Top 10 Tips For New Travel Nurses
My name is Andrew Craig. I've been traveling with my wife Sarah who is also a nurse. We've worked in four states, multiple assignments, and have been traveling together for a year and a half. These are my top 10 tips I'd recommend to a new travel nurse getting into this specialty.
Travel nursing is an amazing opportunity. You get to go on new adventures while exploring the country and see new healthcare organizations. You get exposed to so many types of medicine, nursing care, and clinical experiences which challenges you to become a better nurse. One of the best parts is the money can be highly lucrative depending on your circumstances.
I've been doing this for a year and a half and I decided to help out other nurses who are just starting out in this specialty. This information is also helpful for any nurse interested in getting started.
I create videos on Youtube to help out nurses and below is the video I created about the Top 10 Tips for Travel Nurses if you don't like to read.
My top 10 tips are:
- Make sure you fully understand what a tax home is and have one in place.
- Be informed and do you research.
- Communicated with multiple companies.
- Travel nurse for the money!
- Don't be a crappy travel nurse.
- Connect with other travel nurses.
- Be that awesome travel nurse that everyone loves!
- Be aware of the unique travel nurse challenges.
- Pack Light.
- Review your contract carefully and thoroughly.
Tip # 1: Make sure you fully understand what a tax home is and have one in place!
Everyone has heard of the large amounts of money travel nurses can make. In my experience, the average contract pays approximately $1,400-$1,500 per week take home after taxes and after benefits have been deducted. Those are contracts in the midwest. On the west coast expect $1,600-1,800 per week after taxes. In extreme circumstances, nurses can make well over $2,000/week after taxes. I've heard of unbelievable contracts in the $3,000-$4,000/week!!! Crazy right?!
Now, that't pretty good considering I started out of college at $21/hour at a nursing home and about $27/hour at a large university of hospital.
I brought home anywhere from $2,500-$3,500/month.
My first travel assignment I was making $1,500/week or $6,000/month x 2 (with my wife). $12,000/month after taxes with benefits. That's in the midwest!!!
I'm not gloating. It's a blessing to be in a career with such opportunity. The best part? You don't even need a BSN!
Anyway. Back on topic.
How is that possible? How can nurses make that kind of money?
The biggest financial incentive you receive is the tax free money from travel nurse companies. Also known as, per diems, stipends, or tax advantage plans.
Sounds great right? There's one major catch!
You absolutely must have a tax home in place in order to legally receive that tax free money according to the IRS.
So, what is a tax home?
According to the IRS, "Generally, your tax home is your regular place of business or post of duty, regardless of where your maintain you family home. It includes the entire city or general area in which your business or work is located.”
What if you don't have a tax home?
According to the IRS, " If you don’t have a regular or a main place of business or post of duty and there is no place where you regularly live, you are considered an itinerant (a transient) and your tax home is wherever you work. As an itinerant, you cannot claim a travel expense deduction because you are never considered to be traveling away from home."
Review the IRS guidelines here
However, there's more to the tax home story than that.
Trust me when I tell you this is crucial information. While it's slightly boring, you want to pay attention closely.
According to the IRS,"You may have a tax home even if you don't have a regular or main place of work. Your tax home may be the home you regularly live. If you don't have a regular or main place of business or work, use the following three factors to determine where your tax home is:
- You perform part of your business in the area of your main home and use that home for lodging while doing business in the area.
- You have living expenses at your main home that you duplicate because your business requires you to be away from that home.
- You haven't abandoned the area in which both your historical place of lodging and your claimed main home are located; you have a member or members of your family living at your main home; or you often use that home for lodging."
So what's the tax home bottomline and why is it important? If you don't understand anything, make sure you understand the next sentence.
If you don't have a tax home AND you receive tax free money from companies AND you randomly get audited by the IRS, you WILL have to pay back taxes, fees, and likely legal fees.
That's scary if you don't take the proper precautions and you get caught, Uncle Sam is going to get that money from you one way or another.You work extremely hard for it. Make sure to take the proper steps to protect your money and yourself.
There's actually one last aspect to all this. Generally speaking, a temporary assignment should last for no longer than a year. You need to go home periodically otherwise the IRS may determine that your tax home has moved thereby you lose you traveling professional status and thus your travel nursing perks!
Meaning: You wouldn't qualify for tax free money because, in the eyes of the IRS, you don't have a tax home.
Remember: You need a tax home in order to properly and legally qualify for tax free money!
