By Alex McCoy, Contributing Writer, Owner of Fit Travel Life
My very first job as a new grad nurse was in one of the lowest-paying areas of the country. While my cost of living was also low, I was still picking up over time and relying on on-call hours to make ends meet. The word “vacation” meant either camping at my parents’ property or a quick road trip a couple of hours away.
All of that changed when I finished my first travel nurse assignment. I intentionally took a two-week break between my first and second assignment and although we didn’t do anything crazy, I was able to go home and visit family, spend more quality time with my husband and just disconnect from the stress of working as a nurse. I quickly vowed to never work back to back assignments–meaning I always take at least a week break between one job and the next. This has allowed my husband and I to travel more and visit family regularly, which overall keeps our work-life balance much more, well, balanced.
We have embraced this pattern so much in fact that we now have a name for it: Funemployment. This is the term lovingly used for the times we are not working because we choose to wait to start a new job–and this is an awesome, empowering place to be!
This time is great for several reasons. First and foremost it allows us more time to see our family. As travelers one of the hardest parts is missing out on time with our loved ones, so we do our best to get home for at least a few days between assignments. By checking in every three months we don’t feel the separation as much and our families really appreciate us checking in. A lot of people assume if you work as a travel nurse you must not be close to your family back home, but for us, that is certainly not the case. Utilizing our time off between contracts to see our loved ones really helps alleviate the struggle we face between living our preferred lifestyle and keeping in touch with our family.
The next best thing about taking extra time off is the opportunity for extended travel. Most regular jobs allocate two to three weeks for time off per year. As a travel nurse, you have the luxury of taking as many days off between assignments as you would like. Over the course of one summer I was able to take a month off of work to travel to Mexico, Jamaica, and take a lake trip with my family. A traditional job would never have allowed that much time off consecutively.
Many travelers will take even more time off. I have had friends who take three-month trips to Asia or live in Europe for six months. Not only does this save money in the long run because you only have to buy one long-distance flight, but it gives you a more relaxed approach to vacation. When you have a longer amount of time to explore you can really enjoy the places you are visiting instead of feeling rushed to cram as much as possible into your visit.
In addition to the travel perks, choosing to have an extended break between assignments can be great for your mental health. Healthcare can be a very taxing field, and travel assignments can vary in their stress level. Depending on where you are currently working you may have a heightened feeling of burnout. If this is the case travel healthcare is a huge blessing because you can step away from the bedside for a bit longer if you need to.
While it might not be financially feasible to not work at all, you could pick up part-time work outside of healthcare or even take a break to change specialties if you think that would help. Either way, you have more time to clear your mind and really think about what you want to do than if you were in a standard position where your time off is always limited.
Funemployment is certainly appealing to anyone working a full-time job, but it does come with a downside. As travelers, most companies do not offer standard PTO packages so this time off will be unpaid. However most pay packages for travel jobs will greatly exceed what nurses would be making at home. If you are smart and plan for time off it can be much easier to take unpaid time off than it would be at a permanent position. You can save even more by minimizing expenses while you are on assignment, so you can extend your time off in between as much as you’d like.
While working 13-week contracts can be stressful for many reasons, the extra time off it will allow you can be a major perk and help you avoid burnout and exhaustion. In addition, you can travel in a way that most professionals only dream of. Whether you are working travel contracts for a short period of time or plan on living the travel lifestyle forever, I highly recommend planning in some extra funemployment between contracts while you can.
Alex McCoy currently works as a pediatric travel nurse. She has a passion for health and fitness, which led her to start Fit Travel Life in 2016. She travels with her husband, their cat, Autumn and their dog, Summer. She enjoys hiking, lifting weights, and trying the best local coffee and wine.
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