Carpe diem

6 states in 12 months: A guide to life on the road during fourth year

Fourth year is what you make it. Rachel Pray, OMS IV, shares how she embraced travel and adventure as much as possible during her fourth year.


As a medical student, I have often felt like my life is on hold due to the demanding schedule and requirements of my training. I have no doubt that medicine is what I am truly meant to do, but it is easy to watch peers in different careers traveling across the world with more time, money and control over their lives, and be hit by an overwhelming wave of jealousy and FOMO.

One of my main goals when I began medical school was to do my best to continue living life by enjoying small moments and fully taking advantage of time off when I had it. With that being said, I have spent my final year of medical school traveling across the country in my car, living in six different states as I complete my audition and elective rotations.

Here’s how I’m doing it, and how you can too!

Step 1: Save money by ditching the lease

I didn’t resign my lease from third year and this allowed me to save money on rent and utilities, and instead use that money for gas, alternative lodging, food, more experiences, extra car maintenance and random costs that came up.

Step 2: Consolidate your belongings

I went through a rigorous process of deciding what I needed to keep. I donated/sold all my furniture and extra clothes and consolidated my belongings so they would fit in my car.

To deal with my furniture, I posted it on Facebook Marketplace and also reached out to local discount furniture resale stores.

For my clothes, while I was deciding what to keep, I asked myself: “Is this something I would want to wear a year from now?”

Here are my tips for paring down your belongings before fourth year:

  • Post on Facebook Marketplace early—at least one week before moving day so people have time to see it and you can negotiate, if necessary. 
  • If you can’t fit everything in your car, consider keeping it with family, friends or in a storage unit. Getting a storage unit for $75-$200 a month is a lot cheaper than resigning an apartment lease just to store your stuff.
  • Donate clothes to local organizations such as women’s shelters and churches. 

Step 3: Figure out lodging

I started off by reaching out to friends and family across the country, asking if I could stay with them for a month during rotations, then began planning my elective rotations accordingly. I am a Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) student, so two of my rotations were sponsored by the military, which definitely helped. Below is a list of the lodging I have used this year:

  • Two months in hotels, sponsored by the military
  • One month at an intern’s house (I was auditioning at that residency program, and he lived in a three-bedroom house)
  • Two months in an Airbnb that was a bedroom and bathroom with a private entrance, connected to a couple’s house
  • One month with my extended family
  • Four total months with my parents
  • One month hosted by friend (on an air mattress in the living room of his apartment)

Tips to acquire cheap/free lodging as a fourth-year medical student:

  • Reach out to friends and family and ask if you can stay with them for a month.
  • Live with your parents/family for part of the year if this is an option. 
  • Reach out to residency programs and ask if any residents would be willing to house you while you complete your rotation. 
  • Use sites like, which is run by medical students and helps students and hosts find and post sublet options. 
  • Look up the roommate Facebook pages of local colleges near rotations. College students in major cities are always looking for people to sublet a room in their apartments for cheap when friends study abroad or won’t be there.
  • Get a good credit card that gives points for hotels/flights. You can start using it at the beginning of the year, then use points to pay for hotels later on.
  • Airbnb/hotels (obviously more expensive)

Step 4: Always stay safe!

It is incredibly important to be safe while on the road! Some ways I’ve done this include:

  • Sharing my iPhone location with several people I trust—including friends and family.
  • Ensuring my phone is charged while driving and when walking around cities.
  • Constantly staying aware of my surroundings and being sure to not look down at my phone in parking lots or unfamiliar areas.
  • Not walking alone at night.
  • Not disclosing the location I’m staying at in these areas to anyone new that I meet.
  • Always trusting my gut and removing myself from situations that make me uncomfortable.
  • I do not let my gas tank get lower than about 25%, because I do not want to be stranded on the side of any unfamiliar roads or highways.

Step 5: Stay healthy 

Eating healthy while on the road can be difficult, especially because fast food tends to be cheaper and more accessible. I also had very inconsistent access to gyms, and paused my normal gym membership during this time. I used hospital gyms, ran when I could, and just tried to get as many steps in as possible when I could. I highly recommend investing in some cooking supplies such as a rice cooker, coffee machine, portable water boiler, plug-in two-burner stove top and an air fryer. Have a set of metal silverware, reusable Tupperware, a few bowls/plates and plastic cups. If you have these items, you can cook meals without a full kitchen. Some other tips to eat healthy while on the road:

  • Rotisserie chickens are $5-$7 at Walmart or Costco. Get one and take all the meat off—you now have 4-6 servings of already cooked chicken for meals! Other ideas can include:
  • If you are vegetarian—beans are also very cheap and, if you purchase canned beans, they do not need to be stored in a fridge/prepped.
  • Bags of frozen veggies are great to just throw in the microwave!
  • Nuts and fruit make great healthy snacks and can be reasonably priced. 
  • Trader Joe’s has great options for frozen meals with 2-4 servings in each of them, ranging from $4-10. They can be microwaved or cooked in a pan. 

What I am getting out of this experience

I have lived in six states and spent at least a weekend in a total of 18 states so far this year.

I am so proud of myself for taking this leap and taking advantage of my fourth year of medical school. I’m extremely grateful that I have been able to spend time with my family, as I moved 1,000+ miles away from home for medical school and have not seen my family much during this time. I spent one month with my extended family at their house in Texas while doing a hand surgery rotation, and will have spent a collective four months with my parents and sister by the end of this year while completing rotations close to my hometown.

Some of my favorite memories from this year include spending one month in DC, where I fully embraced the process and slept on an air mattress in the living room of one of my closest college friends (who was kind enough to host me for the month). While I was there, I saw a close high school friend, a military medicine friend, met new friends, networked with amazing physicians, spent quality time with my friend that hosted me, and I even ran into an old college friend while walking on the street!

I also had time this year to visit one of my closest college friends that I hadn’t seen for almost five years (who is an OMS II at Touro University Nevada College of Osteopathic Medicine), where I thoroughly enjoyed amazing coffee at the local Las Vegas coffee shops while we caught up.

Where I’m headed next

I participated in both the Military Match and the NRMP Match, and in December 2023, I was ecstatic to receive a categorical internal medicine spot at an amazing active-duty Air Force internal medicine residency program. My goal is to be the best internal medicine resident I can be, then pursue a gastroenterology fellowship in the Air Force.

My fourth-year experience has expanded my perspective of the world, reminded me that there is more to life than medicine and our careers, and inspired me to already start planning trips during my scant vacation time (lol) during intern year!

I highly recommend traveling and living in the moment as much as you can during your fourth year of medical school.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

Related reading:

Making time for the little joys of life amid the bustle of medicine

Weighing your options: Should you pursue a research year?

Leave a comment Please see our comment policy