17 Tips for a First Time Travel Nurse
Author: Danielle Adkisson, RN
Dozens of nurses over the years have come to me with questions about how I made the switch from staff to travel nursing, and how I overcame my fears in switching careers. Fear seems to be (at least in my experience) the number one reason nurses don’t make the switch:
There are literally hundreds of misconceptions about being a travel nurse. With many years of travel experience – I’m here to clear some of them up, and at the same time give you some advice (if you’re interested) on how to make the switch from staff to travel nursing.
I will 100% admit it can be a bit scary to jump into the field of travel nursing because there are SO MANY questions and Google (the mastermind that s/he is) doesn’t always provide the most reliable answers. Pretty sure the last thing I googled told me I had cancer, and 48 hours to live so I’m never googling anything again. Ha! JK.
But in all seriousness – I’m glad you’re here – and I’m sure you have a lot of questions – so let’s get started. Here are my “17 Tips for a First Time Travel Nurse.”
Travel nursing is a crazy exciting career path with a ton of benefits (namely higher pay, flexible schedules, the freedom to travel all across this great country and way (WAY) more time off than most nurses). But you probably know all of this already, and this isn’t an article about the perks of being a travel nurse: this is your guide to successfully navigating your first year of travel nursing.
1. Get Organized
One thing all travel nurses are (or at least become) is organized. No – that doesn’t mean you need to color-code your closet, but it does mean you’ll want to have all your paperwork in order. This includes having all your licensing information, certifications, health and immunization records up to date.
Pro-Tip: Add your licensing renewal dates to your calendar and set reminders so that you’re a step ahead of the game when it comes time to renew your licensing and certifications.
Did You Know? Thirty-nine (39) of the 52 U.S. states fall under the Nursing Licensure Compact (NLC) which means a nursing license in one state, works in all 39 states. If you’re looking to work in a non-compact state – sometimes the process for getting a new license is as easy as simply applying via the state’s nursing board and many nurse travel agencies will not only pay the fees to make this happen, but will help you with the process. Check out our state-by-state nursing license guide here.
2. Be Flexible
When starting out as a travel nurse, flexibility is key. The more flexible you are with location, setting, facility and pay grade, the more jobs will be open to you. As time passes and you get your “travel nursing wings” (so to speak) your experience will allow you to become more choosy with your assignments.
Yes – there are 100% (without a doubt) recruiters out there that will promise you the sun, and the moon and the stars and may even actually deliver pure gold on that first assignment (as a way to reel you in) – but as with any profession – more experience brings more prestige – more prestige brings more choices – and the same holds for travel nurses.
The more flexible you are, the more assignments you’ll get on the regular, the more experience you’ll earn and the more opportunities you’ll have further down the line.
3. Choose a Comfortable Location
As a new traveler about to embark on your first assignment it can be daunting to pick-up and move to a location you’ve never been to before. With all the “firsts,” location doesn’t have to be one of them.
Choose a city or a town you’ve been to before, or where you have some friends or family. The familiarity of a landscape or a smiling face will help calm any nerves you may experience those first few weeks as a first-time traveler.
4. If it’s Not in Your Travel Nurse Contract: It Doesn’t Exist
There’s probably nothing more important in travel nursing than your travel nursing contract. The golden rule is, if it’s not in your contract, it doesn’t exist. Block scheduling? Get it in writing? No float? Get it in writing? Double-time on holidays? Get it in writing.
Understanding what should and should not go into your contracts is so important that another RN colleague of mine, Caleb Skyles, RN, BCN, CCRN, wrote an entire blog post about it. Check it out here: Travel Nursing Contracts: Tips & Tricks.
5. Keep Your Furry Best-Friend(s) Happy
Remember up above when I said successful travel nurses are nurses who are organized (paperwork/licensure/etc.)? The same goes for any pets you may have. Are they up to date on their shots, immunizations, health check-ups? Make sure these things are in order before you embark on that first assignment.
And if you’re taking your pet(s) with you on assignment – make sure to do a little research beforehand on best pet sitters available, as well as what vet you’ll use in the event your furry love-bug needs to see a doc before your assignment is over.
