Is Travel Nursing Right for You? Knowing when to start – A Nurse’s Guide to Traveling

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This guide will help identify the right questions to ask yourself so you are armed with useful information, confident to explore your opportunities, and ambitious to create a plan and start your greatest adventures yet!

Am I ready to become a Travel Nurse?

If you’re asking yourself when to start travel nursing, the answer is now! Given you meet a few major requirements, that is!

Switching from staff nursing to travel nursing can be a huge (and intimidating) step. It requires commitment, determination, and confidence to be able to walk away from the comfort zone of your permanent staff position to take on the unknowns of travel nursing. If you have discovered this post, you’re already halfway there. Keep going!

To start, let’s discuss the difference between staff nursing and travel nursing to help find out where you would shine best in the nursing field.

What is a Staff Nurse?

A staff nurse is a nurse who works directly for the hospital or hospital system. This can include full-time nurses, part-time nurses, per-diem nurses, float pool nurses, and system float nurses (okay, you get the picture). These nurses live in one area for several years and hold active nursing licenses within the state where they work. They seek stability, consistent schedules, and the luxury of long term planning.

These are the nurses who have access to the hospital employee seniority list and employee benefits, unlike travel nurses. These nurses have the security of having a stable income, guaranteed work hours, paid time off, sick pay, and the support of a union and/or management depending on the facility. Staff nurses receive differential pay per their facility policy and will receive incremental raises as they establish more experience within their specialty. They must obtain specialized certifications determined by the facility and department they choose to work in. Most states require continuing education credits before license renewal and some hospitals offer these classes for their staff employees for free or reimbursement. Some hospitals offer staff nurses education reimbursement if they choose to attend medical conferences or return to college for high degrees.

Staff Nurses are not required to travel long distances or move locations frequently. This type of nursing is best for those looking to settle down in one area, build a stable home life, and enjoy a routine work-life balance. Staff nurses are the core of the hospital system, without them, the hospital departments would be unable to function in an cohesive manner.

What is a Travel Nurse?

A travel nurse is a nurse who signs a contract with a healthcare organization for temporary assignments outside of their primary residential tax-home area. These nurses provide hospitals with temporary professional employees to fill staffing needs at approximately 13-week increments. Hospitals list their staffing needs with vendors or directly with travel nurse agencies who then supply the supplemental staff in the form of travel nurses. Travel nurses work directly with a recruiters from recruiting agencies to pinpoint what hospitals would be the best fit for them.

It is recommended that a travel nurse have at least two years of experience in their specialty department as a staff nurse before starting a traveling career. These nurses are expected to know their role before arriving at their assignment. They usually get 2-12 hours of orientation before being on their own at the new hospital. Their orientation consists of a walkthrough of the department and a quick review of protocols and supplies, they do not cover how to be a nurse or how to perform nursing tasks (you should already know these!). They must feel confident in their nursing and communication skills prior to becoming a traveler. They must have a basic understanding of protocols, what is included and excluded from their scope of practice, and the ability to ask appropriate questions. They must have the confidence to advocate for their patients’ well-being and perform complete and thorough documentation. They must take responsibility for maintaining their continuing education credits and additional nursing certifications for their specialty department. The travel nurse must also maintain the individual RN licenses for the states they wish to work in or obtain a multi-state RN license within a home state which participates in the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC).

Travel nurses must!

They must be able to overcome their fears to have amazing experiences, meet wonderful new friends, and enjoy the splendors of what this career has to offer.  

How Does Travel Nursing Work?

Travel nursing was originally established to help hospitals get more help during high census seasons or tourism events. From that development grew a network of hospitals, vendors, agencies and nurses willing to work together to keep facilities fully staffed and functioning. Without travel nursing, there would be no one to replace the nurse who is out on maternity leave, the nurse who wants to take a vacation would never be approved during the busy season, or the nurse who can’t come back until they’ve healed from their surgery would be feeling guilty the floor is so short staffed without them. Travel nurses are there to help! Many staff nurses see travelers as a saving grace when their alternative is to work short handed or be guilted into picking up overtime.

