The Pros and Cons of Travel Nursing

The Pros and Cons of Travel Nursing

Do you not only love to travel but also love your career as a nurse? Do you feel as if you are stagnating in your current position? Or, are you just tired of hospital politics and ready for a literal change of scene? You may want to combine your passions for travel and nursing and address all these issues at once by becoming a travel nurse. Travel nurses accept temporary jobs in a variety of areas across the United States, and some even obtain employment in other countries.

What Is a Travel Nurse?

The nationwide nursing shortage makes travel nursing an appealing career option for both full- and part-time nurses. Even if a hospital or healthcare facility is fully staffed, they may experience seasonal shortages as the local population fluctuates or nurses take a leave of absence such as maternity leave. To find skilled nurses to fill these typically short-term assignments, these facilities often hire travel nurses.

What Are the Basic Qualifications?

Travel nurses, according to recruitment site, are typically registered nurses with a minimum of 12 months of experience working in a hospital. Additional certification credentials are useful because many of these positions are in specialties that require intensive training, such as ICU and oncology. Nurses with training in specialty areas are often more in demand and enjoy many options for employment. However, as notes, you can become a travel nurse with minimum qualifications: an associate of science in nursing degree and successful passage of the NCLEX-RN exam.

Assignments typically last 13 weeks, at which time the travel nurse is free to accept another position, take some time off between assignments, or, possibly, get an extension on the current contract. Hiring agencies and individual contracts differ, but travel nursing positions usually comprise 40-hour workweeks, either five 8-hour, four 10-hour, or three 12-hour shifts, although hours and days vary by facility. You typically begin each contract period with an orientation session that lasts several days. While you’re on assignment, your work schedule is designed to provide time for you to periodically return to your permanent place of residence. For example, if you’re required to work four 10-hour shifts, you have three days available for travel to your home base or to explore your new area.

Pros of Travel Nursing

1. Adventurous Lifestyle

The life of the travel nurse is well-suited for individuals who tend to feel “stuck” or “suffocated” or maybe even bored going to the same workplace every day. Travel nursing provides the opportunity to explore new environments. For example, if you like to hike and enjoy new scenery, you may be able to find a temporary job in a state with multiple hiking trails. Or, you may enjoy meeting people from other areas and exploring a variety of cities and towns.

2. Control When and Where You Work

If you enjoy having a sense of personal freedom, you should consider a career as a travel nurse. In many cases, you will have the freedom to choose when and where you work and select from jobs lasting a few weeks or even just a few days. You may be able to find work in an area in which you know you have an upcoming special event, a wedding, graduation, birthday, or the like. Since many travel nurses find employment through a recruitment agency, they will have access to that agency’s job boards, so they can choose their schedule, benefits package, and salary.

3. Perks and Benefits of Travel Nursing

Travel nurses are often compensated handsomely, depending on the location of the job and the facility. Although statistics vary widely and they seem to differ according to which “expert” you’re consulting, a general range provided by travel nursing blog BluePipes is as low as “$40,000 per year to well over $100,000 per year,” depending on the source you visit.

Although it doesn’t list travel nursing as a unique occupation separate from registered nursing, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, reports median pay for registered nurses for the year 2020 was $80,010 per year, or $338.47 an hour, with a growth rate of 9 percent, which is higher than average for all occupations as a whole. Moreover, agencies sometimes provide housing, pay many of the expenses, and offer numerous other tax-exempt perks.

4. Work for an Agency

A large variety of nursing recruitment agencies exist that maintain active job boards, which provide multiple opportunities to find employment in the area of specialization of your choice. Angelina Gibson, reporting for, says that working with several agencies, both on the local and national level, helps you find the exact type of employment you seek.

Working with an agency gives you access to jobs that pay extremely well, including so-called “rapid response” crisis assignments or during a facility strike. Other assignments available through these agencies, such as “destination locations” like Hawaii, typically don’t pay as well – although they do provide the opportunity to vacation while you work.

5. Variety in Career Experience

Each time you accept a new assignment, you will learn new skills and get experience at facilities across the country, ranging from small rural hospitals, where you’ll be required to work in every position, to large, urban medical centers, where you can specialize in the nursing area of your choice.

