10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Jumping into the Crazy World of Travel Nursing

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I don’t know when exactly my desire to become a travel RN (registered nurse) occurred.  Potentially in nursing school… or maybe it was when I was a new grad.  All I know is eventually, I couldn’t shake the feeling of wanting to travel more, meet new people, and learn from other healthcare providers all around the country.  And while I wouldn’t change my journey for anything… there are some things that I wish I knew before jumping into the crazy world of travel nursing.


10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Travel Nurse


1.  No Matter How Long You’ve Been a Travel Nurse, You’ll Always Feel Like the “New Nurse” On the Unit

I was a travel nurse for five years and every time I started at a new hospital, the same insecure feeling would always come back to me.  That feeling that I’m “not good enough”, “nobody wants to be friends with me”, the works!  And to put it lightly, it sucked.  But as long as you hang in there, the pay off is worth it and you’ll be rewarded in more ways than you could have ever imagined.
The truth is that everyone is just feeling you out; and you’re feeling them out as well – it’s a two-way street.  Don’t let those feelings of negativity get in the way of doing your job to the best of your ability.  People will eventually come around, whether it takes them a few days, weeks, or even months.

2.  Don’t Overpack – It’s Not Worth it

My first cross-country travel assignment took me from Nebraska to Santa Barbara, CA.  I took EVERYTHING with me (including my crockpot).  My SUV was packed to the brim, and I could hardly see out my windows.  Instead of enjoying my road trip, I spent the next two days stressed that someone was going to break into my car and steal my things as I drove west.

It took me driving to three different states (from Nebraska to California, California to Arizona, and Arizona to Texas) to realize I was doing it all wrong.  That in fact, the true joy of travel nursing is arriving at an assignment and not spending all day unpacking unnecessary items.  To be able to throw items in the car and just take off!  Realizing that you can buy anything you need or miss once you arrive.


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3.  You’re Not Weird for Exploring Your New City Alone

It’s hard to arrive in a new city where you may not know anyone.  But it’s even harder to stay inside all day because you feel weird doing things by yourself.  The way to get out and meet people?  You have to leave your apartment; and when you do, I guarantee that nobody even notices that you’re along because they’re too busy worrying about themselves.  And the truth it, once you get out there by yourself and start exploring, you might realize that you enjoy it!
When I began moving to cities where I didn’t know a soul, I’d feel so awkward about doing things by myself.  But the reality is that nobody cared that I was alone, it was my own insecurities that were keeping me from venturing out and exploring my new city.  I would leave assignments and think, “I wish I would have done X, Y, and Z while I was there”.  Don’t be that person.  And if you still feel uncomfortable… try to plan things to do during the weekdays in the afternoon when there will be fewer people around.
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4.  Don’t Ever Say, “In MY Hospital We Do it This Way”

This is one thing I wish I had learned before leaping into any type of travel nurse position.  When you show up on an assignment you’re there to help.  Not to make the staff nurses feel like their way of doing something isn’t good enough.  The sooner you learn that there are many ways to get the job done, the sooner you can get off your high horse and make some friends!  Also, try to think of this the other way around.  What if you were SO busy at work you hired on travelers.  But once they arrived at your unit they just criticized the way you do your work.  Annoying, right?
Now, this isn’t to say that if your opinion is asked for you can’t share.  I’ve learned to keep it to myself when not asked, but when asked I give an honest answer.  If someone is asking, they truly want to know how to improve!


5.  To Make Friends, You Have to Be a Friend

Sometimes nurses can be territorial.  All you have to do is soften them up!  I find the best way to make friends is to be a friend.  Help out around the unit (even if nobody has offered to help you).  Bring snacks, introduce yourself first, and you’ll have new friends in no time!
When I fist get to a new unit, I usually bring a treat and a card introducing myself.  I also leave a treat and a card on my last shift to leave a lasting impression.


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6.  Don’t Burn Bridges – The Travel Nurse Community is Small

After I had a few assignments under my belt, I started to realize that the pool of travel nurses seemed to be quite small!  There’s always someone who knows someone, who knows someone.  PLUS the way to land the most coveted positions at amazing hospitals?  A recommendation!  I’ve been able to email managers from some of the best hospitals in the United States and say “I know X traveler that used to work on your floor.  I’d love to work on your unit too.”  And bam, the job is mine.  Make friends, be nice, and don’t burn any bridges.  You never know who will get you to your next assignment and who has the hook up to what hospital.


7.  You Will Never Be Thrilled About Your Schedule, Learn to Embrace it

While there are loads of perks to being a travel nurse, your schedule isn’t one of them.  You’re usually working more weekends, most Fridays and Mondays, and you’ll always be moved around first.  On top of it all, you don’t tend to get your schedule until a few days before you are supposed to show up to work.  Which can be stressful and make it hard to make plans.  But the sooner you embrace it, the sooner you’ll be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride!


