How to Begin Travel Nursing: Tips for New Travel Nurses

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By Victoria Casto

January 12, 2022

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How to Begin Travel Nursing

Step One: Get Ready!

Taking the leap and beginning travel nursing can be very intimidating at first and even seem overwhelming.

It definitely takes some time to figure out the logistics of how it works, but getting prepared is key.  There are ample resources out there, so utilize them to avoid surprises!

My first recommendation before you even think about talking to travel agencies or recruiters is to get a thorough understanding of what the travel life entails and when the timing is best for you to start the journey.

Consider any big trips or celebrations you have ahead that you may want to plan around.

Travel nursing leads to amazing opportunities, and it can sound like a super glamorous way to live, but there are definitely compromises.  It most importantly means leaving behind the comforts of home and getting to see your friends and family regularly.

Just make sure you’re mentally prepared and fully understand what it means to live like a nomad.

Step Two: Where to?

Figure out where you want to go.  Are you going for the experience or chasing the money?  I personally try to get the best of both worlds and go places where I’d actually want to live.

I’d recommend being flexible with a few top choices of where you want to work because while yes, almost anywhere is possible, timing is key.  Rather than limiting your options to one single city, have a top three list or open your search up to the surrounding area if living right in the city isn’t as important to you.

Travel nursing is a hot field right now, but I’d never advise anyone to take the crisis contracts that are paying you $10,000 a week in random places like Bakersfield, CA, or probably anywhere in Kentucky, for example.

There’s a reason they are paying that well, and you will likely regret it.  On top of a potentially dangerous situation at the hospital with unsafe ratios and very limited resources, your days off won’t compensate for it because there’s nothing to do in the area.  Plus, those contracts are notorious for being canceled at the last minute.

Step Three: How’s the Pay?

Make sure that your dream locations are going to be financially beneficial.  After all, that’s one of the biggest appeals of travel nursing!

Something I was very surprised to find out when I first started travel nursing is despite the most desirable locations having higher costs of living; the pay doesn’t always reflect that.  Because hospitals know travel nurses want to go to the fun cities, they pay less than they should and know that they’ll still fill the jobs because of their high demand.

Fortunately, it’s easier to find very well-paying jobs in those locations right now due to COVID.

The main factor I look at is how much rent will cost.  A good rule of thumb is to make at least the price of rent in one week’s pay.  For example, if your rent is $2,000, you’d want to be taking home at least $2000 per week.  But of course, most crisis contracts are paying well above that right now.

And you’ll absolutely want to look at housing before accepting a contract because sometimes it’s either super expensive or it can be extremely limited, and you can’t move if there’s nowhere to stay!

With pay being so variable right now, it’s beneficial to compare rates on job boards like Vivian Health or ask on travel nurse sites like the Gypsy Nurse to see what’s comparable.  Nobody wants to find out another nurse is making $500 more a week to do the same job, and sadly, it happens a lot.  Sometimes you can negotiate your rate, so knowing what similar jobs offer is useful. 

Find agencies and recruiters and start the job hunt!

There are hundreds of travel agencies to choose from, and each of those has just as many recruiters.  Choosing which agency you want to use will depend on your personal style and what your goals are.

Smaller companies will have a more intimate experience and tend to have less fine print.  However, larger companies will have access to more jobs and usually have more push when there are a dozen applications on the employer’s desk.  And agencies that staff solely crisis contracts usually expect extreme flexibility with asap start dates and open availability on scheduling and shift.  

I’ve found that while agencies do have different reputations on trustworthiness and fair pay, the most important factor is the right recruiter.  Recruiters are the ones sorting through job listings for you and making sure you are the first to apply to fresh postings.

They can fight for higher pay and manipulate numbers in the contract breakdown to make sure you’re getting the best rate.  And of course, they’re the ones you’re talking to when making huge decisions so liking them is important too!

I’d definitely recommend asking for referrals from travel nurses you trust for their recruiter’s info rather than getting assigned one randomly when you apply.

And it’s always a good idea to have a few agencies looking for you when you’re on the hunt because they don’t all get the same pool of jobs.  That’s why I’ve used five different agencies over the last three years.

I’ve spoken to a variety of recruiters over my time as a travel nurse, and I’ve learned to appreciate the good ones.  It’s possible to change recruiters within the same company later on, but it’s best to get a keeper from the beginning!  I now have three amazing and trustworthy recruiters that I’d be happy to refer. 🙂

Step Five: Onboarding

Get yourself organized and get ready for the onboarding process.

Prior to leaving your home, get all of your files organized into handy folders for easy access while on the road.

For every new contract you take (especially if you switch companies), you will need access to all of your immunizations, licenses, certifications, etc.  Having them ready to go in a PDF version to be sent over will be a huge lifesaver!

That way, you’re not constantly digging through old emails or folders in your computer trying to find your flu shot or ACLS card.

The onboarding process can seem super overwhelming when you get the long list of everything that needs to be done for compliance.  But anything you can do to make your life easier is worth it!

However, if you stick with the same agency for every contract, you won’t have to resend everything, so that’s an incentive to stay loyal to your company.

Step Six: Moving Time!

Congratulations, you’ve landed your first travel nursing job!   If you haven’t already, it’s time to cut down your belongings and get ready for the minimalist lifestyle.

Pack only the essentials and what you can’t live without or think you’d use regularly.  This is easier said than done, but just because you can shove it into a corner of your trunk doesn’t mean you should bring it!

Trust me; you’ll want to leave extra space in your car because you’ll accumulate belongings every contract, and before you know it, you’ll be like me and buy a larger SUV after three years. 

However, you get there, enjoy the ride, and welcome to the wonderful world of travel nursing 🙂  I wish you the best of luck and as always, message me with any questions!

We hope you found these tips on how to begin travel nursing helpful. Do you have any tips for anyone planning to begin travel nursing? Comment your tips on how to begin travel nursing below.

Are you looking for your first or next travel nurse assignment? Click here to view our job board. Do you need housing for your assignment? Click here to search our housing page.

If you are a new travel nurse or looking into becoming a travel nurse:

Travel Nurse Guide: Step-by-Step (now offered in a PDF Downloadable version!)

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