What is a Travel Nurse? Your Guide to Travel Nursing

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Travel nursing has gained attention in recent years — and for good reason. Many nurses are leaving home and going on the road to give the traveling lifestyle a try. Considering the many benefits of travel nursing jobs, such as high pay and free housing, it’s no wonder many nurses choose to pursue it.

So, what is a travel nurse, and is travel nursing worth it? If you decide travel nursing is for you, how do you start the process to become one? These are all great questions that we’ll discuss in detail.

The University of the Incarnate Word (UIW), located in San Antonio, Texas, is committed to helping students achieve their goal of becoming a nurse through the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) track. Whether you aspire to become a travel nurse, surgical nurse or pediatric nurse, the rigorous, online-based curriculum will set you up to succeed in the real world of nursing.

How Does Travel Nursing Work?

Travel nurses work temporary positions at hospitals and other healthcare facilities across the country and the world. These temporary positions fill temporary nursing gaps caused when a facility has an unexpected increase in its patient load or when nurses leave or go on parental leave.

Travel nursing contracts can last from a few weeks to a few months, sometimes even longer. Rather than getting these jobs directly through the employer, travel nurses work through travel nursing agencies.

These agencies act as the liaison between the nurse and the healthcare facility. Travel nurses request to apply to the locations and jobs that interest them, and their agents then submit the applications and arrange all the details.

What Does a Travel Nurse Do?

In the healthcare environment, travel nurses perform many of the same duties as staff nurses. They care for their patients, administer treatments, comfort patients and families and record data in electronic medical records. Travel nurses work alongside staff nurses within the assigned unit, whether that’s the ICU, emergency department or pediatric floor.

As a travel nurse, it’s important to be able to jump into each new role with minimal orientation; that’s why having strong nursing skills is key to being successful in these new environments.

nurse packing up her car

Is Travel Nursing Worth It? Pros and Cons

Before deciding whether travel nursing is the right fit for you, it’s important to evaluate the potential benefits and challenges of the career.

Benefits of Travel Nursing

Travel nursing can be a desirable career choice for nurses for several reasons, from great pay and free housing to excellent experience and the ability to travel the country.

A few benefits of travel nursing include:

  • The ability to travel and explore new cities
  • Excellent experience for your resume
  • High compensation rates, averaging about $129,000 per year, according to Indeed
  • Housing and travel stipends that cover expenses
  • Flexible scheduling and the ability to take vacations between contracts
  • The opportunity to make new friends
  • Comprehensive benefits, including health insurance and 401(k) matching

Challenges of Travel Nursing

While travel nursing offers several clear benefits, it also presents potential drawbacks for some.

The challenges of working as a travel nurse include:

  • A steep learning curve at each new facility
  • Struggles connecting with nursing staff as a temporary nurse
  • Difficulty moving for assignments if you have school-aged children
  • The stress of moving frequently

Is Travel Nursing Right for You?

After considering the pros and cons of becoming a travel nurse, think about your personal and professional goals and determine whether travel nursing aligns with them. If your goal is to see the world while gaining valuable experience as a nurse, travel nursing is a great way to make that happen. However, if you have young kids who are established at home, becoming a travel nurse may not be the right path for you.

One thing to keep in mind is that travel nursing doesn’t need to be a lifelong commitment. Nurses often decide to travel for a year or two before going back to working long-term in their own communities. Be flexible and adapt your career to your personal aspirations.

a travel nurse standing on roadside waiting for her ride

Qualities of a Successful Travel Nurse

Travel nursing requires a unique skill set to be successful when managing short-term nursing jobs. As well as having sharp technical skills in your specialty, it’s helpful to also possess these soft skills:

  • Flexibility and adaptability
  • A learning mindset
  • Confidence in new situations
  • Humility and the ability to ask for help
  • Initiative and grit

5 Steps to Become a Travel Nurse

The process to become a travel nurse if you don’t have a nursing degree is simpler than you may expect. It’s all about earning a BSN, getting nursing experience and then working with an agency to get a travel nursing job.

1. Earn a BSN

The first step to becoming a travel nurse is earning a bachelor’s degree through an accelerated nursing curriculum, such as the ABSN track at UIW. Having a BSN rather than an associate degree will ensure you can apply for more competitive, specialized travel nursing jobs. If you meet the admissions requirements, the ABSN track at UIW can help you earn a BSN in as few as 16 months.

The hybrid ABSN track consists of online classes, skills and simulation labs and clinical experiences, which all work together to prepare you to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) and enter your career as a professional nurse.

2. Pass the NCLEX and Get Licensed

After graduating from nursing school, the next step to becoming a travel nurse is to apply for licensure so you can take the NCLEX. The NCLEX is a challenging board exam, so students generally spend a month or two studying full-time after they finish nursing school. Once you pass the NCLEX, you’ll receive your nursing license from the state board of nursing. At that point you’re ready to start your career.

3. Work as a Nurse Locally

Working as a nurse at your local healthcare facility is a key part of becoming a travel nurse. That’s because travel nursing agencies want to hire nurses with experience, generally two years or more in their specialty. The orientation process for travel nursing jobs is short, so you need to know what you’re doing before starting an intense travel nursing contract. Plan to spend at least two years working as a nurse before you seek out travel nursing opportunities.

The other benefit of working in a local facility before traveling is that you can gain experience in a specialty that may be in higher demand for travel nurses, such as critical care, emergency or labor and delivery. Having ample experience in your specialty will make you a more valuable candidate when it comes time to apply for travel nursing jobs.

4. Connect with a Travel Nursing Agency

Now that you have the degree and experience needed for travel nursing, it’s time to reach out to travel nursing agencies and start the process. You can consult online travel nursing groups or talk to travel nurses at your current facility to see what agencies come highly recommended. Then, once you reach out to an agency, they will do most of the heavy lifting with helping you apply to the roles that interest you. Prepare to send the agency your resume, nursing skills tests and other application materials.

5. Work with an Agent to Set Up Your Travel Nursing Assignment

After approving your application, your agent will apply on your behalf to the jobs that interest you most. You’ll then have a phone or video interview with the hiring manager at the healthcare facility. If you receive approval for the position, you’ll work with the agency to finish any required documents and immunizations.

With your application on file with the agency, applying for another travel nursing job will be much faster and easier the next time.

Start Your Path to Travel Nursing

Now that you know what a travel nurse is and all that goes into becoming a travel nurse, it’s time to start making your future career happen. The path to travel nursing is worthwhile, and it’s simpler with a reputable school like UIW at your side. Going back to school for the ABSN track is the ideal way to maximize your efficiency and earn a degree in as few as 16 months.

Through online classes, skills and simulation labs and clinical rotations, you’ll develop the skills and knowledge to start your nursing career. With three start dates available per year — in January, May and August — you can start sooner and reach your career goals in less time.

UIW ABSN student smiling

To learn more about the ABSN track and how to get started with reaching your goals, fill out our online form, and our admissions counselors will reach out to you.