When you begin your travel nurse adventure, you must first make a plan. Before you say adieu to your staff job, there are a few key things to consider.
First, get all your paperwork together. This includes immunization records, physicals, and nursing licenses. Have your certifications, like Basic Life Support, up to date. Bring copies of necessary documents with you on your first day. You’ll want an updated list of references, and can earn bonus points for letters of recommendation, which speak to your nursing capabilities of why you’d make a great travel nurse. These letters can be from previous employers or from professors you had as a nursing student.
Think about health insurance. Will you carry your own policy, be a dependent on your spouse’s, or take the travel company’s insurance? Ask your travel nursing agency for a summary of benefits offered. Health Carousel Travel Nursing offers premier benefits to travel nurses to support your health, wealth, career and life. The upside of carrying your own insurance is that you don’t have to work consistently to maintain coverage. Some companies allow you to keep insurance for weeks after an assignment ends or if you take another assignment with them. Some companies revoke it the moment you fall below the required number of working hours.At Health Carousel Travel Nursing you need to have your next travel nurse assignment booked before you end your current assignment in order to keep benefits between assignments. Your new travel nurse assignment also has to start within 28 days of when you end your last assignment.
Additionally, make sure any prescription medications are filled, and your doctor’s appointments are up to date. This is helpful to do before your insurance changes.
When it’s time to interview with the facility, ask questions! You can inquire about patient ratios, scheduling requirements, floating policies, and communicate any days off you’ll need.
Sign your contract before taking off to your assignment. Make sure it clearly states the following:
How many hours per week and what shifts you will work.
The length of the contract, with specific start and end dates.
Specific days off (if requested).
Holiday, overtime, and shift differential rates.
What happens if the contract falls through? Will you be reimbursed if the hospital unexpectedly cancels your contract?
Travel stipends and gas/mileage reimbursement.
Benefits offered and requirements to maintain them.
Base pay rate.
Meals and incidentals/lodging stipend.
Ask your recruiter for any clarifications before signing the contract.
#2: Be Flexible
Of course you have dreams of where you see yourself, and your skills likely prove it! However, it’s advised that new travel nurses be flexible on their very first assignment. Travel nursing is a career all on its own, and comes with certain soft skills such as quick turn around times and adaptability. The more practice you have adjusting to new facilities and tackling onboarding requirements, the more outstanding your resume will become. Many hospitals require that travelers have prior travel nurse experience. After you get your foot in the door you can be more selective.
#3: Choose a Comfortable Housing Option
Do not go for the cramped under-the-stairs cupboard room or hideously tiny in-law suite in lieu of a comfortable residence. Creature comforts are vital when you’re far away from home. It’s easier to feel refreshed after a hard shift when you can sleep in a comfortable bed with A/C or heat (depending on the season). It helps travel nurses maintain the mental stamina needed for sticking out any assignment, especially the tough ones. Do what makes sense for your finances, while also considering how much your living environment will affect you both mentally and physically.
#4: Take a Test Drive Before Starting Your First Assignment
Whether you’re biking, driving, or taking public transportation, it’s advisable to always make a test run to work before your first day. Ideally, you will want to arrive at your new location a few days ahead of time or earlier to settle in. Then calculate how far the facility is from your residence, and plan to wake up early to practice the commute.
Be sure to make a test drive later for night shift because rush hour traffic can significantly alter travel times. It’s helpful to know where the parking lot or transit station is, and how long it takes to walk to your unit or facility.
It might seem “extra,” but it’s a travel nurse tip many swear by.
#5: Prepare for Your Pets
Traveling and housing a pet is possible as a travel nurse. You’ll want to take care of a few extra things before you leave with your furry bff.
If driving, make a trial run with your pet. Perhaps a weekend or overnight getaway, either to a pet friendly hotel or a campsite (depending on your pet’s preference).
Lots of travelers adventure with their furry friends. Dogs and cats alike are great companions on the road. Talk to your vet about how to travel with your pet. Make sure your pet is equipped to handle a long car ride. If you’re flying, look up pet friendly airlines.
A Note on Cats in Cars:
Many cats enjoy lounging and gazing out the car window. Get a soft and/or hard carrier to easily transport your cat. It’s important to stop at least every 3 hours to offer food, water, and the litterbox, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Use a small box for a makeshift litter box and set it up with water/food in a larger hard plastic crate. However, some pets may be too stressed to use the litter box or eat in transit. Just be sure to set up your cat’s essentials immediately at your hotel or wherever you stop for the night.
#6: Take Care of Your Home Logistics
With a little organization and planning, this task can be done efficiently.
Enlist a family member, friend, or roommate you can trust to check and store your mail. If you are leaving a roommate with an empty room, you can use that as storage so you have less to take on the road.
