Travel nurse Jennifer Vu shares why she got into travel nursing and what the pros and the cons are of this travel lifestyle.
“Why do you feel like you have to go so far away though? Can’t you just visit those places?” I’d love to say these questions have stopped 3 years into travel nursing, but they still come — and not just from my mother, but friends, extended family, extended family’s extended families, etc. I even get them from core staff at the hospitals I work at.
Travel nursing was not something that was always on my radar. In fact, I specifically remember telling friends of mine that I “had no interest in living anywhere but North Carolina.”
But, life is funny. The idea of this gypsy lifestyle was one I visited when I was a baby nurse. I knew I had to crawl before I ran so I got my experience and in 2017 I took the plunge. I, Jennifer, who at 27 years old never lived further than 3.5 hrs away from her hometown, shipped my car full of stuff, and boarded a plane to Colorado. And now, 3 years later I can say without hesitation that that was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!
Highs and lows
Let’s start with the lows.
Sometimes, I just want my mom’s cooking. And sometimes I just miss the smell of my house. And never, I mean never, take for granted the ability to go your entire day without using your GPS! Oh, and you think just because you are living in exciting new places you won’t miss stuff going on at home? Wrong. FOMO is real and kicks down your front door uninvited when your friends post about a fun get-together on Instagram.
Homesickness for me happens once every few months. It’s different from just missing home. My homesickness shows itself in the form of overwhelming tears and often happens unexpectedly. Since I have been doing this a few years now, I can confidently reassure you that this gets better! Those days are far and few between now and I know that a little time spent Facetiming my friends and family can make a world of difference.
Starting over again and again
Starting fresh is a beautiful thing, I know that! But the type of “starting over” I’m talking about is having to change your temporary mailing address. Or having to find a new PCP or dentist you need to see during your contract. You also have to deal with physician offices and the place you got your oil changed at 2 assignments ago calling you because “it’s time for a follow up!” And, my most dreaded thing ever, having to figure out what pharmacies are contracted with your insurance so you can have all your prescriptions transferred over! These are all mundane, but things that are definitely forgetten about until it’s time to do it again!
Check on your travel nurse friends that are “planners.” They may not be okay.
There is so much uncertainty that comes with travel nursing. If you are typically an aggressive planner, the travel nursing world can definitely throw an occasional wrench… or two or three or four, in your plans. This is not saying that you shouldn’t try, you should definitely try, but remember that this industry is going to demand some flexibility, whether you are okay with giving it or not. For instance, planning trips home for the holidays, weddings, etc. can be quite challenging when you don’t know where you are flying from. Time sensitive things such as airfare can be forced to wait when you’re still finalizing details. One challenge I always run into is where to store my car and belongings while I go home for a couple weeks in between contracts. Finding storage can be costly and requires some time.
Now onto the highs
Jumping right in, aren’t we? A popular belief that has reached the ears of those both inside and outside of the travel nursing world is (drumroll) “Travel Nurses can make a lot of money.” While this is can be affected by an immense number of factors, there is the potential to make a substantial amount more than your staff position back home.
There are travel nurses who utilize this opportunity to pay off student loans. I’ve crossed paths with travelers who were traveling and saving so that they could open up their dream business. A friend of mine got to show her appreciation for her parents by paying for an entire international vacation. Whether it be furthering your education, saving for a wedding, or just for the sake of having the money to spend for fun — figure out your goals and use travel nursing to kickstart your way to reaching them.
Oh, the places you’ll go
I am all about international travel. But let’s not forget all the wondrous places we have to admire right here in the good ole U.S. of A. An example: When I took an assignment in Arizona, I got some eyebrow raises. Of all the places I could go in the country, why Arizona?
There are incredibly beautiful places, rich in wonder and history, right here in our backyard. Every state offers something unique, and travel nursing gives us the opportunity to find them without having to cross an entire ocean.
And to that my answer is, “Have you seen the Grand Canyon? Have you felt the adrenaline rush of walking across Devil’s Bridge? Have you experienced the astounding awe and calmness as you stepped up to look over Horseshoe bend? Have your eyes discovered all the hues of oranges, yellows, browns, and purples of the slot canyons in Page and appreciated the history of the Navajo people?”
I know I told you earlier that planning while travel nursing can be a real pain, but there is one awesome glimmer of hope that can make it all worth it. And that is, the flexibility between contracts. You want to take a couple weeks off to go visit family? It can happen. You want to take a month of to go sip on Mai Tai’s in Bali? It can happen. I have taken as little as two weeks and as much as two months off to go home or travel in between contracts. This can be especially helpful if you want to be home for the holidays or you have a few weddings you want to attend. If you can plan the start and end dates of your contract just right, it can happen. The great thing about travel nursing is we have the ability to take this time off, without having to request PTO like we did when we were core staff.
Miss (or Mr.) Independent
Having a sense of independence is something to be proud of. Getting to see new places instead of just hearing about them is something to be proud of. The feeling of accomplishment when you finish another contract is something to be proud of. I don’t know all the ways yet, but I am confident this unique lifestyle and career path are going to make me a better wife, daughter, mom, friend, and overall a better version of myself.
While travel nursing has its downs, it certainly has its ups. And overall I can say that this is one awesome gig that I’m glad I jumped on.