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The Pros and Cons of Travel Nursing

It’s important to know the pros and cons of Travel Nursing before making the leap into this challenging yet rewarding career. As a result, you’ll find tons of articles on the topic. The pros are well publicized. However, some of the most commonly cited pros are specious. Moreover, many of the most important cons remain unpublished. In this article, we’ll provide a comprehensive overview of the pros and cons of travel nursing so you can approach this career choice with confidence.

Pro: You Get to Travel When You’re a Travel Nurse

Let’s discuss the most obvious advantage right off the bat. Travel nursing allows you to travel around the country. There’s no doubt this is an awesome advantage. In fact, many travelers feel the adventure alone is worth more than enough to put up with all the cons of travel nursing.

Moreover, travel nursing offers a unique type of traveling experience. You actually get to live in the destination as opposed to just passing through it. As a result, you’re able to achieve a deeper understanding of what life is like in the area.

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Pro: You Can Potentially Make More Money as a Travel Nurse

One of the most commonly cited pros of travel nursing is higher pay. However, you have to be very careful with this one. Yes, there is potential to make more money, but it isn’t a given. There are many variables that will determine whether or not you’ll make more money.

For example, if you are currently employed in a state that pays Registered Nurses less than the national average, then there is a good chance you’ll make more as a travel nurse. However, if you live in California, then chances are that you’ll make less, even if you travel nurse in California. That’s because permanent nurses in California actually make more than travel nurses when every compensation variable is considered in the comparison.

Tax-Free Money in Travel Nursing

It’s also important to consider the impact of tax-free money. Tax-free money for lodging and Meals & Incidental Expenditures comprises a significant percentage of travel nursing pay packages. The advantage is that you pocket more money by avoiding payroll taxes. This is one of the most commonly touted benefits of travel nursing pay.

However, you must maintain a “tax home” in order to qualify for the tax-free stipends. Paying “duplicate expenses” in the form of rent or a mortgage is typically required to maintain a tax home. You must consider this cost when determining whether or not you stand to make more money as a traveler.

It’s important to note that some travelers unknowingly or secretly disregard the tax-home requirement. In this case, they certainly stand to make more money. However, it is a violation of IRS rules and regulations. If audited, they will have to pay back-taxes and penalties.

Further Information on Travel Nursing Pay

As you can see, travel nursing pay is quite complex. So much so that we’ve written over 60 articles on the topic. Here are a few articles that expand on the topics above:

  1. How Much Do Travel Nurses Make? The Definitive Guide
  2. Travel Nursing Pay Package Comparison Strategy: Part 1
  3. Travel Nursing Pay – Qualifying for Tax-Free Stipends and Tax Deductions: Part 1

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Pro: Avoiding Hospital Politics

Another pro of travel nursing is the ability to avoid hospital politics. The quote below form a travel nursing social media group sums it up nicely:

My top fave thing about travel nursing…no committees, no unit meetings, staying above the fray and out of the politics and bureaucracy.

Pro: Broadening Your Work Experience

You’ll often see “professional growth” listed as one of the pros of travel nursing. However, it’s important to be specific when defining this concept. As we’ll see below, travel nursing has its share of career related cons as well.

As a travel nurse, you’ll work in many different hospitals. These hospitals will have different processes, procedures, equipment, goals and challenges. As a result, you’ll attain a broad set of experiences that could prove valuable moving forward.

You’ll learn multiple EMR systems, procedures for managing medications, protocols for giving report, approaches to patient care and much more. You’ll experience work in small and large hospitals, teaching hospitals, trauma hospitals and more. These experiences will not only make you more employable, but they’ll also help you contribute more to future employers.

Pro: Professional Networking Opportunities as a Travel Nurse

Professional networking is one of the more underappreciated pros of travel nursing. One of the best ways to find a fob and/or advance your career is to leverage your professional network. Simply put, travel nursing offers and unmatched opportunity to expand your professional network. We think it’s so important that we wrote an entire article which includes tips on how to expand your network as a travel nurse. Oh, and BluePipes is a professional network designed for travel healthcare professionals.

Pro: Making New Friends as a Travel Nurse

Making new friends is often cited as one of the most appreciated pros of travel nursing. Almost every hospital you work at will have multiple travel nurses. They’re typically the best people to acquaint yourself with. They’re in the same boat so you’ll have plenty to discuss right off the bat. That said, the permanent staff are often very welcoming of travelers so there is no shortage of friendship opportunities.