What should you regarding a tax home?
- Fully understand what it is
- If you have a tax home, learn to maintain and protect it
- Discuss your situation with an accountant that specifically does taxes for travel nurses. There's a few online you can find with a simple Google search.
Don't let recruiters fool you!
The keywords from above are: Your tax home is where you live IF you perform part of your business there, you have living expenses, and you haven't abandoned the area.
Some recruiters will insist, "Just use a friend's or family's address. You'll be fine! In all my years as a recruiter I've never seen someone audited!" As you previously stated, a TRUE tax home is much more than an address.
Don't let sketchy recruiter mislead or lie to you. It doesn't matter to them if you get audited. That's that not perogative. They are out to make money. While some are good people, I would equate their practices a shady car salesman or a stock broker. Not ALL of them evil! Just be careful!
This is not meant to scare you away from travel nursing. This is a warning to help you be informed so you can protect yourself in the off chance you get audited by the IRS. I've heard travel nurses are more likely to audited considering the large amount of tax free money we receive (that could be speculation). I don't have research to back that claim.
Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer, tax attorney, or an accountant. My knowledge primarily comes from experience, research, and discussions with my own accountant. Do your own homework and get educated.
Here's a great article from "Modern Medicine: Healthcare Traveler" that explains a tax home in detail.
Tip # 2: Be informed by doing your research
Travel nursing has a huge learning curve because the average staff nurse doesn't need to worry about the issues travelers face.
I was lucky because I knew a traveler when I first started and happened to meet our 1st recruiter in person. Great guy! Shout out "Mike McSorley" He's one of the good ones!
Before you sign the dotted line, there are several topics to focus on:
- Travel Nurse Taxes
- Recruiter Reviews
- Company Reviews
- Hospital Reviews
- Travel Nurse Contracts
And, much more! Make sure to take a good amount of time learning about this work and don't be impulsive just because you want change, an adventure, or you the dollar signs. That's all good but when you make hasty decisions, that's when you could get taken advantage of! I don't want that.
I will also say there is a lot of biased, fluffy travel nursing information available that is created by the companies as a ploy to get you to sign up to their forms. For example, they'll want you to put in your name, basic experience, what you're looking for, and contact information.
LET YOU TELL SOMETHING! NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, put your information in a random form on a travel nursing website.
You're information can and probably will get sold off to 20-30 other travel nurse companies. Your phone will never stop ringing. You'll be on lists F-O-R-E-V-E-R! Sandlot style! Remember that scene? I love that movie!
I know a guy who did that and he gets calls almost everyday. And, they don't care if you say not interested. I'm pretty sure they are immune to the "Do Not Call List." The calls are kind of like Genital Herpes because it stops for awhile but keeps coming back!
Bottomline: Do you research. Be informed. Don't give your information out freely!
Tip #3: Communicate with multiple companies
I work with 2 main companies but I have a casual relationship with 5-6 different recruiters from different companies.
I want the best location for my needs while at the same time make the most money possible.
Having multiple companies at my disposal allows me to do that. Travel nursing companies are highly competitive because this is a multi-million if not billion dollar industry.
For that reason, there is no single company that will have what you need every time for every location for every part of the year.
You need options!
Another benefit is you can leverage companies against each other by discussing competing offers. For instance, in Iowa, Company A is offering $1,500/week while company B is offering $1,300/week. You can leverage one offer against another and potentially push company B to increase their offer to around $1,400/week if you really like that company. Or, simply go with company A.
You take the power from the companies and empower yourself by having multiple offers and leveraging them against each other. They may not like it but we're out for your interests not theirs!
Tip #4 Travel Nurse for the money!
I know it sounds greedy but hear me out.
I have specific motivations for travel nursing. Of course, I want to take care of patients that's why I became a nurse. But, I want to make as much money as humanly possible in a 36 hour work week for as long as I can. I rarely work overtime because I don't need to.
I find the best possible contracts in sometimes unusual and maybe less desirable locations. Why? To make THAT MONEY!
Listen, I'm not super greedy but nurses have a shelf life and I know that I can't do bedside nursing forever. It's not practical for me but thank goodness there are those who can. I have different life goals other than being into bedside nursing forever.
Some ways to make more money as a travel nurse without working overtime:
NEVER accept the first offer. Always negotiate up. You're worth it! You have unique life saving skills that are extremely valuable. If a recruiter doesn't like that or isn't willing to play ball, move on! Dime a dozen.
