The travel nursing career has exploded in popularity over the last few years, offering adventurous nurses the chance to explore the country while enjoying attractive benefits like higher pay, stipends, and flexibility in choosing placements. The nationwide nursing shortage, coupled with the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic, has created high demand and abundant openings for travel nurses across the U.S.

However, travel nursing comes with considerable downsides as well that should be carefully evaluated before signing any contracts. This article will dive deep into the numerous pros and cons of travel nurse positions. 

What’s It Like Being a Travel Nurse? 

Being a travel nurse offers a unique career filled with adventure and opportunity—but it also has some significant downsides. Travel nurses work temporary contracts at hospitals and facilities nationwide, usually 13 weeks long. This mobile lifestyle allows nurses to explore new places, meet new people, and expand their skills.

However, the nature of travel nursing means that nurses must adapt to constantly changing policies, procedures, colleagues, patient populations, and locations. Travel nurses need a thick skin, resourcefulness, and extreme adaptability to thrive.

How Does Travel Nursing Work? 

Travel nursing agencies connect registered nurses to medical facilities nationwide. When a hospital has a staffing shortage or seasonal influx of patients, they inform agencies of their need for temporary nurses. Agencies then match open contracts to nurses registered in their talent pools.

An experienced recruiter helps travel nurses choose contracts that align with their skills, specialties, financial needs, geographic preferences, and lifestyle. Once matched, travel nurses relocate nationwide to work their 13-week contracts before accepting their subsequent assignments. Agencies also provide stipends to reimburse travel expenses like transportation, housing, meals, and licenses.

How to Become a Travel Nurse

Becoming a travel nurse requires some essential skills and experience:

Licensing, Credentials, and Certifications: Travel nurses must hold an active RN license in every state where they want to work. Some contracts require additional certifications like ACLS, PALS, or NRP.

Communication Skills: As travel nurses change facilities constantly, communication and listening skills help them connect with new colleagues, policies, and patient populations. Cultural sensitivity is critical.

Adaptability: Travel nurses must acclimate quickly to new environments. Comfort with uncertainty and change makes this lifestyle more accessible.

Know What You Want: Understanding your skills, interests, priorities, and deal-breakers helps recruiters match you to ideal contracts. Financial literacy also allows you to evaluate compensation packages accurately.

Financial Expertise: Travel nurses must understand taxes, reimbursements, deductions, budgets, and retirement planning to manage inconsistent income streams. Organization and literacy protecting earnings are vital.

Pros of Travel Nursing

Travel nursing offers many advantages over staff nursing positions. The following are the top advantages of being a travel nurse:

Compensation: Travel nurses earn significantly higher pay than staff nurses. Experienced travel nurses report average salaries between $60,000-$100,000 annually. Pay packages also include stipends and reimbursements for travel costs.

Stipends and Other Perks: Most agencies provide generous stipends for meals/incidentals, lodging, travel, and licenses. Some offer retention bonuses, referral programs, and mileage reimbursements as well.

Choice of Contracts: Travel nurses select contracts matching their needs and preferences instead of standard work directives. This freedom and flexibility is nearly impossible for staff nurses.

Avoiding Workplace Conflicts: The temporary nature of contracts allows nurses to leave unpleasant managers, colleagues, or practices behind quickly.

Travel to New Places: For nurses who relish travel, contracts across the country enable them to explore new cities and hometowns while getting paid.

Expand Marketable Skills: Exposure to cutting-edge technology, unique patient populations, and specialty units expands nursing skills and resumes.

Try Out New Hospitals: Travel nursing allows assessing new workplaces and cities while employed instead of relocating blindly. Long contracts help thoroughly evaluate potential sites.

Disadvantages of Being a Travel Nurse

 While travel nurse jobs offer some advantages, nurses should weigh the disadvantages. Cons of being a travel nurse include: 

Financial Literacy: Inconsistent incomes and complicated reimbursement policies require extreme organization, literacy, and discipline to prevent mismanagement.

Healthcare and Retirement Benefits: Most travel nurses must secure health insurance and retirement plans since agencies do not provide benefits. This represents significant additional expenses.

Lack of a Support System: Frequent moves and job changes can isolate travel nurses from family, friends, and community support emotionally and physically.

Loneliness: The isolating nature of short-term contracts in unfamiliar cities leaves many travel nurses emotionally lonely despite busy schedules. Building connections quickly helps overcome this challenge.

Lack of Rapport With Colleagues: The quick contracts of travel nursing limit opportunities to establish camaraderie, rapport, and relationships with facility staff.

Career Development Challenges: Since travel nurses change facilities quickly, obtaining advanced certifications, training, and leadership development opportunities proves challenging. Promotions and accountability also become limited.

Pushback Over High Wages: Some staff nurses resent the higher incomes of travel nurses. Tension or bullying sometimes results in units.

Travel Nurses Lack Job Security: When contracts end (or funding runs out), travel nurse positions immediately terminate. Beginning the job search process again brings anxiety and instability.

You Can’t Choose Your Hours: Since travel nurses fill staffing gaps, they work complex and inconsistent schedules without much control. Twelve-hour shifts often extend to 16.

The Pay Varies: While travel nurses generally earn excellent pay, actual incomes depend on facility budgets. Lucrative contracts exist, but lower-paying rural or seasonal contracts do as well.

You Won’t Have Paid Time Off: Rarely do travel nurse contracts include PTO, sick days, or vacation accruals. Nurses must budget carefully when taking unpaid leave.

You Will Always Be the New One: Adapting to new environments and colleagues every 13 weeks means frequently feeling out of step. Building connections with reserved or skeptical staff brings added emotional work.

Licensing Can Be a Struggle: Navigating license transfers between multiple state boards causes headaches for many travel nurses and delays assignments.

The Housing Situation is Complicated: Figuring out short-term housing stipends logistically and financially in expensive cities across the country greatly stresses some nurses.

You Will Dread Tax Season: Since travel nurses work taxable contracts in multiple states annually, filing taxes becomes complicated, confusing, and expensive.

You Will Miss Home: Despite adventures, many travel nurses experience profound homesickness and displacements from loved ones back home. The lifestyle simply doesn’t suit everyone emotionally.

Disadvantages of Travel Nursing

The advantages and disadvantages of travel nursing positions vary from nurse to nurse. While the travel lifestyle offers adventure, autonomy over schedules and workplaces, and excellent compensation, the downsides cannot be ignored. Before becoming a travel nurse, candidates must reflect carefully and realistically on their career motivations, preferences, financial literacy skill levels, adaptability, and emotional needs.

Travel nursing is no different than travel itself—the rewards prove worth it for some but not for others. Nurses considering the leap from staff positions would benefit profoundly from conversing with veteran travel nurses about their experiences to decide whether travel nursing aligns with their life and career aspirations.