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Handling Personal Emergencies as a Travel Nurse: How to Be Prepared When Life Throws You a Curveball

As a travel nurse, you’re used to thinking on your feet and adjusting to new circumstances. Still, even the most flexible people can be totally uprooted when experiencing a personal crisis or emergency.

So how can you handle the next curveball life throws your way? While we can never know exactly what’s coming, we can take measures to anticipate hurdles. Here are a few areas where a little preparation can go a long way.

Personal health emergencies

As professional caretakers, nurses are used to helping people. So what if you’re suddenly the patient? Avoid the temptation to soldier on — before you can care for others, you’ve got to take care of yourself. Make it easier with the following:

  • When you take on a new assignment, ask about sick leave policies. Different agencies and workplaces may have different expectations for how leave is handled. You may even be entitled to paid leave.
  • Prevent health emergencies as much as possible. No excuses — as a nurse, you have a lot of access to what you need!

Caretaking responsibilities

If you have children, pets, or elderly parents, you’re definitely familiar with how caretaking surprises can throw a wrench in your plans. To avoid being caught off guard, here’s what to do:

If you’re traveling with a pet:

  • Research local veterinarians as soon as you’re settled in your new location. See if you can get a recommendation from a coworker and check for accreditation with the American Animal Hospital Association. If you have time, quickly tour the facility and meet with staff. See these tips from the Humane Society for what questions to ask.
  • Line up a pet sitter. If you think an emergency might require you to have another person care for your pet, look into your options. Your veterinarian could be a good resource and might even board pets. If you find an individual, ask for references or seek a professional through a group like Pet Sitters International.

If you’re traveling with children:

  • Learn the locations of nearby urgent care clinics.
  • Identify a pediatrician in your area who is willing to provide services to traveling families. The American Association of Pediatrics maintains a list.
  • Check in with your agency or workplace to learn policies on shift swapping or shift changing. If you need to stay home with a sick child or find your current childcare arrangement has suddenly changed, you can likely work your schedule around the issue.
  • Keep a full supply of medications on hand while you travel, including allergy medicine, Tylenol, cough medicine, and any prescription meds.

Financial emergencies

There’s no way around it. At one point or another, everyone’s found themselves in a situation that feels like quicksand. Whether your carburetor has failed or you’ve learned your teenager needs a root canal, you’re suddenly in a pinch. Here’s what to do.

  • Keep a credit card on hand and pay it off every month. You can sleep easier knowing that if something comes up, you can access the credit with no hassle.
  • Prioritize expenses. If you’re hit with an unexpected bill, ask yourself if there are any bills you can delay paying (or that can be paid in installments). Determine what you must cover immediately and what can be saved for later. Separate “wants” from “needs” and put a temporary hold on buying any non-essentials.
  • Earn extra money. See if you can work a holiday shift, overtime, or on-call duty to increase your paycheck.
  • If necessary, look into borrowing money from a friend or family member or finding a loan.


It doesn’t matter how much warning we have of an impending loss — grief inevitably comes with shock and painful emotions. Being prepared for the practical arrangements of bereavement can make the process a lot easier to handle.

  • If you need to fly to a funeral, see if you can get a bereavement fare. Although they’ve become less common in recent years, some airlines still offer reduced tickets to those facing the loss of a close relative.
  • Keep a funeral-appropriate outfit with you when you travel. While it may seem slightly depressing, it’s helpful to have something on hand that’s appropriate for a service. This is especially important if you know a loved one is sick and could pass away while you’re on assignment. The last thing you’ll want to do while grieving is find something to wear.
  • Seek grief support. In any personal crisis, draw on your support system to get yourself steadied. You’ll be better able to handle the situation if you have the support of loved ones.

Weather events and natural disasters

What do you do if you encounter a crisis off duty, or even a severe storm or power outage? Make sure you have what you need by investing in the following:

  • Bottled water and canned food. (Tip: if a storm or hurricane is coming and local stores are out of bottled water, fill your bathtub with water and freeze bags of water.)
  • A flashlight in your apartment and another in your car. LEDs are a good option because of their long lives. You might also invest in an LED lantern to light full rooms.
  • A hand-crank USB charger to keep your phone charged.
  • A hand-crank radio. Yes, it’s old-fashioned, but in the event of a disaster affecting cell service, it may be a lifesaver.
  • A heavy sweater or blanket in your car — particularly if you’re in a very cold location — in case you have a breakdown or are stranded in a snowstorm.

For tips on disasters when you’re on-duty, take a look at our tips on travel nursing during a hurricane.

What to do when you have to leave your assignment

If a personal emergency means you need to leave your assignment, contact your agency as soon as possible. They’ll be able to work with you to adjust your assignment or move you to a different assignment. If you need to terminate the assignment, they can help walk you through any responsibilities regarding housing, stipends, and other benefits. Remember, everyone faces emergencies. See your agency as your advocate and support system through difficult times.

Want more guidance on how to prepare for emergencies? Read our blog on how to take action in a disaster.

If you’d like to see more articles on Emergencies, click here.