Traveling Lives: Nurse and Humanitarian Emily Scott
Emily Scott is a labor and delivery nurse based in Seattle who regularly volunteers for humanitarian medical missions around the globe. Emily and her husband, Aaron, believe that travel can be a “force for good,” and they share their ethical travel tips and off-the-beaten-path adventures on their blog, Two Dusty Travelers.
NAME: Emily Scott
RESIDENCE: Seattle, Washington
OCCUPATION: Labor and Delivery Nurse
How have you made your life a “traveling life” and why?
I pursued a career in nursing because I wanted a skill that would allow me to travel anywhere in the world. I have striven for flexibility in my work life so that I can travel and go on humanitarian medical missions as often as possible. Last year I was able to take a month off to volunteer in a refugee camp in Uganda and also travel to Australia, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Aruba just for fun!
Here’s how I do it: For most hospital nurses, “full time” means working three 12-hour shifts a week, which leaves us with lots of time off. I actually work per diem, which means that I’m only required to work two shifts in every six-week period, but I can pick up as many extra shifts as I want. So I can work a lot of shifts in a row, and then take a few weeks off to travel without having to ask for vacation time. Per diem positions don’t come with benefits, so I’m lucky to be on my husband’s health insurance. And I have to be organized and make sure I work enough extra shifts to make up for all the time I take off unpaid. But so far, it has turned out perfectly for me!
How did you first get the travel bug? What are some of your first travel memories?
I’ve had the travel bug ever since I was a small child. My parents always brought me along on vacations to sunny destinations in order to escape the dreary Seattle winters. We usually ended up at resort in Mexico or Hawaii, so I have lots of memories of running on the beach and playing in the pool until somebody dragged me out at sunset.
When I started adventuring on my own, my travel style really changed. I volunteered in Kenya when I was a junior in college and absolutely fell in love. I realized I wanted to get away from big resorts and have more genuine interactions and experiences with local life.
Nowadays I seek out off-the-beaten path destinations and get excited to visit places that many tourists would never consider. I’m passionate about traveling ethically and sustainably and supporting local communities whenever possible. I still love a lazy day on the beach with a great book, though!
What is your most significant travel memory?
I volunteered to treat Ebola patients in Sierra Leone during the unprecedented outbreak in West Africa. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but I knew that I would never forgive myself if I chose not to help when I could have. It was incredibly challenging both physically and emotionally, but I came out of it feeling empowered because I had proved to myself how much I was capable of.
I vividly remember my first day in the Red Zone (where we treated patients, wearing the hazmat suits everyone saw on the news). A patient was bleeding and I knew how infectious that blood was, but I also knew I couldn’t help him unless I touched it. I had to consciously decide to trust my protective equipment and just go for it. Once my gloves were dirty and the world didn’t end, I felt like: “Ok, I can do this.”
That experience also affected my beliefs about humanitarian aid and the ethics of the organizations I work with abroad. It helped me set high standards for making sure that any project I’m part of is carried out responsibly and in true partnership with the local community.
What advice do you have for others who want to incorporate more travel into their lives?
Don’t be afraid to do things that scare you. I used to daydream with my husband about all the traveling we would do “someday”, decades down the road, when we could afford to work part time. But then I started going after what I really wanted, even though it scared me. I asked for leaves of absence from work to go on medical missions that I was passionate about; at one point I quit my job so we could travel for six months, not knowing if I’d be able to get it back when I returned; and finally I took the per diem position, which was scary at first in its lack of stability.
All of these things gave me knots in my stomach when I first did them, but now I’m so incredibly glad that I took the plunge anyway. The thought that so many of us are waiting for the “right time” to start living the lives we really want just breaks my heart.
I’m not saying sell your house and quit your job to become a nomad without a plan, but take some calculated risks even if it makes you nervous. In my experience, the opportunities that scare you the most end up leading you to the most amazing places.
What’s one lesson that you’ve learned through your travels?
People are the same everywhere. I was so nervous going into my homestay the first time I traveled to Kenya. Would they speak English? Would they have backwards views about women? Would we have anything in common at all?
It turned out they spoke English more properly than I do, and I spent most of my time in their home just sitting and talking with my host brothers because we got along so well. I ended up feeling closer to them than I do to people who live down the street from me. No matter what country, religion or background you’re from, we all still have the same basic hopes and fears. Borders are arbitrary and poor indicators of where you’ll meet people you love. Travel has a way of making us remember that.
What are your tips for finding an ethical and sustainable volunteer opportunity?
Do your research! Every nonprofit has a fancy website full of lofty mission statements, but that doesn’t always translate to reality on the ground. I’ve been disappointed by organizations I had looked up to for years after getting the chance to actually work with them.
I always ask to speak to someone who has volunteered with the organization before. A quick phone conversation will reveal whether they’ve even considered ethics and sustainability in their projects. I like to ask: What is the organization’s relationship like with the local community? How do they put power back into the hands of locals? How do they ensure the project is sustained after volunteers leave?
What’s your next trip and what’s your bucket list trip?
My next trip is to El Salvador! I booked it on a whim after seeing so many travelers defend it when Trump called it a “sh*ithole” country. I’m super excited to see it for myself and prove him wrong!
My bucket list trip is road tripping around southern Africa in a Land Rover with a rooftop tent. My husband and I took a short test run in Kenya, and we definitely learned a lot (and survived despite breaking down in the middle of a remote national park!). I’m hoping to make the longer trip reality next summer!