Travel nursing involves three major parts: the hospital, the staffing agency, and the travel nurse. Hospitals advertise their staffing needs through staffing agencies who then find qualified people to fill the open positions. Think of your recruiter like the middle man between you and the hospital.

What Are the Requirements for Becoming a Travel Nurse?

To become a travel nurse, you must first become a nurse. If you have that part down, go ahead and skip this section. If not, let’s go over it!

Become a Nurse in Three “Easy” Steps:

1. Obtain a Nursing Degree

Before you can work as a nurse in the United States, you must first attend an accredited college or university and obtain an two year Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a four year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.

2. Pass the NCLEX and obtain your nursing license

After completing your college degree, the next step to becoming a nurse is to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) for the state in which you graduated. It is easier to obtain a license from the same state as your college and then apply for other state licenses through endorsement afterward. If you live and are licensed in a state that participates in the Nursing Licensure Compact (NLC) agreement, you qualify to use your state license in all states within that compact agreement. The benefit of an NLC license means the nurse can work in any NLC state without having to apply for, or maintain continuing education for, each state’s individual nursing license. This makes travel nursing more accessible, saves nurses money and time, and allows states to have access to a larger pool of short-term staff when their hospitals need help. In order to satisfy the NLC agreement, the nurse must maintain an active RN license in their home state, complete continuing education requirements for that license, remain in good standing with the board of nursing, abide by state and federal laws, and strictly follow their scope of nursing practice.

3. get hired and gain experience

Congratulations! You are ready to start your nursing career!  All that hard work has finally paid off! It’s time to create your resume, submit it to hospitals, nail the interview, and start a wonderful career in the medical field. This is your opportunity to put all that schooling to work! But remember, a great nurse never stops learning! Keep asking questions, keep being curious, and keep growing into a stronger nurse every day!

10 Steps to Becoming a Travel Nurse:

Journaling Opportunity

Why do I want to be a travel nurse? What aspects of traveling draw me to this career? What hardships do I anticipate having to overcome? What makes me the most excited? What is holding me back? How can I overcome those fears? What if everything works out and it ends up being the best experience of my life?

1. Find a Travel Nurse Agency Whose Values Align with Yours

The agency you choose will have a major impact on how your travel assignment goes, so choose precisely. They should have transparency in job openings and pay packages, be reliable and timely, and have an organized team to help get you the best contract and take care of you while you’re on assignment.

Review what agencies have to offer on their websites or ask a recruiter these questions:

Do they offer health insurance?
Does that insurance start on the first day of work or is there a designated amount of time before you can utilize it?
Will you continue to be covered by that insurance in between contracts?
Do they offer sick pay?
How is that sick pay accumulated?
Do they offer a 401K or retirement benefits?
Do they reimburse you for travel to the assignment?
What is the maximum amount paid for travel reimbursement?
Do they have a compliance team?
Do they pay for your medical screenings, vaccinations, labs, physicals, drug screens, or other requirements the hospital requests – or are you required to pay out of pocket with the possibility of getting reimbursed? (Some agencies do not cover these appointments at all, always ask!)
Do they work directly with any hospital systems? (If they do not work directly with a hospital system, it is more than likely that they use a third-party vendor like FocusOne Solutions, SimpliFi Staffing, RightSourcing, or AYA Managed Service Program (MSP)– These staffing vendors will take a percentage of the pay the hospital has budgeted per traveler, therefore reducing the amount your agency can pay you compared to a traveler who is hired through an agency that works directly with that hospital system).
Do they offer a housing team to help you find affordable housing at your assignment?


I’ve heard horror stories about travelers arriving to their contract, only to find their agency did not submit the proper paperwork or inform the nurse of additional requirements the hospital had before the start date (such as exams, medical screenings, or special certifications) in which the traveler’s contract was completely canceled or the start dates were significantly delayed. This can cost the traveler A LOT of money via travel to the assignment, lease agreements, and more that will not get reimbursed by their agency if they do not start a contract there! This is why choosing a reliable agency is important!

