Travel Nursing

Travel Nurse Careers: Is Travel Nursing Right for You?

If you’re passionate about the work you do as a nurse, but your daily routine has become stale, it might be time to consider whether a travel nurse career is right for you. Travel nurses fill in temporarily when hospitals and other healthcare facilities experience staffing shortages for various reasons. They may work in one community for an extended period or move around to different cities or states every few weeks. Travel nursing can be highly lucrative and professionally rewarding, not to mention you get to travel essentially for free, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for you. We’ll help you answer this question and other frequently asked questions about travel nursing with a little help from an experienced traveler.

What Is a Travel Nurse?

Maybe you’ve heard of travel nursing or even know someone who has done it or is currently doing the job, but you still may not have a solid idea of what travel nurses do and why they’re needed. In a nutshell, travel nurses do the same jobs as staff nurses, only on temporary contracts at different facilities around the country.

Nurses can find travel nursing jobs on Vivian’s jobs marketplace and work with a travel staffing agency that partners with healthcare systems seeking travelers to fill their scheduling gaps, traditionally for 13 weeks at a time. Travel nursing isn’t for everyone, and you must ask yourself several questions to learn whether you’d enjoy a travel nurse career.

Do You Have the Flexibility to Travel?

While traveling offers a great deal of flexibility to the nurse, travel nurse recruiters and employers often expect travel nurses to have a significant amount of flexibility themselves. Recruiters and employers seek applicants who can take on jobs quickly, sometimes with as little as a week’s notice. They want applicants who can cover the required shifts, work the entire contract, float between units and/or facilities, adapt to new ways of doing things fast and be flexible on the job.

With experience, you learn to adapt quickly and provide the versatility needed on the job, but what about before the assignment begins? Being available for assignments and getting to them on time may require a great deal of flexibility, especially early in your travel nursing career when you have fewer assignments available due to your inexperience.

Travelers with family may face even greater challenges regarding flexibility. Can they leave their families whenever an assignment arises, or does it take time to arrange for someone to stay with them? If you travel nurse with your family, can you pack everyone up and take them across the country on short notice? Even furry, four-legged family members can put a kink in how quickly you can jet off to a new assignment. However, you can work around these constraints with the right agency and recruiter.

“Flexibility is a key factor as to why people choose travel nursing as a career,” said Jeremy Commisso, former cath lab and critical care travel nurse, turned founder and CEO of Nurse First Travel Agency. Nurse First is a travel nurse staffing agency that prioritizes and advocates for nurses’ needs first.

“Being a new travel nurse requires a certain level of flexibility as far as location and time commitments, but it also offers a lot of flexibility in terms of getting assignments that best fit your lifestyle preferences, nurse specialization and family’s needs,” he said. “You have a choice on all these preferences, which is great but can be overwhelming. This is why it’s important to always communicate with your travel nurse agency because they can help choose the perfect placement for you.”

Do You Have What It Takes to Be Alone?

Travel nursing can be lonely

Traveling alone to unfamiliar places can be scary to some people. Will you know how to navigate a new city and stay safe while traveling on your own? If you can’t take your family with you, are you okay with being alone much of the time? Can you handle the loneliness and be okay with just seeing your family and friends over video chat for several weeks?

“If you have an assignment your family cannot travel to, it might be difficult at first,” Commisso said. “But with creativity and consistency, the absence can become more bearable.”

As a travel nurse, you’re typically at each assignment for a short period, so making friends at each new location can be difficult. Assignments at facilities with understaffing issues are often hectic, with little time off, making it even more difficult to have a social life between shifts.

Because travel nurses typically earn more than perm nurses, staff members might not be all that friendly. Adding a hostile work environment to the mix can make you feel alienated and enhance your loneliness.

In September 2022, Zippia reported that the employment of travel nurses in the United States totaled nearly 1.7 million, with about 84% of them women. If you choose to travel alone, talk with experienced travel nurses to learn how they adapted and ensured their safety. However, you don’t have to go alone if you don’t want to.

“Many people still believe that travel nursing isn’t a possible career opportunity for those who have families,” said Commisso. “There’s a misconception that travelers are always on the go and don’t have the capacity to make time for their loved ones, which is simply not true. Travel nurses have the flexibility and control to make their careers work for them regardless of their circumstances.”

He explained that some travelers only work during specific seasons or in certain regions, while others travel with their significant others or families. Taking either route may mean you don’t have to adapt to being alone.

“With an increase in hybrid and remote work for more traditional fields, having a travel companion join you is becoming even more popular among travel nurses,” Commisso said. ”For travel nurses who have young children, some nurses may choose to accept contracts when their children are on breaks and their families can come with them.”

“Also, extended and short-term assignments allow nurses to determine how long they want to be away and whom they want to bring. This is why it’s important to stay in communication with agencies and recruiters because they can help accommodate all the travelers’ needs.”

Another false narrative that Commisso pointed out was that the only way travel nursing could be profitable is if the traveler takes contracts across the country. However, he said many local opportunities exist that allow travel nurses to work and earn good money while remaining at home with their families.

Cons of a Travel Nurse Career

Everyone has heard many times that travel nurses earn more than their staff equivalents earn, but is the extra money you make really worth being constantly on the move and away from family and friends? Let’s look at three potentially significant drawbacks to help you determine whether a travel nurse career is a good move for you.

1. Multiple License Requirements

Travel nurses must have an active license in each state where they plan to work, which requires advanced planning and additional funds to obtain and maintain each license. However, if your primary state of residence adopted the Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC) and you meet the Uniform Licensure Requirements for a multistate license, you can practice in all other Compact states without further licensure requirements.

