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Why Travel Nursing May Not Be For You

why travel nursing may not be for you

High pay, excellent bonuses, the opportunity to travel and making your own schedule sounds like a dream job! Travel nursing has grown exponentially as staff realize that they can work less throughout the year while making more money than they can at their current position. As amazing as the opportunity sounds, travel nursing is not for everyone. If you’re considering jumping on the travel train consider these things first.


Make your own schedule? Not exactly…

While many travel nursing agencies boast that their nurses make their own schedules, keep in mind that there are some caveats to the benefit. Daily travelers who take assignments on a shift-by-shift basis are able to make their own schedules by only taking shifts that are open when they want to work. This does limit their options for where to work and often lands them in the facilities with the most need. They also risk not having any shifts available on their preferred days/times and can struggle to fill their openings. For those who accept long term assignments, they may be locked into a schedule that they don’t care for over the course of several months. Imagine finding out that you’ll have to work ANY shift assigned, 6 days per week, 12 hour days for 12 weeks. That’s 72 hours per week! While the opportunity exists to choose your assignment, and they’re not all terrible schedules, keep in mind that you’ll be locked in for a period of time and not freelancing your schedule. 

If work/life balance is your goal, consider approaching management in your facility to ask about adjustments to your schedule. Another option is to choose part-time or PRN work within your local area which is often as or even more flexible than travel work and boasts excellent pay!


Where’s the bathroom?

A young physician looking confused

If you thrive in situations in which you are comfortable, travel nursing might not be the right option. While you may choose long term assignments, you’re often not given much of a period of adjustment. You’ll be expected to show up ready to roll and even something as simple as finding the bathroom can be a challenge as you’ll need to figure it out on your own. At the end of your shift you’ll head back to an unfamiliar home in an unfamiliar town, and be on your own to orient there as well. While this is an exciting adventure for some, it’s not easy and should be taken into consideration before making a decision.

If you enjoy having roots and feeling comfortable in the space you’re in, consider a position closer to home. Travel is still an option, but consider doing so during vacations and not as your career. 


Swimming in Cash! Well, sort of…

NHSC loan repayment

When we hear about travel nursing it usually starts with “can you believe how much money they’re paying!?!?” It can be a real challenge to fight jealous feelings when it sounds like others are making thousands of dollars more than we are for performing the same task. Keep in mind however, that while the numbers appear promising there are a few things to consider. 


  • For those who choose to keep their current home, they could be paying rent/mortgages on two homes.
  • Cost of living can vary wildly and the assignment may be in a high-cost area. Paying thousands more per month for housing, food, etc. can add up. 
  • Travelers need to carry and pay for their own liability insurance. They often pay high premiums for health insurance as well!
  • In order to earn those rates, travelers may be working upwards of 72 hours per week depending on the assignment! Figuring in rates for overtime, it’s quite possible that you could make the same amount if you worked those hours too!


If you’re short on cash, but not sure that you want to travel look for ways to increase your salary in your area. Applying to positions in different departments or facilities near you, negotiating your pay rate at your next evaluation, and furthering your education can all help to boost your rates without sending you away from home.

Long hours, demanding patients, and a seemingly never ending shortage of staff can lead to feeling defeated, used, and frustrated. It’s easy to see why nurses want to leave their regular positions to travel, and with recruiters reaching out on a regular basis the opportunity continues to present itself time and again. Travel nursing isn’t for everyone though, and while it’s a wonderful scenario for those who thrive in the lifestyle and is necessary as we navigate the staffing difficulties across the nation, it’s not the only way to improve your situation. In fact, if you want to invest in your local community, be a part of improving the landscape of nursing care within your local facilities, and stay in the comfort of your home, you have options….


  • Consider negotiating your current pay/schedule with management. Be prepared with facts and figures as well as a discussion about why it will benefit them to work with you. Always be kind and be willing to accept rejection and discuss again at a later date. 
  • Explore options within your community. Nurses have a world of opportunity open to them in just about every community. If you’re in need of a change, take some time to look around and find other opportunities close by. Be ready to negotiate pay and schedule during the interview process!
  • Look into part-time or PRN positions. The wonderful thing about part-time/PRN positions is that they allow you to flex your schedule while earning more than you would in a typical position. You’ll sport some of the benefits of travel nursing while staying put in a place that is familiar to you. It’s really the best of both worlds!


If you’re still unsure if travel nursing is right for you, try taking on some daily assignments with a local nursing agency first. Get the feel for what it’s like to work in different facilities and how you feel about hitting the ground running in a new facility. After a few shifts, you’ll know!

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About Tammy McKinney, RN

Tammy McKinney is a Registered Nurse from Pennsylvania. After earning her Business Administration degree, she went on to earn her degree in nursing from Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences. With a background in Infectious Disease Nursing, Agency Nursing, and Hospice Care she enjoys sharing her experiences through her writing.

With years of experience in article creation, copy writing and editing, and marketing, Tammy’s freelance career began long before she became a nurse. She continues her work in these areas with a focus on medical writing in an effort to positively inform and impact the nursing community.

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