I spent five years of my life as a travel nurse, and when I reflect back to those beginning stages before I took my first assignment, I’m in awe at how I managed to transition from staff nurse to travel nurse without completely losing my mind. Travel nursing is overwhelming and difficult, and as a new travel nurse those fears and anxieties are magnified ten fold. It’s a scary world to navigate alone and you can oftentimes feel alone as you take the steps to becoming a traveler. And while the ride can be scary and uncertain, I can almost guarantee that it will be worth it. You might not like it every step of the way but the growth you experience will be well worth your time and one day you’ll look back and think, “I am a badass for doing that”. But to make your life easier as you transition, I am sharing with you 10 tips for first time travel nurses.
Tips for First Time Travel Nurses
1. Let go of the notion that becoming a travel nurse is comfortable
My biggest tip and piece of advice for new travel nurses is to let go of the notion that this transition is something that is going to be comfortable. It won’t. In fact, travel nursing is completely uncomfortable. You’re pushed to your breaking point at times and you’re thrown completely out of your comfort zone. Moving from staff nurse to travel nurse is a completely uncomfortable experience and if anyone tells you differently – they are lying to you.
2. Do your research ahead of time
When I became a travel nurse, I did absolutely no research ahead of time. I just hit a point in my career where I wasn’t happy and wanted to leave so I got online and typed, “Travel nursing” into Google. I then proceeded to put my phone number into a large database (which I don’t recommend), where hundreds of recruiters started to call me at all hours of the day. I was completely overwhelmed and because I hadn’t done any research I had no idea what to ask nor any idea what anyone was talking about.
So before you jump into the crazy world of travel nursing, do some research ahead of time!
3. Take it one step at a time
Becoming a travel nurse can be completely overwhelming and that’s why it is absolutely necessary to take things one step at a time. I recommend making a list of what needs to be done, setting dates on when those things need to be completed, and slowly going through your list.
For example, to become a travel nurse you know that you have to quit your job, find a recruiter, decide what you’re going to do about your living situation. Figure out what dates you need to do all of those things, write them in a calendar, and cross them off as they come up. If it were me, I’d start by picking a date that I want to be a travel nurse and working backwards. If I want to be a travel nurse in January, I know I need a recruiter by September. So in September I’d start to reach out. I also know that I need to quite two weeks before I start my new job, so I’d write down when I need to tell my manager. By breaking it into small tasks, the idea of travel nursing becomes more manageable.
4. Look for a recruiter to work with versus a company to work with
I believe that working with a good recruiter can make a bad company seem great, and working with a bad recruiter can make a great company seem bad. That’s why I highly recommend finding a recruiter versus finding a company. The easiest way to do this is by asking around. Ask another travel nurse you know, or ask me! I love my recruiter and would be happy to pass along her info – just reach out to me on Instagram!
5. Take a look into your finances
To become a travel nurse you did need money upfront. You have to consider the cost of renting a new place (you’ll usually have to put down at least a month deposit), traveling to your new destination (although this is reimbursed it may not be for the full amount and it may take a couple of weeks), and then you need to consider cost of living while you don’t have a paycheck for the first two weeks.
Depending on where you’re going, I recommend saving upwards of $3,000 so that you’re comfortable and not stressed about money. It’s easy to earn this money back as a portion of your travel will be reimbursed and you’ll be making much more as a travel nurse.
6. Strategize how you want to pack
When you’re a travel nurse, packing can be your best friend or your worst nightmare – I’ve experienced it both ways. Before I understood travel nursing, I was packing my entire life and taking it with me to each 13-week assignment. That meant I had heavy winter coats with me in Southern California, a crockpot with me at my fully furnished apartment in Phoenix, and Ugg Boots with me in Austin during the summertime. When I finally came up with my own packing strategy, travel nursing became much more enjoyable.
While I highly recommend packing less than more, after all – you can purchase anything you want while on assignment, your strategy might look different from someone else’s, and that’s okay! Packing isn’t a one size fits all type of deal.
7. Ask all of the questions
Because you’re making a huge life change and starting out on a journey that you may know very little about, it’s important to ask all of the questions. I often find that people feel stupid for asking questions, but in reality it’s those who don’t ask questions and go through life not knowing what is going on that are stupid. So get comfortable in the uncomfortable and start asking other travel nurses questions, ask your recruiters questions, ask the manger who is interviewing you questions – ask all of the questions.
8. Know that you may not like your first assignment
Another tip I have for new travel nurses is to keep an open mind. You may not like your first assignment – and that’s okay. On social media travel nurses can make the traveler life seem like rainbows and butterflies, so when you don’t like your assignment you may feel like something is wrong with you. The reality is that social media is a highlight reel and highlights of people’s lives are portrayed. There is not one travel nurse out there who can tell you that he/she has liked everything about every assignment. So if you don’t like your assignment, you’re not alone and you’re not weird.
9. Don’t ghost
The travel nurse community is small and for that reason I highly encourage you not to ghost – on the hospital or your recruiter. While you can leave an assignment without many repercussions, you still need to consider the full magnitude of what ghosting will do to a hospital and your reputation. While I am not opposed to contracts ending early due to safety reasons, health reasons, etc… make sure to have open communication with your recruiter about these things instead of ghosting.
If you’re ghosting because you don’t like your recruiter, I encourage you to read this post for tips on switching recruiters.
10. Embrace the traveler lifestyle
My main tip for new travel nurses is to embrace this crazy traveler lifestyle, as it’s a time in your life that you will never, ever get back. Explore your new city. Take numerous day trips. Eat out at all of the restaurants that look good. This lifestyle may last for 13-weeks or 13-years… don’t take a single second of it for granted.