Find your own housing. It's more of a hassle sometimes but your housing stipends will be larger which equates to more money for your bottomline.
Skip the fancy, desirable destinations. They often pay substantially less. Look for "Children of the Corn" middle of nowhere towns. Sure, it'll be boring but you'll be fanning yourself in Benjamins! Guaranteed!
Work night shift. Almost always pays better!
Work crisis rates. Almost always pays better!
Work strikes. Freaking amazing money! Like godly amounts of money. I read an article of a travel nurse who worked on a three month strike. How much did he make? Over a year's salary. BOOM! Money! I'm not here to debate the ethics of working strikes. I'm not here to discuss "scabs." I've never done it but I would if I had the chance. Why? Patients still need care. The money is phenomenal. It's a no-brainier for me!
Lastly, if you get a pay package that you need evaluated, post it on a forum or facebook group. Avoid mentioning recruiters or companies out of courtesy. There will be someone that can help you decide whether you're getting short changed or not. I've done that with pretty good results.
Tip #5: Don't be a crappy travel nurse
Listen, travel nursing is a great opportunity. Don't squander it by bringing your past negative experiences and baggage with you. Start fresh. That's the beauty of the 13 week contract.
Avoid being unapproachable, bitter, quiet, overly-reserved, unsocial, and inflexible.
Don't complain about everything.
Avoid the office politics and don't add to them. It's not your problem. Avoid that crap like Genital Herpes!
Don't sit in your corner all night salking.
That negativity is contagious and frankly I HATE, HATE, HATE being around people like that. We all notice and the patients do too.
Bottom-line: Go to work. Provide good patient care. Make some friends. Be nice, helpful, approachable, and above all, safe. Have good experiences. Learn some cool stuff. Make that Money!
Tip #6: Connect with other travel nurses
I'm lucky. I have my wife whom I regularly confide in. Most travelers are alone and it can be very lonely.
When you meet travelers, befriend them. Do an after work breakfast. Go out for a drink (or seven). Become friends on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media platform. Having that support is such a stress relief!
When you connect with other travelers, you'll have WAY better experiences. You'll run into experienced travel nurses whether that's in person or online.
All I recommend is try not to do this alone. It won't be nearly as rewarding as it could be!
Tip # 7: Be that awesome travel nurse that everyone loves and looks forward to working with.
One of the best parts of travel nursing is the opportunities that come from you being a great person to be around. It can range from a job offer to life long friends. Every place we've been at we've been offered jobs. Not because we are super amazing nurses but I believe it's evident that we care, we do a good job, and people enjoy our company.
Some of ways you can be an awesome travel nurse are:
- Treat every assignment like an extended . You never the opportunities that will arise from doing a great job!
- Be flexible and open to doing the jobs that people grunt at.
- Be a "yes man." Remember Jim Carrey!?
- Be humble.
- Be helpful when you're able.
- Go out of your way to help your coworkers and patients. People definitely notice! For example, pass someone's medications, refill a dry bag of fluids instead of telling them it's empty, turn and change their patient, help their patients to the bathroom, etc. You get the idea!
- Help someone admit or transfer.
Why even bother? Aren't we there just to get in and get out to make money?
I don't believe so.
People notice your extra efforts and highly appreciate it. You become the person "that gets things done and is super helpful." This positive attitude can lead to job opportunities now or later. You'll have amazing references from your managers and coworkers. You'll be able to network further increasing your chances for professional opportunities. And, you'll be that traveler that lightened load of a stressful night.
It feels good to be around nice people that come in to do a great job, be super helpful, and move on. I notice people like that so others must notice too!
Tip #8: Be aware of the challenges unique to travel nurses
I think travel nurse companies paint an overly romaticized and simplified picture of the work of a travel nurse. We will be moving every 13 weeks to a new state and a new hospital. That is extremely challenging to cope with especially your first few times.
Some of the challenges you'll face include:
Getting use to new coworkers, managers, and charge nurse personalities. As we know, personalities can range from chillaxed to over-the-top, crazy, narcissitic, coo-coo for coco coco puffs!
- New equipment, technology, and charting systems.
- New IV pumps and IVs (some hospitals stock pure junk). I thought I was good at IVs until I go to a hospital with a completely new set up. It's like starting over!
- New patient populations, disease, nursing care, medications, and surgeries.
