By Kelli Leach
When we first started travel nursing, my husband and I discussed when we would start a family. And, once we did, whether would we still travel with kids. Our game plan: travel for 5-7 years, settle down, then start a family.
When we became unexpectedly pregnant while on assignment — we were living in a hotel for a contract that was supposed to last eight weeks, but turned into eight months — panic set in as we tried to figure out what to do next.
Obviously, we weren’t going to bring a child “home” to a hotel. But, we didn’t know which city or state we wanted to have the baby in. Would we continue to travel? Should we settle down somewhere? And, what about maternity insurance coverage. We didn’t have that!
As you can imagine, we were freaking out. Once the shock wore off, though, we realized we actually had more options than most ‘normal’ families. We could settle down OR continue traveling with a baby. Traveling would allow me to be a stay-at-home-mom while our baby was still young. If and when we decided to settle down, we could choose when and where we would do it.
We decided to continue traveling and extended our current assignment through my seventh month of pregnancy, so I could stay with my OBGYN for as long as possible. Then we moved back home, where my husband took a staff nurse job for several months. And, once we felt ready again, we decided to hit the road and resume our life as a travel nursing family.
I’m not going to sugar coat it — traveling with a child adds a whole new dimension of obstacles. That said, it’s certainly doable and once you get the hang of it a lot of fun.
It really becomes more about planning and less about ‘winging it’ when you travel with children. I have always been a planner regardless, but now I tend to want to know many more details going into an assignment to avoid too many surprises along the way.
As a couple, we had our packing down to a science — only taking what would fit in our Suburban. But with a baby, we are back to traveling with a U-Haul. (Not only did we lose packing space with the kiddo’s carseat, but he also comes with a lot of stuff!
Our advice: try to keep it minimal. In addition to his clothes we take his pack-n-play, a stroller, high chair, jumperoo, walker, toys and books, etc. It’s a lot of extra stuff which makes packing a whole new challenge and much more time-consuming. It also adds that extra expense for the trailer rental.
Also keep in mind that towing a trailer slows you down, decreases gas mileage, and generally makes road trips a bit more complicated. For example, we don’t feel comfortable towing the trailer through the mountains in the winter. And finding parking for it can be a hassle, especially in cities.
The road trip to and from an assignment is something else to consider when traveling with kids. Each family is different and will have it’s own way of doing things that works best for their situation.
Unfortunately for us, our son hates being in his carseat. So a 16-hour drive that we’d normally knock out in one day might take 2-3 shorter days now. The plus side is that we’re taking more time to sightsee along the way, something we enjoy doing. The down side is that a cross country trip takes 1-2 weeks now, meaning 1-2 weeks of not earning a paycheck while spending money on hotel stays, gas, and food.
I know some families try to drive through the night while their little one sleeps. We do try to plan road trips around his sleep schedule as much as possible, but there are times when we have to travel during the day. We make a lot of stops along the way so he has a chance to get out to play and enjoy some fresh air.
Gone are the days of ‘quick stops.’ Fueling up inevitably leads to bathroom breaks. Meals are no longer picked up in the drive-thru. Now we’re more likely to stop for an hour, take lunch to a park, and let him play in hopes that he’ll tire out and nap when we get back on the road. Making good time is no longer in our vocabulary.
Choosing a travel nurse location is a also a bit different with kids. Safety becomes a bigger concern. For example, we wanted to travel to Chicago but are now having second thoughts because of the high crime rate. If we travel there with our son, living in an extremely safe neighborhood will be top priority.
It’s also important to think about whether the area you’re considering is conducive to traveling with your family. We probably won’t take an assignment in NYC at this point. Obviously, there are people who travel there with a family, but for us it just isn’t appealing. I can’t imagine all three of us living in a 400-square-foot studio apartment and having to take public transportation or taxis everywhere.
Other locations we’re considering are Hawaii and Alaska. Both are far from family and require long flights. If we do take travel assignments to either location, it’ll happen when our son is a bit older and doesn’t require so much stuff.