The eNLC made it easier for nurses to travel, but not all states have joined. As of October 2022, 35 states were part of the Compact, with one more enacting the eNLC but still awaiting implementation. Thus, at the time of this writing, 15 states and Washington, D.C., weren’t part of the Compact. If you take any travel assignments in these areas, you must apply for licensure by endorsement and receive a single-state license valid only in that state.

Luckily, many travel nurse agencies help you obtain additional licenses and may even pay your licensing fees. On the downside, you must keep track of when each renewal is due, and you’ll likely have to pay the renewal fees yourself if you want to maintain the license for possible future assignments.

2. The Many Logistics of Traveling

Moving constantly from one assignment to another can become exhausting and stressful. Even if you work with an agency, you’re often responsible for making your own travel arrangements. If you take the housing stipend, you also must secure temporary accommodations at each new location.

Although your agency may reimburse you for travel expenses, you usually pay these expenses up front and must wait for your reimbursement, tying up a potentially large amount of funds. Unfortunately, many agencies only pay half your travel reimbursement on the first paycheck and hold onto the other half until the last paycheck to encourage you to complete your contract.

What’s even worse than waiting on your money is many agencies cap travel expenses, and this amount seldom covers the actual cost of getting to your new assignment. Not only are you footing part of the bill yourself, but now you must go to the additional trouble of saving receipts for unreimbursed expenses so you can claim them as deductions on your taxes.

Besides the monetary issues, other factors related to constant traveling that could increase your stress level include the following:

  • Adjusting to time changes when moving between time zones
  • Adapting to new living spaces and new cities
  • Being unprepared to deal with unfamiliar weather patterns
  • Arranging for medical insurance between contracts
  • Paying new patient fees to doctors, dentists and optometrists in each new city
  • Adapting to new routines, facilities, nursing departments, equipment and personnel
  • Working undesirable hours, weekends and holidays

3. Varying Pay Rates Impact Budgeting

Each new assignment you take likely pays a different amount, making it difficult to create and stick to a budget. Pay differences may have an even bigger impact if you don’t do your due diligence and check out the cost of living in the city where you’re traveling to work.

While a contract may appear lucrative, if you’re moving to a high-cost area, you’re likely not going to pocket as much as anticipated. Poor planning could break the bank and leave you in dire straits when covering expenses and waiting on reimbursements.

Even worse, if your contract gets canceled and you’re stuck in an expensive city while looking for a replacement gig, your finances could really feel the pinch. Irregular income causes even further stress for nurses with costly student loans and other debts they’re trying to budget for and pay off.

Why Nurses Should Still Consider Traveling

Travel nurse career perks

Despite the many negative aspects of travel nursing, just as many pros often make it worth pursuing. Commisso explained why he feels nurses should still consider a travel nurse career despite all the cons.

“Travel nursing is an incredible opportunity to accumulate knowledge and new skills and earn a lucrative salary,” he said. “It’s also one of the best ways to see the world while pursuing your passion for working in healthcare. While travel nursing isn’t without difficulty, the pros far outweigh the cons for those interested in a more nomadic approach to work.”

The following are his top four benefits to travel nursing:

1. Control Where and When You Work

“Travel nursing allows individuals to relocate easily based on their personal and professional needs and aspirations. A permanent position within a hospital or doctor’s office will come with time and location restrictions, whereas travel nursing empowers nurses to choose where they work, when they work and how often they work.”

2. Opportunity for Career Building

“Traveling the country allows nurses to expand their professional network, connect with colleagues across the nation and make valuable contributions and connections in the communities they serve. By learning from other nurses and healthcare professionals, a travel nurse has the opportunity to learn new hard and soft skills and techniques.”

3. Great Pay Benefits

“Travel nursing is a lucrative career. Since the job can be demanding, travel nurses often see an increase in salary, relocation benefits and even housing stipends. While salaries can vary by state and job demand, generally, travel nurses earn more than traditional staff nurses. Tax incentives and related perks are also part of the package.”

4. Travel for a Living

“The foundation of travel nursing is travel! Relocation is a requirement for the career, and nursing is in high demand throughout the country, providing even more opportunities for nurses to tap into the world of travel nursing. The stability behind the position allows travel nurses to see the country, earn a living and make valuable connections while experiencing new and different places.”

Final Considerations

A travel nurse career has many things to consider, with several pros and cons that impact your decision. It’s a unique opportunity that works great for some healthcare professionals, while others don’t have the means to make the lifestyle work for them or find it more stressful than it’s worth. If you’ve never tried travel nursing, but it’s something you’ve considered, learn as much as you can about it before taking that first contract and make sure you know what to expect. Travel nursing may be an ideal career move if you have a passion for navigating new sights, learning from your peers and helping others in facilities around the nation.

Do you have any helpful tips for nurses considering a travel nurse career? Please share them in the comments below.

moira
Moira K. McGhee

Moira K. McGhee is Vivian’s Content Writer & Editor. As part of the Vivian Health team, she strives to help support the empowerment of nurses and other medical professionals in their pursuits to find top-notch travel, staff, per diem and local contract positions.

Comments (2)

I am very interested in this position

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Hi Nora, and thanks for reaching out. If you’re interested in a travel nursing job, please view the current jobs posted on Vivian, found here: https://www.vivian.com/nursing/travel/. If you have any questions about our website, please feel free to use the “Contact Vivian” option under the Resources tab to reach our 24/7 help desk for further assistance. We wish you the best of luck in your job search and hope we can make the search easier for you!

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