Hello beautiful travelers! My name is Alex McCoy from Fit Gypsy Life.
I travel as a pediatric nurse with my husband who is a traveling physical therapist.
We have one cat and love exploring new towns, hiking, finding the best local eats, and watching soccer.
I recently ran across a Facebook post requesting a timeline for prospective travel nurses, and after getting the awesome opportunity to guest post on Andrews’s blog, I knew exactly what I wanted to talk about.
This is meant to be a timeline mixed with a few tips and tricks, and I hope it helps the feeling of “What the heck am I supposed to do and when?” as you jump into this crazy amazing traveling healthcare life.
First things first
This timeline is based on the idea that all travelers should have approximately 18 to 24 months of solid experience in a busy department prior to starting travel nursing. (Some non-nursing specialties may be able to travel sooner, but experience is a must for travel nursing).
There is no way to speed up this process, and the more experience you have prior to starting travel, the easier it will be to transition into new departments regularly.
There are a few things you can do as a nursing student or as a new grad to better prepare yourself for traveling, but ultimately plan to stay in your new grad position for about two years before taking the leap.
While in school:
Begin getting a feel for which areas you like most. Working as a tech is a bonus, because you may expected to be both nursing assistant and nurse at some assignments. Master basic skills like manual blood pressures, safe patient handling, and bed changes.
As a new grad:
If you want to travel ASAP, try to score a job in a busy facility that sees a variety of specialties. Top paying specialties in the travel nurse world include ER, OR, L&D, and most ICU specialties (including PICU and NICU).
A key thing to mention is that once you start traveling, the only way to change specialties is to take a break from travel and work as permanent staff for 1-2 years.
Of course, I would never recommend picking a specialty based solely on money. Find a balance between what you love and what you think you want to do as a traveler.
6 months out:
Start researching travel life. There is a LOT of information to absorb at the beginning regarding tax implications, pay structure, companies, and recruiters. The list is seemingly endless! I would recommend Travel Tax, Blue Pipes, and Highway Hypodermics.
The main things to focus on at this point will be how you plan to maintain a tax home. If you own a home, this will give you plenty of time to figure out how to maintain upkeep while away. Also, start talking to your significant other and family about your plans.
3-4 months out:
Reach out to recruiters. This will give you an idea of pay, areas of greatest need, and benefits/insurance. I always suggest using recruiters that come recommended by experienced travelers. Also, talk to a couple of different recruiters and companies about your goals and preferences.
Even though most jobs don’t place people until 2-4 weeks out, it is good to start talking early for your first assignment. If you don’t live in a compact state, you will also need to apply for licenses which can take anywhere from a week to several months. I would suggest applying for licenses in states that your recruiter typically has a larger volume of needs to better your chances of getting an assignment quickly your first time around.
2 months out:
Start packing, organizing your life at home and deciding what to take vs leave at home. This may seem like a long way out, but if you plan on storing most of your possessions, or haven’t done a closet clean out in a while, it could take longer than you think.
Organize all of your paperwork. Licenses, vaccination records, certifications. Make sure you have copies of all of these, and I would recommend having digital copies available via apps like iScanner or CamScanner, or in your email.
Research what “should” go in your contract vs what you “want” in your contract. I have a post about what are common acceptable requests for any travel contract here. Click below to read the post.
1 Month Out:
Compile a list of interview questions. Often your travel “interviews” are very basic, and consist more of you asking the nurse manager questions. Be sure to ask about scrub color, time off, floating, and charting system in the first interview.
Begin looking for open jobs. Most hospitals post needs, at the earliest, 4 weeks out. It can take longer to score your first assignment, so start early.
Compare pay packages. I suggest getting quotes for the same job through at least two companies. If there is a difference in pay for the same job, ask why.
Calculate your weekly take home for each potential job. You can use Paycheck City to help.
Using this weekly take home, research housing costs in the area to see if the package is financially feasible for your financial goals. It may look like a high rate, but short term housing can get expensive.
DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT give notice at your permanent job until your contract is signed. Even if you have verbally accepted a job, I would wait to make sure that the contract is accurate and officially signed before giving up a permanent position.
After receiving an offer:
Read through your contract and double check wages, stipends, time off requests, and any other fees or non-compete clauses that may be hiding within. Be careful and don’t be afraid to ask questions if something doesn’t seem right or if there is something you don’t understand (and don’t automatically go on the defense—sometimes it’s just human error!)
Get appropriate labs done, including drug testing, TB tests, and updated vaccinations. Most companies pay for lab work, and you should be matched with someone at your travel company who will walk you through this process.
Submit all of your paperwork. If it’s already scanned in on your computer or phone, this process is so much easier.
Find housing. One of the most popular ways to secure short term housing is AirBNB, but there are also Facebook boards, extended stay hotels, Craigslist, and general apartment websites that may offer furnished options.
In the event that you can’t find housing right away don’t panic. I will even suggest some new travelers do a hotel the first week on assignment so they can look locally. Sometimes staff members at the hospital will even have rooms for rent, or know of somewhere that’s traveler friendly.
Finish packing, storing possessions, establishing a new tax home if needed, and making sure you can fit everything you need in your vehicle (or in a suitcase if you’re flying). This will be a little easier if you know where you’re living, because you will know what kitchen and bath items you need, etc.
Right before leaving:
Pack hard copies of your licenses, vaccination records, and other important paperwork. Even though your company submits copies, you may need to provide hard copies on your first day.
Plan your route! The trip to and from your assignment is one of the best parts of traveling. Check out places to stop and restaurants to try on your way.
Enjoy some time with family and friends! Traveling is wonderful, but I think any traveler would be lying if they said they never get homesick. Be sure to take some time to breathe and spend time with your favorite people or hitting up local spots before you take off.
And then…you’re off! Months of preparing, researching, packing, and you’ve finally made it. This is an amazing opportunity, and try to soak up every experience and learn something. From crappy housing, to finding the best pizza you’ve ever tasted, to connecting with patients and coworkers across the country, take the highs with the lows and rest assured knowing you are doing something that not only helps people, but opens up doors you never knew existed.
*Please, feel free to reach out to experienced travelers for help. I know Andrew and myself are both willing to answer questions and help out newbies. We are passionate about this lifestyle, and love to offer advice or assistance when we can!
My name is Alex and I have been a pediatric nurse for 3 1/2 years and a traveler for a year and a half. I initially took the leap into traveling as a way for my husband and I to attack financial goals while he was in grad school full-time. Thanks to travel nursing we were able to pay cash for his last semester of grad school and even squeezed in some awesome vacations here and there ;) We have one cat named Autumn, and love hiking, finding the best local restaurants (specifically pizza-themed ones), and exploring new towns. I love the financial freedom and lack of workplace drama that comes with traveling. Read my blog at www.FitGypsyLife.com