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Trusted Guide to Travel Nursing Basics

Jan 9, 2019
Madison Sackett, MSN, RN

When you first consider the journey of travel nursing it can come with a deluge of emotions. The thought of moving across the country, working at different hospitals, and not knowing people in a new city are all things that I’m sure have run through your mind as you think about the possibility of starting on this adventure. These factors are not to be discounted; it’s a big deal.

However, I can almost guarantee that it's going to be worth it (and I'm not just talking about travel nursing salary). Travel nurses will likely tell anyone interested in the experience, “You just need to do it.” Jump into it, sign up, and start the process. (Just make sure you're a Registered Nurse first!)

Becoming a Travel Nurse

Once the decision is made to start a career as a travel nurse it can be very overwhelming. However, you should know they are not the first to do it. Other experienced travel nurses have paved the way, and so much can be learned from them. I can admit I had absolutely no idea what I was doing when I first applied with a travel nurse company.

That’s why I’m going to share with you my favorite tips and tricks to ease this process and make this a seamless transition from staff to travel nurse.

Documentation

This is the first task to help make this transition a breeze. Compile all documents—scan and save them in Google Drive or on a computer desktop so they can be accessed from anywhere and sent at a moment’s notice. This step alone will make the transition much easier and also help with staying organized given the chance documents get misplaced during frequent moves.

This is the starter pack of things each new travel nurse will want to have saved and ready to go:

Updated Resume

It's very important that you keep your professional nursing resume up-to-date. Especially as a travel nurse, locations can be picky for the right kind of nurse given the assignment. If you have three years of PICU experience, this is the place to show that.

Letters of Reference/Recommendation

Make sure you keep a list of go-to references -- prior charge nurses, managers, etc. -- who can attest to your nursing skill as well as your personal character.

Health Records

Immunizations, Flu Shot, TB, Recent Physical, Titers, Blood Tests, Fit Mask Tests, and PPDs. If you got ’em, store ’em!

Nurse Certifications

Make sure you have copies of your nursing certifications handy; front and back of signed cards scanned and/or pictures of them to be sent digitally.

Nursing License(s)

This one should be a no-brainer as a registered nurse, but make sure you have the correct nursing license for the state you're applying in/moving to! For a list of state licensure requirements and more on this, check out this nursing licensure guide.

Drivers License

If you don't drive, make sure you have an Identification Card on you at all times.

Passport

This will serve as your secondary form of ID and is critical to completing most types of onboarding/legal paperwork.

Fingerprint Cards

Travel nurses need to have finger printing done when applying for new nursing licenses in other states. This can be completed at a local police department. The sooner the better on this one. Some licenses take several weeks to obtain. Don’t forget to ask for extra copies of fingerprint cards, keep the board of nursing portion blank so the finger prints can be sent to other states requiring finger printing.

Doing this will save time and avoid having to repeat this step when applying for nursing licensure in different states.

Receipts for Reimbursement

Always keep your receipts on hand for reimbursement. Sometimes your agency will require them for proof of spending, and they can be could information to have during tax season.

*Note: this has gotten trickier with the 2019 tax law changes.

Skills Checklist

Typically, travel nurses need a skills checklist filled out for each specialty that is relevant to the job the nurse is submitting to. Not all companies/agencies give out a copy, but it’s definitely worth asking for one to have for next time around.

College/University Diploma(s)

Make sure you have a copy of your college(s) diplomas, and in some cases even copies of your transcript. We see you, California...

Housing

Housing is often the most difficult part of travel nursing, but this guide will help get you started! Additionally, with Airbnb finding furnished housing can be a breeze. Most travel nursing contracts are 13 weeks (3 months), so don’t be afraid to negotiate a price. This is a huge relief for the Airbnb Host to have the place consistently booked.

Saving the host from the headache of turning over a place more frequently deserves a discount! Use this as leverage to get the price you want. It’s worth asking. Most of the time the host will send a better rate.

Also, make sure you balance out the cost of living wherever you're looking to travel with that of your newfound travel nurse pay. It can seem like a big bump in pay from your time as a staff nurse, but depending on the cost of living where you're traveling, it can quickly balance out.

Pro tip: book the stay through the delta.com/airbnb site. Gain bonus Delta Skymiles for a three-month stay.

Contracts

Pull out the calendar—calculate a 13-week assignment from the anticipated start date. Ask for dates off during the telephone interview with the hospital. Often managers will ask if there are any requested dates off. It’s best to have an idea of what dates are need at that time. This is your time to ask questions!

Remember— if it’s not in the contract, it’s not guaranteed.


Record Keeping

Great record keeping is going to help immensely when it comes time for tax season. Extra deductions can be taken (sometimes). Therefore, it’s beneficial to have records ready and updated to avoid the struggle of calculating them from several months back. A mileage log can be easily obtained with several different apps. At the very least, make note of the mileage on the odometer when beginning travel.

Servicing the car before starting traveling is a good idea to make sure the vehicle is tuned up and ready for a long drive. Additionally, the odometer reading will be on the service record. Keep track of trips taken home while on assignment and the number of days spent at home. These records will be necessary in the event of being audited by the IRS.

Also, keep receipts from hotel stays to and from each assignment. Have a record of housing costs during the assignment. Finally, save extra copies of nursing contracts—travel companies don’t keep records of them so it’s best to save them as soon as they are signed.

Tips and Suggestions to Keep in Mind While Traveling


AAA

Travel with peace of mind. Invest in a AAA card. An inexpensive way to have someone to call when life happens, whether that’s a flat tire, running out of gas, needing a jump start, or whatever situation that may arise. This a wonderful way to have someone to count on while on an assignment.

ZocDoc/ OneMedical

Sometimes you need to find a doctor while on an assignment. Save the hassle and check out ZocDoc or One Medical to help find a provider in the new assignment area. Plug in the type of health insurance on the site to see which providers are in-network. Filter by specialist, gender, or by available appointments.

Pets

Traveling with pets can be a challenge. Make sure each pet has updated record of rabies and other shots. Many housing locations, pet daycares, and animal walkers will require proof of these documents. Consider switching to Banfield Pet Hospitals, located at most Pet Smarts. It’s a great way to have an EHR for pets and each new veterinarian will be able to see the animals history. Lastly, don’t forget to stock up on treats, food, and other supplies that may be needed for the cross-country journey.

Roth IRA Account

When deciding to start a career as a travel nurse, it’s a good idea to continue to contribute to a retirement account in the case the travel company doesn’t offer a retirement plan. While some companies offer a 401K with matching, a Roth IRA account is a great way to contribute toward retirement. A maximum contribution of $6000/year, or $500/month (as of 2019), is a great goal to work toward.

Set up automatic deductions to make it easy to contribute without thinking about it. Start saving now! You'll thank your younger self later. (To check out a multi-part series on nursing financials, start by learning how nurses can retire wealthier than doctors!)

Remember: It's All Worth It!

Looking for more? Check out the Trusted Guide to Travel Nurse Taxes!