Prior to beginning my travel nurse journey, I read countless cautionary tales of fellow travel nurses detailing the importance of carefully & diligently selecting temporary homes that balance the safety, comfort, affordability, and proximity to work needed for peace of mind. In the interest of complete transparency, I will be honest in revealing that the search for “perfect” housing never gets any easier. Each new assignment and adventure brings new challenges. Despite these ever changing factors, the important constant to have is a balanced mindset when considering how to appropriately prioritize all of the variables that come into play in each unique equation.
1. How much experience do you have in travel nursing?
Travel housing offers two distinct options—accept a weekly, non-taxed housing stipend and arrange your own placement in its entirety or turn the housing search over to your agency and allow them to situate you. Either way, housing is not “free.” The costs are being deducted from pay that you earn based on the hours that you work, and the amount of money that you gross every week will be determined by which option you select. Experienced travel nurses tend to choose self-placement because it provides the option of maximizing earning potential. Let’s say that your agency will provide you with $3200/month to find a place to rent. If you can secure one for $1200, the remaining $2K is yours to save.
However, many recruiters and experienced travel nurses alike will advise brand new travel nurses to accept agency placement due to the inexperienced nature of the professional. This takes away the burden of frantically having to search for housing given what little experience and resources you have at this point in your travel career. It can be quite the stressful experience even for an experienced travel nurse, but the choice is ultimately yours and will depend specifically on your situation.
2. What is your primary motivation for traveling?
While this may seem to be an irrelevant or even cliche question, it is necessary to examine your motives when deciding what to prioritize in terms of housing. For example, if traveling is primarily a money making opportunity, and you are only accepting the highest paying, most lucrative travel packages, glamorous housing may not be of any real concern to you. If you are traveling simply to gain new experiences and create memories and adventures, or you are a creature of comfort like myself, a more comfortable and solitary living situation may be best. If you are like most travel nurses who want to reap the benefits of all that traveling offers, it is possible to balance the best of it all.
3. How long is your assignment?
As a travel nurse, I’m sure you have heard someone jokingly exclaim that they “can deal with anything for thirteen weeks!” While it is certainly important to be flexible and positive, as nurses, we don’t want to ever feel victim to our circumstances. No matter what your goal is for travel nursing or how uncomplicated or accommodating of a person you know yourself to be, it is not wise to settle for a less than ideal living situation simply because your assignment may only be a few weeks long. The nature of travel nursing is unpredictable enough, and housing allows us a little control over our situation that we should most definitely exercise.
The average assignment lengths are 12-13 weeks or three months. This creates difficulty when searching for properties to lease, as even most short term leases start at six months. Furnished Finder makes monthly furnished rentals accessible for traveling professionals that need the convenience and stability of real housing without all of the credit checks and applications that normally accompany that process.
Anything from fully furnished houses to extended stay hotels can be found on this site, at much more reasonable prices than comparable corporate housing websites that are catered to travel nurses. Trust me—I’ve tirelessly searched the darkest corners of the web for housing, and I’ve found that many venues can be exploitative of the travel nurses’ unique dilemma.
4. What can you (realistically) afford?
Even if you decided back on number two of this list that you are traveling just for the thrill of it, there is still something to be said for frugality in travel nursing. Most travel nurses declare a home base (this is what enables us to receive the extra stipends, as we are only considered to be “traveling” if we are a certain distance from our homes) and usually have some sort of financial obligations associated with either that home base, family members, or personal finances such as loans, medical expenses, transportation, etc.
Even if saving a fortune isn’t your primary travel goal, and you theorize that you could be equally as stable with a staff RN position, that does not mean that every penny accumulated while on travel assignment should be spent impulsively in the name of “experiences” and adventure. Everyone still needs a regular savings, retirement savings, and emergency fund, and traveling makes it easier to contribute to those funds in a way that proved a little more difficult as a staff nurse. Take advantage of this opportunity.
To reference a previous example, let’s say that your agency is still providing you with $3200/month for living expenses in addition to $1500/weekly in other stipends and base pay. If you take that money and use it to secure a fancy high rise with city views, totaling $5,000 per month in rent & utilities, you are spending the entirety of the stipend, PLUS $1800 out of your actual salary on a temporary dwelling that does not belong to you. Even for the travel nurse that is utilizing travel as a way to basically see the country or “vacation” on her days off, this is not a wise use of money. Use the amount of stipends that you are allotted by your agency to help you budget what you are spending daily on housing and other living related expenses.
“...Sooo, that’s a lot of information! What’s the BEST option?” The most simple (and unsatisfying) answer is, there isn’t a “one size fits all” response to that question. The uncomfortable truth that anyone new to travel nursing has to accept is that nothing is constant in this field. As nurses, we have trained our brains, work ethic, and skills to accommodate the unexpected, as we understand that this is the nature of our profession.
In order to be a well adjusted travel nurse, you have to retrain your brain to also apply that same logic to the rest of your life as well. Those same critical thinking skills that you use on the job are going to come in handy as you map out and carefully orchestrate each decision and piece of the puzzle.
This is more or less a lesson in finding (and embracing) new normals and knowing where to look for resources and how to apply them to whatever your situation may be. You ultimately become the “expert” of your own travel journey, as you masterfully coordinate all of the behind the scenes work for each adventure! Good luck, and happy, safe traveling!