As Hans Christian Andersen said, “to live is to travel.” Imagine being able to travel all over the country, see new places, meet new people, and gain professional experience, all while making up to three times more than most staff nurses make annually. It may sound like a fantasy, but that is the incredible upside of being a travel nurse.
Being a travel nurse brings opportunities for adventure and financial advancement, but it also can come with risks. – mostly financial risks, which as an adult, can be the scariest kind. Not to worry! We have your back. We have compiled some critical tips from nurses in the know so that you don’t have to go it alone.
Get experience first
Kathleen Gaines, MSN, RN, BA, CBC, writing for nurse.org says, “the most important element to becoming a travel nurse is experience.” As a travel nurse, you can expect as little as one day of orientation. Staff nurses, on the other hand, generally receive two weeks to a month. Hospitals contract travel nurses for a reason, usually because they are shorthanded or dealing with a higher volume of patients than usual. They need their travel nurse to hit the ground running. “Most travel agencies and hospitals require you to have a minimum of two years of nursing experience prior to applying for travel nursing contracts,” Gaines writes.
So, if you’re new to the nursing game and you’re considering becoming a travel nurse, it’s probably best to take advantage of the training opportunities that come with a staff position before striking out into the relative unknown of travel nursing. Choosing a specialization is wise and can potentially help you land more lucrative travel nurse contracts down the road. If you’re taking student loans to fund your nursing education, check out our article about student loan deferment.
Keep tabs on your finances
Travel nursing pays more than staff positions, but it also comes with more risks. As a travel nurse, you blaze your own path. You can pick your assignments. That freedom comes with a lot of responsibility. When considering a contract, your top priority should be assessing your net income from the assignment.
Leslie Deemer, RN, writes for The Gypsy Nurse, “don’t be fooled by the term ‘blended rate’, ask for the hourly rate for taxable, weekly rate for non-taxable, so you can figure out the actual take-home pay yourself.” Blended rates combine hourly taxable income with reimbursements and stipends, which are non-taxable. Deemer adds, “don’t forget, you pay taxes to the state you live in too.”
Make sure your contract includes overtime and hourly wages. And review the pay policy for days you aren’t called in. Oftentimes, travel nurses do not get stipends for days they do not work.
Once you’ve assessed what your income from an assignment will be, make sure that it covers your living expenses. Calculate all of your monthly expenses, everything from rent/house payment to your Netflix subscription. You should be making enough to cover that and still have cash in your pocket.
Develop a relationship with your recruiter
As a travel nurse, your recruiter is your best friend. Don’t be afraid to talk to them. Staying in contact helps keep you at the top of their mind, which can lead to a higher number of contracts coming your way.
John Farnsworth of No Ordinary Path says, “it’s okay to ask your recruiter things.” Discussing your career goals can help your recruiter understand what sort of opportunities would be right fit for you. When contracts do come your way, make sure to go over the details. There’s no downside to asking questions.
Conversely, don’t feel obligated to stay with a recruiter or agency that isn’t a good fit for you. John’s advice is, “don’t let your desire to be a good travel nurse let you get pushed around.” He advises asking your agency what they are getting paid for your contract so that you better understand the overall financial arrangement and whether you are receiving your fair share.
Make informed choices about housing
When you take a nursing contract, you are given the option of either keeping the housing stipend for yourself and finding your own accommodations or allowing the recruiter to find company-approved housing using your stipend. Most experienced travel nurses advise against placing housing in the hands of the agency as you never really know what you’re going to get. Jennifer Cheung, MSN, RN, CCRN, of Nurse Cheung, recommends that you “find your own housing and don’t pay excessively.”
Choosing your own housing gives you the ability to decide what to sacrifice to stay on budget. And since you will be personally living in the space for a certain amount of time, you will probably be more motivated to research the cleanliness and security that each housing option provides than company staff because, frankly, it’s not their problem.
Among travel nurses, there are many passionate advocates of travel trailers. “You can pay $400 a week in rent at an apartment or $400 a month at an RV park,” says Cheung. Living out of a travel trailer during assignments also means that you have your own space where everything is where you want it to be, a home away from home rather than a strange, probably mostly empty apartment. There are a few cons to consider when considering the travel trailer option, most notably maintenance, including waste removal. Additionally, there a usually far fewer RV parks within an area than apartments or motels, so the commute is typically often longer from RV parks depending on the location of the hospital.
If you’re curious about travel trailers, Cheung advises to “go see an RV dealership and just walk around and get a feel for whether you can do this.
Know Your Goals
Travel nursing offers flexibility, higher pay, and the opportunity to travel, but individual contracts rarely offer all three. It’s important to decide what you really want from your career as a travel nurse and search for contracts that give you that.
For example, on the subject of travel Katherine W., BSN, RN, CMSRN, of Nurse Katherine Here says, “you can live in different areas of the country and not have to uproot yourself because you will come home eventually, or you can be a local travel nurse and come home every night.”
For some travel nurses, the goal is to make money. They are happy to take a long assignment and work long hours in order to build their finances. For others, the higher wages offered to travel nurses allow them to work only a few months out of the year and still earn enough to live comfortably. Some simply enjoy the adventure. There are lots of reasons to become a travel nurse, but it’s important to decide what’s most important to you before diving in. There’s nothing worse than having a change of heart halfway through a six-month assignment.
How Hippo Lending Can Help
Hippo Lending provides travel nurses with lending options that others can’t. How? We understand a travel nurse’s income and provide flexibility that banks can’t when considering your request. Using travel nursing to provide money and flexibility to start a new business? Or perhaps you are ready to get rid of your debt with a Debt Consolidation loan. Hippo is committed to meeting the needs of travel nurses just like every other hard-working healthcare professional.
Hippo Lending uses a value-based business model that prioritizes helping healthcare professionals accomplish their life goals. Rather than a simple “yes or no” approval system, we take the time to review your loan request with you and discuss lending options that fit your needs while not straining your wallet. And if we are unable to provide a loan, we will provide you with guidance on how to get one in the future.
Interested in learning more? Click here to see how it works!