It’s awesome to be a travel nurse. If you have any doubt just check out the hashtag #travelnurselife on Instagram. The pictures would make anyone want to put in their notice and hit the road! But alas, we are here to make sure you are empowered in your knowledge and that means telling you the ups and the downs of picking this life.
If I were to do it all over again, would I be a traveler? YES! But did I end up in a moldy Airbnb? Have awkward assignments with terrible management? Get tired and lonely being the new girl sometimes? YES! While I think there are more upsides to being a travel nurse than down, we can’t forget that for every amazing thing that comes with travel, there are some challenges and expectations we choose to take on, too. Let’s talk about what it really means to be a travel nurse: the good, the bad, and everything in between.
The pros of the travel nurse life:
- Travel nurse salary: Travel nurses typically earn more than permanent staff in large part because of tax-free money options.
- Living locally and awesome adventures on your days off: You can do as the locals do! Go to local festivals or the best family-owned restaurant in town. I always try to find the best coffee in town as my very first adventure ☕️. One time I stumbled upon a local Christmas event in Cambria, CA. It was called the Christmas Market and it had 2 million Christmas lights (not an exaggeration!) to walk through.
- You get comfortable with being uncomfortable: As a travel nurse, there is no shortage of opportunities to experience self-growth and development. You will constantly be learning about new clinical systems, new ways of life, what you like and don’t like. You will be challenged on the regular. It makes you and a stronger and more adaptable person. Those are some pretty awesome perks.
- Say goodbye to office politics: A short term contract means there isn’t enough time for you to get stuck in drama at work. Say no to gossip at the nurse’s station. Just don’t do it. Be that awesome traveler who everyone likes and who doesn’t get bogged down with drama that the perm staff might be in.
- Flexibility of time off: If you want to save up money to travel around Bali for a month, then you can do it! Or if you want to take 2 weeks off between your contracts just because, then go right ahead. No need to worry about getting a month of vacation approved. After you finish a contract, you don’t owe time to anyone but yourself! Not the hospital, not the staffing agency. You are free to live a schedule of intention and true control of work/life balance!
- Clinical growth: Experiencing so many ways different hospital systems and nurses treat around the country is an eye-opening experience. There is about a 110% chance you will grow as a clinician.
- Decreased burn out: Nurse burn out is a real thing. Getting increased time off, fewer politics, and a change of scenery can help loads with feeling burnt out as a nurse.
The cons and downside to being a travel nurse
- You will have to “hit the ground running” on assignments: You’ll be expected to be clinically competent right away. This is where those 2 years of experience you have to have to start traveling will come in handy. 😊
- No paid time off or sick days as a travel nurse: We only get paid for the hours we work. When I first learned about this, I was not thrilled. But it’s what we sign up for as contractors and it is fair. And I also realized, we typically make more money. With a bit of planning, I’d be able to save up a financial nest egg to cover me during time off. I would rather make more while I’m working, than less just in case I got sick one day.
- Finding short-term housing: While some companies offer to find you housing, that is the fastest way to make less money than you could. Find your own housing. But I will raise my hand high and admit, It might be the worst part of this lifestyle.
- Contracts can get canceled: The travel nurse lifestyle can be unpredictable. You could be 1,200 miles into your trip and already have signed a lease (ahem, try not to sign leases longer than 30 days at a time) …then the worst happens. The contract gets canceled. And we have no control over this and neither do our recruiters. The facilities and hospitals hold all the power on this one. Be ready to roll with it. (Also, make sure you have a two-week or four-week notice in your contract).
- Health insurance gaps: Depending on your staffing agency, there could an option for day one health insurance. This means, on your first day of work, you are covered. But it may mean as soon as your last day passes, you’re no longer covered. Or there are some that start the first of the month after you begin work. Or some that start within 28 days of your contract after the first month (what the heck!) …anyway, see what I mean? You easily could have gaps in coverage. Savvy travelers work with 3 companies and want to be able to easily switch between them. Getting your own insurance is a good move.
- Navigating recruiters and companies: Recruiters are salespeople. Many are friendly and nice and awesome humans. But almost all of them are working for commission checks and are incentivized to talk us into jobs or pay us less than they could. Knowing who to trust is hard! And it could cost you thousands of dollars a month if you have a bad recruiter who is underpaying you (in order to get their own check higher). You must have 3 recruiters you can trust. Use Nomadicare. We have an intense 3-hour interview that recruiters go through to get approved to get matched to you. And on top of that, we know which recruiters have access to jobs in which locations. We will match you to 2 or 3 recruiters that are truly honest, kind, and are more likely to have jobs where you want to go! It’s free.
You are not obligated to use the recruiters we match you with. But oh-my-goodness we are good at this and it will save you so much time!
These are all things to carefully weigh as you decide to take on life as a travel nurse. There are lots of players at hand, so it’s a lot to manage. But high risk…you guessed it! It means high reward. The freedom and discovery of travel is worth it for some, but it’s not the life for everyone.
Is travel nursing right for you?
How adaptable are you? Each hospital will be different and will have different resources. You have to do things their way, not your way. (Even if you are so sure your way is better).
Are you open-minded? You will be exposed to different ways of doing things, you will meet people and work with people from different backgrounds, you will live in completely different places. Keeping an open mind and eager to learn will help you be a successful travel nurse.
How confident are you? There will be times, probably a lot of times, that you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing. You’ll feel super uncomfortable, but that’s ok. The question is, are you confident enough to do the action while feeling uncomfortable? Are you confident enough to ask people you met yesterday where to find something or how to do something?
How are your clinical skills? There isn’t a lot of time for the hospital or other staff to teach you. Travel nursing is not here to mentor you. Having solid clinical skills is crucial. This brings me to my next question…
Are you self-motivated to learn? Since there isn’t a lot of time dedicated to your professional development, you will oftentimes have to take that into your own hands.
Do you practice daily gratitude? Some days will be harder than others. Finding the good in those challenging situations may be just what gets you through that day or that contract. Plus, we should all find something to be thankful for every day. Even if it’s just coffee we drank this morning or the wine you had after work. Daily gratitude (and coffee and wine 😉) is good for the soul!
Cheers to the good with the bad,