The end of 2017 marks the first full calendar year that I’ve been a travel nurse and about a year and a half in total. It’s crazy to think that this much time has passed, but here we are; another year older and another year wiser. It’s been a wild ride at times, but all in all, it’s been a very rewarding experience. It also marks six months since starting this blog, which has come with its own unique challenges and kinks to work through. A lot has happened in terms of personal growth and life milestones. I’ve met some truly incredible people, been to wonderful places, and really tried to put myself out there. With anything that occurs over a span of time, it’s often beneficial to evaluate its impact and processes at certain checkpoints, and I see no better checkpoint than the year’s end. For this reason, I think it’s important to take some time, step back, and reflect. The following entry will, in essence, be a reflection of my experiences and a collection of my aspirations in an effort to keep myself accountable and examine my journey thus far.
Disclaimer: I do not pretend to be an expert in the following geographic locations. These are merely my impressions from the time I have spent living in these areas.
Since traveling, I have only worked in California (outside of the occasional per diem shift when back home in New Jersey on a trip). The reasons for this rest heavily on the facts that the pay rates are typically higher than other areas of the US and because the weather is just so much better than back home. This year, I split time between two of California’s biggest metro areas, Los Angeles and San Francisco. As anyone who has ever been there can attest, these two areas are nothing alike. Each is very unique and has its own character. The layout, the architecture, the weather, the people, the food, the industry, the landscape, the traffic, the attitude – all different. It has been great to uncover their personality, the things that make them noteworthy and evoke their distinctiveness. It’s been a pleasure to experience these two wonderful cities for more than just a short trip or weekend outing.
The layout of Los Angeles can be best described as a bunch of smaller towns and communities that grew into one another to form a much larger city (about 503 square miles). Each neighborhood can be quite different from the next. Some of these areas are defined by ethnic groups, others by their industry, and others by a way of life. However, the overarching theme of the city is entertainment. After all, Hollywood is written in the hills and the “Walk of Fame” strolls along the pavement. The weather in Southern California is great. If you can imagine that day in late spring or early fall with no humidity and that’s about 75F where you say to yourself, “Wow, I wish the weather was like this every day,” you’ve just stepped into the weather in LA nearly year-round. For this reason, you sometimes forget what time of year it is and never get to tap into some of the heavier sections of your closet. Without competition, the worst part of Los Angeles is the traffic. It can be crippling at times. You need to map out your day in such a way as to avoid peak times and fully commit to your plan in order to prevent spending hours and hours in your car to drive only a few miles.
By contrast, San Francisco is in Northern California and much less sprawling (about 47 square miles). San Francisco is within what’s known as the Bay Area, consisting of cities like Oakland, San Jose, and Berkley. I stayed a few miles east of the city where housing costs were drastically lower and my commute was much shorter. The Bay Area has very nice weather as well, but unlike Southern California, it will rain from time to time. Also, the autumns and winters are more like autumns and winters, but very much tolerable. The culture of SF is much different than that of SoCal. From my observations, it seemed like more of an international city where there were more tourists or those living there are first-generation immigrants. There is a strong influence from the technology industry and that is very evident. The city also has more of an accepting demeanor to it in terms of a “live and let live” mentality. Food is also a huge aspect of the culture there, so you’re always bound to find something yummy to try on Yelp. In terms of getting around the city, it’s a lot more bearable because they have a rail system, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), that you can use to get into and around SF from surrounding suburbs and cities. For those areas that the BART does not go within the city, an Uber or Lyft ride shouldn’t break the bank.
Moving to a new place 3000 miles away from home is quite an undertaking. I guess I never realized how isolating that can be at times and the seemingly neverending FOMO (“Fear Of Missing Out”). It’s definitely not something that I’d consider easy, but, with time, it gets easier. I’ve gotten much better at staying in touch with friends and family, although it’s still something that I need to work on.
Luckily, I did not make the journey alone and have had the company of my girlfriend and fraternity brothers while in Los Angeles. It was great to have familiar faces in an unfamiliar place. We were able to explore together and enjoy some of what the city had to offer. In LA, I had my own apartment, which was a first for me. With that came its own challenges like furnishing and dealing with landlords. However, it allowed me to be on my own and learn to navigate through adulthood and make it up as I went along. Although I considered myself independent before, I really was now confronted with the necessity to become self-sufficient. Chores around the apartment, cooking meals, shopping, etc. It’s a huge difference from when you WANTED to do for yourself and when you NEEDED to do for yourself. It helped to align priorities and allowed me to appreciate those who had helped me before.
