How to Have a Happy Career as a Travel Nurse

Beth Hawkes MSN, RN-BC - 03/21/19

Melissa had worked three years on MedSurg but had always dreamed of being a Traveler. She imagined herself swimming in the ocean in Hawaii and snowboarding in Colorado. She pictured herself finding romance and experiencing different cultures. At the same time, she was hesitant. She would be alone and far away from family and friends.

She once came close to registering with an agency, but at the last minute was too nervous and pulled back.

Here’s what Melissa needs to know to make her dream come true in the best way.

Join a Tribe

The best way to learn the ins and out of traveling is to join a nurse traveler’s tribe, such as the Travel Nurse Network-the Gypsy Nurse  tribe on Facebook or the Travel Nurse Forum on You will quickly discover the recommended agencies, recruiters and locations. You’ll learn hundreds of invaluable tips from over thousands of seasoned travelers.

You can find everything from recommendations for a hairdresser in your new location to ideas for day trips by asking trusted fellow travelers. Wherever you’re going- a network of travelers has been there before you.

Be Flexible

Happy travelers go with the flow. Hospitals are not willing to pay for lengthy orientations and provide only the minimal onboarding. Hence a travel nurse has to quickly manage a full load of patients while navigating a new system.

You may even have to work a shift or two without computer or Pyxis axis. Initially you may be assigned non-challenging patients because your performance is first being evaluated. Some nurses are welcoming to travelers; others not so much.

Don’t take any of it personally and resolve to win them over with your positivity and flexibility. Focus on what you can learn with each new assignment. One of the unexpected benefits of traveling is how incredibly it expands your practice.

Pro tip: The nurses may do things differently than you’re used to, but just listen and don’t try to change things unless patient safety is at stake.

Newbie Traveler Tips

As a first time traveler, know that the foremost most important thing is to land a contract. Your first assignment may not be at your dream location, but you are building your work history, and it will pay off.

  • Brush up on your skills.  Some hospitals require travel nurses to take and pass medication exams and arrhythmia exams to demonstrate competence.
  • Apply to more than one company. Aim for two to three. Without divulging specifics or pitting one against the other, it does not hurt (and may help!) to let an agency know that you are registered with a competitor.
  • Consider traveling not more than 5 or so hours away from home on your first assignment to adjust to the lifestyle while maintaining close ties to home.
  • Also, consider remaining PRN at your current hospital if possible as a fallback plan.

Every state has different licensure renewal requirements. You would be surprised at how different they are! Check out each state here. Remember to keep up your CE requirements for each state in which you hold a license.

Pack Purposefully

There’s a trick to packing light while including the essentials. It’s important to feel comfortable in your home away from home. For some nurses it’s worth it to take their george foreman grill, instapot, or Keurig. You may want your own pillow, or even decide to travel with a small pet if permitted. (Hawaii has a pet quarantine).

Is there a microwave in your new housing? A bedside lamp? Consider buying or renting some things when you arrive, and donating them as a tax write off when you leave.

Bring a scented candle and framed pictures of your family to cozy up your space. Your own throw pillow for the couch, coffee mug and a lap blanket can make you feel at home.

In additionplan ahead for any medications you’ll need and have your mail forwarded.

Store important paperwork in the cloud or google drive for easy access

Recruiters Rock

A good recruiter is essential to your success. Many seasoned travelers are very loyal to one recruiter and it’s a mutually beneficial relationship. A good recruiter will work hard for a contract that meets your requirements.

 A sign of a good recruiter is one who discusses all the details of your assignment with you before submitting your name for an interview.

Show Me the Money

Traveling can be good money, but pay is relative to the area and the cost of living. Bonuses may be available to those who ask. Be sure to inquire about sign-on bonuses, retention bonuses, and completion bonuses. If you love your agency, refer a friend for a referral bonus.

Know how to calculate your take-home pay. Your compensation package includes taxable and non-taxable reimbursement. Non-taxable includes housing costs, meals and travel expenses.

The lower your taxable pay is, the less taxes you pay. However, a low taxable income may hurt you when trying to qualify for a house or car loan.

Travel reimbursement may be a flat rate or a pay per mile with a cap. Either way, the traveler typically foots some of this expense.

Really Read Your Contract

In your rush to sign a contract and embark on your new adventure, do not gloss over the small contractual details. Be sure you understand the terms (guaranteed pay, guaranteed hours, guaranteed minimum pay) and get it in writing!

  • Are you required to float? If so, to where?
  • Does your housing stipend guarantee a washer and dryer?
  • What are holiday and overtime rates?
  • Does your company pay for your pre-employment physical, drug screen, titers, etc.?
  • Is parking reimbursed?
  • Are hours guaranteed?
  • How often can you be called off?

Avoid settling for terms and conditions out of a desire to be seen as ultra accommodating or likable. Your relationship with your recruiter is first and foremost a business relationship.

Verbally agreeing to a contract is not the same as accepting a written contract. Do not feel obligated to accept a written contract that does not live up to what you’ve agreed to. Know your personal deal-breakers and stick to them.

Have a Back-up to Your Back-up

Contracts can be cancelled. Cars can breakdown, and you could get sick- so always have an emergency fund to see you through. Have a roadside assistance plan.

Healthy Travelers Are Happy Travelers

Make it a point to rest and eat well. Being out of routine is often the catalyst for falling into old bad habits. Join an exercise class in your new location. Traveling can be a fresh start and opportunity to start a healthier lifestyle in a new location.

Complete Your CEUs

As a travel nurse, you should be adding to your personal knowledge base as it is important for both work satisfaction and the maintenance of licensure and certification. Complete your continuing education courses with as we are ANCC approved across the United States and can easily help you to fulfill your requirements.

Fully Enjoy

With the right planning, traveling can be an adventure or even a lifestyle. You can be your most adventurous self while living your dream. Best of all, you will be able to look back without regrets because you challenged yourself and took the leap.