One of the great things about travel nursing or any travel healthcare profession is the ability to experience new and exciting places, but before you can enjoy your new destination, you must first get there. The most popular mechanism to get from assignment to assignment is, of course, driving. There are a few places where flying is the way to go, like Hawaii, but for the most part, travel nurses are driving to their new destinations. Here are the top safe driving tips for travel nurses.
To avoid any car trouble on the road, the best thing to do is to get your car maintenance taken care of before you leave. Carsome provides a list of 9 things to check on your vehicle before hitting the road.
- Engine oil. If you are close to needing an oil change it is recommended to go ahead and change it. If it is not time for a full oil change, check the levels to make sure you don’t have any oil issues.
- Other car fluids. Other fluids to check include transmission fluid, coolant, brake fluid, power steering fluid, and windshield wiper fluid. While you are there, have them check the windshield wipers themselves.
- Car tires. The last thing you want is a flat tire in the middle of a road trip. Check the life of your tires, the air pressure levels, and see if you need a tire rotation.
- Car battery. If it has been between 1-2 years since you replaced your battery, it’s best to get it checked. Places like Autozone will check the battery and any check engine light that comes on for free.
- Car lights. Not only your headlights but your turn signals and brake lights should all be looked at to ensure they are working properly. This will help avoid a potential accident and prevent you from getting stopped by a police officer.
- Emergency kits. Not a first aid kit, but an emergency car kit with the following supplies:
- Spare tire with jack
- Warning triangle in case you do have to stop on a busy road
- A toolbox with basic tools such as screwdrivers, pliers, spanners, and other basic tools
- Battery jumper cable
- Roll of duct tape
- Mechanic gloves to help with greasy, hot,or dangerous items
- Umbrella or raincoat
- Bottles of water in case you are stranded for a long period of time
- Towel and blanket
- And, of course, a first aid kit as well. No nurse should leave home without one.
- Brakes. Brakes are the last thing you want to have any issues with on the road. Make sure they are working properly.
- Clean interior. Carsome recommends a clean interior, but for nurses moving from place to place, securing your items is more important than a clean car. In the event of an accident, the items in your car can become deadly weapons. If possible, it is best to secure everything to prevent them from becoming dangerous projectiles.
- Clean exterior. If you have time, starting out with a clean car can prevent the buildup of dirt and debris which may help extend the life of your vehicle.
One of the safest things you can do is drive with a buddy. Not only can this cut down on your driving time if you split the drive, but a buddy can also keep you safe at rest stops. We at Stability Healthcare do understand that traveling with a buddy is not always possible so here are some basic tips for keeping yourself safe on a solo trip.
- Have a check-in buddy. Even if you can’t take someone on the road with you, keep someone you trust up to date with your location. Have a plan for how often you will check-in and stick to it. This should be a person that will be concerned and take steps to reach out to you if you don’t check-in.
- How many hours to drive per day? The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recommends driving no more than 14 consecutive hours. This includes 11 hours of actual driving. The 14 hours comes from added breaks and stops along the way. After reaching this 11-hour window it is recommended to rest for at least 10 hours. Although this information is designed for truck drivers, it is still a good rule of thumb to follow.
- Day vs night driving. You might be able to cover more roads during the night when there are fewer cars out, but when deciding on hitting the road in the daytime hours or cruising through the night, consider these things.
- Are you a night owl, or do you function better in the day? If you are a daytime worker because the night shift does not agree with you and your body, then it might be best to drive during the day, but if you live for the night shift and already spend most of your waking hours during the night then driving at night may not be a bad idea.
- Besides staying awake, driving at night does have other challenges, including poor visualization and fewer options for breaks or food since many restaurants are closed at night. If you don’t have any night vision issues and plan on driving at night, then pack plenty of healthy snacks to keep you going.
- Hotel vs sleeping in your car. If you are driving far enough away that the trip takes more than 14 hours, it is important to decide if you want to take a break at a hotel or in your car. There are pluses and minuses to both.
- Getting a hotel gives you the benefit of sleeping in a safe, comfortable place that may provide a free breakfast in the morning, but there is a cost to a comfy stay. There are ways for healthcare workers to get discounts at hotels, for example signing up for discount on websites like ID.me. You can read our blog post that provides more information about these types of discount sites.
