I’m sure I’m not the only traveler who has been asked, “Don’t you get lonely?”. I’m not going to lie, on my first few assignments 4 years ago, I was a little lonely. It’s only natural. Even people who don’t travel constantly for work experience loneliness every so often. As a newly licensed PT, there were a lot of things I didn’t know. I not only didn’t know what setting I wanted to specialize in and where I wanted to live, but I didn’t know what I needed! During PT school, there’s always something going on. From spending countless hours each week with the same familiar people over the course of 3 years, traveling is a huge change. Graduating and starting your career is a big change!
After my first three assignments, my answer to this question drastically changed. Instead of responding, “Well, sometimes…”, I was now confidently able to say, “No, not really. It seems that I know people most places I go and I’m able to stay busy with the things I like to do”. How did I achieve this drastic transformation? I figured out what I needed to be happy in an assignment. In addition to following my gut with regards to which companies/recruiters to work with and which jobs to accept or decline, I stay true to what I know makes me happy.
Here are some of my TOP TIPS for avoiding loneliness as a solo traveler:
1) Do Your Research Before Accepting an Assignment
What are the things that make you happy? What activities do you enjoy doing? This could be anything from shopping, cooking, hiking, exercising, exploring coffee shops, and breweries, and attending concerts/sporting events. Think about the staples in your lifestyle pre-travel. Make a list! When a recruiter presents a location to you, will you be able to maintain the aspects of your lifestyle that make you happy? Obviously, this take some self-reflection and research on your part before submission/interview.
This was something I didn’t fully understand before deciding to travel. I’ve always enjoyed working out, but I need classes. I know that I’m not successful in just a regular gym full of equipment and no structure. After telling all my patients what to do all day long, it’s my turn to be told what to do! Over the past few years, I’ve become obsessed with Orange Theory Fitness and I must have one on travel assignment. Before giving the go-ahead to my recruiter to submit me, I do a quick search to make sure there’s a nearby Orange Theory. What is your Orange Theory?
2) Take Advantage of the Phone Interview
While the phone interview is an opportunity to show your value to the client as a traveling clinician, it is also your opportunity to interview them! Do you know that you lack some confidence by being a solo therapist? Do you get lonely easily? The phone interview is your perfect opportunity to ask about the makeup of their team. If it’s a private practice orthopedic clinic with only one therapist that’s going out on leave, this is something to think about. Even if you are the only evaluating therapist, are their assistants, rehab techs, or other support personnel? Have they had travelers in the past and what were their experiences? Can they recommend any short-term housing options? All of these questions will help give you a good gut feeling as to whether the assignment is a good fit for you socially.
3) Don’t Isolate Yourself at Work
As the new team member, it can be easy to feel isolated, even if they are welcoming. After 15 contracts, I can tell you that this is not the intention of your new team. It can be hard to break into a new group of people. Show interest in the team. Don’t come in trying to change things. This is one way to make waves quickly. Eat lunch with your new co-workers. This is your chance to get to know them on a more personal level. It’s during lunch that relationships are built, and trust is fostered. If there is a work event, GO! If you seem uninterested in being a member of the team, so will they.
4) Explore Your New Surroundings
Hopefully your contract is amazing! You will be spending a lot of time at work; however, you’ll also have ample time outside of work. What will you do with it? As a new grad, you’ll feel as though you have unlimited free time since you don’t have never-ending homework and exam prep to attend to after work hours. Look at your first travel assignment as another final clinical that you get paid for! (Except you don’t have extra assignments). With Google, TripAdvisor, Facebook Events, and MeetUp, it’s easy to find things to do in your new area in your free time. Another great way to discover things to do is by asking your patients. 99% of the time, they are proud of where they live and are happy to share highlights and local favorites with you!
5) Stay Connected with Friends & Family Back Home
Your friends and family back home may not be living the travel therapy life like you are, but they are still incredibly important. Yes, they may not understand the specific challenges that come with being a traveler, but they are a huge part of your support system while on the road. And, they care A LOT! Relationships take effort. It’s a two-way street. If there are certain events back home that are important to you, make sure to discuss this with your recruiter. Negotiate the days off into your contract. I’ve been able to negotiate as much as two weeks off in a contract to go on family vacation, be home for holidays, attend weddings, etc. (Note: The two weeks off were in a 7-month contract. Be prepared to commit to a longer contract if you need more than a few days off).
6) Network with Other Travelers
Social media and attending conferences can be a great way to network with other travelers who are living your unique lifestyle day in and day out. There are multiple groups on Facebook that serve as platforms for travelers to connect with other travelers. I moderate the New Grad Travel Therapy and Travel Therapy Facebook groups. Attending professional conferences such as the APTA, AOTA, and ASHA conference are another way to connect with like-minded travelers. There’s also a conference that is just for traveling healthcare professionals.
At the end of the day, travel healthcare is a great way to explore different parts of the country, meet new people, grow your clinical skill set, and make a great living! There are great assignments and less than ideal assignments. Embracing flexibility will allow you to remain happier while on assignment. At the end of the day, each experience is what we make of it. If you’re goal is to see the country and make new friends from all over the place, you will!
I’ve been blessed to have made life-long friends in my travel therapy adventures that I would never have had the opportunity of knowing otherwise.