Many travel nurses invest in a storage unit in their home city or state. You can also sell your big items on Facebook Marketplace, Offer Up, and Craigslist in a fairly short time period. Keep the bare minimum, and travel for longer.
Consider if you will rent out your current place. If you rent it out, make sure to plan for how long you want to be away from home. Furnished Finders is a good place to find other travel nurses, who can rent your home for a few months. Then you will still have a place to return to after your assignment is complete.
If you continue to pay rent, think about the utilities, internet, and other monthly costs. You will have to call your providers to suspend or cancel services if you live alone. Have a friend or family check on your place every couple of weeks.
#7: Pack Smart
Don’t let your belongings own you. It’s better to rent a surfboard when you’re living near the ocean than lugging one halfway across the country. Renting large recreation items is more ideal than lugging a ton of suitcases and boxes. With places like REI nationwide, you can rent things like camping gear and recreation equipment anywhere.
Consider the length of your travel assignment, and pack accordingly. Make a list of what you use regularly and what you don’t. Think about your daily routine, on work days and non-work days. You can also try a packing-list generator to help organize your mind. There are also apps available, like Pack Point, which help travel nurses pack for their next assignment.
Think about your typical work week. Bringing two week’s worth of work clothing is a great idea in case you get exhausted from rotating shifts or miss laundry day.
Make do with less. Don’t let your belongings make it harder to get to your destination. Remember: you can always buy something you forgot, or get it shipped.
Pack important documents, a laptop, your favorite non-work clothes, a watch, and prescription medications. You may want to bring a printer. It’s not necessary, but some facilities require certifications printed out, and it’s easier to have your own than find a UPS store at times.
#8: Plan Your Housing
Great options for travel nurse housing include Airbnb, Furnished Finders, Landing, and even Craigslist. Another option is extended-stay hotels. Make sure where you live has everything you need (especially if you’re bringing pets). Confirm with your housing provider what appliances are provided, so you’ll know what to bring. Following these helpful travel nurse housing tips will provide valuable insights when searching for safe and convenient accommodations during your nursing assignment.
If you aren’t comfortable finding your own housing, your travel recruiter is there to help you. Most travel agencies provide housing, including Health Carousel Travel Nursing. In rural locations, it can be a challenge to find something suitable to your needs with less options available. Utilize your company’s provided housing to make it easier, especially as a first-time travel nurse.
A nice way to find a place that has internet and utilities already set up is with Airbnb, Furnished Finders, and Landing. When your agency provides housing, you’ll usually need to at least set up the internet. This is reimbursable as long as it’s listed in your contract.
Find a place that is furnished, with desired amenities, and in a location that is near enough to your travel nurse assignment. Do your own research for housing prices in the area. The benefit of finding your own housing is that you can select a spot suited to your tastes, and pocket any extra housing stipend. It’s also perfectly alright to take your company’s free housing.
#9: Do Your Research
When selecting a travel nurse company, set aside a few hours to look up reputable travel agencies. Check reviews. Places to look include glassdoor, travel nurse websites, or the travel nurse community on nurse.org. Ask friends who are planning to travel or who are already traveling which agencies they like.
Don’t forget to research some hospitals and locations. If you have your heart set on a city, state, or hospital, look up information that’s relevant. It’s important to know what to expect. You can also find blogs or Reddit discussions about different states and cities, and get the insider scoop on lifestyle.
#10: Ask Questions to Other Travel Nurses
Are there other travel nurses at your current facility? Ask them out for a coffee after your shift, and pepper them with questions! It’s fun to know where they enjoyed working, which cities were their favorites, and why.
Some questions to ask include:
How did you find housing?
Which travel company are you using?
Did you bring your car?
What did you wish you didn’t bring?
How much time off did you plan in between assignments?
Having a veteran traveler’s input is similar to a doctor’s expert opinion. It puts your research into a real-life perspective, and can help you visualize realities of a travel nurse experience. You can also make note of what pitfalls to avoid.
You can find other travel nurses on social media. Facebook groups and Tik Tok have loads of travel nurses willing to talk shop.
#11: Arrive Early on Day One
Arrive early to make a great first impression. Fifteen minutes early is a good amount of leeway for any unforeseen delays. Give yourself extra time to navigate a new hospital, find the break room, and show up prepared.
Pro tip: If you’re up for it, bring a jar of pens for the unit. Nurses love pens. Attach a note, introducing yourself as a new travel nurse. It’s a great way to stand out–and make coworkers familiar with your name.
#12: Understand Your New Work Environment
As you enter a brand new work culture, avoid making assumptions. Ask a lot of questions.
It’s helpful to bring a small notebook you can tuck into your scrub pocket, to jot down the break room codes or important extensions. Observe the flow of how nurses structure their day. Some units emphasize certain tasks, and it’s important to make note of this.
Tips for navigating your new work environment:
Never feel bad for asking questions.
Be willing to help when you can.
Introduce yourself to new work colleagues.