6. Don’t Drown in the Details
There are a few details you’ll want to be mindful of when taking on a new assignment. Namely: what’s going to happen to your mail? Bills? Deliveries? (Make sure to remember things like amazon subscriptions, magazines, meal-deliveries, car registration, etc.) What about your utilities (electricity, WIFI, water)? Will you leave these on while you’re away, or shut them off?
In today’s day and age of modern technology, it’s now super easy to make all your arrangements electronically. From automatic payments on your bills via your banking institution, to setting up online payments with all your credit cards, utilities, student loan people, etc., it’s all pretty simple, just a little time consuming to get it set up the first time.
Make a list of what you need to take care of beforehand and set some time aside to tackle these important “to-dos” before you take off on your first assignment.
7. Pack Light
The key thing to remember when packing is that you’ll only be gone for 13-weeks, not 13 years. So think about what you can and cannot live without. It’s very possible you won’t need to pack every single pair of shoes you own, or that flat screen TV.
Think about what you’ll actually use during your time-away and what you can get by without. Perhaps your iPad will suffice for your Netflix binging, but you definitely want to bring your 4,000-count Egyptian sheets. Maybe you won’t need to pack 7 different pair of shoes but do want to bring your favorite coffee mug. Perhaps you won’t need every item in your toiletry cabinet, but do want to bring a couple framed photos of your loved ones.
Creature comforts are important so find what will make you feel at home in your new place – and leave behind all those things you can live without for a few weeks. Whether you’re flying or driving to your new location – the less you bring the less you’ll have to worry about. Just decide where in the sand you can draw the line to get to happy.
8. Plan Your Housing
This one should be pretty obvious, unless your new assignment comes with housing – which is possible. If not – continue reading:
What’s important to you? Do you want to live in the center of town, or far away from all the action? Do you want roommates to pocket a little of your travel reimbursement – or are privacy and solitude more important? Do you want something that’s super, modern and fancy or are you ok with rustic and charming? Do you have pets and is your new spot accommodating, or no? These are all things you’ll want to consider when making a decision on where you’ll call home for the next 13-weeks.
Pro-Tip: If your travel nursing assignment is in a destination far away from home (like more than 600 miles) look into booking an Airbnb or a VRBO for your first week, and then after you’ve solidified your work schedule, book a longer term rental. While the following has never happened to me personally, I’ve heard too many horror stories of nurse travelers who’ve shown up to their cross country destination, only to find that their contract was canceled and they had already booked a place for 3 months and were now out $6,000!
9. You May Not Like Hospital Provided Housing
Speaking of housing, more often than not, seasoned travelers choose to utilize a housing stipend over the use of agency provided housing. There are two big reasons for this:
Personal preference: Sometimes the housing is not up to our standards or not really what we’re looking for in a 13-week stay (like an extended stay hotel).
Personally, if I’m going to be someplace for 3 months – I want to be comfortable. I like super modern places, while other nurses may prefer a little rustic charm. I enjoy being able to walk to places from my home location, while others may not enjoy the hustle and bustle that can come along with those locations.
It’s easier to get what you want – when you find it on your own. Yes – at first it seems like a lot of work but once you get the hang of it and know where to look (Airbnb, Craig’s List, VRBO etc.) it gets pretty easy.
We make more when we find our own housing: I’ve personally stayed in apartment complexes where my rent was $850 per month and later after meeting a lot of other travelers in the same complex learned they were paying $1050 a month because their agency had “provided” this housing.
Yes, I’m sure it’s nice that the agency takes care of finding you a place and covering all the details (like paperwork, deposit, etc.) But personally, I’d rather have the extra $200 a month.
I also don’t want to sound like a big know-it-all and I’m sure there are instances when agency provided housing has some real advantages. Those can include:
- Saved time because you don’t have to spend hours finding a good spot
- No credit checks because the lease will not be in your name
- You’re not responsible for paying the rent each month
- If you’re in an area (like a super remote area) where housing (especially good housing) is limited – you might actually get something better when it’s agency provided
10. Do Your Own Research
If you’re reading this, you’re probably already doing this but it’s always a good idea to do a little independent research on the best travel nurse agencies to work with. Think about where you want to work, what kind of money you want to make, and what sorts of assignments you’d like to get.
