15 Practical Tips for Travel Nurses (for New & Experienced Nurses)

Are you a seasoned travel nurse? Are you trying to become a travel nurse or maybe you’re thinking about heading in that direction? Regardless of where you fall into, you really need to make sure to do your research.

This article on tips for travel nurses should be just one of many resources you’re looking at to make sure you’re prepared.

*disclosure: this post may contain affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase, I may receive a commission. For more info, please see my disclaimer

Tips for New Travel Nurses

1. Make Sure You Have at Least 1 Year of Nursing Experience

Before you start travel nursing, you need to make sure you have at least one year of nursing experience in the area/specialty you’re wanting to contract in. To be honest, you really should have two years of experience, but I know many nurse travel agencies will actually let you travel with only one year of experience. 

The reason why this is important is that when you’re a travel nurse to a new facility, they give you the bare minimum orientation needed. You’re expected to be ready to go very quickly. On top of that many hospitals provide very little (if any) support to their agency nurses. 

2. Do Not Start Traveling Until You Feel Comfortable in Your Given Area

This should be a given, but many nurses in pursuit of more money (which is not always the case, but more on that later) or to just travel take contracts when they’re not ready to actually be a travel nurse. While it’s true some nurses might only need a year to start traveling do not feel pressured or ashamed if it takes you a little bit longer to get there.

3. Accept You’re Probably Not Going to Get Your Dream Travel Spot

Some travel nursing agencies will make big claims that they can get you anywhere, but you should know that may or may not be the case. Some facilities or locations are more in demand than others. Because of that experienced travelers will probably have the upper hand. 

If that happens to you, don’t worry about it. As you gain more experience many of those positions will open up for you. 

General Tips for Travel Nurses

4. Pick A Good Agency

There are a lot of travel nurse agencies out there. While many of them are good, occasionally you will run across some that aren’t good. One of the ways to combat this is to network and talk to other travel nurses and see what company they use and trust.

With networking you’ll be able to figure out which companies take care of their nurses and which you should avoid. One of the best places travel nurses can go to network is Facebook.

On Facebook, there are travel nurse groups for just about every specialty. In those groups travel nurses can share tips and advice. Some of those groups also have recruiters who are they and post regularly assignment opportunities. 

Personally, I think Facebook groups are a must for every travel nurse because you learn so much. Here’s an example if you’re an ICU travel nurse, look on Facebook to see if there’s a community of ICU travel nurses (FYI, there is) and make a post asking about good travel companies or agencies, and I’m sure you’ll get plenty of good options to choose from.

5. Pick Good Hospital Assignments

This goes really well with what I previously talked about concerning good vs bad nursing agencies. There are also good and bad hospitals for travel nurses. An excellent remedy is once again networking and asking other travel nurses who have worked in those hospitals and see what their thoughts are. 

6. Negotiate Your Contract Well

So many nurses talk about how they can make more money as a travel nurse, but what doesn’t get mentioned is that you might not make as much as you think. And in some situations, you’re actually making less than you would have if you worked as a staff nurse back home. 

Here’s a quick summary of what I mean. In many travel contracts, there are two parts to your contract. So for example, let’s say you’re making $50 an hour. Out of that $50, $25 is taxed, and the other $25 is your untaxed living stipend.

That living stipend sounds really good until you do the math. If you’re traveling than that probably means you’re renting a place or living in a hotel. You’re probably eating out a lot and so forth. It could cost you more in travel expenses because you’re going to have costs that you wouldn’t have if you worked in a hospital back home.

In other words, if you don’t negotiate the right contract and if you’re not careful about your living expenses, you could potentially make less as a travel nurse.

7. Figure Out How You’re Going to Get to Your Assignment

Are you planning on driving to your next assignment? Are you planning to fly there? Those are all really good questions and something that should be considered.

8. Learn to Pack Efficiently

You would be amazed out how much easier your travels will go with good packing. 

Here are some tips:

  • Make a packing list before each assignment.
  • After making your packing list double check to see if the items on your list are really things you need. (One tip is to see what items can be purchased second hand after you get to your destination. When you’re done, you can then decide to either keep the item, donate it or throw it away.)
  • Pay attention to the location/ area of the assignment. Look up what the usual weather is like during the time you’re going to be there. Then pack accordingly. (So if you’re from the deep south and you take an assignment in a state like New York in the Winter than you should know you need to be prepared for extremely low temperatures.)
  • If you’re staying in a hotel, consider not packing items you can readily find at a hotel. For example soap and a towel.
  • Check and see how long the assignment is. Are you going to go home immediately after the assignment or pick up another contract immediately following? Based on that answer use that to guide your packing. 

Some More Packing Tips:

If you’re driving you should consider hard storage containers such as these from Rubbermaid:

Rubbermaid Clever Store Latching Storage Tote Container, Clear, 71-quart (FG3Q3200CLMCB)
  • Straight wall design maximizes storage space holding up to 14% more than other containers in the same space.
  • Recessed lid construction ensures superior stacking. New sleek texture gives containers a modern look.
  • Space-efficient design allows the containers to fit into more spaces in your home. Latches hold lid on securely.

