10 Things to consider before doing a stay away…
This article was written by Nicholas Colwyn Parry, a locum pharmacist working across the UK, and a subscriber to the My Locum Choice Software.
Thinking of doing a stay away? Here’s 10 things to consider that I wish someone told me before I left home.
Okay so maybe I lied in my first blog when I said the rest won’t be as long as the first, but this one is bullet points so that doesn’t count right?
This should be your number one when booking a stayaway, I have written a separate blog on how to look for good accommodation as this is you base for the duration of your stay and it must be comfortable, safe and in a good location.
2. Distance and road quality
I mainly stay in the South West (AKA West Country) and the roads will be some of the worst you drive on, seriously below is a picture of a “main road” I had to drive down every day to get to Combe Martin. It was NOT fun when I met an oncoming tractor and had to release my inner Colin McRae by reversing half a mile to the nearest passing point… I drive a coupe, and I swear to god I have reduced the suspension lifespan by about 30000 miles as a consequence of bouncing around on those country roads. As much as I love Diego (my car), he would be far better suited for the SW if he were a Nissan Navara. I’d also be able to launch a jet ski off the back of it. Win win.
The sat nav also will never give you the right estimated time, these roads are actually national speed limit, but if you even attempted half that you’d be in the field, upside down, probably on fire. Sat nav’s base your ETA off the speed limits so leave a LOT of time to get to your destination! Waze is a really good app for getting an accurate ETA on a sat nav as it compiles information from other users to give you the updated eta if anything changes up ahead. It also tells you where speed cameras, hazards, tolls and police are which has come in incredibly handy. I often do a recce and scout out the area for parking, food etc before working there. I try and book accommodation close to where I’m working, but for £50 a night (average nightly rate offered) in peak season in Devon a 10 mile+ commute is common to meet this budget.
3. Food (eating out)
This can be a massive positive, or one of the biggest negatives, it depends on how fussy you are. So, when I wrote this blog I was in St Austell, Nando’s is 41 miles away and they don’t know what a TGI Fridays is. This is a huge bonus for me as I like to try local food, particularly seafood, and being on the coast it is some of the best in the world and is often caught that day! Always, always ALWAYS talk to the locals, you will hands down get so much more out of your stay away if you do!! Supporting local independent businesses is always something I have tried to do, I find you get better service, better quality food and a more personal experience other than just the robotic “do you want fries with that”. By supporting local businesses you’re literally helping that family go away on their dream holiday, you’re giving their daughter horse riding lessons so she can chase the dream of competing at dressage in the Olympics and paying their sons football coaching who may be the next Ronaldo. You aren’t putting your hard-earned cash into a tax evading multi-national chain for a shareholder’s wealth.
Doing your washing on the road. Oh boy where do I start. This should probably be number 1 and will also be explained in the future blog entirely dedicated to choosing the right accommodation for you. This is possibly my biggest weekly challenge for a few reasons: it never smells exactly the same (even using exactly the same products as I do back home), it doesn’t travel well (I have a mini ironing board to aid this), not everywhere lets you use a washing machine, hotel laundrette services are usually dire, Johnsons is a rip off, not everywhere has a dryer so if you don’t time it right you have wet clothes to travel with, jeans take 2-3 working days to air dry Jesus I could go on. No one ever told me doing my washing (laundry if you’re from across the pond) would be the biggest weekly challenge so let me tell you, it will be.
5. Keeping in contact with friends and family
Loneliness is a massive problem in the locum world across all professions, but it doesn’t have to be! Although you are always working with new people and new teams, you can sometimes feel left out. This is completely normal, some of those members of staff have 18 years history with each other and you have 18 minutes. Staying in contact with your family and friends is a fantastic way of combating this as you never really feel away from home. It’s never been easier with smartphones, particularly facetime being HD and with no lag it’s amazing to see your pet respond to your voice all the way back home instead of a lifeless photo. I am constantly in contact with my friends via WhatsApp and almost every day I’ll have a phone call with one of them. If I’m honest, I speak to my friends more now than I did back home, and it makes seeing them even more special when I go back! It takes 2 seconds to send your nan a text, never forget to update your family because they will miss you too!
On the previous paragraph, if being on your own in a far-away place 41 miles from a Nando’s is your idea of hell, this really isn’t for you. If you want to network, discover new places, take up new hobbies, try new food, immerse yourself in another British culture, make new friends, learn about yourself, challenge yourself then this isn’t the lifestyle you want, it’s the lifestyle you need!
The stay away life has big costs, especially in remote areas! Accommodation can be £300-400 a week and you may not get reimbursed that for 6 weeks after you’ve completed your stay away. It took me 3 months to get my first week of accommodation to be paid back and I do still have to chase the occasional week of expenses. This can leave you a couple grand out of pocket before you’ve even been paid. You can take advantage of your hosts free breakfasts and snacks, or you can do what I do and try and find amazing food all across the country! It is to be noted that the cost of living in these areas is just more expensive, fuel is 10% more expensive, food is generally more expensive when eating out than back home, pints are about £4, Freddo’s can be 70p and parking can be extortionate.
The way I see it? It is a small price to pay to live in such beauty with such unique opportunities at your door.
7. Consistency and personal organisation
This can be one of the hardest things to achieve whilst living out the back of your car from Airbnb to hotel to guesthouse without feeling like you are all over the place. My first few weeks of stay aways I really didn’t know what was going on or where any of my personal belongings were. I literally took the biggest hold-all I could find, and it would take me ages to dig out a shirt for work, some clean clothes or a pair of underwear. This valuable time spent frantically searching for my Calvins would cause further issues as now my clothes would be all over the floor for the third time today, creased and no longer folded neatly. I quickly realised that splitting my baggage into 2 separate bags and logging an itinerary of their contents in my iPhone notes allowed me to only take 2 or 3 smaller bags rather than 1 huge bag.