Pro: Try Before you Buy as a Travel Nurse

The ability to “try before you buy” is another pro of travel nursing. This applies to both employers and cities. When I was recruiting, I worked with many travelers who wanted to move away from home and used travel nursing as a way to evaluate whether or not a particular city would be a good fit. Similarly, others were already moving to a particular city but wanted to determine whether or not a particular employer would be a good fit.

Pro: Travel Nurses Can Land Jobs Quickly

The more flexible you are as a travel nurse, the faster you’ll be able to land a job. In fact, you could be working in as little as two weeks. I worked with several nurses who used this advantage to quickly get out of a bad employment situation at home. They continued to travel until they found a permanent position with an alternative employer in their home region.

Pro: Flexibility Between Travel Nursing Assignments

Many publications cite flexibility as being one of the pros of travel nursing. Here again, it’s important to be precise. It is often difficult to arrange for time off during a contract. Moreover, hospitals are less likely to be flexible with a travel nurse’s scheduling requirements than they are with a permanent employee’s scheduling requirements.

However, travel nurses do have the flexibility to take as much time off as they want in between assignments. Moreover, the fact that travel nursing contracts are short-term is also a form of flexibility. There are never any commitments to stay.

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Pro: Travel Nurses Help Under-served Populations

One of the top reasons that registered nurses chose their profession is that they are caring and compassionate people who view patient care as an enriching and rewarding experience. While travel nursing jobs exist in almost every part of the country, there is a disproportionate number of jobs available in underserved communities. Many travel nurses cherish this opportunity. For them, it’s definitely one of the pros of travel nursing.

Con: Being Away From The Support of Friends and Family

Being away from friends and family is one of the cons of travel nursing. Friends and family are our support system when we need a helping hand. As a travel nurse, you may find yourself needing that support for many different reasons. Consider the quote below from a social media group devoted to travel nursing:

Second day of orientation and I get in a car accident on the way to work. The one thing that sucks as a traveler, being away from friends and family when something bad happens.

Con: Loneliness and Homesickness While Travel Nursing

It’s important to remember that travel nursing isn’t a regular vacation. You’re actually moving to another location for work. The typical contract is 3 months. It can make you feel like you’ve literally moved away from home. Many travelers notice this most when they are eating at restaurants alone.

Just so you are aware, it is possible to bring your family along on your travel nursing adventure. If you’re interested in this option, then we highly recommend our detailed article on travel nursing with family.

Con: You’ll Move a Lot as a Travel Nurse

Travel nursing is a different type of “travel”. You’re essentially living on the road. As a result, you’ll be compelled to pack much more than you would for a vacation. The more you pack, the more difficult it is to move. This makes moving one of the cons of travel nursing. Check out our tips for packing as a travel nurse for help!

Con: Wear and Tear on Your Vehicle as a Travel Nurse

You may make several cross country trips as a travel nurse. While it’s true that travel nursing companies will reimburse you for travel expenses, the reimbursements do not factor in the cost of wear and tear on your vehicle. You could have your car transported. Or you might decide to use a rental vehicle. However, these alternatives are very expensive. If the agency covers the cost, then it will come out of your pay package. Either way, you’re paying for this on your own.

Con: Frequent Job Searches as a Travel Nurse

Frequent job searches is another con of travel nursing. As mentioned above, the typical travel nursing contract lasts for 3 months. In some cases, you’ll be able to extend a travel nursing contract for another 3 months. In other cases, your recruiter will be able to find your next assignment in advance with little input from you.

However, in many cases, you’ll need to put in the time and effort to conduct a job search. And in all cases, you’ll need to negotiate pay, contract terms and interview for the positions. It can get quite stressful. Consider the quote below from a travel nursing social media group:

I am having so much anxiety with not knowing if I’m going to have another assignment when mine is over next month. I could possibly extend where I am now. I’m trying to weigh the pros and cons…

Con: Travel Nursing Paperwork

Paperwork has become a nightmare in the travel nursing industry. For starters, travel nurses typically enlist the services of many travel nursing companies in order to gain maximum exposure to the job market. The problem is that every company wants you to complete their lengthy job application and skills checklists. You can use BluePipes to help reduce this burden.

The real paperwork starts when you actually accept a job offer. You’ll need to complete all the standard compliance related documentation. You’ll also need to complete any training or special examinations required by the hospital. This can include training modules covering policies and procedures, computer charting, and other facility specific topics. These days, many hospitals require drug screens, PPDs and other physical related exams to be conducted withing 30 days of the start date.

It’s not uncommon for travelers to spend several days completing this paperwork. And worst of all, it’s rare for hospitals to provide any compensation for this travel nursing paperwork.

