Top Travel Nursing Questions & Answers

#1. What is a travel nurse, and what do they do?

Let’s talk about the basics here for a moment. A travel nurse is a nurse who will work in his/her specialty while taking short-term contracts at different facilities across the U.S. Travel nurses are often employed through agencies and have the flexibility to work in various healthcare settings and regions, usually in response to staffing shortages or high-demand areas. Overall, travel nursing combines the thrill of adventure with the fulfillment of providing quality healthcare. It is a profession that allows nurses to positively impact patient lives while enjoying the rewards of travel and professional growth.

While there are all kinds of traveling healthcare professionals, for Travel Nurse 101 purposes, we’ll focus on healthcare professionals with a U.S. Active Registered Nurse License (although some companies hire LPNS).

Explore the roles and duties of travel nurses.

#2. Why do hospitals use travel nurses?

Travel nurses often help fill in the gaps and augment the workforce when these hospitals experience staffing shortages due to high patient volumes, seasonal demands, or unexpected staff absences. Travel nurses’ specialized skills, experience at different facilities, and flexibility provide healthcare facilities with a valuable solution to meet their short-term staffing needs as they ensure patients can continue to receive high-quality, safe care.

Unveiling the Vital Role: Why Hospitals Rely on Travel Nurses

#3. Where can travel nurses go?

Travel nurses can find opportunities in various healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities in every state. The process of becoming a travel nurse involves obtaining the necessary licenses and certifications to practice in different states. Once licensed and certified, you can search for opportunities that fit your skills, interests, and experience. Job availability depends on several factors, including specialty, flexibility, and hospital need.
Knowing where and when you are willing to travel is key to finding a compatible travel nurse assignment. As your travel nurse mentor, I highly recommend making a list of the destinations you would like to visit. Then, take that a step further and list specific facilities where you would like to work. This list may evolve over time as you do more research or interact and meet other travelers who recommend places they’ve really enjoyed. My most important advice for finding travel nursing jobs is to be flexible and have an open mind. Some of my best assignments were in destinations that I would have never expected to love so much.

Learn more about types of travel nursing destinations and assignment durations.

#4. How long is a travel nursing assignment, or travel nursing contract?

The length of a travel nursing assignment or contract can vary depending on the healthcare facility’s needs and the travel nurse’s preferences. A typical travel nurse assignment is 13 weeks. About four to six weeks into your contract, discussions will begin about whether or not you want to extend your stay at that facility by signing another contract. It’s your decision whether you wish to stay or find another assignment. 

Sometimes, extending an assignment can be nice because you already know the area and the unit. You can stay at one facility for up to a year minus one day as a traveler. The one-year restriction only applies if you wish to remain tax compliant and receive per diems. If not, you will be fully taxed at a year and beyond. 

Your company typically initiates the conversation around contract extension, but you can also start the discussion with your nurse manager on the unit if you’d like to stay. Keep in mind that the facility might not offer extensions if it no longer has a need to fill, and pay rates may change as you sign a new contract.

Finding Your Fit: A Comprehensive Guide to Selecting the Ideal Travel Nurse Assignment

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#5. Why should I become a travel nurse?

Becoming a travel nurse can be a rewarding and fulfilling career choice for those who value flexibility, adventure, and professional growth. I am here to provide you with the tools you need to start your journey, but this is a very personal question that only you can answer. What is your “why”? Having a solid reason why you want to become a travel nurse will keep you focused on the prize.  Do you need more flexibility in your work and personal life? Are you ready for a change in your work environment? Do you want to challenge yourself, expand your nursing skills, and step out of your day-to-day routine?  Do you want to meet new people and have the opportunity to gain new friendships and networks? Do you have financial goals you are trying to obtain? Are you at a time and place in life that doesn’t obligate you to stay in one location? 

If you answered yes to any of these questions, travel nursing might be a great fit for you. Brainstorm your current wants, needs, and your deal-breakers. Understanding why travel nursing is a great career choice for you will help you communicate what’s important to you when sharing your intentions with your company and recruiter.

Unlock the rewards of a career in travel nursing: a guide to finding your why

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#6. What key qualities do I need to become a travel nurse?

Becoming a successful travel nurse requires a unique blend of qualities tailored for the dynamic healthcare landscape. Adaptability and flexibility are paramount as you navigate diverse environments and patient populations. Effective communication skills ensure seamless collaboration with healthcare teams, patients, and families. Critical thinking abilities empower you to navigate challenges and make informed decisions. Resilience is key in bouncing back from setbacks and embracing change. Above all, a love for travel fuels your passion for exploring new places and cultures, making each assignment an enriching adventure. Aspiring travel nurses equipped with these essential qualities are primed to thrive in this dynamic and rewarding profession, delivering exceptional care wherever their journey takes them.

