See More with Travel Nursing: Road Trip from California to New Jersey

After about five years of grinding to pay back student loans, I figured it was about time to enjoy the summer for a change. In addition to wanting to scale back a little in terms of work, I also had some weddings to attend back home as well, so I decided to take the summer off from traveling and drive from California back home to New Jersey.

Preface

The trip started in Orange County, California, where I had been staying with my girlfriend and her family. They were kind enough to let me visit while I got my life in order, and I am very grateful since April and May were busy months (which is probably an understatement).

Just so you can see what I mean, I’ll give you the highlights: I moved out of my Airbnb since they had put the house on the market, move into a hotel for a few days, moved out of the hotel, flew home on a preplanned trip, flew back to work, moved in with a coworker for a week as they were in the process of moving out, packed up again, finished my assignment, drove to Orange County from the Bay Area with my car packed floor to ceiling, flew to Minnesota for a three-week assignment, and flew back to Orange County to prepare for my road trip home.

Now, that I’m out of breath from explaining the chaos, let’s recap on the trip home.

Day 1

Venice Beach, Los Angeles, CA

This was an easy day. After finishing packing up my car, I drove north from Orange County to Venice Beach where my traveling buddies were currently on assignment. I wanted to check in with them before I headed home, and also to get some beach time in. We ended up brunching pretty hard and met some new friends in the process.

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This day was mostly a reunion and enjoying each other’s company because I hadn’t seen them in a few months after they moved from San Francisco.

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Day 2

Venice Beach, Los Angeles, CA

We walked around for a good part of the morning in Venice. It was a sleepy Monday morning, so it was pretty mild on the beach. Nothing too crazy here. Just some performers setting up and early bird tourists.

After a nice morning walk along the beach and canal, we got lunch. Soon after, I was off to the east side of town to visit my friends from college and my old neighborhood when I used to live in LA.

Los Feliz, Los Angeles, CA

I arrived late-afternoon to my buddies’ apartment, everyone just getting home from work. We spent the rest of the evening catching up and hitting up one of our favorite taco stands, Tacos Tu Madre. One of my favorite parts of LA has to be the Mexican food. It’s everywhere, and it’s so good.

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Day 3

Los Feliz, Los Angeles, CA

img_6848We woke up early to catch a sunrise hike up to the Wisdom Tree. This was one of those impromptu, right before getting into bed super late ideas. I was totally down though because I love the trails at Griffth Park. There are so many different paths you can go depending on the time you have available and your skill. It was definitely nice to get a good start on the day too.

This particular trail is a little steep, but the views at the end make it well worth it. During the daytime hours, it can be quite crowded at times, so it’s not as easy to take in the whole experience once you’re at the top. However, since we left pretty early, we just about had the whole place to ourselves.

We did the hike, but there wasn’t that much of a sunrise because it was so foggy as we rose in elevation. It was pretty eery, to be honest. Despite the weather, it was still nice to get out there on the trails.

By contrast, without the fog, the views should look something like this:

wisdom tree view

credit for image above: twenty talk

When we came back, breakfast was obviously next on the agenda. House of Pies is a nice dinner not too far down the road, so it was nice to eat up after a long morning.

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The rest of the day consisted of meeting up with other friends and hitting up some of our favorite hangouts. We ended up spending most of the night at Spitz where they have game nights, great beer, and döner (Turkish kebab). It was a nice end to a good visit with great friends.

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Day 4

Grand Canyon, AZ

The trip started pretty early because I knew I had about a seven-hour drive ahead of me. I ended up getting to the south rim of the canyon just after noon. Of course, I would get there when it’s hottest. I guess I didn’t factor that into my plan. However, the views made the heat so worth it.

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When I first rolled up, there were TONS of people. More than I expected, but as I got further from the parking lots, the volume of people decreased.

I guess I’ll let the canyon speak for itself, but I was totally caught off guard with its beauty despite seeing hundreds of pictures before, learning about it in grade school, and getting a lifetime supply of Arizona t-shirts from my grandma when she lived there over the years (thanks Gram). I did overhear a passerby say that it looks like a giant cinnamon roll, and I can’t say that I totally disagree.

