To Travel or Not to Travel
Updated: Jan 10
While there is a definite appeal to travel nursing it is not for everyone. I will let you in on the good, the bad, and the ugly and hopefully it can help you decide if this is the life for you.
There is much flexibility in where you work.
You tell your recruiter where you want to work and they take care of the rest. They find jobs as close to your ideal location as possible. So if you are like me and you're always looking for a new place to explore then this is a way that you can do that and make money too.
There is much flexibility in how long you work in a certain location.
The shortest contracts are one day, but that is not the usual. Thirteen-week contracts are not uncommon, although there are some that are much shorter and some that are much longer.
You work when you want to work
I have a friend who worked only six months out of the year and took the rest of the year off. You can take as much time off as you want in between contracts, and you can even arrange for time off during contracts. The catch? Your time off will undoubtedly be unpaid. So you have the flexibility to take off what you can afford to take off. Now there are travel companies that will offer vacation time, but I haven't seen it often.
The money is good (but not as good as you may think).
You will most likely be getting paid more than the staff nurses where you work, but you will also be duplicating your living expenses so you need to take that into consideration when you are selecting a contract.
You can take as much time off as you want, but it is all unpaid. There is no vacation time.
While you may be paid more than the staff nurses where you work you will also have additional expenses such as housing, car rentals, and travel costs to factor in. Also, the costs of certifications, credentials, and licensure may or may not be covered by your agency. While your company does cover certain expenses, travel for example there is usually a limit to the amount they will pay. Discuss all of these expenses with your recruiter and make sure that what they agree to cover is listed in your contract.
You will constantly be looking for a job. And let's face it that can be exhausting. Working 13 week contracts could put you at four different places in a year. But a lot of hospitals will give you the option to extend your contract if you wish to do so. Just keep in mind that a year in any place makes it your new home and you will lose your tax-free stipends if you exceed that time. If you have any questions about taxes I recommend you put them to a tax specialist and not your recruiter or fellow travel nurses.
Your schedule may fluctuate (a lot).
Some hospitals will give you a set schedule to work for the length of your contract. And others will have you work a different schedule every week. Some will have their schedules ready months in advance and some places won't give you your schedule until the day before your contract starts. This can be a hard adjustment for anyone with family or any kind of life at all. Many travelers request block scheduling. But you have to request it. And they have to agree. If not, don't expect this.
You will constantly be new.
Remember what it was like when you started your last job. It can be awkward and uncomfortable when you get to a new place. You won't know where anything is no matter how many scavenger hunts they send you on. The nurses may have been friendly, but that's not always the case. Eventually you learn your way around and everyone starts to accept you. Now imagine doing that over and over and over again. That will essentially be your life as a traveler.
Traveling solo? If not, there are some unique challenges to face when traveling with pets or family. In particular, it can be very challenging to find housing when you need private housing or one that is pet friendly.
and the Ugly
Ever heard of "dumping"?
Dumping is what we call it when you get the worst of the worst. You may end up with the worst assignment. You may end up assigned to all of the combative patients or anyone who happens to have diarrhea. You may notice that you have more patients than the staff nurses all of the time or all of the most critical patients. Dumping is not uncommon as a traveler. And it can definitely be frustrating.
Every place is not traveler friendly
You will hear travelers refer to places as "traveler friendly" or "not traveler friendly" and that is a simple way to describe their experience at a hospital or on a particular unit. If a unit is traveler friendly they treat you like one of their own or pretty close to it. When a place is not traveler friendly it can mean a lot of different things. Sometimes nurses are very blunt and they will say, "I don't like travelers because ....." (insert generalization that they apply to all travelers). But most often the dislike is covert. It may be manifested as dumping, which I discussed previously in this article. It may be that you find yourself excluded from lunch plans. You may ask for help finding a bedpan and get snide comments in return. There are a hundred ways they can show you that they don't like you, but overall the effect is the same. You feel miserable and uncomfortable and want to get out as soon as you can.
This is one of the most unfortunate things about travel nursing. You can have your contract cancelled for no apparent reason at any time. Sometimes your contract is cancelled before you get there. Sometimes they give you plenty of notice and sometimes they don't give you any notice at all. Sometimes they make up a reason to cancel you. This seems to be more common since the pandemic so I will be sure to discuss this in more detail in a future article.
This list is not all-inclusive, but I hope it will give you a good idea of what you are getting yourself into when you decide to become a travel nurse. In my opinion, the good far outweighs the bad and if I had to chose between travel or staff it would always be travel for me.
Happy travels ❤