What is Travel Nursing?
If you’re a nurse, you’ve probably heard about travel nursing. If not in the past, certainly after the COVID-19 epidemic, which drove the demand for travel nurses higher than ever before. In a nutshell, travel nursing is just what it sounds like. You get paid to travel to different locations on contract and work as a nurse for a predetermined length of time. The most common travel nurse contract duration is 13 weeks. That doesn’t necessarily mean the nurse would move to a new location after 13 weeks, the nurse or client may choose to renew their contract of course.
What’s It Like Being a Travel Nurse?
Some travel nurses work within a couple of hours driving distance from their home and just stay at a hotel or Air-bnb during the 3-4 day workweek and return home on their days off. Others may take a contract hundreds or thousands of miles away. In that case they may either drive or fly to their destination. Some travel nurses even own RV’s or camper trailers so they can pocket their per diem living expenses. However most stay in local lodging. Often a group of travel nurses will stay at the same hotel or condominium for convenience and socialization. Travel nursing can be more of a challenge for nurses with children and family as they may not see loved ones for long stretches of time. Most younger nurses or single nurses with an active lifestyle who enjoy travel seem to find it a better fit.
The Upsides of Travel Nursing
Travel nursing is a great way to combine travel and work. You get to explore new places while also making a living. However, it’s important for aspiring travel nurses to consider both the pros and cons of this job before taking the plunge. It can break up the doldrum of a boring routine and allow you to see different parts of the country or even visit with family and friends in different states. Depending on your contract and your willingness to accept work at less desirable destinations, the pay can be very generous. Per diems and travel expense compensation can allow you to stow away most of that cash too, if you’re clever and control your living expenses.
Travel nursing can be a great way to make a lot more money in a lot less time. If you’re willing to make a bit less money (but still more than most nurses with similar experience who don’t travel) then you can travel to places you’ve always wanted to and live as a native for 3 months or more. Assignments to popular locations like Hawaii aren’t always as easy to get, but they’re out there. For someone who hasn’t done a lot of traveling in their life, they can be an especially attractive perk of travel nursing.
1. Variety – Travel nursing allows you to experience different climates, cultures, hospitals, and medical teams during your assignments. This can add spice and excitement to your life that other jobs just can’t match up to.
2. Money – Travel nurses typically command higher salaries than their stationary counterparts due to the added risk associated with having shorter contracts in unfamiliar areas.
3. Flexibility – With short-term contracts, you have more control over your schedule than with stationary nursing jobs. You can choose to work in different locations as frequently or infrequently as you’d like, so you can make your own hours and take time off when needed.
4. Networking – Working in different places gives you the opportunity to meet other nurses from across the country and share ideas, best practices, and unique experiences.
The Downsides of Travel Nursing
Let’s face it, driving 2-3 hours home at the end of every workweek isn’t ideal. Living far away from friends and family for 3 months or more at a time can be pretty tough too. Then you have the stress of adapting to a new workplace, new people, new procedures, rules and management every 3-6 months or so. Travel nursing definitely isn’t for everyone. It can be exhausting and inconvenient. If you have children, you may not see them for months at a time, unless you’re close enough to drive home on days off or willing to buy plane tickets.
Travel nursing isn’t always the right fit for homebodies, people with young children or a lot of responsibilities at home, like a household that needs a lot of upkeep and maintenance. Because it is contract work, it also means depending on the agency you work for, your benefits like paid leave, health insurance and 401k may not be as generous as they would be in a conventional, stationary nursing position. You also don’t get the chance to “screen” the work environment beforehand in the way you might with a regular nursing position. It can feel a bit like parachuting into a new job without knowing what the facilities will be like, how management will treat you, what co-workers will be like.
You could luck out and find a fabulous fit, or you could find you’re working for a bit of a tyrant for 3 months or more. It’s a bit of a gamble in that respect. Pay also varies from contract to contract, so you need to budget accordingly. You may move onto a new contract in a nice sunny location with nearby beaches, but it could come with a 30% pay cut. All of these supposed disadvantages can be navigated though and they don’t mean you should turn your nose up at the idea of travel nursing. They just mean you should be sure you have all the facts before you commit to it.
1. Unpredictability – Travel arrangements are often difficult to plan due to the ever-changing nature of travel nursing assignments.
2. Stress – Dealing with unfamiliar hospital systems can be stressful at times if you don’t know what to expect when starting a new job. Additionally, having shorter contracts may create added pressure to perform well quickly.
3. Loneliness – Moving from area to area can be lonely, as you may not have the same support system in each place. It’s important to find ways to stay connected with friends and family while on the job.
4. No Benefits – Some travel nursing contracts don’t offer benefits such as health insurance or vacation time that are usually included in stationary jobs.
Is Travel Nursing for You?
This is a personal decision but we hope we’ve provided you with some food for thought and ideas that will help you make an informed choice for yourself. Remember that travel contracts typically only run a few months, so if it turns out not to be a good fit for you, you can always try as different contract at a new location in a few months, or sign with a different agency. SMG Healthcare Recruiters works with travel nurses and dozens of other healthcare providers and organizations. If you’re interested in contract or permanent work in healthcare or you need to hire talented healthcare professionals, give us a call and we’ll be happy to help.