Indonesia to become fluent in Bahasa. The more language pairs a translator is able to work with, the better. And to me, the sky is the limit!