- You're going to float more than you ever have before. Why? Travelers are always 1st to float. I like to now but at first it was pretty scary.
- New doctors, residents, interns, and funky paging systems.
- Funky patient situations and circumstances.
BUT. You know what? The part of all of this that doesn't change is your expertise, knowledge, experiences, skill set, and nursing intuition. Your entire environment around you will be different but you won't forget how to take care of patients. And, your skills will grow and you'll become extremely adaptable and strong.
Trust and believe in yourself. It will be hard at first but you adapt and become an even stronger nurse in the end.
Tip #9: Pack Light
You'll be amazed at the stuff you don't need that you initially thought you did. Our travels started with WAY too much crap. It's a huge pain in the butt to pack-up, un-pack, pack-up, and un-pack three times in one year with stuff you barely use.
Try to stick with 2-3 bags of clothes, toiletries, electronics, and misc kitchen stuff. You don't need much to survive comfortably.
It's actually quite freeing to have less stuff.
Talking about stuff reminds me of George Carlin's skit on stuff. Watch here! Probably NSFW!
Tip #10: Review your contract carefully and thoroughly
I can't tell you how many horror stories I've read on forums of travel nurses getting screwed over in their contracts.
The main mistakes are they didn't read it super carefully, signed under pressure, or signed with questions in mind. Don't do any of that.
Don't allow recruiters to pressure you into anything. You have the power because you're the one making them the money. Not the other way around. Advocate for yourself.
If you're new to contracts, read it carefully, put it down, and come back to it later. Have someone else read through it as well. It doesn't have to be another nurse. It's kind of like editing a paper. Each person will see the information in a unique way and identify issues you didn't see yourself.
Main aspects to focus on in contracts; include, guranteed hours, pay rates, overtime rates, number of times they can call you off without pay, contracted schedule and vacation times, and per diems.
Take your sweet time with contracts. You should comfortably have 1-2 days to review a contract. If a recruiter says otherwise, don't given in to that pressure. If they won't leave you alone, that's a red flag to me. I would consider moving on!
In conclusion, travel nursing is a great opportunity. I hope this information helps you understand traveling a little bit more and encourages you to get over any fears you may have to get started. I love this type of nursing and if I had my way, I would do it forever!
About AndrewCraigRN, BSN Pro
My name is Andrew Craig. I'm a travel nurse that specializes in medical step down units. I've been travel nursing for 1.5 years and plan to travel until my wife makes me stop! :)
Joined: Jul '09; Posts: 480; Likes: 337
Progressive Care (Step-down) Travel Nurse; from US
Specialty: Progressive/Intermediate Care/StepdownMay 17, '17I'm curious about travel nursing (probably will be feasible starting about a year from now), especially as a way to work hard for a few years and bulk up my income and travel more.
I have two main concerns. One is work environment - I have left jobs where I feared for my personal or professional safety. How can you figure out how bad a situation might be unless you're already networked with folks who might know? How bad is it if you walk out on a contract because you're in danger? The other concern is I'm not sure if my level of experience would make me a valuable travel nurse. I have 5 years RN experience starting in LTC/SAR, then Med-Surg, then LTAC (some PCU level care needs), and a brief stint in Ortho Neuro Spine before an injury left me sidelined and now working an outpatient clinic. Any thoughts on those concerns?May 17, '17Quote from NotAllWhoWandeRNHow can you figure out how bad a situation might be unless you're already networked with folks who might know?I'm curious about travel nursing (probably will be feasible starting about a year from now), especially as a way to work hard for a few years and bulk up my income and travel more.
I have two main concerns. One is work environment - I have left jobs where I feared for my personal or professional safety. How can you figure out how bad a situation might be unless you're already networked with folks who might know? How bad is it if you walk out on a contract because you're in danger? The other concern is I'm not sure if my level of experience would make me a valuable travel nurse. I have 5 years RN experience starting in LTC/SAR, then Med-Surg, then LTAC (some PCU level care needs), and a brief stint in Ortho Neuro Spine before an injury left me sidelined and now working an outpatient clinic. Any thoughts on those concerns?
The truth is you won't know until you start your assignment. The recruiters often don't know specific work conditions unless they've sent other travel nurses there. Most assignments I've been too the conditions have been tolerable.
If you every feared for your personal or professional safety, discuss the issues with the recruiter or your nurse manager and try to come to some agreement between you and the facility. For instance, if it's a staffing issue, that's likely not going to change but I've been at a place where staff weren't very friendly to travel nurses. They reported to management on a regular basis. Did it change? Nope. Not a single bit because the facility was desperate to keep any staff so they didn't ruffle any feathers.
