Travel Nursing: How I Take Months Off Work To Live In Central America
Julia Kuhn, MS CCC-SLP
Traveling Healthcare Professional Blogger at The Traveling Traveler
Imagine waking up in Costa Rica, immersed in a new culture with a homestay family. You could hike volcanoes and eat fresh mangos daily! Sound impossible? Not with travel nursing. Travel nursing has many different benefits and opportunities for nurses. Some travelers want to make high amounts of money. While others travel to work in some of the top-ranking hospitals in the country. For me, I travel for the flexibility to work a portion of the year and then be able to take extended amounts of time off to travel for pleasure.
Being a traveler has allowed me to visit and spend a considerable amount of time in many countries. I have been able to travel slowly and truly experience the culture and people of a location.
One of my favorite trips was when I spent two months in Central America and lived with a homestay family. On this trip, I explored Costa Rica and Panama. I embraced the Central American culture while learning Spanish at a language immersion school. Living with a homestay family in Costa Rica and attending Spanish school is something that I would have never been able to do with a traditional job. Travel nursing has allowed me to have these experiences and freedom, which are so valuable.
If you are considering travel nursing and also want to take extended time off to travel abroad, here are my tips and considerations for you:
1. Save Money
There is a considerable amount of planning involved in taking months off of work. When selecting contracts to work, your focus should be on making and saving money. While it may be fun to take that Hawaii job, remember that you won’t save a lot of money there. If you are serious about saving money to take time off, then you want to specifically look for high paying contracts in areas with lower costs of living. I’ve done well in the Central Valley and deserts of California. My traveler friends report that South Dakota and Wisconsin are also great places to go to bank money on assignment.
While on assignment, consider working overtime to make more money. Also, sharing living accommodations, instead of getting your own apartment, can help to cut costs. You can put money away in a special account to save specifically for travel.
To determine how much money you need to save, first, do some research into the location that you are traveling to. There is countless information available on the internet and guidebooks about the daily cost of travel in different countries. I recommend that you work out a sample budget for living, transportation, and meal expenses. Then, add another 20% on top of that for entertainment and fun expenses (e.g. snorkeling, paid excursions, etc.). Obviously, the more money that you save, the more flexibility and freedom that you have while traveling.
You also need to have money saved to pay your bills at home and get you to your next assignment. Anticipate saving money for the cost of a down payment on your next temporary rental and transportation costs to get to your assignment. Plus, living expenses until you get your first paycheck.
While you are traveling, you can buy travel insurance from companies like Allianz and World Nomads. The insurance through these companies can cover a variety of emergencies abroad, such as stolen luggage, flight cancellations, and medical coverage. Definitely read the fine print on the policies before you buy a plan, to make sure that it covers your needs.
You can also maintain health insurance in the US while you are traveling if needed. Note: the ACA penalty for not having health insurance has been removed for 2019. You can maintain a private plan (if you carry your own insurance), or you can buy COBRA when your assignment ends. COBRA is the same plan that your agency offers to you, but you pay full price for the coverage. You have 90 days retroactively, after your assignment ends, to determine if you want to buy the COBRA. You can keep COBRA coverage for up to 18 months after your coverage ends.
3. Where To Go?
People travel for different reasons. You probably have places on your bucket list that you would love to go to. Personally, I have picked places to travel long-term that were budget friendly and have a culture that I wanted to learn more about. Living in Central America helped me to learn Spanish and connect with my patient’s from Latino culture better.
My top recommendations for places to spend long-term time abroad for beginners are Costa Rica, Thailand, and Bali. These locations are all very traveler friendly, budget-friendly, easy to connect with Wi-Fi, and are home to friendly, welcoming people with beautiful cultures.
4. Special Considerations For Travel Nurses
Towards the end of your trip, you may want to consider looking for your next assignment while you are still abroad. Because of this, I always travel with an unlocked phone and a laptop. For my phone, I buy a SIM card abroad and make calls from my phone to speak to recruiters and have phone interviews. You could also use Wi-Fi calls over apps; although I experienced hospitals who have refused to use Wi-Fi calls with me. I also travel with my laptop, in order to sign contracts, and complete compliance forms. Being connected abroad has helped me to come home and transition back into a travel assignment without a big gap.
5. Will I Have Trouble Getting An Assignment?
Having a multiple month gap in your resume with no work may throw up some red flags to hiring managers. Although, it has never been an issue for me. When asked why I took time off, I explain the benefits of travel and the helpful impact that it has on me as a healthcare professional. Learning new languages and understanding diverse cultures are all points that I use to justify benefits of international travel. In interviews, I use my travel experience to make myself a better, more well-rounded candidate for the position.
6. Returning Home
Returning home from long-term travel and going back to your normal grind can be a positive or negative experience. Sometimes, it may feel great to get back into a routine, earn money, and work. Other times, there can be a sense of loss and longing to have the freedom of traveling abroad again. Remember, travel nursing gives you this AMAZING flexibility to work and travel. If it’s hard to return to work, know that you can start saving money now to travel again as soon as possible. Your next trip may only be a couple of months away!
Are you thinking about traveling abroad or living in another country when your assignment ends? If yes, hopefully, these tips have helped and inspired you to travel better and longer in between assignments!