Con: Travel Nursing Pay Package Changes

Different travel nursing jobs have different compensation packages. This is because different hospitals have different bill rates. Bill rates are the hourly rates that agencies can charge hospitals for a travel nurse’s time at work. Therefore, bill rates serve as the fundamental basis of travel nursing pay packages.

Of course, if you start with a pay package that’s low, then it will be great when you land a higher paying job. Either way though, pay fluctuations are so big in travel nursing that it can make budgeting difficult.

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Con: Travel Nursing Contract Cancellations

Contract cancellations are one of the more under-reported cons of travel nursing. They happen more frequently than anyone would like. There are many different causes as well. A travel nurse might be cancelled with cause. The hospital may decide they no longer have a need and cancel a travel nursing contract before it starts or even during the contract. Lack of funding can cause a hospital to cancel a contract.  If a travel nurse fails an onboarding exam, then the hospital might cancel the contract. Consider the quote below from a travel nursing social media group.

Just wondering why a facility would let Travelers leave their homes, drive long distances or fly long dreadful hours, then cancel their contract for failing a basic EKG test?! I think it’s unfair to travelers!!

No matter what the cause of a contract cancellation, the travel nurse will bear a financial loss in almost all cases. That said, you can go your entire travel nursing career without ever experiencing a cancellation.

The easiest way to manage your travel nursing career.

Con: Handling Multiple State Licenses as a Travel Nurse

As a travel nurse, you’ll probably want to be licensed in multiple states. If you have a compact multi-state license, then you’re one of the lucky ones who can practice in 25 states and counting. Even still, you may want to also get licensed in more popular travel nursing destinations like California, Florida and Washington state.

The problem is that it’s expensive to maintain multiple state licenses. Moreover, you need to satisfy the CEU requirements for each state. Also, being licensed in certain states makes it difficult to get licensed in others. For example, California is notoriously slow at verifying state licenses which can delay licensing in other states. These factors make multiple state licenses one of the cons of travel nursing.

Con: Maintaining Your Tax Home as a Travel Nurse

As we mentioned above, tax-free money is one of the pros of travel nursing pay packages. However, you must maintain a tax home in order to qualify for the tax-free money. Doing so is both costly and challenging. This certainly makes it one of the cons of travel nursing. We’ve covered the travel nursing tax-home in great detail here.

Con: Filing Taxes as a Travel Nurse

As a travel nurse, you’ll most likely work in multiple states each year. This means that you’ll need to file multiple state returns. Also, you may want to claim additional deductions that aren’t typically claimed as a permanent employee. All of this can make your taxes a little more complicated. As a result, a significant percentage of travel nurses get their taxes done by a licensed professional. Of course, this costs a little more than doing it yourself.

Con: The Disadvantages of Low Taxable Wages for Travel Nurses

We cited tax-free money as one of the pros of travel nursing above. The trade off for the tax-free money is that travel nurses typically get paid lower taxable wages. For example, it’s common for a travel nursing pay package to include a taxable wage of $20 per hour, a lodging stipend that’s equal to $13 per hour and a Meals and Incidental Expenditure Stipend that’s equal to $10 per hour. If this is confusing, then this video on how travel nursing pay packages work can help.

The total value in this example comes to $43 per hour. But the taxable wage is only $20 which is lower than what many nurses make at their permanent positions. The lower taxable wage has several disadvantages.

First, it makes it more difficult to qualify for home and auto loans. Second, it can reduce the value of your social security and medicare benefits. Third, it will reduce the amount you’re paid in case you need to file for worker’s comp, disability, or unemployment. Check out this article for more information on the advantages and disadvantages of travel nursing tax-free money.

Con: Subpar Benefits Packages for Travel Nurses

Travel nursing companies typically offer subpar benefits packages compared to permanent employers. The medical benefits typically provide a lower level of coverage. Very few travel nursing companies offer a 401k match. You’ll rarely find a company that offers Paid Time Off. When they do, it’s usually only because the state you happen to be working in mandates Paid Time Off. In this case, staffing companies typically offer only the minimum.

That said, you can certainly find companies that offer great benefits. However, it ultimately comes out of your pay. In other words, a company offering a great benefits package will typically offer lower pay to make up for the cost all else being equal. For more on how this works, you can review our sample breakdown of a travel nursing pay package.

Con: Managing Medical Coverage Can be Difficult for Travel Nurses

There are a few scenarios that can make managing medical coverage as a travel nurse difficult. First, you’ll undoubtedly change coverage when you change agencies. Different medical plans are accepted by different doctors and cover different medications. This can impact your continuity of care.

