When I decided to become a travel nurse there is no way that I could have predicted how my life would change. I didn’t know that I would suddenly have the opportunity to travel the world, that my confidence would skyrocket, or that I would start a blog. I didn’t realize that traveling state to state every 13-weeks would lead me to new life-long friendships and life lessons that go beyond what I had learned in my previous 20(ish) years of living. And I certainly didn’t realize how many incredible bucket list items I would be able to cross off in such a short amount of time. So for those of you who are new travel nurses or even old travel nurses, here are my top 10 travel nurse bucket list items that have shaped my life, been incredible experiences, and led me on wild adventures.
The Ultimate Travel Nurse Bucket List
1. Travel Coast to Coast and Everywhere in Between
As a travel nurse, we have the incredible ability to be able to move every 13-weeks and the opportunity to experience the entire United States. Take advantage of this! I encourage you to travel as far and wide as you’re able to. Experience the fall foliage on the east coast and move west to warmer weather in the winter months. But don’t forget the states in the middle! Some of my favorite assignments are those that are the most unexpected in states that I didn’t have a strong desire to visit!
To ensure you’re seeing the United States entirely, I encourage you to make a bucket list of things you want to see in the US. Fancy horses and big hats? Perhaps you take an assignment in or near Kentucky where it would be easy to go to the Kentucky Derby. In a partying mood? Situate yourself near New Orleans to party the night away during Mardi Gras. What about art? Take an assignment in Miami in December to experience Art Basel! Just don’t forget to negotiate time off in your contract before starting your assignment.
Here’s or a list of different states I’ve been a travel nurse in to better guide your travels:
2. Explore Beyond the City You’re in
The importance of a day trip is not lost on me. Being one for feeling chronically burned out from work, I relish the occasional day trip. I look forward to hopping in the car/bus/train to head over to a new town if only for a day. To me, a day trip signifies the ability to distance myself from work, away from the hospital, to relax and unwind; thus helping my nurse burnout. This way, when I return to the hospital I feel like a brand new nurse!
Read more about my favorite day trips:
Omaha to Western Nebraska
3. Travel By Car
Travel by car… but don’t overpack. I’ve traveled both with a car and without a car and would say that there are pros and cons to both. Traveling by car gives you so much freedom to get out and explore on your own and even take the occasional day trip! With a car, you have no excuse to not get out there and explore your new city. Plus it’s easier (and cheaper) to pack a car up than it is to ship boxes. Take advantage!
If you’re driving between assignments alone, make sure to read 6 Solo Road Trip Tips – How to Have an Epic Road Trip When You’re Alone
4. Travel Without a Car
Now travel without a car! Pick a city where you won’t need a car, pack your stuff up in boxes, ship it to your new home, and board the airplane to wherever it is you’re going next! Traveling without a car forces you to see the city differently. You have to learn public transportation, rely on rideshares, and even…. walk. In cities that I don’t have a car, I like to pick a fun and popular neighborhood so that I can explore it on foot, in-depth. You don’t always have to be traveling to have new experiences. (But I still encourage the occasional day trip by renting a car).
5. Take a Month-Long Hiatus in Between Contracts
Take a month-long hiatus (or longer!) in between contracts to travel the world. Being a travel nurse has given me loads of free time. I had an insatiable wanderlust and realized that none of my friends had the perks of having unlimited time off each year to go travel with me. Finally, in 2018, I bucked up and set off for a 5-month solo adventure throughout Europe and Southeast Asia. It changed my life and I now continuously take off long periods of time to take solo trips around the world.
If traveling the world isn’t your thing, instead take a month off to go home and spend time with loved ones! Or maybe go visit your friends in the different cities they are now living in. Or even pick a new city to explore and go make the most of it! Whatever you choose to do, don’t take for granted the amount of time off of work that travel nurses are allotted.
Wanting to take an extended vacation between contracts? Here are some ideas: 10 Affordable Countries Every Nurse Should Visit
6. Make New Friends
This may go without saying, but make new friends! But continue to foster your friendships with old friends too. As a travel nurse things can get lonely and isolating at times. Moving around every few months, always being the new person, not wanting to whole-heartedly “invest” in the place you’re in because you know you’re leaving. That was my attitude when I first became a travel nurse. Now I crave community and do everything in my power to foster it. So go out on a limb, ask for your co-worker’s phone number, plan a fun dinner, and don’t be shy! After all… the only way to make a friend is to be a friend!
7. Trust Your Recruiter and Let Him/Her Pick Your Assignment
Yup, I said it… trust your recruiter! One of my all-time favorite assignments was one that my recruiter talked me into. I didn’t get the job that I so badly wanted in San Francisco and needed a job asap. I let my recruiter talk me into a job in Arizona, that I honestly wasn’t that thrilled about. It turns out that my job in Phoenix ended up being one of my all-time favorite assignments. If I hadn’t let her pick my next destination I wouldn’t have made the great friends that I did, or come to love Arizona as I did.
Please note that this isn’t for everyone! I only recommend doing this if you’re flexible and are already working with a recruiter that you know and trust. Don’t let it be about the money, just let it be about the experience! It’s also important to know that while my recruiter did pick my assignment, she didn’t do so randomly. She already knew what I liked (day shift, level III/IV NICU), and we spoke about it before she randomly submitted me to the hospital.
8. Learn a New Hobby
With only working 3-days/week, as nurses, we have a lot of extra time for extracurriculars. I encourage you to pick up a hobby in the new city you’re in! If you’re near mountains, perhaps take rock climbing classes. If you’re near the ocean take surfing lessons. Get outside of your comfort zone and learn something new. This will only enhance your experience as a travel nurse in a new city. Plus, it would be a great way to meet new friends!
9. Volunteer in Your New Community
On the first day I moved to Santa Barbara for my travel nurse assignment, I met a man who started a non-profit providing healthcare to the homeless community. Immediately I volunteered to help at the makeshift clinic in the park taking blood pressures, giving out supplies, and chatting with one of the most vulnerable communities. It was an incredible way to get to know Santa Barbara a bit better plus meet others in the healthcare community.
If you’re craving more of a volunteer experience take-off time in between contracts to work for a bigger organization such as ProjectHope, Mercy Ships, Doctors Without Borders, and more. Figure out what where your passion lies and find a community where you can best serve the local people. In 2017 I volunteered with ProjectHope in Skopje, Macedonia educating nurses in the NICU on best practices for taking care of preemies. Read about my experience here!
10. Travel Alone
Yup, you heard me. ALONE. Take this time in your life to grow on your own. Sure, it’s fun to travel with friends but have you ever tried to travel without them? I think you’d be surprised how much you’d learn and grow when you have no other option and no safety net to fall back on when you feel uncomfortable. You can do anything for 13-weeks and if you absolutely hate being alone then next time link up with your friends! But you don’t know until you try and it may be the best thing that’s ever happened to you.
Oh, and for those of you waiting to start travel nursing because you’re waiting for your friends to be ready… stop right now. Who knows if they will ever be ready? There is never a perfect time to alter your life. So take the leap on your own, and if and when your friends are ready… they can join you wherever it is in America that you are.
Travel nursing has truly changed my life. I just hope that you find the courage in yourself to step outside of your comfort zone and experience it for yourself. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll be able to cross these things and more off of your travel nurse bucket list.
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