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Some tips I can suggest for your trip (please learn from my mistakes):

  1. Bring sunscreen with a high SPF and make sure it’s accessible – we can’t have you burning up.
  2. Bring a refillable water bottle (make sure it starts out full) – there are some refilling stations along the way, but not too many so you may want to bring more than one actually.
  3. Utilize the bus tour – there are some viewpoints that are just too far too far to walk to given the heat (plus, there’s AC).
  4. Don’t bring snacks that can melt because they sure will – bring high-calorie snacks though because you’ll be doing lots of walking.
  5. Take breaks and photos whenever you can – don’t be afraid to ask others to take your photos, although you might be surprised at how many people don’t speak English as their first language (“photo please” along with the camera charade gesture usually does the trick).

I lasted somewhere around five hours before I had to call it quits due to the heat and the hiking. I wish I had more time here to explore some more, but it just gives me a reason to come back. After my day was done at the canyon, I drove about an hour and a half to my hotel, showered up, got dinner at a pub, and watched the NBA Finals. Not a bad end to a memorable day!

Day 5

Meteor Crater, AZ & Petrified Forest, AZ

What a LONG day! I was definitely a little too ambitious with the planning for this one. My initial goal was to see the meteor crash site and Petrified Forest on the way to Denver. However, I got a little caught up in walking around both places, so I never quite got all the way to Denver. I had to stop about an hour and a half away because it was getting late and dangerous to drive.

Anyway, first stop was the Meteor Crater, and this was pretty cool. According to the tour, which you should totally do, it’s the best-preserved crater due to it being in the desert. You really only need an hour at this place to get the full experience. Anything longer than that, and you’ll be overdoing it.

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When I was told about the crater, my friend had told me to not look at pictures prior to going because it would be that much more impressive (sorry for ruining that for you – see it anyway!).

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After about an hour, I made my way east towards the Petrified Forest National Park. The drive wasn’t too bad. In fact, it was nice that the viewpoints were all drivable, meaning you didn’t have to walk all that much if you didn’t want to. The AC in the car was definitely a game-changer.

The first part of my journey through the National Park was the Painted Desert, which was really cool. The sand was all different colors and looked like a layered cake. I know that doesn’t do it all justice, but seeing the colors change as you drive through the park, it was mesmerizing at some points.

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By the time I got to the portion of the park with the petrified forests, I realized that I was running quite late, so I cut that part a bit short. However, it was nice to reflect a little on the beauty of it all.

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After leaving the park, it was a mad dash to attempt to make up some lost time as the day had gotten away from me. During this phase of the trip, I ended up encountering a motorcycle disguised as a chariot along with its driver.

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Luckily for me, there was also a nice sunset while driving through New Mexico.

Day 6

Denver, CO

After a late night of driving, I ended up sleeping in a bit. A few days in the sun in addition to some long days driving had really taken its toll on me. There was only a short drive to Denver from where I had stopped along the way.

In Denver, there was really no agenda. My only plan was to meet up with a buddy from college who was living in town. He was free so he was willing to show me around for the morning and early afternoon. We walked around town for a little and grabbed lunch before making our way to Red Rocks Park where we went on a hike.

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The air was was definitely thinner than anything I was used to so there was quite a bit of huffing and puffing going on. Below is the video from some of our hike together.

After returning from the hike, we said our goodbyes and went our own ways. The rest of the day was devoted to hitting up multiple happy hours, trying some good food, and trying some local brews.

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Day 7

The Open Plains

After waking up in Denver, I decided to spend the morning there, and grab one last meal. If you’ve never been, I’ll let you know that it’s a very big foodie town. Everything is amazing so I wanted one more crack at it.

After leaving Denver, just after noon, I set my aims on Kansas City, which was about a nine-hour drive. There wasn’t a whole lot in between, but something about the plains and rolling hills, in some parts, were very soothing. There wasn’t much traffic, so it was just driving and listening to podcasts while enjoying the scenery.

I ended up getting to Kansas City somewhere around ten, and since I hate eaten my weight in beef jerky on the way, I wasn’t too hungry. I just found a hotel that seemed upstanding enough and went to sleep.

Day 8

Kansas City, MO & St. Louis, MO

I really didn’t know what Kansas City had to offer other than BBQ, the Chiefs, and the Royals. After looking on Yelp for some attractions, I realized that there wasn’t too many that interested me, so I decided that the BBQ was the best choice. I got some recommendations from a friend, and it was some of the best BBQ I’ve ever had. Truly melt in your mouth type of stuff.

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After lunch, I made my way towards St. Louis where some friends were on a travel assignment. To be honest, I wasn’t sure that I was going to stop there in order to make better time on the road. However, I ended up seeing the iconic arch from the freeway and decided that it’d be worth it.