You can also check out this one storage container that has wheels.

They’re more durable, and if you get the clear ones it will be easier to see what’s inside of them (you can also label each one with a sharpie).

If you’re going to be flying, make sure you’re using quality luggage such as the Coolife luggage (from Amazon.com). The last thing you need is for it to break on you.

COOLIFE Luggage 3 Piece Set Suitcase Spinner Hardshell Lightweight TSA Lock (Blue)
  • Warranty:Two Years Warranty. Please note that ONLY FAMILY SET has 4 pcs, please ignore the product's title and select the set you want.
  • 3 piece luggage set 20 inch,24 inch,28 inch upright, can be stored one into another.100% ABS, Lightweight yet extremely durable abs material.
  • Spinner wheels, multidirectional smooth and silent 360°wheels. Upgrade With TSA-Accepted Lock for security and peace of mind.

Pro Tip:
If you pack items in a suitcase consider using individual bags such as the Pro Packing Cubes for Travel (Amazon). They’re easier to deal with and if you label each one than you don’t have to go searching through your entire luggage to find the item you’re looking for.

Whether you’re flying or driving, consider getting these compression bags to help save space when packing. 

Sale
Hibag 12 Travel Compression Bags, 12-Pack Roll-Up Space Saver Storage Bags for Travel, Suitcase Size...
  • MUST-HAVE TRAVEL BAGS: The combo includes 12 bags (6 M size & 6 L size), saving up to 80% space no vacuum needed, providing a perfect storage solution for travel and home.
  • CONVENIENT SPACE BAGS: The zipper has one lower side and one higher side, easy to close and re-open, separating the zipper when opening the bag is not a challenge any more!
  • SECURELY SEALED BAGS: The unique Double-Zip design has separated yellow and blue lines on each sides. Secure sealing is assured when they coincide.

Some other must-have packing items for travel nurses:

9. Pick a City You’ll Enjoy Being In

If you’re going to be traveling make sure to pick a city or state you’re going to enjoy being in. While a 13-week assignment might not seem that long, it will drag on if you can’t find a way to entertain yourself during your off time. 

10. Figure Out Who’s Going to Take Care of Your Home

Do you own a home?

Are you renting?

Who’s going to take care of your house while you’re traveling? While we’re at it what about your mail? Are you going to have your mail forwarded to another address or is someone going to pick up your mail for you?

11. Bring Your Pet With You

While we’re on this subject if you have a pet, you either need to bring them with you or leave them with a friend or family member. 

If possible a pet is an excellent way to make a travel assignment more enjoyable. The downside is you’ll have more responsibilities during your travel, and you have to be more judicial where you pick to stay. The reason is taking care of a pet is hardwork at times, and many rental opportunities will be closed to you because they don’t allow pets.

If you’re looking for some good options on some of the best pets for nurses. Make sure you check out our article on the best pets for travel nurses. If you’re specifically a dog person than you might prefer the article best dog types for nurses

Tips for Travel Nurses During Your Assignment

12. Make a Good First Impression

An excellent first impression is crucial if you want to start off the assignment on the right foot and if you want an opportunity to re-up the contract later if you like the facility.

13. Take Your Orientation Seriously

I can’t stress this enough. As I stated earlier, many facilities give the bare minimum orientation for travelers. Because of that you need to take advantage of what little orientation you do have.

  • Ask good questions.
  • Figure out what your chain of command is.
  • Figure out how this assignment differs from your last one. 

14. Connect with a Regular Staff Nurse

Even though you’re a contract nurse, it doesn’t mean you should have a traveler’s mentality. What I mean by that is try to connect with the nurses there. You never know, you could find a good friend. Also you never know how long you’re actually going to be there. I’ve seen some travel nurses stay almost a year in the same hospital or in the same area. Plus it makes your off-time that much more enjoyable.

15. Keep in Contact with Your Recruiter

Make sure you stay connected with your recruiter for potential new and more exciting opportunities. Plus a good recruiter can be a helpful resource if things aren’t going well in your assignment.

16. Don’t Commit to the Facility Until You’ve Scoped Out Your Options

This is self-explanatory don’t commit early to a facility until you know for sure what you want to do. One of the reasons you travel is to give yourself options, so make sure you leave your options open as long as you can.

17. Don’t Burn Bridges

Do NOT burn bridges. You never know who will be where, or who will hear what you did, even if it’s several states over. Plus you always want to have the door open in case you decide to go back.

Final Thoughts

Being a traveling nurse can be both exciting and nerve-racking at the same time. But with a little bit of preparation, you can make it a very enjoyable experience.

What are your tips for travel nurses?
If you’re a travel nurse who’s had an assignment before, what advice do you have? If you’re a nurse trying to get your first contract, what are you most nervous about?
Let us know in the comment section below.

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