What to Know About Working Holidays as a Travel Nurse
- Working holidays as a travel nurse doesn't have to be lonely.
- A new city means new holiday traditions.
- Celebrate with family when it's convenient for you.
It's your first holiday season away from home as a travel nurse. How can you make the most of the holidays while living and working in a new city?
We spoke with travel nurses and asked them to share the pros and cons of working the holidays — from common inconveniences to nuances only a travel nurse can relate to.
Travel Nursing During the Holidays: Pros vs. Cons
As a nurse, you've probably spent several holidays working at the hospital. Your family is used to celebrating before or after a holiday to accommodate your schedule.
So how is working the holidays different for a travel nurse? Julie Mikus, a travel nurse with Cross Country Healthcare, enjoys taking travel assignments during the holidays. "Some of my favorite work memories are from working the holidays," she says. "Staff is happy, potlucks are everywhere, and families want to share in the joy."
Here are some pros and cons to taking a travel assignment during the holiday season:
Meet your financial goals faster with holiday pay and overtime
Holiday events you don't have access to back home
Celebrate holidays with other travel nurses
Create new traditions while experiencing other cultures
Fewer crowds in big cities
Potential to get canceled or float on a holiday shift
Celebrating without family
Holiday travel can be expensive and hectic
Limited kitchen space and tools to cook in temporary housing
Let's break down these pros and cons to discover what life as a travel nurse during the holidays really looks like.
Working Holidays as a Travel Nurse: Things to Know
As a nurse, working a holiday shift is nothing new to you, but spending the holidays away from home might be.
As a staff nurse, you are included in holiday festivities with your "work family." But as a travel nurse, you may feel like a guest in someone else's home.
Spending the holiday season around new faces can feel either isolating or liberating. Like most other aspects of travel nursing, your holiday experience is how you make it.
Whether you're brand new to a facility or on your third extension, we share the things you should know to make the best of the holiday season in your new environment.
1. Your Schedule Can Work for You
When you sign up for a travel nurse assignment, clarify your priorities for the opportunity. Are you pursuing travel nursing to meet financial goals or for a personal adventure? Knowing this will help guide the dates you write into your contract.
If you're financially motivated, working extra holiday shifts may help you meet your goals faster. If you're planning to stay in the area throughout the season, you can pick up shifts for other nurses who'd like holiday shifts off.
If you're prone to homesickness, you may want to plan a trip home mid-contract. Be sure to include specific days in your contract that you're not available to work.
Mikus offers a few tips:
- Discuss facility requirements before signing a contract.
- If you have plans with family or friends, request time off in advance.
- Never assume you will get something. Ask for it in your contract if it is important to you.
Erika Kaneko, nurse and clinician advocate at Vivian Health, says, "One important thing to note is that travelers have the benefit of requesting time off in advance and many facilities are willing or open to approving time off within travel nurse contracts."
The number of shifts you're allowed to "contract off" will depend on the facility. Having clear language in your contract helps you plan ahead so there are no surprises about how you'll spend the holiday season.
2. Travel Nurses May Still Have to Work Holiday Shifts
Holiday requirements are set by the facility. Your travel company can help you get days off in your contract, but the rest of your schedule is up to the unit manager.
Healthcare facilities have tightened up on travel nurse budgets recently, and their rules for handling travelers are constantly changing. Here's what we know about this holiday season:
- You'll likely be required to work at least one mandatory holiday shift.
- Travel nurses are often the first canceled on a holiday shift.
- Check with your travel company to make sure you receive your full stipend if your shift is canceled.
As a travel nurse, can you contract-off a holiday? It doesn't hurt to ask. Keep in mind travel nurse contracts are currently competitive. A manager may choose another candidate who's willing to work the full holiday season.
3. Life Is Less Lonely With Other Travel Nurses
Working the holidays away from home can be lonely. You can combat loneliness by making friends with other travelers from the start of your contract.
As you network with nurses, look for ways to connect over shared interests. Other travelers may have a similar agenda to you, to see as much of a new city in a limited amount of time.
You can compare schedules with nursing apps like NurseGrid to begin making holiday plans. Have you always wanted to visit a German market at Christmas? Another travel nurse may have the same thing on their bucket list.
You'll meet travel nurses from near and far. Your friends who don't travel home for the holidays may be good companions for road trips, religious services, or holiday meals.
