Financial Wellness

Guide to Traveling Nursing on a Budget

Jonah Pregulman, RN
February 5, 2019
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White beaches for as far as you can see, a cold drink in your hand. Just kidding, you are on your unit with a stale coffee and call lights for as far as you can see. You need a vacation. Not just a stay-cation, but far-far away from your unit.

But far away vacations are expensive, right? Wrong! It is possible to see the world for a few hundred a week, including the flight! You just have to plan it right.

Traveling on a Budget — Travel Nurse Edition

First, you need to figure out what kind of vacation you want to go on. Do you like going to the beach and drinking, while catching up on your reading list? Do you like to explore temples and historical sites? Do you like adventure trips with scuba, zip-lining, and surfing? The right destination has a mix of everything you want to do.

For the first time out of the country, I recommend somewhere close with lots of English speakers. Central America is a great choice, so are Iceland and the Bahamas. When you plan your own vacation from scratch, you can save a lot of money!

budget travel united airplane seat
United Business Class “Seat”


Booking a flight is going to be one of your single biggest expenses. You can definitely reduce the cost of your vacation right here. Take a look at your frequent flyer accounts. Do you have any points saved?

I flew to Thailand, round trip in business class for $50. How? I used airline miles. That ticket was worth over $1,500, and it cost me next to nothing. It included lay-flat seats, private lounges, and fast tracks through customs.

It is the only way to travel internationally! If you feel like slumming it in economy, you can get more flights for your miles. In the end, you still get there.

budget travel business class airline
Turkish Airline Dinner – Business Class

If you don’t have enough miles with an airline, try credit card miles. There are a few cards offering huge sign-up bonuses!

Before I get into them though. Credit card miles are only a good deal if you pay off your card every month in full. You also need decent credit to qualify. Please use good judgment with using credit cards.

I currently have three major credit cards that I use. (Here is a quick primer on the types of cards out there and where they rank.) The one I use the most is the Chase Sapphire Reserve. It has a ton of benefits. The important part is it has 1:1 credit card points-to-miles with a ton of different airlines. You can also purchase a ticket with points that is not available with miles.

The sign up bonus is currently 50,000 miles after you spend $4,000 in three months. Why not use it during your next travel nurse contract? By the time you are done, you will have enough miles for a flight almost anywhere in the world! The cool thing is that even if you are short on points you can pay the difference.

It also earns three miles per dollar on travel and restaurants. My last assignment had me pay for parking ($300). I put it on my credit card and earned almost 1000 miles! The best part is it was mostly reimbursed by my travel company anyway.

Searching for your flight should be fun, not difficult. That is why I recommend Google Flights. They search all the airlines (except Southwest), and give you all the information you could need. My favorite way is to search with their map.

Enter your airport and dates that work for you, then click on the map. It will show you all the possible destinations and how much they cost. It saves me tons of time! If a country has multiple airports, it might also save you some money to fly to a certain airport.

budget travel photo of tropical destination
Little Corn Island, Nicaragua ($15 per night)

Hotels and Hostels

Now that you have a destination and a flight booked, it's time to find where you are going to stay. If you are traveling solo and are adventurous, I recommended a hostel. You will meet other travels and get a much better idea of the country and its local culture. You'll also save a ton of money.

The average price of a hostel in Thailand is around $5/night! Costa Rica’s hostels are around $10-15/night. That gets you a clean bed in a dorm room, a shared bathroom, and generally a free breakfast. If you are doing it right you should not be spending a ton of time at the hostel/hotel anyway.

One exception would be if you want an all-inclusive vacation. Then you would want to check out sites such as for great deals. To search for hostels, check out Then head directly to the chosen hostel's website to make a reservation in order to save the booking fee.

Decreasing Costs

There are tons of little costs that add up. A big one is credit card transaction fees. Make a quick call to your credit card provider and ask about Foreign Transaction Fees. If you have them, they are generally 3%. If you don’t have a card without them, take a look at the below cards that offer no annual fee. There are also no fees when traveling outside of the country.

While you are on the phone with your bank, make sure to tell your them where you are going so they don’t freeze your card(s)!

ATM fees are also huge. Most banks charge a fee for you to use an out-of-network ATM. The local ATM also charges fees. This can really add up. On my last two-week trip to Thailand, I was hit with $50 of fees. Lucky for me, I had a Charles Schwab ATM card, and I got all those fees back at the end of the month.

Charles Schwab also has an excellent free bank account. You do need to sign up for an investment account as well, however you never have to fund it. You will need to do this at least two weeks before your trip to ensure you get the card. Also, deposits into the account have a one-week hold on them, so plan ahead!

You are leaving money on the table if you pay ATM fees. This also means you do not have to pay expensive fees at currency exchange places or carry a large amount of cash on your person.

budget travel sliding down hill in nicaragua
Leon, Nicaragua – $30


Depending on where you go, there are so many things you can do! Perform a quick Google search as your starting base. Then head to your accommodation’s web page for recommendations. You can also email them for suggestions.

Just be aware you might not always get the best deal if you work with a third party. The more convenience, the more you pay. Take some time while you are waiting on the pharmacy to tube up your medication and get Googling!

This is your chance so splurge, but don’t not do something just because it's expensive. This is your time to adventure. Learn to scuba dive, bungie jump, go swimming with sharks, or ATV. Maybe even slide down the side of a Volcano. Go crazy!

You need a break. Why not go on a vacation that all your co-workers will be envious of? Add to your Instagram feed, or turn off all technology and escape the constant beeping of monitors and pagers. Planning the perfect vacation is not easy, but saving money can be!

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