Interpreter 4-1-1: What to Pack in Your Interpreter Bag

Interpreter 4-1-1: What to Pack in Your Interpreter Bag

By Brenda Cartwright
Wednesday, September 23, 2015

This article is written by Brenda Cartwright (BC). Brenda is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher and a well known author. BC also contributes numerous blog articles for Signing Savvy. Look for them on the “Articles” tab on our website.

Freelance interpreters may find themselves going from a college class in Physics to a hospital emergency room to a theatrical performance all in one day and even when we think we are prepared, "things happen."

The instructor decides to show a non-captioned film and turns out all the lights. The ever-prepared interpreter pulls out their handy dandy flashlight.

The warden at the prison goes above and beyond to ensure your safety behind his walls and you want to leave him a quick thank you note. Pull out your stationary and envelope and write away.

You're at an all day hospital assignment with a deaf patient waiting for the doctor to come in to discuss test results. The nursing staff has no idea when that will be, "sometime soon," they keep saying. The patient is sleeping, so you pull out your phone to check messages. Unfortunately your battery is deader than a door nail. You look around the room and it seems like every outlet in the room is already being used. Tech savvy interpreter that you are, you pull out your wall adapter and viola! You are now able to share an outlet and touch base with your agency.

You stop for lunch after what you think is your last assignment for the day and have the most delicious veggie sandwich (heavy on the onions) when you get a call from an interpreter referral agency asking you if you have time this afternoon for one more job.‎ "Sure" you say, as you pull out your toothbrush, toothpaste and extra strength mouthwash.

You have an umbrella in your interpreter bag so you are prepared for the rain but the walk to the actual assignment is much further than you anticipated. By the time you arrive, your shoes are soaked and squeaking, but lucky you - you happen to have a dry pair of socks in your bag. What a difference dry socks can make. (Also see our related article on Interpreter Q & A: Is It Better to Be Late or Wet?)

Don’t let surprises ruin your day, pack these items in your interpreter bag so you can be prepared for whatever life brings your way:

Plan for the unexpected.

Be fresh.


Stay heathy.

Be prepared.

Look professional.

Don’t forget to bring the essentials:

  • phone (in addition to being your way to communicate via call/text/email/video, your phone is your calendar, contacts, and entertainment)
  • phone charger
  • ID
  • business card
  • money / credit card

TIP: Items that come in "kits," such as an office supply kit, sewing kit, fresh breath kit, nail kit, and/or first aid kit, are great because they are self-contained - making it easier to stay organized and find things in your bag.

See our Buying Guide: What to Pack in Your Interpreter Bag for tips on where to buy items for your interpreter bag.

What to pack in your interpreter bag

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About the Author

Brenda CartwrightBrenda Cartwright is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, well known presenter, and author of several best selling sign language and interpreting textbooks from the RID Press. For 35 years Brenda was the Chair of the Sign Language Interpreter Program at Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan.

More about BC  |  Articles by BC