Should I Become A Travel Nurse?

Since the COVID-19 Pandemic, travel nursing has been talked about more frequently, and many nurses have left their full-time jobs to enjoy the opportunity to travel. While there are many benefits to these positions, it is also important to consider some of the potential downsides and whether they serve as deal breakers for you as a nurse.

This list explores both the well-known and some of the less obvious pros and cons of travel nursing. Be sure to consider how each of these factors will fit into your lifestyle as you make the decision to stay or to go.

1. Money

Money is often the first factor that comes up when nurses talk about getting into traveling. This isn’t entirely surprising, as the travel nurse salary often goes higher than other types of nurses, especially if you factor in any additional housing stipends that may be provided through travel contracts. 

Although this sounds like a perfect scenario, it is important to investigate the logistics. For example, if you are provided with a tax-free housing stipend, you are also required (by the IRS) to pay for a “tax-home.” This likely means you will need to pay rent at your permanent residence in addition to utilizing your housing stipend for your temporary residence.

It is also to consider some of the expenses of travel nursing that may not be as apparent upon first look, such as the wear and tear on your vehicle from driving to different cities over time. 

2. Experiencing new places

Some nurses get into traveling because they want to see other places around the country. Travel nursing can even serve as a way to “shop around” to see what cities you love and would consider moving to in the long term. Many people find it exciting to go from place-to-place and to truly get to experience what it’s like to live like a local.

On the other hand, traveling to somewhere new every 3 months (or so) can be incredibly exhausting. Keep in mind that this form of traveling is unlikely to feel like a vacation, and it can be intense to have to move all of your belongings and essentially “start over” in a different city several times a year. 

Additionally, be sure to remember that travel nurses are not always able to find contracts in the cities they are most eager to go to. You may have to take a position in a city you aren’t interested in visiting simply to keep yourself steadily employed.

3. Not dealing with the politics 

Every hospital has its drama, and there are always extra tasks required of full-time staff that are outside of the primary nursing responsibilities, such as mandatory meetings, involvement in committees, etc. Travel nurses are often exempt from these expectations, as they are unable to maintain continuity (given the relatively short lengths of most contracts).

Having fewer “extra” tasks on your schedule can open up your time for focusing on what is most important—caring for the patients and working on your own development as a nurse. You’ll have to learn a variety of policies, procedures, and documentation systems as you travel, so it is important to stay focused on all of the tasks at hand. 

A flipside of being able to avoid some of the undesirable aspects of working in healthcare is that travel nurses are generally not provided with extensive orientations to their new settings. For some, this can be incredibly stressful, but it can also help you to grow as a nurse and to become more adaptive in new surroundings.

4. Expanding your connections

By default, the more places you travel to, the more people you will be exposed to, which provides opportunities to establish new friendships and professional connections. This can be incredibly enriching to your career, and you may even develop life-long relationships.

Another benefit of being exposed to a variety of people and places is the opportunity to work with people who have different cultural, social, and economic backgrounds. This helps to expand your horizons as a professional and can open your eyes to blind spots you didn’t realize you had. 

One of the big caveats to traveling is that being away from home often means being away from long-term friends and family, which can make you feel lonely, especially if you are having difficulty with your contract placement. 

Additionally, travel nurses sometimes experience negative attitudes from full-time employees who may feel that they are not being compensated appropriately (or not getting the hours they desire).  

5. Navigating paperwork

Taking on a contract position means taking on extra paperwork, as there’s really no way around it. While some states offer reciprocal licensing, others require you to go through the whole process to file for your RN credentials within the particular state. 

This also means having to keep up with continuing education expectations within that state (if you don’t want to allow your license to lapse). If you’re very organized and able to keep up with these sorts of things, navigating the paperwork may not be as big of a deal for you, but it’s certainly something to take into consideration if you are thinking about becoming a travel nurse.

6. Taking time off

Being a travel nurse allows for a lot of flexibility with vacationing, as long as you take your vacations between contracts. You are in charge of whether or not you want to pick up a new contract after your current one ends. If you’re able to afford it, this could mean taking a vacation for several weeks or even months!

Some nurses like to work multiple travel contracts in a row to save up a large sum of money to be used for an extended vacation. This can be pretty convenient, but be sure to also consider that you are less likely to be awarded with PTO as a travel nurse, so you may not be able to take any time during your actual contracts. 

None of these points are meant to pull you in any particular direction when it comes to making the decision to travel—these tips are simply here to help you gain a more thorough understanding of what you could gain (or lose) in taking the leap to become a travel nurse!

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