A few days ago I was scrolling through one of my old inbox folders... you know the folders you create to stay organized and then inevitably forget about because who has the time to keep track of so many inbox folders?! Those ones. I opened the one labeled "Travel" and instead of finding links and lists on places I wanted to visit or hotels to stay at in Cambodia or Rome, I found old correspondence emails with travel nursing agencies that I had contacted when I graduated nursing school. Back in 2013, it was something I wanted to do but out of fear of missing out on a "normal life", adulting-anxiety and lack of nursing experience, I didn't pull the trigger. Fast forward 7 years and here we are. While I don't for a second regret the experience I gained in the years prior to travel nursing, I learned a hell of a lot in my short career as such. Here's my biggest takeaways from working away from home...
1. You will be completely and utterly alone.
Travel nursing requires you to be away from the comforts of home, family, longtime friends, routines and safe spaces from anywhere between 3-21 weeks +. I do not know what to do with myself, what to spend my energy on, or even what to do with my hands most of the time. There is the possibility that you will be living in a rural/remote town several time zones away from your people. The isolation is unwavering.You will be on a different planet. It will get quiet and lonely.
2. You will also never be alone.
We, for better or worse, do not live in bubbles. When left to our own devices we create our own travel family. You will meet fellow wanderlusters and travel workers. With the shared knowledge that your encounter will be fleeting, you cut the bullshit and connect with each other. You will share life stories, drinks, adventures, laughter, knowledge. You may even cry and hold space for each other. And then, as the weeks fly by, you hug and know that you may cross paths again. Or maybe you won't and that's okay too. Your time together is precious. They come into your life when you need them most, to curb the loneliness, for comfort or to learn something. And then they leave. Like the crackling light of a sparkler, it's fleeting but nevertheless magical.
3. You will learn to live simpler.
I learned how to curate a snatch wardrobe out of 10 articles of clothing plus my uniforms. I through trial and error learned what essential items are (my sunrise clock) and I cherish the pieces that simply bring me joy and lightness (hippy crystals and family photos). You will get creative and crafty with cooking, living on what is available in the area. You may have more time on your hands between your work sets and so you get an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, learn a new craft or experience other worldly pleasures. As I traveled more and more for work it became far less important to come back to my home, my soft bed (which are bomb don't get me wrong) but more so to the comfort of the arms of my loved ones. So when I come home I always breathe my loved ones in deeply as I hold them and I purge my house of the things we don't need or bring me joy. In short, Marie Kondo becomes your spirit animal.
4. You will learn what advocacy really means.
There is a pervasive problem in the medical profession where physicians, nurses and other members of the team conflict over the best course of action to best treat their patients. A culture exists in which some physicians and nurses "eat their young", this isn't new information. I remember being taught this in my last year of nursing school. The infection is there, but you don't have to let it fester. Working away as a travel nurse you have the rare opportunity to come in to a new environment and be the change. That means sticking up for yourself when a coworker of any sort is being unkind to you. That means taking a deep breath before you call that mean doctor. It means learning how the environment operates so that you can best take care of your patient. It's being part of an interdisciplinary team and working together. Egos aside.
5. You will be uncomfortable all the time.
In the hospital, you will not know where anything is or even how to send a patient for lab work, scans, surgery or even how to do an ECG. The irony lies in the fact that even in the first days, you will be expected to know these things because the nurses (since they often have a revolving door of agency nurses coming through) don't know how long you've been there already. You will get lost inside and outside your workplace. And yes, you will meet people; you will have to talk to people and sometimes go out for weird food with them or on hikes and show them how unfit you are (or is that just me?). I am obsessed with abolishing human suffering. I love humanity, but find humans fickle and difficult. Most days I feel lost, unsure and exposed. But you know that tense, twisted and fluttery feeling you get in your stomach when things are uncomfortable? Your hummingbird heartbeat? That is money. That is where the learning lies. So when you get that feeling, take three deep breaths and press on.
6. You will see that growing is in between the moments of discomfort.
When we choose passion over comfort, magical things happen. You get the chance to meet extraordinary people that remind you why you do the work that you do. When I pause and think about my journey, I see the patients I have saved or let go, I see the faces of all the men and women who have reminded me of my resilience, my intuition and work ethic. I also see the faces of the people I don't want to be and the experiences I want to keep others from having. I see my capacity for love, the strength of my voice and the boundaries I have learned to set to keep my cup full. None of the lessons I have learned would have happened if I didn't accept the offerings laid before me and responded accordingly. When your heart beats, it is pumping blood through the valves to circulate life through your veins, but not before a pause to gain momentum. Life happens in the moments between uncertainty and instability. That's where you find your creativity, that's where you fall in love, that's where magic starts.
7. You will learn to trust the process.
In a few short weeks I found myself feeling different. I had experienced new traumas, found new skills, met new people and spent a lot of time by myself. In my short stints away I gained perspective, felt lighter but more grounded. Freer, but home-bound. I felt like my heart cracked open and I had all this energy and new life experience to bring back with me and share! But when I got home for the first little while, I felt disconnected. Like I had done so much growing away and I would come home and everything and everyone was the same. It's a tough transition taking off your agency nurse cap and exchanging it for the wife, daughter, sister, friend, casual RN hat; you feel like you missed out, or they missed out. Or something else? It's all very weird and indescribable, I get angry, depressed and now I am uncomfortable (oh, see Lesson 5 above).
I learned to trust my gut and come and go as I needed to. With enough time away, I stopped comparing my journey with the others around me. I learned that my life is my own and it is allowed to look different from others. I learned that I was in a different place, and the timing of my life may not align with the pace of others. This realization helped me trust the timing of my existence and be grateful for the journey that my loved-ones were embarking on individually.
8. You will never be the same again.
You will look back on the person you were after your first contract, after your sixth, probably even after your twentieth and see a different version of you every time. The way you interact with the world around you will be different, and because our energies meld and crash against the waves of our friends and family they will change. The pieces will move and some will fit together and some will no longer have a place in your circle. You will learn to live with the different facets of your being and will continuously evolve new ones. You will change and become exactly who you are meant to be in that moment. Travel nursing, even simply traveling, will change you. Sometimes we need to go to places we have never been to find out where we really belong.