Locuming 101: How to be at home, wherever you are

Anyone who has ever travelled will know that while it can be exciting, energising and enlightening, it can also be tiring, frustrating and challenging at times. No matter how wonderful a trip away has been, there’s always something special about looking out of the window at the familiar landmarks as your plane makes its final descent towards home. As I’m getting further into my locuming journey, I’m confronting the interesting situation of being “away” more than “home.” The question then arises: How do I minimise that feeling of displacement so that I can feel at home wherever I am? I’m onto my third locum placement now and slowly starting to get the hang of it, and I’ve been lucky enough to have learnt some tips and tricks from other locums who I’ve met along the way. So here are a few ideas about how to feel at home away from home.

1. The locum survival kit

Locum accommodation is of variable quality and may be anything from a shabby unit to a brand new house. It might have lots of supplies or it may be very sparsely equipped. You generally won’t know what’s in the accommodation until you get there so it’s worth taking a few supplies with you so you’ll have what you need to be comfortable:

  • Pantry staples eg oil, vinegar, sugar, tea, coffee, salt, pepper or whatever you use frequently that you don’t want to buy a new packet of every time.
  • Take something to eat for breakfast on your first day, in case you don’t have time to get to the shops beforehand.
  • Kitchen and cleaning supplies eg zip-lock backs for food storage, bin liners, dishwashing detergent, dishcloth, laundry washing powder.
  • Kitchen knife or knife sharpener. There is a general consensus that knives in locum accommodation are universally terrible. If this is likely to frustrate, then BYO.
  • Hair dryer. Nothing worse than having to go to bed with wet hair so it will have time to air dry before work the next day.
  • Portable wireless internet. Don’t assume your accommodation will have internet, usually it wont.
  • Your indulgence, if you have one. I love relaxing with a freshly brewed pot of my favourite loose leaf tea and compromise when travelling by taking a ziploc bag of tea and a mesh ball to brew it in. My friend Julia loves her coffee so brings her stove-top coffee pot with her on her locum trips.
View from locum accommodation, kununurra

View from locum accommodation, Kununurra

2. Don’t live out of a suitcase

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m inherently untidy, so it’ll all too easy to leave my belongings permanently overflowing from a suitcase rather than having it neatly put away into drawers and cupboards. I’ve had to make a new rule that every time I go somewhere for more than 3 days and also when I arrive home, I must unpack my suitcase within 24 hours. It’s amazing what a difference it makes to have your things put away in their place to making it feel more like home.

3. Do the things that make you feel like yourself.

When I’m at home, I like sitting in nice cafes with a latte and a good book, jogging, listening to music and browsing markets. There’s no reason I can’t do those things when I’m away but it sometimes takes a bit more effort when you’re unfamiliar with the town. I’ve started making a habit of asking people when I meet them “where is the best coffee in town?” or “where is a nice place to go for a run?” or “where’s a good place to have a quiet glass of wine on a Friday night?”. This can help you get to know the town beyond the four walls of the workplace, and also helps you to discover like-minded people if you’re looking for company.

View from an evening run in Kununurra

View from an evening run in Kununurra


4. Find the things that are unique about the area

There are so many amazing things to do and places to see in Australia, so why not try and find out what makes your temporary home unique? I don’t mind being a tourist on my days off so the tourist information office is always one of the first places I visit. Some highlights for me so far have been; wine tasting in the Great Southern, swimming in natural hot springs at El Questro Station, shopping for opals in White Cliffs and horse riding in Kununurra. I’m also a bit of a foodie so discovering the best local restaurants and produce is another great perk of travelling.

(Note: It’s worthwhile having a general idea before you go of what you might be getting up to outside of work so you can pack appropriately. Hiking through a steep gorge carrying a partly torn shopping bag in the absence of a suitable backpack is both very inconvenient and likely to attract ridicule from cocky tour guides!)

Chamberlain Gorge, El Questro

Chamberlain Gorge, El Questro

5. Stay connected

Of course “home” is more than just a physical place, it is also the relationships with friends and family that give that sense of belonging. Luckily it is very easy to stay in touch with loved ones via the phone, email, skype etc. I’m probably more active on facebook when I’m travelling as a way of feeling in touch with people, and I’ll ring up family members for a chat “just because”.  I also find twitter to be really useful in allowing me to interact with lots of other people from all over the state / country / world, even if I have never met them before. To me this is hugely important in reducing isolation and loneliness.

6. Make new friends

One of the great things I’ve found about country towns is that people are generally friendly and welcoming so you can make new friends pretty easily. However, it might require you to step outside of your comfort zone, at least initially. I’ve had a few awkward occasions where I’ve turned up to dinner with people that I’ve never met before, but gradually as I’ve got to know people better I’ve been rewarded with some really good value friendships. Worst case scenario, at least you have some company for the evening and have a few more familiar faces around at work. My policy to never say “no” to an invite has so far turned out to be a good one. Or better yet, be the person that initiates the social gathering. You never know who might also be on there own and looking for some company.

7. Live in the moment

It would be an awful shame to always be counting down the days until you finish your placement and go home. Life is for living and I encourage you to embrace every opportunity that comes your way and enjoy the privilege of being able to explore so many great places while making a living. There aren’t very many professions with which you can be paid to travel to pretty much anywhere you want to go, provide a valued service to an appreciative community and do some really interesting work. My enthusiasm for the great open road may wane eventually but for now, I’m very much enjoying the journey.

Are you a frequent traveller? Share your tips below or tweet me @nomadicgp.

4 thoughts on “Locuming 101: How to be at home, wherever you are

  1. Ha! This brought back memories and made me feel old at the same time!
    I spent 2 years doing Locums in rural South Australia in 93-94. Reflecting back a few things have changed! There was no Skype, no email, certainly no twitter or Facebook! There was no nationwide registration so I never looked to expand my working travel outside SA!
    I took my SLR camera with me and enjoyed doing my own B&W developing and printing in the nice little X-ray darkrooms in all the local hospitals!
    The digital world has had a huge impact over the last 20 years!
    However- some things don’t change! Saying YES to all dinner invites is wise advice. As is venturing out for a walk or a run (which was a little harder pre-mobile phone days! A pager that just beeped at you might have been “Can Mrs Jones have 2 pandadol?” … or “Can you get here right now cos Mrs Jones has arrested”!)
    Locum work is a great way of exploring the countryside as well as figuring out what sort of practice appeals to you for a more permanent commitment.
    Enjoy the locumming, Penny!

    • Thanks for your comments, Alison!
      Yes I’m already collecting some great memories (and a few good photos my my) so I’m sure in 20 years time I’ll be able to reminisce fondly about my days as a locum. The mind boggles to think how different the world will be then!

  2. Pingback: Locum tips for GP Locums

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