2. Seek a Travel Nurse Recruiter You Connect With

They will be your go-to when you need help on your assignment, make sure they are trustworthy and responsive!

There is nothing worse than getting to your assignment, discovering a major problem, and then not being able to get ahold of your recruiter for help. Don’t jump on board with the first recruiter you talk to; do your research.

Create accounts on multiple travel nurse agency websites. This will take some time. You will need an updated resume, two to three recent professional references, and be able to complete a skills checklist to see how competent you are with certain nursing skills. Some agencies require you to have an account to see what jobs they have available, while others let you look at the list as a guest. Always speak to a recruiter about the details of the assignment before submitting your application. If you approve your recruiter to auto-submit you to hospitals in a certain area, remember to review the pay package immediately before accepting an offer. Some hospitals will automatically offer a contract based on your resume, while others will want to do a phone interview.

Spend some time talking to different recruiters and observe the different ways they operate. The first time you talk to a recruiter, they should be knowledgeable and informative about how travel nursing works, answer any of your questions on the process, and then their focus really should be trying to get to know you. You want your recruiter to be able to honestly tell you if they do not know an answer and follow through with finding it out for you. Your recruiter should create a list of the types of places you want and be able to make suggestions relevant to your requests. A good recruiter should not persistently pressure you to apply to areas you do not want to go. They should check in with you frequently during the application process, the onboarding process, and during your assignment. The most trustworthy recruiter should be able to educate you on your options and never try to knowingly steer you toward an unsafe assignment location. Finding a good recruiter is like finding a therapist, you have to connect as individuals before you can establish a trustworthy professional relationship. You won’t get along with everyone and some recruiters you talk to just won’t click, and that is completely okay. Do not be afraid to reach out to the agency and ask to speak with other recruiters. It is your life, you should be comfortable with and confident in the person helping you choose where to go with it.

3. What Are You Looking for in a Travel Nurse Contract?

These are the questions you must prepare to answer before you start looking for available contracts. This will not only help you narrow down your search, but it will also assist your recruiter in keeping an eye out for positions that fit your desires.

What are your priorities for this assignment?
Are you looking for a large trauma center, a critical access hospital, or something in between?
What kind of pay package are you willing to accept?
Do you want to work 12-hour shifts or 8-hour shifts?
Do you prefer the day shift, mid-shift, or night shift?
Would you accept a 36, 40, or 48-hour work week?
Are you willing to float between departments or prefer to stay in one specialty?
Are you willing to float between different hospitals within the hospital system?
Would you accept a contract that requires on-call shifts?
Are you looking to go somewhere new or revisit familiar places?
What kind of experiences do you want to have outside of work?

4. Choose Your Travel Nurse Location

Journaling opportunity

Journaling opportunity: What activities bring me joy? What hobbies do I want to learn this year? What landscapes or attractions am I most drawn to? What contracts have the most of these things?

Would you rather live in a big city or a small town?
What population size are you comfortable living in alone?
Do you want to be near the desert, an ocean, mountains, or valleys?
Would you rather live close to event centers or be near national parks? 
Are you simply looking to go anywhere you haven’t been? (Yes, that’s an option too!)
How close to an airport do you want to be?
Will you need access to public transportation?
Do you have enough money to make it to your assignment prior to your first paycheck and getting travel reimbursement?
What are your living standards for this assignment?
What type of housing is available in those areas and is the rent within your budget?
Are you willing to accept a lower pay package to be somewhere you really want to be or would you rather live more comfortably with some extra cash and vacation to those destinations instead?

After you’ve taken time to answer these questions for yourself, tell your recruiter what you want- Be specific! Remember, you are the one who is going to live there for several months, don’t let your recruiter tell you where to go (unless they are genuinely suggesting places you would enjoy) this is your life and your choice.

5. Send Your Travel Nurse Application to Hospitals

Once you’ve narrowed down a few locations that fit your desires for the contract, it’s time to have your recruiter submit your application for review by the hospital. Once your application is reviewed, the hospital will either contact your recruiter to discuss negotiations of the contract, or they will call you directly for an interview.

But Wait!