Check out the Top 4 Key Attributes You’ll Need as a Travel Nurse

#7. How do I become a travel nurse?

The first thing is first – obtain a nursing degree. You must complete an accredited nursing program and pass the NCLEX exam to become a registered nurse (RN).

Then, you’ll want to gain clinical experience by obtaining at least 1-2 years of experience in your specialty. If you will be working in a specialized unit, such as Labor and Delivery or ICU, some facilities may require you to have even more experience before traveling. Take the time to excel in your clinical skills by asking for higher-acuity patients. These experiences and skills will be useful when you live on the road as a travel nurse. 

Next, you can start to build your travel nurse profile, including your resume, licenses, certifications, immunization and titer records, physicals, and references. Be sure to keep all of these up to date! This would be an excellent time to apply for any state licenses you may need, so look at that state’s BON for that process. If your certifications are expiring in the next couple of months, take the time to get those updated before you embark on your travel nurse journey. 

Then, you’re ready to start researching companies and recruiters. Network with other travelers and see which travel nurse agencies they recommend. Interview recruiters and make sure they seem like a good fit for you. You want to feel like your recruiter is responsive and working hard to get you what you want while keeping your best interests in mind. Keeping an open line of communication with your recruiter is the key to success! 

Okay, it’s the time you’ve been waiting for: get ready to start traveling! You’ve made it through a ton of work, and you’re almost on your way to becoming a travel nurse! You can begin the application process when you are about six to eight weeks out from wanting to travel.

#8. Which travel nurse agencies are best?

The “best” travel nursing agency for you will depend on your individual needs and preferences. Choosing an agency that aligns with your goals and values and provides the support and resources you need to succeed as a travel nurse is essential.

Before choosing a travel nursing agency, do your research. Look for reviews and ratings online from both healthcare facilities and travel nurses. A great resource for you is the 5th annual Gypsy Nurse Top Agencies Evaluation Survey. They’ve created the industry’s most comprehensive travel nursing agency evaluation and hired a top independent market research firm (Hanover Research) as they  reached out to thousands of travel nurses to rate – based on their personal experience with agencies – key performance areas that the community had indicated were most important to them when working with a travel nurse staffing firm.

Here are the results from 2023: The Gypsy Nurse’s Top Travel Nurse Agencies • The Gypsy Nurse Make sure to check if the agency is accredited by a reputable organization such as The Joint Commission or the National Association of Travel Healthcare Organizations (NATHO). Accreditation is important because it indicates that the agency meets high quality and compliance standards. 

#9. Where do travel nurses stay while on assignment?

Travel nurses typically stay in temporary housing, such as extended-stay hotels, furnished apartments, or short-term rentals. Some travel nursing agencies offer housing options and/or a per diem to cover housing expenses as part of their benefits.

That’s why it is so important when choosing which agency to use to make sure to use one that has resources to help you with housing – one of the main pain points for many travelers. Luckily, some travel nurse agencies have a whole housing department dedicated to helping you find the right place to stay, and they can tell you how it will come out of your paycheck. If your agency does have a housing department, you’ll want to use them as a resource whether you choose to find your living arrangements or take company-provided housing. Housing can be limited in certain locations and peak times of the year, so the more flexible you are, the better off you will be!

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#10. Why are travel nurses paid so much?

A lot of factors play into your compensation package as a travel nurse. It’s important to note that the pay rates for travel nurses can vary widely based on location, specialty, and experience. Travel nursing is a very supply and demand-driven industry, and pay rates can vary during different times of the year, such as RSV and flu season when there is an influx of staffing needs.

When looking at your total compensation package, be sure to factor in all the benefits and resources available to you through your agency.  Travel nursing assignments are typically short-term; therefore, they may receive higher pay to compensate for the inconvenience of being away from home, as well as the cost of relocating to a new location every few months. In general, travel nursing is a career path that offers the potential for higher compensation and greater flexibility compared to traditional staff nursing roles.

#11. What travel nurse specialties are in the highest demand?

The demand for travel nurses can vary depending on location and the needs of healthcare facilities at any given time. However, there are certain specialties that tend to be in high demand for travel nurses year-round. These specialties include PCU, Tele, ICU, ER, L&D, NICU, and PICU. 

#12. Can I do travel nursing with a family or pets?

Logistically, traveling with a family or pets can pose a few additional challenges, but it’s absolutely doable and enjoyable if you have a great support system and are prepared. Some things to consider are finding housing suitable for everyone and how you’ll navigate childcare and/or pet sitting. Again, your agency is a great resource to help you. But rest assured that hundreds to thousands of travel nurses navigate this career with their pets, friends, or family in tow. If they can do it, so can you. Travel nursing with a family or pets might have its own set of challenges, but it can be a rewarding experience for all involved.