Meet our Woman of the Week: Emily – a travel nurse with a passion for sustainable travel and making the world a better place while she does it. When I created this Woman of the Week series, I was imagining and hoping to interview women exactly like Emily. Hard-working, curious about the world, and dedicated to leaving a positive impact rather than a heavy footprint. She has great advice about balancing work and travel, exploring solo as a married woman, and ignoring that which will keep you from your wanderlust dreams. Check out her interview and her personal travel blog below!
I was born and raised in Seattle, Washington and went to college in Southern California. I’ve always been a “save the world” type, and I got my Bachelors Degree in Peace Studies with the aim of working with nonprofit organizations. Then I spent the summer after graduation volunteering in Nairobi, Kenya and it completely changed my life.
By pure luck, I met a group of international nurses providing a temporary free clinic in the slum where I was working, and immediately knew I wanted to be a nurse. I started nursing school as soon as I got home from that trip, and that career has given me so many opportunities to travel! I’ve gone on medical missions all over the world, including flying into Nepal days after the massive earthquake and treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone during the outbreak. Plus my schedule is flexible enough that I get to travel a lot just for fun, too.
Nowadays my home base is in Seattle with my husband and our rescue pup. We blog about our travels at Two Dusty Travelers. I work as a labor and delivery nurse whenever I’m not traveling, and I’m Vice President of One Nurse At A Time, an organization that helps nurses get started in humanitarian volunteering.
Why do you travel?
I travel because I can’t help it. I get itchy feet if I haven’t taken a trip in a few months, and I’m constantly planning my next adventure. I love immersing myself in other cultures and exploring nature in different parts of the world. My favorite adventure is to rent a car in a new country and explore off-the-beaten-path places that many tourists won’t see. Last summer we drove a Land Rover around Southern Kenya and had such an awesome experience – even though our car kept breaking down (lesson learned: splurge for a reliable vehicle!)
Even in the most remote places, I am constantly reminded that people are fundamentally the same everywhere, regardless of what language they speak or how much money they make. I think the world would be a better place if we could all remember that.
I also travel for humanitarian work. Being a nurse has given me a useful skill so that I can volunteer in developing countries and really make a difference. While plenty of “voluntourism” organizations mean well, it’s not necessarily a good thing to bring unskilled foreigners into a country to play with kids at orphanages, for example. I work hard to make sure the volunteer work I do leads to something sustainable. Recently I led a group of nurses on a medical mission to Haiti, where we helped an awesome non-profit organization train local midwives so that they can help their own communities. It’s so inspiring to be a part of programs like that!
How do you balance work and travel?
I have a regular day job as a labor and delivery nurse in Seattle, and most of my medical missons are unpaid. For years I struggled to fit all the travel I wanted to do into my few weeks of vacation time.
Last year I took the plunge and quit my full-time position to work per diem instead. What that means is that I’m only required to work two shifts a month, but I can pick up as many shifts as I want when my unit needs staff. It’s a risky choice, because I’m not guaranteed work – but if I play it right, it means that I can work a ton whenever I’m home in Seattle, and then take as much time off as I want without having to get vacation time approved.
Working per diem takes a lot of flexibility and discipline. I have to make sure I pick up enough extra shifts to pay for all my time away, since I don’t get paid when I’m not working, but it has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I think that once you decide travel is really your priority, there’s usually a way to re-organize your work life to make it happen.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from your travels?
The things that scare the hell out of you will end up changing your life in the best ways. I changed careers to go to nursing school after I met nurses on a medical mission in Kenya, and that has turned into my dream career. I quit my first nursing job to move to Tanzania and volunteer in a birth center, and that experience landed me a job I love even more when I got home. I signed up to treat Ebola patients in Sierra Leone during the outbreak (probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done) and it showed me what I’m truly capable of – plus it opened up more opportunities for disaster response work.
I always travel with a quote that says, “No amount of security is worth the suffering of a mediocre life chained to a routine that has killed your dreams.” It reminds to go after what I really want, and not get drawn in by whatever seems easiest. I know that travel is intimidating to many people, especially Americans who see only negative depictions of the rest of the world on the news. People will tell you that travel is too dangerous, or too expensive, or that you’re being selfish. Just ignore them and take the plunge! I guarantee you won’t regret it.
Share one of your favorite travel memories.
This will sound crazy, but I loved working in Sierra Leone during the Ebola outbreak. Yes, it was definitely scary at times, but I got to see the absolute best that humanity has to offer. I got to meet West African nurses who had left their families and risked their lives in order to save their country, and I got to meet people from all over the world who voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way to help perfect strangers.
I formed a bond with my team that will never quite be matched, since we went through such a crazy ordeal together. I remember meeting some of them on Bureh Beach in Sierra Leone on my one day off. We ate fresh lobster, drank local beer, swam in the ocean, unloaded all of our stresses from work, and forgot about the outbreak to enjoy the beauty of Sierra Leone just for the day. I would really love to return and see how the country is recovering now.
If you could share one travel tip with other women, what would it be?
Travel without your partner. Whether that means going solo, with your best friend, with colleagues, or all of the above, go for it! When I tell people that I’m going on a medical mission, I often get asked, “What is your husband going to do?” which I think is an odd question. I love my husband and we definitely travel plenty together, but I absolutely believe that our relationship is enriched by having individual experiences and chasing our own passions! And in order to make that happen, make sure to choose a partner who supports your wanderlust and isn’t afraid to let you go after your dreams.
I’ve also created three freebies to help you plan your next adventure:
50 Practical Travel Tips from Solo Lady Backpackers (a 6-page PDF)
20 Tips for Sustainable Travel (a checklist)
and 30 Jobs to See the World.
After you join the mailing list up, you’ll have access to all the freebies, AND get the password to the Global Directory! The directory will connect you to my recommended resources for each country and tons of travel topics. All blog posts I recommend are written by traveling ladies. From logistics to inspiration, the Global Directory will help you find the info you need no matter where you’re going.
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