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Travel nursing — is it worth it?

Nurse overlooking golden gate bridge

The pressures of the pandemic have caused many nurses to seek ways to reduce burnout and restore work/life balance in their professional lives. This has prompted many to ask themselves, “Is travel nursing worth it for me?”

For Andrew Craig and his wife, Sarah, the answer was a resounding yes. They were already working as nurses, but the travel bug bit them hard when they returned from their honeymoon to Scotland. Andrew didn’t think it would be possible for them to work together and make road-tripping a reality — until he discovered travel nursing jobs.

How do you learn more about travel nursing jobs?

Andrew, a progressive care nurse, first heard about travel nursing from a travel nurse on his unit. “His life seemed so exciting to me,” he recalls. “I kept asking him a ton of questions and ultimately met his recruiter. Just a couple months later, Sarah and I took our first assignment together at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.”

Since that time, Andrew and Sarah have traveled to more than 40 states, driven more than 40,000 miles, visited Las Vegas twice, and took a Caribbean cruise. In 2016, they lived in four different states and took a two-month vacation from work.

What do travel nurses do?

Basically, a travel nurse temporarily fills open nursing positions in facilities across the country. Travel nurses are typically hired when hospitals need coverage for holidays, if they’re experiencing growth, when they’re short-staffed, or to prevent burnout of their staff nurses.

“Travel nurses work the same way staff nurses do. We care for patients and put in 12-hour shifts and 36-hour work weeks,” Andrew says. “Generally speaking, we have the same education, we have the same clinical experience, and we have the same jobs as staff nurses.”

Andrew notes that travel nurses fill positions created by the country’s nursing shortage. As a result, their jobs are unique and not as stable in some ways.

“Travel nurses have to find a new job every three months, and these jobs are not guaranteed. Though it’s uncommon, a hospital can cancel at any time,” Andrew says. “We move around the country pretty frequently, and we do have to deal with unusual tax issues, like a permanent tax home. We also have to find temporary housing.”

Nurse sitting on mountain

Should I do travel nursing?

“The short answer is absolutely,” Andrew says. “I love the adventure, and I love the financial opportunity travel nursing provides. I have grown professionally because of the multitude of experiences I’ve had all over the country.”

While the most noticeable benefits are the pay and the opportunity for adventure, Andrew says he appreciates the perks many people don’t see when they consider travel nursing.

“I love being separate from the unit politics. As a traveler, I don’t need to go to meetings, and the people often don’t drag me into the drama of the unit,” he says. “I go to work, do patient care, make new friends, and leave. It’s as simple as that.”

Travel nurse Chloe Callicoat loves the work/life balance travel nursing affords her. “Traveling has really engrained in me that five o’clock is cutoff time. I’ll do everything I can and need to for my patients, and when my shift’s over, I’m done.”

Is travel nursing worth it?

Travel nurse Matthew Voorhis says travel nursing has exceeded his expectations. “I love making money and I love investing money, and I love having free time,” he says. “And with travel nursing, you have a lot of freedom because you truly have control of your schedule. You decide when you work, you can take as much time off as you want, and you can travel the world — and make really good money.”

Andrew wholeheartedly agrees. “Everyone’s life circumstances are different, and your definition of what’s worth it will be different. It depends on your life priorities, but I’m all for travel nursing!”

He recommends you think about whether travel nursing:

  • makes financial sense
  • will give you the adventure you want
  • can offer a change from a mediocre job
  • can improve your life circumstances

“You only live once. It’s exciting to have the opportunity for travel nursing while you are happy, healthy, and capable,” Andrew says. “That could change at any moment because life is so unpredictable.”

What are the biggest challenges of travel nursing careers?

Andrew says one of the challenges is being away from family and friends. “You miss out on life events like birthdays and holidays. You also have a very short orientation, anywhere from hours to a few days,” he says. “As a travel nurse you’re expected to be very independent from day one, because the hospital assumes you have enough experience for new and strange environments.”

Another challenge is being floated to other units where you don’t have as much experience. While it isn’t ideal, Andrew suggests making the most of this situation so you’re available for more jobs.

“One of the travel nurse’s roles is relieving the staff nurses. We’re often working in places that are severely short-staffed,” Andrew says. “When you refuse to float, it makes you less valuable.”

Finally, Andrew notes that some travel nurses are not treated as well as staff nurses.

“I’ve heard of travelers getting heavier patient loads while the rest of the nurses have cushy assignments,” he says. “While it doesn’t always happen, you should be aware of it if you plan to work as a travel nurse.”

male nurse looking at mountain range

What should you know before you take your first travel nursing job?

“Pack light, invest in an accountant and, when on assignment, befriend the unit secretary. They’ll know everyone and know how to contact doctors,” Andrew says. “You’ll encounter weird, unusual, unsafe, unethical, and outdated practices, but don’t publicly criticize the staff. Instead, kindly encourage a different way. Be friendly because you are a guest in their home.”

Finally, Andrew suggests being an amazing nurse that others want to work with.

“Treat your assignment as a learning opportunity and a job opportunity,” he expresses. “Sarah and I have been offered jobs at every place we’ve worked. It’s nice to feel wanted.”

Matthew says one of the most important things to being a travel nurse is to be flexible. “You just have to let yourself be open to things. You have to go with the flow. You can try to control things as much as you want but at the end of the day you’ve just got to go with the flow.”

How do you travel and work with your spouse?

Some travel nurse couples prefer to travel and work together. Travel nurse couple William and April Cantwell met each other when April took a travel assignment where William was working as a staff nurse, and now they only take travel jobs together.

“We let our recruiter know that we only want to go on assignments where they need at least two nurses,” William says. “Everywhere we’ve gone was with the understanding that we’re a package deal.”

However, the Cantwells say that although they’re spouses who are working together, “you have to understand that these places need your help, so your focus is working.”

Andrew says some people would go crazy driving to and from work, spending their shifts together, and then seeing each other at home. Fortunately, he and Sarah have some ground rules that make their professional life work.

“We strive to have open and honest conversations if there’s ever issues. And we’re really good about not carrying our personal life or personal issues into the workplace,” Andrew says. “It is challenging to get to a place where you can comfortably work with your spouse. It takes practice and time. We learned how to be very supportive of each other.”

Though they’ve worked together for two years, Andrew says he and Sarah have avoided arguments at work and continue to love their adventures while traveling.

“You have to develop rock solid communication with each other, but I think bringing spouses and partners along while traveling is a good idea,” Andrew expresses. “We have met some amazing people while we’ve been together!”

Interested in learning more about travel nursing? Call us for more information at 800.866.0407 or view today’s job openings.

About the author

Lindsay Wilcox

Lindsay Wilcox is a communication professional with experience writing for the healthcare and entertainment industries as well as local government. When she's not circling typos, she's enjoying fish tacos and hanging out with her family.

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