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What to Do When You’re Travel Nursing and Can’t Get Home for the Holidays

The sights and sounds of the holiday season are all around you — twinkling lights strung high on city buildings. A Salvation Army Santa jingling a bell outside of the grocery store. Pine wreaths on the storefronts. Everywhere you turn, you’re reminded of holiday cheer. Then you remember it: this year, you’re not going to be home for the holidays.

Whether it’s Hanukkah, Christmas, or Kwanza you celebrate, it’s hard to be away from family and home at the holidays. That’s one of the trade-offs of having an exciting and lucrative career in travel nursing — sometimes, your schedule means it just doesn’t make sense to go home for the holidays. Or it could be that the distance you’d need to travel makes the trip unrealistic.

So when you find yourself far from home during the holidays, what can you do? Here are some ideas for bringing the holiday spirit to you — wherever you are!

Celebrate early — or late

Who says Christmas only comes once a year? Consider moving your holiday celebrations to another date and asking family and friends to celebrate along with you.  You could even see if your family wants to go in on a summer vacation rental. Hang stockings on the dock at a lakehouse, or swap eggnog for red and green margaritas!

Go on a mini-vacation

If you can’t get all the way home for the holidays, but you have enough time off to do something special, consider taking a day trip or an overnight away. You might even be able to split the distance with some of your friends or family members to meet-up in a funky or unexpected stop.

Another idea? Think about looking up a far-flung family member or friend who lives close to your assignment location and visit them. It could be that best friend you had in eighth grade who moved out of town, or that beloved cousin your late grandmother always told stories about. These cool reconnections can be a lot of fun and can bring back many happy memories — a huge part of the spirit of the season!

Build a work family

One of the bigger challenges of working as a travel nurse can be making friends as you move from assignment to assignment. What better way to forge friendships than through building a “work family” around the holidays? Here are some ideas for how to come together:

  • Do a white elephant gift exchange. These are popular for a reason! It’s always fun to see what gifts are the most popular. To maximize the fun, invite a lot of people to participate.
  • Share a potluck dinner. Ask your co-workers to make and bring a favorite family holiday dish to share. If you want to make the potluck even more special, ask your guests to write down the recipe on an index card, put the cards in a hat, and take turns drawing them. Everyone goes home a little closer, and with a new recipe!
  • Watch a holiday movie. If you’re looking for a super chill activity, get everyone together to watch a holiday classic. Serve some holiday treats and maybe spike some eggnog! — and you’re good to go.
  • Decorate your nursing station. Depending on the rules at your assignment location, you may be able to decorate your workspace. A little festivity can go a long way towards making an otherwise impersonal space special. Charge your “work family” with teaming together to decorate — try making a paper chain garland, stringing popcorn, or hanging ornaments on a tabletop tree.

Send a thoughtful gift

It’s scientifically proven: generosity makes us happier! For some people, the act of selecting and giving a gift can feel even more rewarding than receiving one. Give yourself time before the holidays to select (or make!) meaningful gifts for your closest friends and family members. Remember that a gift doesn’t have to be expensive to be special.

As a travel nurse, you can take advantage of your location to pick out some truly unique items. Is your location famous for producing hot sauce, chocolate, or something else? Ship it, along with a postcard, to share a bit of your life with your loved one.

Honor traditions

It seems like every family has a holiday dessert pie or casserole recipe that’s so adored there’s never a crumb left over. Honor your family’s traditions to remember them more closely during the holidays. Be it through cooking, watching football, or taking an afternoon stroll out in the cold, you’ll feel closer to home.


When we think about the holidays, we think about giving to others, sharing, community, and love. Volunteering is a way to get into the spirit of the season and get back a greater sense of well-being in return. It also helps you find other people who are looking for the same fulfillment — and it reduces the loneliness that can come from being away from home. Here are a few ideas for how to give back:

  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen or food pantry. Find one in your area through Feeding America.
  • Visit elderly people. As a nurse, you’re familiar with interacting with all kinds of people. Share your gift for gab by visiting people in an assisted living center. They may feel especially lonely during the holidays.
  • Adopt a family. Through Toys for Tots, the Salvation Army, or other organizations, you can sponsor a family’s wish list. You might find you feel a great sense of accomplishment and pride through this act of generosity.

There’s nothing that can replace the joy of happy times at holidays spent at home. Still, with a little effort and planning, you can have a great holiday experience while you’re on assignment.

Another great way to deal with being far from home? We have more ways than ever to stay in touch with loved ones through technology! For advice, see our post on What to Do When You’re Homesick While Travel Nursing or look at this advice on 7 Ways to Stay Connected to Your Spouse as a Travel Nurse.

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