And of course, ask other travel nurses what they think about traveling and who the best companies to work with are. Speaking of other travel nurses….
11. Ask Other Travel Nurses
You of course have a million questions about travel nursing. What are the best pay rates for a hospital in Louisiana? Best resources for finding furnished housing? Best questions to ask a travel nurse recruiter?
One of the best ways to get answers to these questions is to simply ask another travel nurse. And in this day and age – it’s never been easier. Two great places to check out are The Gypsy Nurse on Facebook and the Travel Nurse Forum at allnurses.com
You’re also welcome to ask me anything you like. As a travel nurse passionate about traveling, I’m happy to share my experience with other travelers: firstname.lastname@example.org
12. Your Recruiters Work for You
I haven’t yet mentioned travel nurse agencies: basically they’re recruiters that work for you to help you consistently find travel nursing assignments. I highly recommend having one working on your behalf as most hospitals only hire travelers through an agency.
If you’re looking to work in just one part of the country, find an agency that focuses on that geographic area as they’ll have the most knowledgeable recruiters for that area, the best hospital connections and the highest paying contracts. Remember when you sign a contract with an agency it’s a two-way street. Yes, you are of course an employee of whatever agency you choose to work with and will be doing the back-breaking work of a nurse, but your recruiters will also be working on your behalf in return.
13. Have a Positive Attitude
Easier said than done, right? Stress is a natural part of any nursing career and adding to that stress by introducing a new element: traveling, can be a little challenging and scary.
Don’t forget why you’ve started traveling or are thinking about starting. More adventure, higher pay, better assignments, better career path, less politics, more flexibility, etc. Sure – as with any new adventure there’s a learning curve – but don’t let that stop you from pursuing what could quite possibly be one of the most fulfilling careers you’ve ever had.
14. Keep in Contact with Your Recruiter
There are a couple of things your recruiter (or at least a good one) will be really excellent at: being available to you when you need them to be and answering every single one of your questions.
You’ll have a ton of travel nursing questions in the beginning, a few during the process, and a few more once you get started – never be afraid to reach out to your recruiter while out on assignment with any questions or concerns that might pop up.
Perhaps you thought you’d be working five, 8-hour shifts per week, but it looks like they want you to work three, 12-hours shifts instead. Or maybe there’s a curmudgeon on your floor and you really don’t know how to deal. No question is too big or too small, so always make sure you stay in contact with your recruiter while you’re out on assignment.
15. Don’t Forget to Make Friends!
One of the best ways to ease stress, and really get into the groove at a new assignment is to make new friends with the very people you work with. Yes – it’s only 13-weeks, but there’s no reason it has to be a lonely 13-weeks. As painful as it might feel at first, participate in small talk and find out what you have in common with your co-workers. Invite them out for a cup of coffee before or after your shift or make plans for a shared day off.
FastCompany.com actually wrote a pretty decent article titled: 15 Easy Ways to Make Friends in Your First Week on the New Job
16. Your Next Assignment
You haven’t even started your first assignment and here I am talking about your next assignment. Yes, I’m a little crazy. But I’m also diligent and you wouldn’t believe how fast 13-weeks goes.
I recommend, right around the 4-week mark, you start thinking (and talking with your recruiter) about your next assignment. Do you think maybe you like your current assignment and would like to extend? Or nah? Or is there a new opportunity available in which you’ll need a different state license? These are all things to think about and figure out together with your recruiter.
17. Time to Explore!
Part of the fun of traveling as a nurse is that you actually get to travel! Always make sure to carve out some time to explore your new location. Talk to your co-workers about their favorite spots, hop on Tripadvisor or Yelp for recommendations or just do something as simple as go for an exploratory drive through your new location and try to learn a little of the ins-and-outs of your new home.
Do you have some tips and tricks for new nurses considering traveling for the first time? What was it like for you? Let me know in the comments below!
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