8.  You Should Be Shopping Around for a Recruiter AND a Company

When I began travel nursing I felt guilty about “recruiter hopping”.  A few assignments in I learned that I was the lowest-paid traveler on my unit, while all the other newer travel nurses who were with the same company that I was with, were making $200 more per week than me.  I quickly learned that sometimes it’s okay to be selfish even when you feel like your recruiter “put in the work” and you don’t want to screw him/her over.

And the same goes for travel nursing companies.  It’s usually best if you can find a few companies you like and start to compare what they do and don’t offer.  This way you can maximize pay and benefits!  But on the flip side, don’t be greedy.  If something feels right, take it!  Even without comparing the contract to another company.


9.  There Are Plenty of Jobs Out There, Be Patient

While I never had an issue landing a job, for the first year (or so) of travel nursing I did have an issue landing my dream job.  My goal was always get into the biggest and best NICUs around while also traveling in some of the most sought after destinations like Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, etc.

My first year as a travel nurse, when my recruiter would send out my resume to big, well-known hospitals, I would hear were crickets.  It took some time to build myself a reputation in travel nursing and there’s nothing wrong with that.  After a few years of travel nursing, I started to get offers to hospitals that I had always dreamed of working in.  Stick in there, it will happen for you too!

But, never let a recruiter push you into something that you don’t want to do.  I’ve had plenty of times where my assignment is set to end in two weeks and I still haven’t signed my next contract.  Recruiters will call with mediocre paying jobs, in places I don’t want to live, all because they know my current contract is ending and I don’t have anywhere to go next.  Wait it out.  Something that you want is bound to turn up.


10.  And the best part of travel nursing?  The Amount of Time You Can Take off Between Assignments

And the very best part about being a travel nurse?  All of the time you’re allowed to take off between assignments.  When I became a travel nurse, I began to take 1+ week breaks between assignments, which is more vacation than I had ever taken as a staff nurse.  What I realized was that while I was traveling more, it made me become a better nurse.  I felt less burned out and truly felt like I was on to something.  Was the key to preventing nurse burnout as simple as traveling?

2.5 years since becoming a travel nurse I have now taken two huge breaks between my assignments.  My first break lasted 10-weeks and took me to North Macedonia to work as a volunteer nurse.  And my second break lasted 17-weeks and took me through 10 countries in Europe, and 4 in Southeast Asia.  As a staff nurse, I could never dream of taking that kind of time off.  And now that I’ve had a taste of it, I don’t think I could ever go back.


So you see, being a nurse is truly great.  But being a travel nurse?  It’s an adventure for the books.  And one that I truly hope that everyone decides to venture into at some point in their career.


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Kylee is a 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 has been a NICU nurse for 9 years and a travel nurse for 7 years. Since starting her career in travel nursing, she’s worked in six different states, 10 different hospitals, volunteered as a nurse in North Macedonia, worked as a nurse in Saudi Arabia, and has traveled to 45+ countries. Her favorite travel nurse assignment was in Seattle and her favorite destination is Georgia (the country). 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. October 20, 2019 / 2:45 pm

    Very informative insights, well said on #5: To make friends… you have to be a friend

    • October 21, 2019 / 6:46 am

      Thanks for reading! I can’t tell you how many travelers I work with that don’t have this type of attitude and they always hate the unit because they feel like nobody likes them. Whenever I start an assignment that’s always my mantra… “make a friend, be a friend” hahaha

  2. Adrienne
    December 22, 2020 / 1:04 am

    Oh my god!! I’m an OR nurse and very tempted to take the plunge into travel nursing but I’m nervous and a little scared of not having a stable permanent job but i loooove to vacation longer than a week and see new places! What shocked me is that you went to macedonia! I’m macedonian and love it there! I used to go for months at a time when i was younger and no professional career yet! I have always tried to volunteer there but most missions are for pediatrics. It’s a beautiful country and I love visiting whenever I can and I’m so happy to hear you were able to visit and volunteer there! You post is very helpful and I’m glad I stumbled upon it. Maybe one day i will be able actually travel nurse.

    • December 22, 2020 / 3:16 am

      Hi Adrienne, your comment warmed my heart! I love North Macedonia and want to go back every day! I hope that you follow your heart and if it leads you to travel nursing then great :). I’ve had the best experiences with it. Take care and happy holidays!

  3. Nicole
    February 19, 2021 / 10:49 pm

    Hi! I’m a new travel nurse and I’m very interested in maximizing My time off, but I need the health insurance, how were you able to have this time and keep your benefits? Did you go with a 3rd party insurance company? Thanks in advance!

    • February 20, 2021 / 6:42 pm

      Hi Nicole! I use private insurance through United Healthcare. While coverage isn’t as good, it seems to be the best option if you want to take big chunks of time off of work. Hope this helps!

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