This guest post is from Sarah Lockhart, a speech-language pathologist who works in a variety of settings, including: private practice, telepractice, and short-term travel assignments. Sarah is a contractor in the school setting in a hybrid model, working via telepractice for three weeks a month and traveling onsite to schools one week a month. In this piece she shares tips on how to have a successful short-term SLP travel assignment.
Sarah’s Travel Story
I first became interested in becoming a travel SLP while working for a school district as an employee. I loved working in the school setting, but was looking for more independence and flexibility. Plus, I always liked to travel.
My first travel trip is still clear in my mind! I stayed in a hotel and jumped on the bed (first things first), thanking my lucky stars I had such an awesome job. My trips after were pretty great too. I got to see new places, and meet my students and coworkers face to face. It was great fun, until it wasn’t.
One afternoon, about two years ago, the traveling finally broke me. I was packing up after what had felt like a great weeklong trip. My eyes were squinting in the bright California sun as I loaded things in the car, ready to head home. I’d felt like that particular trip was productive and rewarding. I’d checked everything off my to-do list. I was productive, efficient, and hustled hard.
As I walked to my car, I started to feel lightheaded and exhausted. That’s when I realized that my trip had been a success in the workplace, but was anything but successful in reality.
I’d worked long days and come home and worked more from the hotel, impacting my sleep. That day, I had too much coffee and forgot to eat lunch. I ended up feeling so lightheaded and exhausted that I had to delay my trip home to eat and rest. Not exactly a successful trip!
Learning From Mistakes
This post is about what to do on your travel trip, learned from my example of what not to do.
As SLPs, we are used to helping others. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to continue to do this work without burning myself out, so I could continue to do the travel SLP work that I love.
Since that day in California, I went through a process of trying a variety of new systems, organizational methods, and routines to make my trips more successful – not only to be more effective at work, but to be able to conserve my energy on my trips to be a happier (and more whole) SLP. These are tried and true tips that I learned the hard way, and you can use whatever helps you most. I used these tips to move forward so that my travel assignments would feel effective, energizing, and fun. In this post, I’m sharing my five most important tips for a successful travel SLP trip, in hopes that they help you, too.
1. Start a Packing List Early
This is actually two parts, the list and the packing.
Since I travel often, I keep a packing list on paper that I reuse and update when I need to. This ensures I don’t forget anything, and that each trip can be more comfortable than the last.
The second is to pack up your office items early. Several days ahead of time, packing up my work items means that as I think of something else I’ll need, I can just add it to the pile. It’s helped me to forget less, and spend less time packing at the last minute.
2. Make a color coded list of work-related tasks you need to do during your trip
If you are doing short-term travel, chances are your site may want you to work as many hours as possible because there will be plenty of work to do.
For me, I go to several different schools, so my to do list is color coded (by school), and made ahead of time. I also do everything I can (like make phone calls) before my visit. This has helped me be more effective on my visits and lower my stress considerably.
3. Have an “I’m here!” routine
Arriving at the hotel (whether it’s the night before or after your travel day), should signal to your body that it’s relaxation time.
Even if you enjoy travel (like I usually do) – travel is inherently stressful. There are delayed flights, traffic jams, and missed connections. Even when everything goes smoothly, just getting there can be a hard job in itself. When you get to your destination, have a consistent wind-down routine so your brain knows it’s time to relax. It could be a bath and a face mask, a glass of wine and your favorite TV show, ten minutes of meditation, a workout or some herbal tea and journaling – whatever you need to shift gears so you can focus.
Having something you do when you arrive is incredibly helpful to wind down and start your travel work time off right. I’ve found it also helps me sleep well that night to have a consistent self care arrival routine.
4. Work just enough (the 80% rule)
I remember reading somewhere that when you eat a meal, you shouldn’t eat until you are completely full. Just until you are 80% full. What if we applied that to our work?
Remember the story I told at the beginning of this post? That was an example of what not to do, and an example of me giving 100% (and then some) to my workweek.
I didn’t have any gas left in the tank afterwards to do the work of traveling (travel pun unintended, but I’m sticking with it).
So, make sure to save something for yourself and for your travel before and after your visit. It’s easy to forget that you don’t just have a quick commute home. You’ll have to pack, check out of the hotel, catch a flight or drive several hours. It’s hard work, so save some energy for the journey home.
5. Ask for help
For my work visits, I like to travel with my husband, mom, or another SLP. It makes all the difference if I don’t live and breathe work during my travel week, so having someone around at the hotel is a game changer. It helps me save up energy for my evenings, knowing I want to spend some time with a friend or loved one after work (instead of coming home to an empty hotel room and working more).
Factors for Success
These five tips have helped me be more effective when I travel for work, and to generally have more pleasant (and fun!) onsite visits.
I’ve slowly begun integrating these into my own travel trips into my own life. As I have, I’ve realized how helpful they are. Because of that, I wanted to share them with you.
I’m currently getting geared up for my visit this month, and I’m feeling very thankful that from that lightning bolt moment of learning a few years ago. I’ve been able to integrate some slowing down routines and some self preservation routines. These routines help me find more enjoyment from my short-term travel visits. I’m still learning, and I’m not perfect but I’ve come a long way.
I’ve learned that there will always be more work, and I have to leave things undone.
I also learned that when I’m giving and giving, I need to slow down and rest and recharge my own batteries too.
Building relationships with students and staff onsite has helped me gain a greater appreciation for my travel visits. Doing short-term travel benefits my students, who get a chance to work with an SLP, but it also benefits me too. I’ve had a chance to meet students, clients, parents, and coworkers I otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance to meet. It has given me new perspectives and knowledge as I dive into a culture within a small community very different from my own. For me, short-term travel has been a gift.
There have been times when it was a burden, when I gave my 100% or more to my job, when I was on my own, when I didn’t set aside time and energy for all the work it takes to travel there and back. But as I’ve learned more about how to work in this setting, and as I’ve given myself more grace to be human, I’ve been able to recognize my travel position for the true gift it is.
More on Sarah & SLP Happy Hour:
If you enjoyed this blog post, I’ve created even more for you on the SLP Happy Hour Website. There, I have a mini-podcast designed just for The Traveling Traveler readers on a day in the life of a short-term SLP traveler. I’ll let you know what a typical day looks like as a short-term traveler in the school setting, and a few more tips for enjoying life as a travel SLP, which you can find here.
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