What is Travel Nursing?

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I’ve been a travel nurse for 4+ years and trying to explain the profession of travel nursing to those who work outside of the medical field can sometimes feel like a daunting task.  When I tell people, “I’m a travel nurse”, I’m usually met with blank stares and the most commonly asked question, “What is travel nursing?”  This guide will explain what a travel nurse is, why a hospital would hire a travel nurse and the pros and cons of the profession.


What is Travel Nursing?

Long story short – a travel nurse is a contracted nurse who is hired to a hospital that has a NEED for more nurses.  The nurse that is hired also has to WANT to go to the hospital, as travel nurses don’t just get placed in a hospital without wanting to be there.  There is usually a third party involved – or a travel nurse recruiter – who helps place each nurse in each hospital.  Contracts usually last for 13-weeks although I’ve seen contracts as short as three weeks and as long as 26 weeks.

To qualify to be a travel nurse you have to meet a set of requirements, including living a certain amount of miles away from your home, having a home base, and more (I explain all of this in The Ultimate Travel Nurse Bundle).


How Do You Qualify to Be a Travel Nurse?

To be a travel nurse you have to work as a “staff nurse” for two+ years out of school.  The reason for this is so that you can hone in on your skills and learn how to take care of patients.  While you will always have questions, the reason hospitals hire travel nurses is so that you can get to the floor and jump right in.  The idea is that you don’t need a long orientation as a new nurse would.  For that reason being a “staff nurse” as long as possible will ultimately help you, in the long run, learn skills and have the confidence to care for patients by yourself.


Why Would a Hospital Hire a Travel Nurse?

There are multiple reasons for needing to hire travel nurses.  Most commonly it’s because of a shortage of staff or an influx of patients.  Staffing shortages can happen if multiple people quit or retire at once, the unit expands and there hasn’t been enough time to hire enough staff yet, nurses go on maternity leave, and more.  Some hospitals will also hire travel nurses during prime vacation dates to allow their staff nurses to take time off.


Why Would You Want to Be a Travel Nurse?

Why would someone choose to go from staff nursing to travel nursing?  You have to leave your friends and family, benefits, and the comfort of your home.  You’re going from having some built-up seniority… to no seniority at all.



One of the main reasons that people pursue travel nursing is because of the pay.  Travel nurses typically make at least DOUBLE what a “staff nurse” makes (this is unless you’re a staff nurse in a high-paying area like Northern California).


For more on getting paid as a travel nurse, read Your Guide to Travel Nurse Pay + The Importance of Transparency in Travel Nursing



The second benefit to being a travel nurse is the flexibility that comes with the job.  After your contract ends, you have the choice to continue working or to take as much time off as you want.  I usually work about six months out of the year and take six months off to travel.  One time I took 20 weeks off between assignments so that I could pursue my dream of long-term solo travel.  And I didn’t have trouble finding work when I was ready to come back to the bedside.


For more on ensuring you take time off between assignments to see the word, don’t miss:

3 Reasons to Actually TRAVEL if You’re a Travel Nurse

Preventing Nurse Burnout by Traveling

How to Maximize Travel While Being a Nurse



And the most obvious reason for choosing to become a travel nurse?  Traveling throughout the United States!  Head west in the winter to chase summertime.  Or enjoy the winter wonderland in a dreamy winter destination such as Alaska or Colorado!  Head to California for festival season, Arizona for spring training, and New Hampshire to watch the leaves change colors in the fall!  The United States is your oyster, do what you please with it!


For quick and easy getaways across the United States check out my favorite day trips and weekend trips


What are the Cons of Travel Nursing?

While there are tons of perks to being a travel nurse, there are also cons to the profession.  While you’re making double the money travel nursing… it’s at your own expense.  Expect to work double the weekends, almost every Friday and Monday, and every holiday (unless you ask for them off during your interview).  And moving can start out being exciting… but it can also be daunting finding a new place to live every 13-weeks.



When you first arrive to your destination, you can expect to feel lonely for a while.  After all, you probably don’t know anyone, and nurses can be a tough crowd.  They know you aren’t going to be around long-term and more often than not, they don’t care to get to know you.  You have to be okay with that.

Not only will you not know anyone, but if an emergency happens during your shift it’s oftentimes more stressful than if an emergency were to happen at your home base.  If you need help, who do you call out to?  You don’t know anyone’s names.  Nobody trusts you yet and you don’t trust them.  You probably don’t even know where all of the emergency supplies are located.


For tips on making friends and acclimating to your new city, don’t miss:

How to Acclimate to Your New City As a Travel Nurse

Tips for How to Make Friends As a Travel Nurse



The toughest thing to deal with when you become a travel nurse is health insurance.  If you choose to take insurance through your company, there’s typically a lag time.  Sometimes your insurance comes through day one of your contract, which means that it ends the day your contract ends.  Sometimes your insurance comes in 30 days later, which means it ends 30 days after your contract ends. If you choose to take a few weeks off between assignments, you won’t be covered which can make travel nursing feel stressful!

I choose to get insurance myself, not through my company.  While I pay more and have less coverage, at least I know I am always insured no matter how much time I choose to take off between contracts.  If you need a direct contact to help you figure out health insurance, please DM me on Instagram so I can set you up with a trusted contact.


Read more:  Travel Nurse Health Insurance – What’s the Best Choice For You?



Finding housing as a travel nurse can be stressful.  Because you’re only looking for a place to stay for three months, rent is typically double what it would normally cost.  And getting scammed?  Unfortunately, it can be common amongst travel nurses.


For tips on finding housing, make sure to read Resources for Finding Housing As a Travel Nurse


So why choose this crazy life of travel nursing?  It’s the magic in the spontaneity, the impulsiveness, the craziness that leads you on adventure after adventure.  While the money is nice, that isn’t what travel nursing is all about.  The bad stuff – getting frozen out of the unit, not knowing anyone’s names, etc – feels like small setbacks in the big picture of travel nursing.  Travel nursing pushes you out of your comfort zone, teaches you, and allows you to see the entire world (if you’re brave enough to go do it).  And of course… travel nursing is to chase summertime too.


Don’t miss:  10 Reasons to Be a Travel Nurse


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Kylee is a Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU) nurse passionate about making travel affordable and accessible to nurses. Inspiring nurses to travel both near and far, Kylee began Passports and Preemies in 2017 while volunteering in Skopje, North Macedonia as a way to reach nurses and advocate for the prevention of nurse burnout by traveling. Kylee is the original creator of the “8 Day Vacay” – a vacation geared towards nurses who aim to take advantage of the potentially 8 days off between work weeks with no need to use PTO.

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1 Comment

  1. May 29, 2019 / 3:42 pm

    I liked that you explained that one benefit to hiring a travel nurse is to allow vacationing and traveling with family as an option since 24-hour medical attention will be at your side. I have considered hiring a traveling nurse for my dad as he gets older. This option would offer him a more normal transition into constant healthcare without enrolling him into a hoe. I will definitely research more regarding this option and discuss this with my husband.

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