I've been in unsafe situations. Mainly related to staffing. Was it safe? Absolutely not. Did I feel I was in personal or professional jeopardy? Not really. You learn to adapt and handle it.
How bad is it if you walk out on a contract because you're in danger?
Honestly, I've never done this. You'll have to google other nurse's experiences. Generally, I believe you could be on the "financial hook" if you walk out on a contract. Hence, the basic function of a contract. If there is a legit reason, for example, family emergency or incredibly terrible/unsafe conditions/reportable to the B.O.N, then that may be different.
I wouldn't cancel unless you absolutely have to!
I'm not sure if my level of experience would make me a valuable travel nurse.
So you have a combination LTAC/Med-surg/Ortho/Neuro/Spine experience. You have 5 years of nursing experience too? You have the right experience and the right amount.
I recommend 1-2 years in your specialty so you can comfortably transition to a new floor in a quick manner because you get approximately 1week orientation at most places.
You have enough experience. Don't doubt your expertise!May 17, '17Great article. The only point that can be a stickler for some is the "do it for money" point. I have the same mentality as the author but I am not the norm among the large number of travelers I have met through the years. Most want the locations they are at and pay is a second factor. I would say 80% of the travelling nurses I have met think this way.
I ask for the highest pay regardless of location. Of I can extend at a high paying location then I do.May 17, '17Quote from ArgoThanks for your comment. I agree with you. When I wrote this, I felt like I might sound crazy regarding the money but it's an amazing financial opportunity (with a tax home).Great article. The only point that can be a stickler for some is the "do it for money" point. I have the same mentality as the author but I am not the norm among the large number of travelers I have met through the years. Most want the locations they are at and pay is a second factor. I would say 80% of the travelling nurses I have met think this way.
I ask for the highest pay regardless of location. Of I can extend at a high paying location then I do.
Go to the fancy locations on your free time. Make the money now while you can. That's the way I see it anyway.May 21, '17Congrats Craig,before embarking on this travel course ,did you apply to the institutions directly or you had a middle man to support.May 21, '17Very interesting article. I'm currently in Texas but will be moving to Arkansas soon....what would be the best agencies to check with if I just wAnted to do weekend ot 2-3 days at a time....May 21, '17Quote from Smurfj1This is about travel nursing, not prn/pool nursing.Very interesting article. I'm currently in Texas but will be moving to Arkansas soon....what would be the best agencies to check with if I just wAnted to do weekend ot 2-3 days at a time....May 22, '17This was a great article with awesome tips! I'm planning on starting travel nursing by the beginning of next year. Any tips for selecting a travel company? I've looked through a lot of reviews already and just trying to separate the fact from the fluff. Thanks!May 22, '17Quote from Clara AidooI applied to travel nursing companies. I filled out a profile, skills check list, and the travel nursing company did the rest. It was super easy because after the applications are filled out, the recruiter does all the hard work.Congrats Craig,before embarking on this travel course ,did you apply to the institutions directly or you had a middle man to support.May 22, '17Quote from Smurfj1That would require negotiation with any company and any hospital. Just bring it up during your recruiter early on by sayings that's what you need. They recruiter can submit your request to the hospital and nurse manager.Very interesting article. I'm currently in Texas but will be moving to Arkansas soon....what would be the best agencies to check with if I just wAnted to do weekend ot 2-3 days at a time....May 22, '17Quote from TheOneKawGreat question! It's been on my list to create a video answering this question for my viewers. Simple answer. Google "Top Travel Nurse Companies." There are some rating sites out there you can review. If you like a company, I would do further research by checking out individual recruiters by google their name.This was a great article with awesome tips! I'm planning on starting travel nursing by the beginning of next year. Any tips for selecting a travel company? I've looked through a lot of reviews already and just trying to separate the fact from the fluff. Thanks!
Also, the Gypsy Nurse facebook group is very helpful. Use the search function and you'll find tons of information there.
I'm going to make a video answering this topic in full on my youtube channel. Link below. Feel free to subscribe to find your answer in the next few days. Take care!May 23, '17Thank you for sharing these very helpful tips. I am a new (ICU) nurse and hoping to travel in the future. Feel like a gypsy at heart and don't know if permanence is really in the cards for me!
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