As a travel nurse, I often tell people that I live my best travel life 13 weeks at a time, which is typically the length of one contract. Thirteen weeks in a new place are full of ups and downs – the excitement of starting over, the horror of realizing you’re starting with zero other people in your social network, meeting new people and finding friends and having a grand old time, and then all of a sudden, your contract is over and it’s time to start the process all over again in a new city. It’s this cycle fueled by the adrenaline of everything and everyone shiny and new, made even knowing you could just dip after your contract if you’re just not feeling the vibe.
One downside of this cycle is the constant need to reset. After some time traveling, taking trips in between contracts, then traveling again, it’s hard to get into healthy habits. It’s always, “I’ll start my diet next week,” “I’ll get back in the gym on Tuesday,” “I would like to do that, but I just don’t have time.” For me, the biggest obstacle with every new assignment is being in a new home every three months with a kitchen I have to restock and new appliances I have to work with. It’s been a challenging sticking to my fitness and nutrition goals with every change, and it’s something I’m constantly working on.
We all know that the past three years have been all about self-care, and it’s funny that as healthcare professionals we like to stay (as Nurse John says) caffeinated, medicated and dehydrated. We may be damn good at taking care of our patients, but we’re also basically the worst at taking care of ourselves. Except when it comes to work hard, party harder (we’re really good at doing that).
When you take life thirteen weeks at a time, things that can give a semblance of normalcy (if routine and normalcy even exist for us) in your day-to-day are habits. Habits seem completely contradictory to the carefree life of travelers, because traveling all the dang time can honestly feel like a never-ending vacation. Vacations are the easiest way to break habits. We want to create habits that we can actually keep in our everyday lives, no matter where in the world we are working or what time of the day we wake up.
There is a psychological pattern called the habit loop, which is a three-part process. It starts with a cue, then a routine, followed by a subsequent reward. Here comes the loop part: if your brain likes the reward, once there’s a cue, you’ll most likely follow the routine all over again. Anything can be a habit. Let’s take work for example, and the habit of travel nursing. The cue would be accepting a new contract. This serves as a trigger to start a routine, which would be working the required shifts. And the reward? For me it’s the weekly paychecks and time off in between. That’s why six years later, here I am still on that travel nurse grind, repeating that loop over and over again.
The challenge with this routine, which sets us apart from those Monday to Friday 8-5ers, is given our constantly changing environments – cities, social circles, workplaces, day/night shifts – it’s a lot easier to default to whatever is more convenient, like Doordashing every meal or Netflix all day every day. But c’mon now. It’s 2023 and we’re trying to create routines that will push us to become to best versions of ourselves. Now the habits you form don’t have to be anything crazy like running a 5k every morning. It can be something as simple as meal prepping more often, journaling more, or drinking more water.
With it being the new year, now is the perfect time to start forming habits that will have you living an even better life. Once habits become more routine, they turn into a behavior, and your brain eventually stops really working hard to perform that habit because it becomes something that “you just do.”
Here are some tips on how you can integrate habits into your traveling lifestyle.
Before you know it, life will still be a whirlwind of travel and adventure, but you will have habits that will keep you grounded no matter where you end up. The constant reset with each move won’t be that hard. What are some habits you’re working on for 2023?
Written By Kaithlyn Rojas, Travel RN & MedVenturist