It may be daunting, but have confidence in your abilities.
#13: Be Ready to Show Off Your Skills
Before you start your new travel assignment, you’ll have a (sometimes lengthy) onboarding checklist. It’s important to be realistic but confident when answering questions on skills checklists.
When you’re on the floor, you may feel the exacting eyes of other coworkers watching you. This can be stressful and might shake your confidence.
There is sometimes a hesitation to show your skills in a new place. Once you are off orientation and trained on processes, don’t be afraid to jump in and help. Your coworkers will see your strengths and welcome you as a member of the team.
#14: Don’t Take Things Personally
Don’t take things personally. Try to set your ego aside. Think about your tasks at hand, the patients and families you are helping, and how you’re great at your job. That’s why you got this travel nurse position!
#15: Have a Positive Attitude
Inevitably something will go wrong–it’s hospital nursing, after all. However, having a positive attitude attracts others to help you in challenging situations. You’ll appear more confident, which will make you more friends in the long run.
#16: Ask Questions
Almost every nurse will tell you they appreciate the nurses who ask questions more than those who think they know everything. This is crucial as a traveler. Of course, you know how to be a nurse, but if something seems off or you have a question about the way a procedure is done at that facility, definitely reach out.
Print out the facility’s policy first. Then ask another nurse, the charge nurse, or resource nurse, for guidance. This shows initiative, which will build trust with your coworkers. It’s a great way to build a good rapport with your coworkers quickly, which is essential as a travel nurse.
#17: Keep In Contact With Your Recruiter
Whether it's about your contract or the facility, don’t hesitate to connect with your recruiter. Recruiters help you prep for interviews, obtain new state licenses, and will provide the information for your first day instructions. They have valuable insight on what other travelers did for housing in your location.
Your travel nurse recruiter wants to help you succeed on your first travel assignment. And even if it’s your second, third, or tenth travel contract–there are always questions in a new workplace setting.
It may seem awkward at first. However, know that your recruiter is there for you and it’s important to be in contact. They may have updates about your contract or licenses, and want to make sure your assignment is going great. Some of them have even worked in healthcare before, sometimes as travel nurses themselves.
#18: Don’t Forget to Make Friends!
Connect with other travel nurses or coworkers in your unit. Join the conversation when nurses are talking about something that interests you. Seek out similarities.
Ask if anyone else needs anything–when you go to the cafeteria to get food or drinks, or when you’re in the supply room.
Suggest after-work drinks or coffee.
Bring food to work.
Join an event the hospital is planning. For example, if you like to stay active, hospitals often have charity runs or triathlons. Check the company’s webpage for upcoming events.
Start conversations at lunch and ask coworkers about themselves.
#19: Explore Your New Town
There is likely a ton to explore in your new travel nurse locale. Most cities, big and small, have great coffee shops, bookstores, and restaurants. Look up a local cultural event and attend! Ask other nurses what they like to do in the area. Then invite them to an outing together.
Better yet, explore on your own! It’s exciting to uncover hidden gems of a new place by yourself. Take yourself out to dinner and enjoy the ambiance, or head out for a hike and embrace the beauty of nature.
#20: Think About Your Next Assignment
It’s really never too early to think about your next assignment. One thing to keep in mind is extending your current one! Most contracts are about 13 weeks. After about 4-8 weeks, think about if you’d like to stay longer. Are you vibing with your coworkers? Do you absolutely love the patient population? If so, talk to your recruiter about extending.
Write down a budget. You may be able to take time off to visit loved ones or exotic places. It’s easy to go a little crazy and splurge on expensive sunglasses or luxury dining, especially when you suddenly have an influx of cash. Yet, if you budget well during your first travel assignment, you can set yourself up for financial freedom down the line.
If you want to explore a new city or facility, then talk to your recruiter about your next travel nurse assignment. They will update you on available roles that you qualify for, so you can get all the appropriate documentation. Fortunately, the NLC (Nurse Licensure Compact) has made 37 states compact, with a couple states pending. You can practice in any of those states with a single license, as long as you have permanent residency in one of those states.
Talk with a recruiter who is helpful, reliable, and transparent at Health Carousel Travel Nursing. Recruiters at Health Carousel Travel Nursing value your flexibility, preferences, and time. It’s the best way to begin your travel nursing career.
How Do I Know If I’m Ready For My First Travel Assignment?
Make sure to have at least two years experience of nursing under your belt. Do you feel like you can navigate your health care facility effectively? When you feel comfortable and confident in your role, you’re likely ready to embark on your first travel nurse assignment.
Katie Taibl (pronouns: she/they) is a registered nurse and freelance nurse writer. She has adventured from coast to coast as a travel nurse. Currently, she resides in Boston with her partner and three cats. In her free time, she enjoys time outdoors and teaching kids therapeutic surfing as a surf instructor.
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