Every experience helps you grow as a nurse and makes you more attractive to prospective employers. As Brittany Hamstra, BSN, RN, says in a blog post, as a travel nurse, you’ll gain exposure to “new environments, new coworkers, new clinical skills [that] will enable you to reach the next level of your potential.”

Cons of Travel Nursing

1. Logistics of Travel

Whether you’re traveling for a long or short assignment, frequent travel is not easy; in fact, any profession is difficult when travel is part of the job duties. Common problems encountered by traveling nurses include, but are not limited, to:

  • The stress of frequently arranging travel plans, including moving expenses, packing, arranging flights, etc., if you work independently of an agency
  • Time change adjustments
  • Arranging insurance between contract periods
  • Language and cultural barriers (primarily international travel)
  • Unfamiliar weather
  • Personal medical issues; i.e., prescriptions, seeing new physicians
  • Adjusting to new living spaces
  • Working undesirable hours – travel nurses are often required to work weekends, nights, and weekend shifts
  • Adapting quickly to other nursing departments and medical personnel

Travel nurses have access to several excellent online resources that feature helpful information on almost every topic, including job postings, blogs, packing tips, tax information, checklists, networking hints, certification resources, and more.

2. Loneliness

At some time, almost every travel nurse becomes homesick. If you have to leave your spouse, children, pets, or close relatives behind, Skype or FaceTime may not be enough. Even for single nurses with no children, being away from home for extended periods can take its toll. However, as Registered notes, having a “strong sense of independence and a support system available,” will help.

The Gypsy Nurse blog provides hints to help combat loneliness during your life on the road, including getting a pet, using the Meetup app, joining a gym, learning a new hobby, volunteering at an animal shelter, getting out and about in your new area, and socializing with your new coworkers.

3. Multiple Licenses

Typically, travel nurses are required to have active licensure for each state in which they work, which can require the necessity to plan and obtain a license before accepting a job. However, a “large majority” of states in the U.S. are covered under what’s called the Compact RN license.

If you work for an agency, the agency may not only help you obtain your license but even pay the licensing fees. Obtaining licensure is a fairly straightforward procedure. You must provide a background check, proof of an active license, and a fee, which you or the agency will make payable to the state nursing board.

Travel Nursing reports that some states allow faster processing of temporary licenses, so you can take an assignment on short notice. Additionally, if you’re hired for a specialty position, such as a job in medical/surgical nursing, intensive care, labor/delivery, or the emergency room, additional certification(s) may be required.

4. Compensation and Budgeting

Every time you accept a position, you sign a new contract, which means varying rates of pay. If you work for a travel nursing recruitment company, they may provide a travel allowance, health insurance, and even a condo or apartment for your contract period.

Compensation is typically based on several factors, including job location; timing of the contract period – not many nurses want to live in Alaska during the winter, for example; staffing shortages at the medical facility; and/or contract completion bonuses. All of these factors, while they also can be considered benefits, make it difficult to plan and stick to a budget. Kyle Leffel, RN, suggests that travel nurses use apps on their smartphones to find lower gas costs and to learn the cost of living in the new area before accepting a new assignment.

5. Career Trajectory

One of the benefits of travel nursing is the opportunity to expand your knowledge base and to network and form valuable, strategic relationships with decision-makers in the work environment. reports that a career as a travel nurse provides the opportunity to build your resume by working at hospitals around the country, including “top-rated hospitals such as the Mayo Clinic, Mount Sinai Beth Israel, Cleveland Clinic, John Hopkins Hospital, and New York Presbyterian.

This type of resume-boosting experience helps in gaining admission to graduate schools or a permanent position at another prominent hospital. However, finding time to form professional relationships that could lead to advancement may be difficult, particularly on short assignments. The travel nurse is always the “new kid” in the workplace and, by definition, somewhat isolated. Nurses who travel may find they are in a holding pattern when it comes to professional advancement.

In Conclusion

As the old saying goes, “One man’s poison is another man’s porridge.” What may be a “con” for one individual could be a “pro” for another. Part of passionately pursuing a career goal is turning negatives into positives. Travel nurses help staff nurses who are experiencing burnout, and often, the travel nurse is greatly appreciated in her/his temporary position. Additionally, they often provide healthcare in underserved rural areas, which many nurses find extremely rewarding. If travel nursing appeals to you, give it a test drive! You will gain valuable experience, meet new people, see the sights, and learn a lot about yourself in the process.

Popular Posts