A Student’s Guide to Becoming a Travel Nurse

Becoming a travel nurse can be a deeply fulfilling career. Caring for people, discovering new areas of passion and interest in the field, working with other medical professionals … these are all reasons people choose nursing as a career. But there is another area many nurses have discovered: travel nursing! That’s right: you could become a nurse, just like you planned–and travel the country!

If this is something you’ve been considering, you’re probably wondering: Where do you start? How do you reach your goals? What is travel nursing really like? 

Here are a few helpful tips to guide you on your journey. 

What is a travel nurse? 

First of all, what is a travel nurse? Many medical facilities find themselves in need of temporary help, whether to get through staff leaves and vacations, flu season, or as we’ve seen recently, during a pandemic. Travel nurses can provide the additional support these facilities require, filling in staffing gaps and helping to provide seamless and excellent patient care during the time of need. 

Necessary education

Most travel nurse assignments require an RN (Registered Nurse) license, which requires at least an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN). However, many hospitals are now requiring their travel nurses to hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN); not all will require this as of yet, but many are moving that direction. If you’re still gaining your education, consider going ahead and getting the BSN, as that will put you in a better position to become a travel nurse. 

Get licensed

After you’ve graduated with the appropriate degree, obtain your RN license. Although some travel nurse opportunities are available for LPNs (Licensed Practical Nurses), having your RN license will broaden your options for becoming a travel nurse. Whether you want to become an RN or an LPN, however, you will need to pass the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination) in order to get your license.  

Gain experience

Most medical facilities require at least one year of local staff experience for travel nurses, and many now require two years. In addition, if you’re interested in any sort of specialization, you will need experience in those areas as well. Don’t get discouraged by this; this time will be well spent gaining valuable experience as a nurse, without the added stress of being away from home. Also, remaining in one place when first starting out as a nurse can position you to learn from mentors and other colleagues, giving you priceless insight that you can take with you when you do begin to travel. Embrace this “requirement” as a chance to grow!

Travel nurse staffing agencies

Once you’ve fulfilled your requirements for education, licensing, and experience, it’s time to start thinking about how to become a travel nurse. Your first step will be to find a travel nurse staffing agency. 

A staffing agency is your gateway to actually becoming a travel nurse. These agencies exist to streamline what can be a tricky process, paving the way for nurses to focus on the travel and the nursing rather than nitty gritty details. Staffing agencies are there to connect nurses with facilities that need them, and include such services as job placement and onboarding. Your pay will also come through the staffing agency rather than the medical facility. 

This actually protects you, the nurse, as the staffing agency exists solely to advocate for their travel nurses while medical facilities have many, many different obligations. The staffing agency can also help you negotiate your pay package, which will include your hourly pay as well as any stipends or per diems.  

Many such agencies exist, so interview several. Don’t feel like you have to sign with the first one you come across, as each agency has different requirements and different areas of focus. To that end, the most important part of your staffing agency is the recruiter. This person will become your point of connection while you travel, helping you navigate your assignment while you’re away from home. It’s crucial that you build a solid relationship with this person. Again, interview several, even within one staffing agency. Yes, they will interview you as well—again, the relationship is of primary importance!

Make your travel plan

Once you’ve signed with an agency and found a recruiter, it’s time to begin planning! Your agency will help you find a location and a placement, and walk you through the paperwork and onboarding process. In the meantime, you have some things you can do to prepare. 

One of the most important things to do is to prepare for your taxes. Travel nurses have an unusual situation, in that they will often be working for extended periods of time away from their home state. This makes taxes a little tricky; you’ll need to establish a “tax home,” as well as look into your hourly pay rate and other factors. Consider hiring a tax professional to help you. 

Prepare your home for your absence as well. Make sure you’ve made plans for family and pet needs, as well as for your physical home. Let someone close to you know of your extended travel plans, and keep them in the loop as you travel. Contact your bank, phone carrier, and other service providers that will need to know about your absence. Plan for any bills to be paid while you’re gone, and have someone to collect your mail. 

Then you’ll have to plan for the travel itself! Will you take a road trip, allowing you to have a car while you’re on assignment? Will you fly? What will you need with you? Research your destination, as you’ll likely have some time to explore the locale, whether it’s local restaurants, museums, or other points of interest. Plan to make your job an adventure! 

Travel nursing can be an incredibly rewarding experience, professionally and personally. Strategic planning on your part can make your dreams a reality.

learn more