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As I was going to meet up with my friend for dinner, these two homeless guys approached me, asking for money so they can buy dinner. Instead, I offered to buy them dinner. There was a St. Louis Bread Company (Panera Bread everywhere else) nearby and got them what they had requested. I felt that it was only right since I had been eating so well on this trip. I bring this up not for praise, but because our interaction had such an impact on me at that moment, causing me to reflect quite a bit.

At dinner, it was nice to meet up with a friend and enjoy another BBQ meal on the day.

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After dinner, the day of driving wasn’t done just yet. I tried to get as far as I could under the circumstances of having a food baby and rainstorms incoming. With the rain incoming, it looked like the rest of the trip might be washed out with about fifteen hours of driving left.

Day 9

Homeward Bound

I made my way pretty far into Ohio before calling it quits the night before, so that really helped set up for a much more bearable driving day on this day. The rain was still setting in so, to me, there wasn’t much reason to stop if I couldn’t get out and enjoy the weather. I decided just to power through the last ten or so hours. I made it home just as my family was getting ready for bed. When I walked through the door, my mom was going to see who was coming through the door so late. At first, it was as if she saw a ghost, but that soon turned into pure excitement which obviously made me happy to know I was missed. It was nice to be able to surprise them a couple of days early for sure.

Check out some more footage from my trip below

Other Notes

  • All of my belongings were in the trunk or in the back seat under a blanket. I made sure that no one could really see that there was stuff in there to be stolen.
  • I never booked my hotels in advance, which allowed me more flexibility in deciding where to go and when.

See More with Travel Nursing: Getaway to Jackson Hole, Wyoming

One of the great things about travel nursing is the flexibility that comes along with it, specifically in terms of scheduling. Each facility is different when it comes to how they produce work schedules (e.g. self-scheduling, repeating two-week schedules, filling in the gaps based on need), but once you know how they operate, you can use these to your advantage to make the most of your adventures. In addition, you can also use techniques specific to travelers in order to plan trips and getaways, including negotiating time-off during your contract when submitting for a position or planning trips before start dates/after end dates. I feel like this is much more superior than the alternative of rarely getting all of your vacation time approved while working as permanent staff or having to put in 30 years in order to have seniority and get the time-off you request. Recently, I was able to use these strategies and the power of trading shifts with coworkers to make it home for my sister’s wedding AND take the trip of a lifetime the following week!

Below, I’d like to share my experiences that I had in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which would not have been possible if it weren’t for the flexibility that travel nursing allows me.

Backstory

A good friend from college, Shane, moved out to Jackson from Boston after college to pursue his love of skiing and the outdoors. He had been telling me to visit since he moved there over two years ago. I wanted to, but I just could never get the time off when I worked as permanent staff. Besides getting the time off, another obstacle is the relatively expensive airfare into Jackson due to only having a small airport and high demand to fly in. Until recently, I never knew my schedule in far enough advance to buy a ticket for a reasonable price due to the restrictions of staffing and scheduling. However, at my current assignment, they use a two-week rotating schedule, so I’m able to better plan out my time as opposed to waiting until just a few weeks out when the prices for airfare get jacked up. With that, I was able to book my flight and head out for a five-day adventure.

Day 1

After taking my flight from San Francisco to Denver and then connecting to Jackson, I was finally able to see what I had been missing for all these years (after I woke up from my nap of course). I could already begin to see the natural beauty of this place from the window of the airplane. It was unlike any other place that I have seen. The mountain range just erupts from the flat plains seemingly without warning. This first impression left me wanting to explore even more.

Upon arrival, Shane’s cousin, Aidan, who happened to also be visiting as well, picked me up from the airport around noon. Shane was stuck at work until later that evening, so it was just the out-of-towners for the afternoon. We dropped my stuff off at Shane’s place and then proceeded to hit the road. Aidan had flown in the night before, so he also had the morning to check out the town. While there, he got to chatting with some locals who gave recommendations of some key places to see. With this in mind, we set out.

To be honest, I don’t think we had as much of as a gameplan as we thought, but sometimes that makes the experience even better. To start, it was just us in the truck, admiring the incredible views as we drove along. Neither of us had ever seen such a beautiful place before. This was evident by our eyes being glued out the window and lots of pointing and “wows.” Much of the land was flat and untouched with grand mountain ranges in the distance. It took a little bit to gather ourselves and come to terms with the fact that we were there and not browsing a Natural Geographic magazine.

