When deciding if you want to transition from staff nurse to travel nurse, there’s a lot to consider. After all, there are both pros and cons of travel nursing and it’s important to look at the entire picture before pursuing a new career in travel nursing. While I’ve been a travel nurse for 3+ years and have had the highest of highs, I’ve also had the lowest of lows. In today’s world where social media can sometimes feel unbearable, and like everyone else leads glamorous and exciting lives, the truth is that everyone is going through ups and downs. And although I don’t foresee myself quitting travel nursing anytime soon, there have been some major low points in my career. (Including the time I was scammed out of $4,600).
This post is designed to give you a roundabout picture of what travel nursing is really like. Both the good and the bad. The advantages of travel nursing and disadvantages. Because no career is perfect, nobody has it all figured out, and the only thing I can bet on in life is that with the high, comes the low, and with the low comes the high.
Pros and Cons of Travel Nursing
1. The Unknown – CON
I’m writing this article during the pandemic known as COVID-19. At this time, the unknown of my next career choice is stifling and anxiety-inducing. Knowing that I only have 6-weeks left of my contract with no plans moving forward. Stuck between not being able to travel, and being jobless. Right now, for travel nurses, the job market is bad. It’s the worst I’ve ever seen it be in my career. There’s simply more supply than demand and people are getting laid off left and right. This is the first time in my 3+ years of traveling that I fear being jobless and I hate the thought of not knowing.
Being a travel nurse comes with a big question mark at all times. Where will your next assignment take you? Will there be jobs open when you need one? Will you get a job you want, or will you have to settle for something you don’t want? The unknown is bound to drive you crazy at times but…
2. The Unknown – PRO
…but the unknown can also be crazy beautiful and exhilarating! Not knowing where you’re headed next, the entire world at your fingertips. You could take time off work, you could move to an entirely different state, you could stay put right where you are. You may fall in love and want to stay put. You may miss your family and want to take a contract closer to home. You may even make a friend that you decide you want to travel to the next assignment with. The unknown can sometimes be incredibly challenging and chaotic and messy… but it can also be 100% worth it.
3. No PTO Accrual – CON
As a travel nurse, you don’t accrue PTO (paid time off) as staff nurses do. This means that every time your contract ends and you take a break between your next contract, you don’t get paid. As a new travel nurse that maybe hasn’t saved up enough money to take breaks in between assignments, this can be somewhat stressful. You can take vacations, but you don’t get a steady income from PTO that you would get as a staff nurse.
4. No PTO Accrual – PRO
The good thing about not accruing PTO is that as a travel nurse you make infinitely more money than staff nurses do. This means that you have the opportunity to save, save, save so that you can take time off between contracts and have enough money to do so. One of the greatest benefits of travel nursing is the ability to take as much time off between contracts as you want, without having to request it. Whether or not you have PTO money coming in at that time, doesn’t change the fact that if you save enough, you can take extended vacations between your contracts.
5. No Sick Leave – CON
While some travel nurse companies allow you to accrue sick leave when you start working, a lot of them do not. And to accrue sick leave, you have to work for a long time before you can use your hours. This is one of the most frustrating parts about being a travel nurse… getting sick. When you call off sick on your assignment not only is your hourly pay taken away from you, but some companies also take your stipend away. Make sure you know what your company policy is for sick leave before signing a contract. (I would never work with a company that took my entire stipend for being sick. For more on my negotiables and non-negotiables, read this post).
6. No Sick Leave – PRO
The upside to not accruing sick leave as a travel nurse is again, the sheer fact that you’re making much more money than a staff nurse. I believe that companies make taking sick leave so detrimental to your paycheck because if they didn’t, nurses would be taking advantage of it. As long as you have a good and trusting relationship with your recruiter, I would ask about the company’s sick leave policy and decide whether or not I want to proceed forward with that particular company. If I had been with a company for multiple contracts and don’t typically call out sick, I would also ask if an exception could be made. It doesn’t hurt to try!
7. Contract Cancellation – CON
The scariest thing about being a travel nurse is the uncertainty around your contract. The truth is that any nurse, at any time, could get their contract canceled. This sometimes happens on your way to an assignment, your first day before starting. This sometimes happens halfway through your assignment even if you’ve done a great job. While it hasn’t happened to me, yet, I go into every assignment knowing that it’s a possibility. And an even worse part of having your contract canceled isn’t that you’re out of a job. Sometimes it’s that you’ve put down on a deposit or already paid the first month’s rent and the landlord won’t give you your money back.
8. Contract Cancellation – PRO
While getting your contract canceled is no fun, there are ways to ensure if this does happen to you, you’re prepared and can make the most of it. Always make sure that you have an extra cushion of savings to fall back on in case your contract does get canceled. You can then make the most out of your situation by staying in the city for a month or until your lease is up and have fun, get to know the area, and live life by the seat of your pants. If my contract were to get canceled and I had already paid rent, I would stay and explore the city until my emergency savings fund ran dry.
9. Floating – PRO
As a travel nurse, you’re usually the first to float before the other staff nurses. Think of this as a way to sharpen your skills and make you a better, more well-rounded nurse. As a NICU nurse, I’ve now gained experience in peds, and both the PICU and CICU. Now my resume is much more enticing than others who haven’t gained experience floating.
Read more: Tips for Nurses Who Have to Float
10. Floating – CON
The downside to floating is that it can be scary and in some hospitals… dangerous. It’s imperative that before you agree to a travel nurse contract, you ask the manager in the interview what the floating policy is. The other downside to floating as a travel nurse is that sometimes you’ll float more than you’re on your “home unit”. Again, this can be frustrating because you chose your home unit for a reason. But instead, try to view it as an opportunity to learn about other units and sharpen your skillset.
The thing about travel nursing is that to make it fun and worthwhile, you have to be able to put a positive spin on anything bad. Those nurses that can do that, are the ones who are fully taking advantage of what it means to be a travel nurse. The life of a travel nurse is unpredictable at most times. And the longer you travel, the more opportunity for something to go wrong and blow up in your face. As long as you realize that travel nursing isn’t all that you see on social media – rainbows, and butterflies, you’ll be fine. Learn how to roll with the punches, be spontaneous, and go with the flow. The rest will fall into place. And worst-case scenario? You decide you hate it, travel nursing isn’t for you, and you go back to your home hospital to pick up right where you left off!
The pros and cons of travel nursing are plentiful. As for now, for me, the good outweighs the bad. And when I decide that that isn’t the case anymore and the bad starts to outweigh the good, I will cease being a travel nurse and go back to life as a staff nurse. But until that happens, the benefits of being a travel nurse keep me going.
Interested in trying your hand at travel nursing? Make sure to check out The Ultimate Travel Nurse Bucket List for inspiration on life as a travel nurse!