4. Travel Nurses Have the Opportunity to Make New Holiday Traditions
One perk of being a travel nurse is immersing yourself in new cultures as you get further away from home. You'll collect lifestyle tips and customs that you'll carry throughout your life.
Even if you're pining for your White Christmas back home, you'll get an authentic experience by living like a local. As you discover the culture of your home-away-from-home, you can create new traditions for the holidays.
Mikus suggests, "Find holiday concerts or events in your contract area and find how locals celebrate the holidays where you are. I've been to ballets, symphony concerts, festivals, winter markets, and festive pop-up bars on my assignments during holidays. You just have to look and ask!"
Here are some ways to embrace the local holiday culture while on assignment:
- Make a local dish. Get the recipe from a staff nurse!
- Dress up for SantaCon.
- Cheer your neighbors on at a holiday parade.
- Jump into the ocean in a Polar Plunge.
"Although travel nurses may be separated from their families during the holidays, they do not have to be alone," says Kaneko. "To avoid isolation, [traveling nurses] should seek out each other as friends and make plans [together] for the holidays."
5. Technology and Flexibility Help
Spending time with family during the holidays as a travel nurse can be challenging. Technology allows you to see family as your schedule allows.
Kaneko says, "FaceTime and other video calling platforms are great tools that allowed me to connect with my family when I was away on travel assignments."
If you're working a holiday, schedule time before or after your shift to video call your family. You can watch the kids open presents or play trivia with your cousins thousands of miles away on Skype or FaceTime.
If you make it home during your contract, you may need to celebrate the holiday early. Be open with your family about your schedule demands so you can make the most of your time together.
Mikus says she makes it a point to visit with family or friends before, after, or during the holidays. "Looking forward to those trips or having those memories when working the holidays makes everything better," she says.
6. Prepare to Beat the Holiday Rush
In 2021, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checked an average of 2 million people per day during holiday weeks.
Highways will be busier during the holidays too, so be sure to factor longer drive times for road trips. If you're flying, prepare for travel inconveniences due to the holiday rush like flight delays or lost bags.
Here are some travel hacks to make air travel smoother during the holidays:
- Sign up for TSA precheck.
- Invest in quality carry-ons to avoid checking luggage.
- Get air tags to track checked bags.
Remember to give yourself plenty of time to get back to work after visiting home. Padding your trip by a few days on the backend gives you time to prepare for your upcoming shifts at work.
"The holiday season can be a chaotic and stressful time for hospital staff," says Kaneko. "Maintaining self-care is essential to managing mental health throughout the holidays."
7. You Might Float on a Holiday Shift
As you prepare to work a holiday shift, you may want to participate in your unit's day-of activities. Nursing units often plan gift exchanges, festive outfits, and potlucks for the day-of.
But before you get invested in your unit's holiday activities, keep in mind travel nurses are the first to float.
"If you don't want to be floated, write that into your contract," Kaneko advises. "Otherwise, be a team player, make friends with your new colleagues, and ask for help! Nursing is a team sport!"
Floating to another unit on a holiday shift can be a bummer, especially if they have their own holiday plans. As the travel nurse, you may feel like you're showing up to someone's dinner party empty-handed.
You can plan ahead by choosing a potluck item that you can bring wherever you work. If your kitchen space is limited, consider bringing a premade dish or paper products.
8. Big Cities Get Pleasantly Quiet
The holiday season is a great time to travel to a major metropolitan city. Throughout the holiday season, you'll have access to events and experiences that may not be available back home.
If there's a city in which you've always dreamed of living, check out their local hospitals to find out if your skill set is needed.
Big cities tend to empty out on holidays as residents travel home. This is a great time for you to enjoy your favorite places with the locals who stayed.
You can take advantage of the quiet by getting a table at a new restaurant or visiting tourist attractions without the crowds.
Meet Our Contributors
Erika Kaneko, RN
Erika Kaneko has been a critical care ICU RN for the last three years. She worked in corporate retail in San Francisco after college and decided she wanted to go into healthcare. She became a nurse because she wanted to directly impact other people's lives every day.
Julie Mikus, RN
Julie Mikus is a PICU–OH RN currently working in Atlanta as a travel nurse with Cross Country Healthcare. She has worked with Cross Country for more than five years in locations such as Boston, Nashville, and across California. Julie earned her RN degree from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and specializes in pediatric cardiovascular intensive/acute nursing and pediatric intensive/acute care nursing.
TSA checkpoint travel numbers. (2022). https://www.tsa.gov/coronavirus/passenger-throughput
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