I’ll be sharing some pictures and videos from the trip. You can click on them to enlarge the album. Just keep in mind that these were all shot from my refurbished iPhone 5 from 2013, and that I desperately need an upgrade. Santa, I hope you’re reading this!

 

The first stop was Gros Ventre Road (pronounced “GROW-SHON”). From here, we just drove until we found a place to park and then explored the area, doing our best to remember the way we came. We did this for a few hours. As far as I’m concerned, we might as well have been on a different planet because I had never seen such a breathtaking place before in my life. 

We might have gotten a little lost. I’m not sure. However, to our fortune, we stumbled upon a cool spot with an abandoned cabin overlooking the mountains. All I could think was how great it must have been to wake up to that view every day.

 

Not too far from this spot were these other abandoned cabins. Actually, maybe they all weren’t abandoned and we were just trespassing because as we were leaving, some guys were riding up and turned down the path. Who knows? Maybe just some more adventurers.

On our way to find the main road, we found a Mormon ghost town. Apparently, it was a pretty sizeable community back in the day, but now there’s only have a few buildings (i.e. barns, homes) left standing. All of which were boarded up and locked so we couldn’t go inside. Pretty cool to see and read about on the placards, nonetheless. (There are tours that can take you around on a bus to see these communities for $100+ but obviously, you don’t need to spend the money to explore the land on your own)

After a good bit of driving, we found our way back to the main road. I mean, there are worse places to get lost. And if you don’t really know where you’re headed, are you even lost? Anyways, we headed toward Grand Teton National Park. It was starting to get late, and the sun was beginning to set, so we knew we had to make moves to squeeze in as much daylight as possible. We decided to explore String Lake and Jenny Lake. We even did a short hike (maybe a mile or so) through the forest and watched the sunset behind the mountains.

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Jackson’s Antler Arches in Town Square at Sunset

The sun had just about gone down and we were trying to avoid finding our way back at night, so we head back to town to meet up with Shane for drinks. Aidan’s friend from college, Shayna, also met up with us. Shane and Shayna (both locals) seemed pretty impressed with how much we got to see that afternoon. We caught up for a little bit, then shipped it back to Shane’s for dinner where we had an antelope steak waiting for us. I had never had game meat before. Most likely due to not having the opportunity to try it, but also because I’ve heard from people that they don’t care for game meats. I was willing to try it because “when in Wyoming…”, and I’m glad I did! Very tasty! Shortly after dinner, we began to wind down because we had to be up pretty early for a sunrise hike.

Day 2

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to getting up so early after having just explored all day following two airplane rides and a few days in a row at work prior to that, BUT the excitement of getting out there in the wilderness made it a little more bearable (no pun intended). This trip was also multi-purpose since it was elk hunting season, so Shane brought his gear so that he could show us the process and effort that goes into it all. I had never been hunting before so this was a first for me, and I was interested in the culture surrounding it. As I was learning, I was very pleased to find that there are very strict controls and laws in place for conversation purposes.

As we made our way up the hills/mountains (not really sure where one stops and the other begins), you could definitely feel the change in the altitude. The air was thinner and oxygen was harder to come by. It probably also didn’t help that we were lugging big packs and I was breaking in brand new hiking boots. For a large part of the climb up, it was dark so we navigated by headlamps. Just as the sun began to peak over the horizon, we luckily had made it to somewhat of a clearing to see the sunrise. That was a pretty cool scene to see so we sat there for a little bit (I used this as a moment to question why I let myself skip my cardio at the gym and catch my breath).

The rest of the hike was also very scenic. We also found TONS of signs of elk, but no elk. We must have just been missing them by a few minutes the whole time. I was okay with not having seen any because it was still a different experience than I was used to and it was great to get out there and start our day. For me, it was a successful trip.

We managed to make our way back to the car and set off on home. We showered up and relaxed the rest of the afternoon after grabbing some lunch. That night, Shane’s house had hosted a dinner party. It was a great way to meet a bunch of people and try new foods again. This time, we had duck, which I’ve had before (prepared differently), and goose, which was surprisingly very similar to a beef steak. I also met a guy who rode his motorcycle through North and South America and much of Europe for the past year, which seemed like an awesome experience. Nothing much more to this day. Just some drinks and good food.

Day 3

This was Yellowstone Day. I was super excited for this one. I had heard great things about this place, and I knew they all can’t be wrong. It was about an hour and a half ride from Jackson to the south entrance, which wasn’t bad at all. When we got there, it wasn’t too crowded, which was pleasant. Apparently, during the summer months, the park gets swamped by countless tourists and the experience can be overwhelming and frustrating, according to Shane. We were lucky due to the timing of our trip being in late October. It’s considered the off-season for this area which is fine by me!