Before you send in your application, did you compare the pay package to your other agencies? Sometimes one agency will have a significantly higher pay package for the same hospital! You never want to submit to the same hospital with multiple agencies, so it’s best to do your comparisons first and submit with the agency that works best for you. Keep in mind, it is disrespectful to use one recruiter’s time and energy to gather information about assignments if you know another agency has a higher pay package and you plan to apply through them instead. Take time to review the agency websites and talk directly to the recruiter you want to use for that specific location. Recruiters are working hard to get nurses their dream contracts, keep them compliant while on assignment, and make sure they are safe during their travels. Do not abuse a recruiter’s attentiveness and time, instead, be upfront about your decisions with all recruiters during the contract application process and be respectful when choosing who to use for the application submission.

6. Interview for Your Travel Nurse Position! (Don’t worry… these are a breeze! Good Luck!)

Once your application has been submitted, it’s a waiting game. Some hospitals will call you the same day you apply, so make sure your phone is on loud and you’re ready to interview ASAP! Other hospitals may not call you for over a week. It is essential to have a professional voicemail already established and cleared out in case you miss their call. Remain in a location where you will have cell phone service when able. Remember, the hospital is trying to fill empty staff positions as soon as possible with as little time out of their busy day as they can. The manager will have multiple qualified candidates apply for those positions, meaning they may not wait for you to return their call before choosing a nurse. It is your responsibility to answer when the hospital calls you the first time if you truly want to work there. There is no guarantee they will take your return phone call or try calling again. They will simply move down the list of qualified applicants on their desk and choose who is available first.

The interview process for travel nurse assignments does not compare to staff nurse interviews. You do not need to study specific questions or have examples of how you handled situations in the past stored for quick reference. These interviews are mainly informative and collaborative. They will educate you on their hospital size, department size, department expectations, and verify your work history. They will inform you of how the schedule works, who your points of contact will be, and allow you to ask any questions at the end. This is a very informal interview style, so do not sweat it! If you agree that everything sounds good over the interview, expect to hear from your recruiter within a day or two to see if they offered you the contract.

Some hospital systems use a third party to do their “interviews.” This is basically a phone call to inform you what they expect out of their nurses and how the department is run. They want to verify you are qualified and that you are comfortable with their expectations and their department’s operation. If you have specific questions about the department, they most likely will not be able to answer them because they do not work at that facility. You have a right to still have your questions answered and request the manager to relay the information to you before accepting the position. This may delay the application process slightly, but it is better to have your concerns addressed than sign a contract at a facility you are not happy at.

Do not miss your opportunity during the interview to clarify things your recruiter has told you about this assignment, ask about the department, or vocalize concerns. Here are some questions to have on hand when going through your interview, if the manager does not answer them during their introduction, make sure to ask them before the end of the call!

What is the nurse to patient ratio and how strictly is that enforced?
What shift would you be working?
How many hours are each shift? What are the beginning and end times? What are the clock in and clock out regulations?
How many shifts a week will you be expected to work to fulfill the contract requirements?
How does scheduling work? Will you be able to speak with a scheduler in the event you need time off or do time off request have to be in the contract?
What scrub color is required or can you wear any color/ designs? Do they provide scrubs for surgery and OBGYN nurses?
Do they have a break nurse? Do nurses regularly get their lunch breaks? Do nurses regularly get their 15 minute breaks?
How well does their team work together throughout the unit?
What percentage of the department are staff and what percentage are travelers? Do travelers usually extend or come back to their facility?
Does the hospital have access to a system float pool?
Are there special certifications or trainings you will have to complete prior to starting?
Do they have specific COVID policies in place?
Does the hospital have security 24/7? Do they provide safety measures such as emergency buttons or alarms?
Does the hospital have access to additional resources, EMS, RT, Lab, Techs, CNAs, and other supporting departments 24/7?
Will there always be a doctor in the department? (This is mainly for critical assess hospitals)
Do they ship majority of their patients out to other hospitals or are they a magnet hospital?
Do they have access to prompt transport services such as ground or air ambulance?
Do they provide interpreter services?
What can you expect to see the most of? What kind of patients frequent their facility?