Second, travel nursing companies typically pay for coverage only when travelers are working. Therefore, your benefits can be cancelled if you take time off in between assignments. That said, you will qualify for COBRA coverage when your employer coverage is cancelled. As a result, you can skirt the rules to your advantage. However, you may not be comfortable doing so.

Obtaining your own medical coverage is one alternative to this con of travel nursing.

Free eBook: How To Negotiate Travel Nursing Pay

Con: Onboarding and Orientation are Typically Poor for Travel Nurses

The onboarding and orientation processes for travel nurses are often quite poor. For example, you may not receive computer access codes before your first shift. Additionally, many hospitals provide insufficient orientations. It’s not uncommon for a hospital to provide 4 to 8 hours of orientation before cutting a travel nurse loose on the floor.

Con: Potential for Travel Nurses to be Negatively Perceived by Permanent Staff

We mentioned above that networking and making new friends is one of the pros of travel nursing. Unfortunately, the opposite can be true as well. The staff at some hospitals have a negative view of travel nurses. They might believe that travel nurses are “stealing their hours”. Some believe utilizing travel nurses diminishes patient care. These hospitals can be unwelcoming and even a little hostile toward travel nurses.

Con: You May Need to Settle on Location as a Travel Nurse

Many newcomers to travel nursing believe they will be able to land assignments in specific locations whenever they want. Unfortunately, this is not the case. It’s more common that you’ll need to settle on alternative locations until things line up in your most desired location.

One way to overcome this is to approach travel nursing with flexibility. Another way is to engage in PRN work until you secure your ideal assignment.

Incorrect or Specious Pros from Around the Web

While researching this topic, we came across many pros that were actually incorrect or specious. We feel it’s important to briefly discuss these items so you know what to expect.

Incorrect Pro: Usually You get a Bonus Per Contract

This is simply incorrect. Bonuses are very rare in travel nursing. When travel nursing agencies offer bonuses, it’s important to evaluate that bonus as part of the overall pay package. This way, you can determine the true value of the bonus.

Specious Pro: Your Housing is Payed for When on Contract

Yes, travel nursing companies will pay for your housing when you’re on assignment. However, you must maintain a tax-home to qualify for this tax-free benefit. Maintaining a tax-home most often requires that you duplicate expenses by paying rent or a mortgage at home. Travel nursing agencies certainly don’t pay for both. Therefore, the only advantage here is that the company does some of the legwork to find and secure your temporary housing.

It’s also important to point out that you’ll receive a housing stipend if you choose not to take company provided housing. Many nurses prefer this. These nurses find housing that is less than the value of the stipend. This way, they pocket the difference as additional income.

Specious Pro: Your Travel Expenses get Reimbursed When Moving from One Contract to Another

Is this really a benefit? Could you imagine your permanent employer sending you on a business trip and requiring you to pay for it? Moreover, it’s quite common for travel nursing companies to provide less than the cost of your travel expenses. For example, they might offer $700 for you to drive to California from Florida and back.

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Incorrect Pro: Trying New Specialties

It’s extremely rare to be able to “try new specialties” as a travel nurse. The general rule is that you must have one to two years of experience in the specialty you’re applying for. Hospitals do not train travelers. That said, you may get floated to a different unit. However, that’s usually something nurses don’t like. Moreover, it typically won’t provide the level of experience required to land a job in that specialty moving forward.

Specious Pro: Affordable Housing as a Travel Nurse

As we mentioned above, it’s true that travel nursing companies can pay for your housing. That makes it seem affordable on the surface. However, if you choose not to take company provided housing, then the company will pay you a lodging stipend instead. It’s quite common for these stipends to be in excess of $2000 per month. That’s not necessarily affordable by most standards.

Incorrect Pro: High Demand Locations

To quote the article we found this on:

As a travel nurse, you don’t have to depend on location. Instead, you can choose assignments only in the best places to live as a nurse.

As we mentioned above, this is not correct. Locations like San Diego, California or Hawaii tend to be the most in demand locations. They are also the most difficult locations to land an assignment. The truth is that you’ll need to exhibit some level of flexibility in order to stay continuously employed as a travel nurse.

Weighing the Pros and Cons of Travel Nursing

Unfortunately, we listed more cons than pros. However, it’s important to remember that many of the pros of travel nursing offer more than enough reward to overcome the cons. Additionally, you can resolve many of the cons with some simple planning. Moreover, handling many of the cons becomes second nature with time.

As always, we’d love to here about your experience with this topic. What pros or cons you would add to this list? Are there any that you would remove? Let us know by posting a comment below!

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The Pros and Cons of Travel Nursing


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