The unique part about being a contracted worker is that once a travel contract is finished, you’re literally unemployed until you pick up another job. Although many travelers may have another job lined up or an idea of where they would like to go, many choose to take a month or more off during the time of “funemployment.”
For many of us, FUNemployment is something we do on the regular, but for others, it’s a new way of living (and working). Read on for a few tips on how to take time off as a healthcare traveler.
Having the opportunity to take such a long stretch of time off is definitely a luxury that comes with having this career path as a traveler. However, taking this much time off (without pay) takes some planning to ensure financial stability. Most travelers do not receive vacation hours or personal time unless they have been with the same agency for a while. With that being considered, the allotted PTO hours are usually not enough to cover long stretches of time off. Most travelers choose to live frugally during the time they are on a contracted job. They save their money in a savings account or invest their money wisely so they can still pay bills and continue their lives normally during the times they are unemployed between contracts.
Per Diem Jobs
I know of travelers who also work per diem jobs back in their home towns or pick up temporary per diem jobs that they work when they are not on contract. Usually these types of jobs only require you to work 2-3 days a month and often pay higher hourly wages because there are no benefits. There are even per diem agencies that offer the ability to pick up shifts at hospitals when available. Although these jobs obviously do not bring in the same volume of money as working a full-time contracted job, they provide a cushion and some source of supplemental income so you do not have to use as much of your savings.
Some travelers even pick up jobs completely out of the healthcare field for a small period of time. If your interest and talents encompass other areas, consider opening a shop on Etsy, working as a firefighter, grab shifts bartending, or find winter employment at a ski resort. The options are endless.
Balancing Work + Play
Funemployment can also mean having fun while you are employed and taking an easier nursing contract or a contract in a bucket-list destination. I have known nurses who have picked up easier nursing jobs like working for IV Hydration companies or vaccination jobs. These jobs are often more sought after and do not pay as well, but just having the experience to work and live in a beautiful place can make you forget you are actually there for work.
Easier jobs or those in great locations offer a lot of opportunities to explore or kick back. Currently, I am in the Pacific Northwest for a return travel assignment at an amazing hospital. I love my job and I spend my days exploring the outdoors because the PNW is beautiful at this time of year. I still feel like I am on vacation even though I still have to work three days a week.
Managing Health Insurance
Many travelers wonder what to do about health insurance during long periods of time off. Most travel agencies only offer coverage for a few weeks after ending a contract. It can be a bit unsettling to think of going without health insurance, especially if you are planning adventures for your vacation time or planning to go back to your hometown and use your time off to check in with your dentist or go to annual doctor’s appointments. Personally, I use private health insurance instead of the travel agency insurance so I can be covered at all times.
My insurance plan covers me most places I go across the country and will reimburse me if I have to pay any medical expenses for sicknesses or injuries that happened internationally. This option is a little bit more expensive but I feel that it is worth it to know I am always covered. Some travelers choose to sign up for gap insurance if they know they will be off for an extended period of time. The U.S. Department of Labor offers COBRA insurance (continuation of health coverage) that you can sign up for online.
You want to be able to enjoy your funemployment time as much as possible. It is always a good idea to give your recruiter(s) a heads up that you will be taking time off and when you plan to go back to work or start looking for a job again. We all know how persistent recruiters can be, so you do not want your time of relaxation to have the distraction of constant texts and emails. Take time to disconnect! Most recruiters know that travelers like to take gaps of time off between jobs and they are good at keeping reminders of when you will be ready to start looking for jobs again.
Also, do not forget about your licenses and certifications during your time off. Make sure to keep your credentials up-to-date or dedicate some of your time to continuing education classes to stay in compliance with licensure requirements. During the times you are on a contracted job you may be too busy to keep tabs on those things. The last thing you want is to have to deal with the stress of reapplying for licenses or scrambling to renew certifications required for the job when your vacation time is over and you are ready to start submitting for the next job. One way to keep tabs on your expiring credentials is through your Kamana profile (get a free profile here). Store your licenses in the app and get notification when it’s getting close to renewal times. As a bonus, you can ever quickly share these updates with your recruiters so they’re always in the loop on your status.
Funemployment is a time to be enjoyed and to live your life to the fullest. One of the main reasons I became a travel nurse is because I wanted to have the freedom to be able to take a few months off each year. Most permanent jobs do not allow you to do that. There is no feeling more liberating than swiping your badge to clock out for the last shift on a contract and knowing you will not have to return to work until you choose to.
The options are endless on how you can spend your time. You can travel internationally or around the country. I know travelers who take the holiday months off and return home to be with their families. You can use the time to pursue things that interest you. Take a dance class, start learning a new language, learn a new skill, be creative, and catch up on projects that you otherwise would not have time for. You don’t realize how much time work takes away from you.
We all can agree that traveling healthcare is an amazing job and allows us great experiences, but being away from family and friends, adapting to new environments, and working in difficult conditions can be stressful. Taking a good chunk of time off with funemployment definitely helps reduce burnout and refreshes and restores the mind, body, and soul.
About Courtney Aragon, RN
Courtney Aragon has been a nurse for four years, spending the last year as a travel nurse. With her black lab, Athena, Courtney takes to the open road for spontaneous adventures, seeing all the beautiful places around the country. Courtney loves hiking in the mountains with Athena and exploring the food/nightlife scene in the city. Follow her adventures on Instagram @courtneyskirts.