7. Negotiate the Travel Nurse Contract

Does the contract meet all of your requirements? If not, it’s time to negotiate. My motto is, “It never hurts to ask.” Don’t be afraid to verbalize your needs and ask for what you want.

Does this contract align with your pay package expectations?
Does this contract align with the start date you were looking for?
Is the total length of the contract within your expectations?
Does the contract meet your anticipated weekly work hour requirements? Can that hospital call you off or low census you? Do you still get paid if they do?
Does the contract have your ideal scheduling? How important is it for you to work block schedules (all of your shifts in a row)? Do you have a limit to how many days in a row you can handle while working? Are you alright with working an inconsistent schedule rotation?
Does the contract have your ideal shift? Are you willing to work a different shift to get the location you wanted?
Does the contract have your approved time off requests?
Would you get charge nurse pay if you are ever placed into a charge nurse role?


Do not take a contract paying under $1,500-2,000 a week as an RN – You will find the cost of duplicating expenses at your tax home and the current cost of living at your assignment to be financially limiting if you do.

Remember, this hospital needs you. They’ve already gone through the trouble of reviewing your resume, interviewing you, and sending you the offer. They are usually willing to negotiate if something in the contract is a hard stop for you. Now, you must be open to compromise on your end if this is a contract you really want and make sure you’re asking for reasonable adjustments. Some hospitals are more willing to work with your requests than others, but you won’t know until you ask. Reasonable requests would be letting the hospital know you prefer another shift and asking about the possibility of transitioning into that shift if it opens or if you extend, asking about increasing your pay to satisfy shift differential if you move to a shift that has one (this would be for the full length of your contract, not simply working one shift here or there), or asking if you can start one week later than the listed start date in order for you to have enough time to travel to their location (especially if the new contract is suppose to start really close to the end date of your current contract).

Things such as time off requests can be a reason for hospitals to not hire you. I realize some time off requests are non-negotiable and you must stand by important events in your life, but be prepared for a hospital to decline your application because of this. If you can be flexible with your dates, do so. But the facility is looking for a travel nurse who will be available to fulfill their weekly work hour requirements. Remember, the staff nurses are looking for time off as well. They are overworked and exhausted and travel nurses allow them to take the breaks they deserve. If a staff nurse puts in a time off request, they are more likely to get approved off over a traveler who asks for the same dates. It’s not the scheduler trying to be mean to you if they cannot accommodate your time off request, it’s them standing by their staff and making sure they have enough people to fill the schedule for that particular week. There is a benefit to putting in at least one stretch of time off per contract in order to guarantee time to explore the things you hope to see while there. If you work a three-day week, choose dates that allow you to still be available to work the first half of the week and the last half of the next week after your time off request (such as a Wednesday-to-Wednesday request instead of a Monday-to-Sunday request). Hospitals are more likely to approve these requests when they can still schedule you for full-time hours. If you request more than 7 days off, remember this can affect your tax-free stipend as it appears you are not at your contract location, be prepared to take a week of pay cuts in this event. The tax-free stipend is provided to travelers who maintain a tax home outside of the assignment area as reimbursement for housing and food expenses incurred while working away from home. A long time off request indicates the nurse is not working and, therefore, does not qualify for the tax-free stipend during that time.

After you feel satisfied with the contract, you will sign the employee agreement and begin the onboarding process. Be prepared to have a list of things to complete from the compliance team. You will have onboarding paperwork, a pre-employment physical exam, immunizations, blood work, drug screens, and a long list of hospital requirements that must be completed before day one. Hospitals have started requiring onboarding education and exams prior to arriving at the facility for orientation.

8. Prepare for Your Travel Nurse Contract

Now for the hard part… What to pack?!

Three Things to consider when preparing to pack

What will the weather be like in the state you are traveling to?
What hobbies will you be partaking in?
What things do you NEED vs. what items are additional comforts?

Some people are impressively efficient at packing only the essentials, but I am not one of those people. If you’re anything like me, keep reading.

