The points that I’m going to go over aren’t necessarily weighted the same, and I’ll tell you right now that my list contains more cons than pros, but for me, the list still leans towards the positive aspects, and I will continue to travel until it doesn’t. Only you can decide for yourself what makes traveling worth it, but I hope this list compiled by myself, and a few travel friends, gives a few points that you may not have considered.
The biggest drawback of travel nursing that I see is the instability. Travel nurses essentially work under temporary employment. Once a contract is up, it may be hard to find another one depending on the criteria of assignments that you are willing to take. You may also have to take a contract that doesn’t appeal to you if your financial restrictions make it necessary. Some hospitals are notorious for cancelling a traveler’s contract. This can occur at any point during the assignment or even before it begins, and if you have already made a deposit on your own housing, you are out for that money as most travel agencies put a section in the contract that they will not reimburse for expenses in a cancellation situation. Although a contract is a signed document, hospitals are not being given consequences after deciding to break the contract, but nurses often are if they would have to back out of their contract for any reason. In my four travel assignments, I have never been cancelled or had any difficulty finding my next job, but depending on nursing specialty, time of year, and location... it does happen.
Another disadvantage of travel nursing is a lack of benefits or less desirable benefits. I tend to take about three weeks off between my contracts to spend time with my family or take a vacation, but insurance benefits lapse with most companies if you do not resign a new contract that is scheduled to start within 21 days. If you switch to a new company, you will also not have insurance until your new company’s plan kicks in. Many agencies will provide you with day 1 insurance, but there are some out there that do not insure you until after you have been working with them for 30 days or longer. Travel nurse companies are trying to be more competitive and offer more benefits such as a 401k match and PTO. However, this only works if you stick with the same travel company, as most of these perks do not kick in until you work a predetermined amount of hours for that agency. The amount of hours they want usually amounts to three contracts.
The next downside of travel nursing relates to emotional health and well-being. Many travelers get lonely, especially if their assignment is far from home. I am originally from southern Indiana and I am currently on assignment in Seattle which is a three time zone difference. I have had to miss family events and when I get off work and am able to call my family, they are already asleep. Some nurses choose to travel while they have school-age children and have to make the difficult choice of leaving home or attempting to home-school on the road
can be difficult. Some assignments you will mesh better with your co-workers than other times. With each travel assignment, you do not know what kind of environment you are getting into. Bad assignments do exist, and you don’t know if people will be welcoming or not, and that kind of stress can make even the most seasoned traveler anxious.
Travel nursing is also not optimal for finding romantic relationships. I am single, and have tried dating while I am on assignment, but it has just made for disappointment. I have gone on some phenomenal dates while being a traveling nurse, but they were in locations that I have had no interest in permanently moving to which put the relationship at an impasse and eventually ended it, even though we both had feelings and wish it could have led somewhere.
There are a few more topics that I believe are less relevant to me, but are cons as well. Driving across the country puts a lot of mileage on your vehicle and it happens rather quickly.
Some assignments will allow you to self-schedule or block your days while other hospitals put you at the mercy of their scheduling needs.
Having a low taxable hourly rate, as well as travel nursing being “unstable employment”, can make it difficult to get home mortgage or car loans, and it may be difficult to give up the high paycheck you get while travel nursing to go back a permanent staff job.
Tax laws that govern stipends can be confusing and often require enlisting the help of a tax professional in order to make sure you are following the rules of the IRS.
Lastly, I come from a state that was originally not part of the Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact which severely limited which states and jobs that I could apply to without having their license in hand. Continually applying for different licenses becomes a tedious endeavor and costly up front until the agency reimburses you.
So far, this list has been full of drawbacks to travel nursing, but I thought I would end on a positive note and list all of the things about travel nursing that I believe make it worth my time and energy.
The best part of agency work is that you work when you want and, for the most part, where you want. Operating room nurses are in hot demand and there are assignments in every state in the country. I prioritize to see more northern states in the summer and southern states in the winter to avoid the snow and chilly temperatures. I get the luxury of taking 2-3 weeks off between every assignment. This ends up being about 10-12 vacation weeks in a year! In my first year and a half of traveling I was able to go to Key West, Jamaica, Greece, and a Caribbean cruise! This is all while still being a tourist and exploring the town that I am living in for three months.
The next advantage of travel nursing is the adventure. I have taken jobs that all take me far from home and in some big cities in the United States. My first four contracts were in Portland, Maine; Reno, Tucson, and Seattle! As a woman from small town Indiana, I couldn’t believe that living in these amazing cities had become my career! I was able to really see a region of the country in a way that you can’t just by doing it on vacation. Along with the adventure of the new location is the adventure of meeting new people! I tend to gravitate more towards other travel nurses. However in my most recent assignment I developed amazing friendships with the staff at the hospital. Travel nursing really gives you some lifelong friends and helps you see the world in a way that you may have not before!
Another big reason that I see nurses getting into travel is the paycheck. As a travel nurse, if you are following the IRS laws, you can see a big increase in your take home pay every year, especially if you are a newer nurse coming from an area with low-cost of living and pay (like Indiana). The least amount that I was getting paid on assignment was $1500 per week. Travel nursing is also great because you get your stipends untaxed and are able to bring home even more money.
Finally, one of my favorite pros is the fact that it is a short time frame. This might also work under the freedom section, but the way I look at it is if the assignment is not a good fit, all you have to do is stick it out for thirteen weeks. I’ve had contracts that I didn’t like and this is what got me through it. I’ve heard a lot of travelers say something like, “I can do anything for 13 weeks.”
I did not have to get caught up in the department politics that runs rampant in hospitals. I came to work, care for patients, and left after three months to go onto the next adventure. This is not something that occurs obviously if you are a permanent staff employee.
While each travel nurse can provide you with their own list of pros and cons, I hope that this one was fairly complete and gives an insight into the world of travel nursing. As long as the pros outweigh the cons, you can follow my travel dog Mila and myself on all of our adventures across the country and beyond at @adrienne.travel.rn on Instagram.