- When looking at a hotel, it is important to consider your safety. Make sure the hotel is in a good area and make a plan ahead of time if you want to stop. It is better to set a destination in a safe, comfortable area instead of having to look for a hotel at the last minute. You may not know if the area you are in is safe.
- Sleeping in your car can be a way to save some money and time. You won’t have to waste any time checking in or out, but you want to make sure you sleep in a safe area. Rest stops along the highways provide a place for semi-trucks and cars to rest for the night, but it might not be the safest option, especially if you are driving alone. You may want to choose the parking lot of a Walmart or Target in a nice area instead.
- Sleeping in a nice area can still be risky, so make sure your car is safely locked and your windows are secure. Using window shades for all your windows is a great way to ensure no one can look into your car while you are sleeping. Whichever route you choose, make sure you stay safe and check in with your buddy when you stop to rest and again when you start back out on the road.
- Set a route. If you have a long journey ahead it is good to set your route ahead of time so you can plan stops and prepare for the different types of terrain. Roads can be unpredictable, so there is a chance your plans will change, but at least you will be prepared for everything.
Another challenge that comes with driving is weather and climate. The United States has rain and snow, depending on the time of year, in mountainous regions as well as deserts. You want to be prepared for them all.
The first thing to do before heading out on the road is to check your windshield wipers and make sure they are working properly. You don’t want to end up in a monsoon with wipers that don’t improve your vision. There is also a difference between a light rain on the road and a downpour with potential thunderstorms. The best way to safely navigate rain is to check the forecast ahead of time. If you are going to run into bad weather, have a plan or a place to stop if the weather turns deadly. The last place you want to be during a tornado or hurricane is on the highway.
One danger of night driving is potential fog. Fog can occur during the day but is more likely to happen at night, especially in mountainous regions. If you do run into fog, don’t turn on your bright lights. This can make your vision worse. Instead, slow down and turn on your hazard lights. The blinking they produce will help cars around you see your car so they can slow down to avoid a crash. If your vision is extremely poor due to the fog, find a place to park or pull over to the side of the road with your hazards on and wait for the fog to clear up. This may slow down your time, but it is better to be safe than sorry.
If you are heading out west to Arizona, Nevada, Utah, or California, you may have to drive through a desert. Desert temperatures can reach up to 120F degrees, especially during the summer months and there are things to consider before driving through.
- Make sure the coolant in your car is full and working correctly. It is easy for a car to overheat in extremely hot conditions.
- Check the life of your tires. The hot pavement can wear down the rubber on your tires, and you don’t want to experience a flat tire in the middle of the desert.
- In case you do have car trouble and need to stop, make sure you have plenty of water in your car to keep you hydrated and have a few emergency numbers you can call for assistance. Consider becoming an AAA member with roadside assistance for times you have car trouble.
Driving through the mountains can be an amazing and beautiful experience but, at the same time dangerous if you aren’t paying attention. When going through a mountain pass, you may want to silence your cell phone notifications. You do not want to get distracted on a phone and miss a sharp turn. Pay attention to the lines on the road and don’t drift. Use the recommended speeds for turns and bends. It is easy to start through a bend too fast and run off the road, but on a mountain, you may not have a ditch for you to safely land in.
If you are driving through a mountain area at night, it is even more important to stay in your lane. If there is fog, don’t pull off the road unless you know there is enough room for your car to get off the road safely. You may not be able to see the cliff right next to you.
If you are driving in the winter, check the weather and for any route detours put in place before you go over a mountain pass. The Rocky Mountains have high peaks that may get snow even when the rest of the state does not. It is dangerous to drive over a mountain during a snowstorm. Many roads may be closed. If they are open, you may need special chains for your tires to safely pass through a mountain with snow. During the winter, it may be best to choose a route that does not go through the mountains if possible. If you can’t choose a different route, check the forecast before heading out and be prepared. Have water, food, and extra warm clothes in your car in case you do get stuck.
Traveling is part of a travel nurse’s job. The main transportation to get from assignment to assignment is by car. Taking a road trip is part of the wonderful experience of being a travel nurse, but it is important to take the proper steps to ensure your safety while you move from place to place. Stability Healthcare cares about our nurses and wants to ensure your safety in the workplace and on the road. Before you set out for your next travel assignment, use these tips to ensure you will safely get wherever you are trying to go.