We saw a good amount of wildlife on the ride in, including this “little” buffalo below:

We walked around the hot springs as we would come upon them. There were quite a few. We didn’t go to “Old Faithful” because the timing was off. We had just missed it. But that didn’t stop us from checking out all the other springs that Yellowstone had to offer!

Since it was pretty cold out, it was hard to get pictures of some of the geysers due to the steam. It felt really good to be in the steam though. Just like walking out of a hot shower. (Just don’t go diving in because you’ll melt)

On our way out, we decided to leave through the west entrance so that we pass through new scenery (i.e. Idaho and Montana). However, there was some construction going on so we had some time to kill until they’d let cars through. We decided to explore until the path was clear. We ended up taking what I think is a cool picture after a long fought battle with some rocks to prop up my phone and the self-timer.

Yellowstone National Park
Left to Right: Shane, Aidan, Tom

We were finally able to pass and began to make our way home, but not before stumbling upon of elk and some more buffalo on the way out.

 

 

On our way home, we passed through Montana and Idaho – both very beautiful as well. The skies seem endless. I don’t necessarily like going on car rides, but when you have those views, it’s really hard to complain. The ride home was somewhere in the neighborhood of two to two and a half hours. All things considered, I think we made pretty good time. Once we got to town, we went out for dinner and drinks. We each got and different meat and shared it because we couldn’t decide on one (and because Aidan ordered the last elk steak). We ended up having buffalo, elk, and fried chicken (super exotic, I know). After dinner, we hit the downtown for a fun Friday night to cap off a pretty well-rounded day.

Day 4

It was all aboard the struggle bus to start the day. We might have had a little bit too much fun the night before, but it wasn’t before too long that we were back on our feet again. Sadly, Aidan was set to fly out so we got an early breakfast, said our goodbyes, and explored the town. The town was on the busier side, especially for an offseason. I guess it was your typical town square with quite a few souvenir shops, jewelers, and restaurants. I ended up finding a hat that I really liked to remind me of the trip.

After our outing, we hit up the hot springs. These ones were safe to go in, unlike the ones in Yellowstone. They were located right on the side of the river bank. The pools were encircled by rocks in order to keep the warm water in and the colder river water out (I hope I’m explaining this well enough. I don’t have a picture because I left my phone in the car). It was so relaxing, and just what we needed after a pretty eventful couple of days. The warm water in the pools would migrate throughout the pools so it was a constant shuffle in order to balance the temperature; you would be warm but not to the point where it’d feel like you were “boiling in a pot of macaroni” (how I described it that day). I ended up taking a dip in the cold river just outside our pool, and that sure woke me up. A lot colder than I thought it’d be, but glad to say I did it.

Night Sky
Photo by Shawn Paone

From the hot springs, we drove back home, showered off the sulfur smell from the springs, and got ready for a concert/Halloween costume party downtown. The night was great, the band was super talented, and we had a nice time. When we got home and started towards the door, I looked up at the night sky. I guess I hadn’t taken much notice of it since I had been there. At first, it looked like any other clear night that I’ve seen before. However, I began to stare a little longer. As my eyes began to adjust to the darkness, the sky lit up! There were so many stars. More stars than I knew that we could see from Earth. Having only lived in metropolitan areas before, I guess the light pollution has always drowned out their brilliance. Luckily for me, in this moment, that was no longer an issue. Never before have I felt so insignificant. Maybe that’s not the right word. I’m not sure how else to describe it though. I found myself gazing upwards in awe until my neck got sore, but eventually, I found my way inside and into bed.

Day 5

The dreaded flight back to reality…but not before a five-hour layover in Denver. I did manage to get my one last peek at the scenery as I got on the plane though as my going away present (I thought I was recording longer but I guess I didn’t hit the recording button). I really don’t think I could ever get used to this view. I know I’ll be back soon!

Conclusion

Lots of great experiences from this trip: five new foods (antelope, duck, goose, buffalo, elk), three states (Wyoming, Montana, Idaho), two national parks (Grand Tetons, Yellowstone), hunting, hot springs, catching up with old friends and meeting new ones too! Thanks to the flexibility of travel nursing, I was able to make this memorable trip happen. I’m not done exploring this place yet though! I’m already working on filing my license for endorsement in Wyoming – just in case something pops up at the little hospital in town!