The dynamics of housing changes quite a bit when traveling with children. Most companies provide a one-bedroom apartment (some just a studio or hotel). For us though, two bedrooms are a must-have. In order to get that second bedroom, you’ll either have to pay a fee each month (several hundred dollars) or you can find your own housing. We have done both options since we started traveling again with our son — and both come with their own set of pros and cons.
Read more: Housing for the Traveling Nurse
We also consider whether the apartment complex is child-friendly. Are there walking trails? A playground? A pool? Also, since we now have a crawler, it’s important to me to find housing with brand new carpet.
All these considerations definitely make finding housing trickier than before. I have a feeling we’ll be finding our own housing in the future just so we can check all our boxes without depending on the agency’s housing department.
These next two kind of go hand-in-hand; but a major drawback to traveling with children is being away from your extended family. I was raised in the same hometown as my grandparents and most of my cousins growing up, so family get-togethers were frequent. It’s something I would love to have for my family too, but it isn’t our reality, travel nursing or not.
I am one of four in my family and we all live in different cities now, across three different states. All of my sons’ grandparents are in different cities as well. Travel nursing puts us much further from them than we could be, which can be a bummer at times. But for us, the experience of traveling the country as our new family of three is worth it; our son will have the coolest baby book to look back on one day!
On the other hand, you can take travel assignments near family members. We have been able to spend time with family and friends that we don’t get to see often because of travel nursing. Plus, we offer a free place for our loved ones to stay when they want a vacation. We have had plenty of company over the past four years with people taking advantage of an inexpensive getaway and the opportunity to spend some time with us. It can work out quite nicely!
Finding caregivers while on the road can also be a huge pain. Obviously, we don’t have family around to help with babysitting, so we are stuck trying to find somebody we can trust through word of mouth or online. And since we are in a new city every few weeks/months, that is much easier said than done.
Finding a pediatrician in each new city is also challenging. It’s easier as an adult; you don’t typically need a doctor throughout the year unless something is wrong. But now that we are traveling with a baby that requires regular well-baby visits, this is a new wrinkle. We try to get as many of his check-ups done when we pass through our hometown as we can, but we’ve had to find doctors in our new cities too. So far it has worked out okay, but it can definitely complicate things.
The last issue that is exclusive to traveling with kids is schooling. Obviously, this isn’t an issue for us yet, but there are people that have travel nursing careers with school-aged children. From what I have encountered, those people either 1) only travel during the summers, or 2) home school their kids.
In my opinion, living this lifestyle while homeschooling would be ideal. What better way to teach your child than to visit the places they are learning about and touring the best museums, parks, and sites throughout our country? However, if your child is in a traditional school setting and you still want to travel, I have heard of hospitals allowing their staff nurses to take a three-month leave during the summer to take a travel assignment. This is an option we may pursue after we decide to settle down.
We also make it a point to get out and about on my husband’s days off. Since we aren’t settled in a community where we have a group of friends for play dates etc., finding ways to keep him active has been interesting. A few things that have worked for us:
The main thing to remember about travel nursing with children is to know that it CAN be done and it can even be a lot of fun. It does add new challenges and requires more planning, but we think the payoff is more than worth it.
Our little family of three is very close, because we have so much family bonding time with this lifestyle. We are making lifelong memories and loving every second of it. Even the unpleasant memories become something you can look back on and laugh at and cherish. Like when my 6-month-old son had a massive blowout somewhere between California and North Carolina. We had to pull over on the side of the road to change him and clean up the mess, a highway patrol stopped to check on us, and I snapped a cute baby booty photo with him grinning ear to ear thrilled to be out of the car seat for a minute, pretending to drive.
We love that photo because it shows the reality of traveling with a baby and makes us smile every time. Travel nursing with children: it’s all about making memories.
Kelli Leach and her husband Skyler have been traveling since July 2010. Skyler is a CVICU RN and Kelli is a writer. They are from Missouri and had a baby boy in November 2013 so they are now a traveling family of 3! Connect with Kelli on Facebook.