To stop myself feeling like I was all over the place I made minor changes like bringing my own cutlery and crockery for some consistency. These home comforts allowed me to recreate my daily home routine in another person’s house and brought back some familiarity that I was used to. I swear to god a cup of tea tastes different when it’s made in another mug, and some bowls just don’t quite fit 2 Weetabix in. One thing I have mastered is the ability to get in any shower and instantly work it without giving myself 3rd degree burns to realise which way is hot or cold.
I do know some locums who do stayaways that take their own pillow so they can guarantee a good night sleep every night. Whatever gives you the routine you’re used to back home, try and bring it with you as you will feel settled a lot quicker than without it. Remember, although this feels like a holiday you are there for work and you need to be bringing your A game to the pharmacy every day.
This is most definitely my favourite part of staying away, it’s where I get to exercise my true sense of adventure! I was pretty shy at the start, but after hearing recommendations from the staff I was working with I started to speak to locals. Bar staff, waiters, shop assistants soon gave me the way of finding the most authentic experience whilst I was there. I employ this tactic to scout out decent areas and pharmacies to work in or avoid too.
There’s an old saying that is “shy babies don’t get sweets”, so say hello to someone, you might learn something new and beneficial to yourself. This next point is for anyone who may be shy or doesn’t know how to strike a conversation with someone they don’t know. My grandmother has a life leson for you “everyone is an expert in something, and everyone knows something you don’t, try and find out what it is”. If you go into a conversation trying to find out those 2 things, I guarantee it will flow naturally and a lot better than the usual “hey, how are you” people attempt.
I brought my bike with me the second time I came down and throughout summer I would ride it 20-30 miles a night to truly discover the areas I was in! In my bag was a hefty bike lock so I could stop wherever I wanted without finding somewhere to park, and I kept fit at the same time! I find when I’m on my bike I learn so much more about an area as you take in everything at a slower pace! It is by far the easiest and most convenient way to get around providing the weather is nice…
9. Unexpected issues and how to resolve them
Okay, so you can never really change what happens to you, but you can change how you react to it. No one can prepare you for the unexpected so it’s best you have a plan A, B and C for a lot of situations. Some things you can’t wing and some things can be completely unpredictable, so let’s talk about some of the ways you can prevent this. Maintaining your car is the absolute priority here when working away, especially if you depend on your vehicle to get from A to B, but if A to B is 30+ miles away each way a day, you won’t be getting a taxi if it breaks down. I can hear my father saying “you can never do too many oil changes” in the back of my head but annoyingly, like most of the time, he’s right! Drop the oil every 5000 miles and you’ll get years out of your car!
So, do you have breakdown cover, have you maintained your vehicle, has it been recently serviced and have all advisory MOT’s been addressed etc. Back on the Wirral I have many friends who will be able to sort anything within a week but when you’re 340 miles away who can you trust, and who can you go to? As aforementioned in the cost sector, things cost more when living away, so going to Mercedes for a service or repair may be £156 an hour in labour, but that comes with a guarantee, a courtesy car and peace of mind. Bob’s garage may be cheaper but is it the same standard? Also, if the repair was guaranteed by a larger company you can take it to any autocentre if it fails.
Sadly in Torquay my window was put through for no reason, but I saw this at 08:45 as I was walking to work and was due in for 9am. Angry, upset, alone and a long way from home I did panic a little bit, I had 15 minutes to sort a broken window, get my head together and get to work which had 40 methadone daily patients who all started collecting from 9am. My host was kind enough to call a neighbour and put my car on his gated drive and I dropped it off at Halfords on my lunch for it to be sorted. That has got to be the most challenging day I have ever had in a pharmacy, but I wouldn’t have changed any way I handled it.
Once I arrived at work only half an hour late, I had a crowd of people I had to navigate through who all shouted abuse which resembled the ‘SHAME!’ scene from Game of Thrones, but with a below average height clothed male, not Cersei.
Keeping yourself calm, conducted and professional in these situations will always make you come out on top. Whenever I am in a hairy situation like that, I resort to telling myself the basics such as “I’m in good health, it can be fixed, and I’ve got a job to do”.
I didn’t realise how hard it would be to stay active whilst away but in reality, it isn’t. There are many ways of exercising, I’ve already mentioned cycling, but I also run, I try and walk as much as I also do some home workouts. If this isn’t for you then joining a big chain like Puregym or JD may be suited for you as you can use any of their facilities nationwide.
I didn’t think there was much fitness outside of going to the gym and cardio but, moving away has opened my eyes to novel methods of fitness.
I promise you, you won’t get a more enjoyable full body workout than surfing! It’s by far my favourite form of exercise and definitely the most challenging! There are also so many beautiful walks to do around here that you can truly be at one with nature if that’s your thing.
I actually exercise a lot less since the start of the pandemic, and it’s because I occupy my time with so many alternative activities and I feel like the gym routine I had back home was so regimented it was almost unhealthy.
I titled this blog 10 things I wish someone told me but in reality, it’s 10 positives I didn’t know that existed and never would if I had I not moved. I don’t feel that there is never any opportunity anywhere, just different ones that you never knew were there. I am forever grateful I took the leap from stability to this new life I live, and in the first 10 weeks I learned more traits about myself than I did in the last 10 years.
If you are interested in becoming a Locum Pharmacist you can read all about it here!