Lay everything out that you think you will need and organize the items into similarity piles
Identify the duplicates and decide on one, leave the rest!
Now try packing your bags.
What does not fit? What is not essential?
Take some time to answer the questions below and repack.

Answer these questions to help decide what to pack for your first assignment:

Think about your typical work week, how many scrub sets do you need to make it through the week?
What color scrubs are required by the hospital or are they open to any color?
Do you have enough compression socks? (If you’re working 12-hour shifts and not wearing compression socks, you should start.)
Do you have work shoes?
Do you have a lunch bag?
Do you want to bring food storage containers?
Do you have a favorite coffee mug?
Do you use crock pots or air fryers?
What are your hobbies?
Which of those hobbies can you do while on this assignment?
Can you fit the supplies/equipment for those hobbies in your vehicle or can you buy/rent them when you need to?
Do you have pets? What items are a must for your animal(s)?
What hygiene and beauty supplies do you need? Can you narrow those down?
Should you get material packing cubes, storage cubes, or do you prefer plastic tubs to organize and store your things?
Should you bring suitcases?
Do you plan to fly anywhere while on this travel assignment?
What luggage do you need for the airport?
Do you have a favorite pillow or a blanket you don’t want to leave without?
What about your favorite books? Or are audiobooks a better option to pass the time on those long drives?
Do you have Hulu, an Amazon Fire Stick, an Apple TV device or other streaming accessible device in case the housing does not provide a smart TV?
Do you have Wi-Fi security cameras for your new apartment?
Do those cameras have motion detection alerts for when you are gone?
Do you have anything for personal protection?

9. Find housing for the travel nurse assignment

Always look at housing options before signing your contract. This can help you determine if the pay package is enough to supplement the cost of renting at your travel location in addition to paying rent or shared expenses at your tax home. If you are traveling to a rural critical access hospital, there may not be rental housing available for over a 20-mile radius. Be aware of the possibility of a long commute, having to live in a rural motel, or needing to bring an RV to a local RV park for the duration of your assignment. If your contract is in a large city, be prepared to pay the higher costs or share housing with your landlord. Pets can be an additional consideration to keep in mind. Bringing your furry friend along can limit the number of housing options, but the value of their presence can have a significant impact on your mental well-being while in an unfamiliar place and may be worth the housing hassle. Plenty of properties are pet friendly.

Furnished housing options

Furnished Finder
Transplant Housing

10. Plan Your Trip to the Travel Nurse Assignment

Whether you decide to fly or drive to your contract, ask yourself these questions:

Does my agency offer travel reimbursement?
Would it be more beneficial to have my vehicle and road trip or fly and rent a car / use public transportation?
Is public transportation available in the area where I would be working?
Does my agency offer car rental reimbursement for the duration of my contract?
How far do I feel comfortable driving in a day?
Do I have a reliable vehicle? When was my last maintenance check and oil change?
What is my budget for this trip?
What towns should I plan to stop in or do I want to camp along the way?
Should I make this drive a scenic road trip or drive straight there?
Can I make it to my assignment location by the weekend before the start date (at the latest)?
What tools, vehicle safety supplies, flashlights, jumper cables, or emergency supplies should you keep in your vehicle?
Will you be driving in places with no cell phone service?
Should you get a satellite communication device?
Could you possibly need a tow rope?
Does your vehicle have a spare tire?
Will you need a hitch to haul a trailer, or can you fit everything in your vehicle?
When was the last time you had an oil change?
Are your tires old or still have good tread?
Do you have a paper atlas in case your GPS stops working and you don’t have service?
Does someone you trust know what route you are driving or the flight you are taking?
Have you shared your travel itinerary with anyone?
Did you check the weather before you leave?

Start your contract and enjoy an adventurous new life! 

Welcome Friends!

Hey there! I’m Nikki, welcome to my passion! I’m a solo-female travel nurse, photographer, and cat mom. You can find me outside with my hiking boots on or running circles in the ER. Either way, I’m obsessed with this lifestyle and hope to inspire you to step outside your comfort zone! I’m so excited to have you with for the ride!

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