In the Bay Area, I did not initially have the well-defined support system that I had in SoCal. My girlfriend was unable to continue on my journey because she transitioned from a job that allowed her to work remotely into one that did not offer this luxury, and obviously my buddies needed to stay in LA to pursue their dreams in Hollywood. Out of fear that I’d be lonely by myself, I decided on staying in an Airbnb close to work where I had a private room in a home. My stay has been incredible so far (I’m still here as I write this). It’s offered a sense of belonging that I’m not sure would be present if I had decided to stay in a place by myself. The family has really welcomed me into their home, and I’m truly grateful for that. This living situation has been an interesting cultural experience as well since the father is from England, the mother is from Malaysia, Mandarin is frequently spoken in the home, and they offer me so many foods that I’ve never tried before (and LOVE). They also have two young children who are full of life and have made missing my princess of a niece much more bearable. In terms of making friends, I had to put myself out there a little more – trying apps like Bumble and MeetUp – but nothing besides work friends ever came to be. Fortunately, they’re great people and I enjoy their company in and out of work. In addition, I was able to link up with some travelers who I had worked with in LA who also happened to migrate north as well. I feel so blessed to have developed such a strong support network that I can turn to if needed.
My contracts have taken me from a cardiac unit to orthopedics to chemo to a step-down unit and much more. As a traveler, you’re often first to float, and I have learned to really enjoy it. I love the variation. I appreciate the opportunity to grow as a professional and become more well-rounded in the process. One phrase that has really stuck with me is “nursing is nursing wherever you go,” and I find this to be so true, especially when you can bounce around from place to place. I’ve met some incredible colleagues, some of whom I remain in constant contact with and others I follow on social media where I can see updates in their lives as they wander into my newsfeed. Others, however, are on the opposite side of the spectrum: those I never care to work alongside or speak with if I don’t have to which is what inspired my post on dealing with toxic co-workers. Despite these few bad eggs, I’d say that the overwhelming majority of experiences at work have been positive, I’m learning every day, and incorporating new techniques into my practice.
I’m pretty happy where I stand at this point in my career. The ability to keep things fresh has allowed me to block boredom and indifference. I believe that traveling in this capacity has kept me entrenched in the nursing profession. However, when I do stop traveling, I believe the only reason would be due to the desire to pursue the opportunity to enter the ICU, which I’d need to come on as a permanent staff nurse and be trained at a facility.
My work-life balance and overall health have improved greatly in 2017. Thankfully, I no longer feel the need to work close to eighty-hour weeks between multiple jobs to get ahead financially. In fact, I’ve worked much less than ever before and have made more than previously as a permanent staff nurse at home. Taking lucrative contracts have obviously helped in this way. But that’s the joy of travel nursing. It puts you in the driver’s seat and you can prioritize what matters most to you. For some, it’s the money. For others, it’s the location. For me, it was a little combination of both. I was able to take a HUGE chunk out of my school loans this year and still remain afloat financially without the need for overtime, a second job, or biting my nails from anxiety. I’m able to enjoy life and not always be on the clock, converting my time into a paycheck. The financial security has allowed me to live the way I want, see the world outside of my little suburban bubble in New Jersey, and be healthy – both physically and mentally.
Finances are something that no one ever talks about despite everyone having them. People can talk about the most polarizing topics pretty openly on social media and over dinner, but once it comes to the pocketbook, they shy away. I will not go into great depths here, but I just wanted to share what might be possible for you if you decide to start traveling and create a budget while sticking to sound personal finance strategies. Below you can see two graphs that represent take-home (after tax) money that actually reached my bank account.
This blog started as a means to assist those getting started with travel nursing, mostly friends, former classmates, and coworkers. It offered me an outlet to share all the things I’ve learned after analyzing and reanalyzing and then overanalyzing the leap into a new career path. The aim was to write about more general things that would apply to many people who might just be starting to look into things. I will not deny that there are plenty of resources out there that can help get someone pointed in the right direction, but it pained me to see that many of them had hidden agendas or were backed by predatory agencies out there trying to gobble up the newbies. That’s why I try so hard to make things here very objective and unbiased in terms of employers. In some ways, this blog allows me to cope with being away from home in a positive way and allows people the chance to have insight into my life without necessarily reaching out. It also serves as a sort of therapy. I get to write about things that I might be personally struggling with and work myself through these situations, like finding housing or being the new guy. Just as a photograph captures one’s appearance at a given time, one’s thoughts and state of mind are captured through their writing. Hopefully, this blog will ultimately act as a breadcrumb trail throughout my career as a travel nurse and showcase the growth that I wish to undergo as a nurse, man, and writer.
Goals for 2018
- Write at least two blog posts per month
- Travel outside the U.S. at least once
- Buy a home in New Jersey
- Volunteer in developing country and/or disaster event
- Improve my working proficiency in Spanish