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Busting the 5 Biggest Travel Nursing Myths

  • Understand the definition of a “travel nurse”
  • Differences between travel nursing and agency nursing must be recognized
  • Examine the popular travel nursing myths
Tracey Long


$5000 a week? Is this another one of those travel nursing myths or reality? Before you start packing and booking your flight, there are some truths you need to know about the travel nursing industry and genuine travel nursing myths.


When you hear something is too good to be true—it usually is. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, travel nurses were thriving like pioneers in the old gold rush of 1849. Remember, while some of the old gold miners struck it rich, others panned only “fool’s gold” and returned home broke. You’ll be richer because you’ll be better prepared before you venture off by knowing travel nursing myths and truths.

a nurse looking at a tablet


What is Travel Nursing?

A “Travel Nurse” is a nurse who travels to a different location for a temporary work assignment. Most of the assignments are in the same type of nursing units that are offered in any acute care facility. Specialty assignments, such as administration, long-term care, rehabilitation, and home health care, are also available. Most travel assignments are for registered nurses (RNs), but during the COVID-19 pandemic, licensed practical nurses (LPNs) were being offered positions around the country.


The already existing nursing shortage and need for more nurses everywhere opened more doors for LPNs and even nurse practitioners (NPs) nationwide! Allied healthcare professionals, such as radiology technicians, pharmacists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists, are also entering the world of temporary professional travel assignments with success. Travel nursing is different than agency nursing.


Specifically, agency nursing is working for a company as a per diem nurse in the same city you live in. Travel nursing is independently using an agency to create a contract of temporary work between you and the hiring employer in a different city. Here are some travel nursing myths and reality checks.


Myth #1: Travel Nurses Make the Most Money

Truth: Compensation varies for a travel nurse.


Just like a typical nursing job, wages vary based on the shift time and the unit you are working on. Night shifts, weekend shifts, and shifts in the critical care units pay the best. Remember, an hourly wage is only one of the factors to consider when choosing a contract. Quality of life matters.


The city and state you are working in may be worth a lower hourly wage because it offers you the lifestyle you’re hoping for. Generally, wages for a general travel RNs range from $50-$200/hour and up to $5000/week! The details of your skills and the type of nursing unit make the difference.


Be aware that sometimes regular staff nurses may be less than enthusiastic to meet and help you on their unit when they know you are making a higher hourly rate than they are. It is important to note that those high hourly rates are not as common anymore compared to the climax of the pandemic. Even if the hourly rate is the same as what you earned at your home employer, the adventure, networking, new skills, and experience may still be worth it.


Remember, you will now be responsible to organize and pay your own taxes. Your traditional employer used to take out state and federal taxes with each paycheck and will no longer do that for you. The high hourly rate may be significantly lower after taxes and your living expenses.

a woman looking at a letter


Myth #2: All Contracts are the Same

Truth: Contracts vary in duration, pay, and benefits.

Travel nursing contracts must be reviewed thoroughly prior to signing. A typical contract is 13 weeks; however, hospitals may cancel the contract or end up giving you only limited work hours compared to the contract.


All travel nurse companies will serve as the broker between you and the short-term employer. Some travel nurse companies also offer living expenses, bonuses, housing, and even continuing education. Yet, all travel nurse companies are all different. Your new best friend is your nurse recruiter who will advocate for you in your new contract.


Shop for a recruiter like choosing who to date. Let them know what you are looking for and have an open dialog to work together. Take your time to learn more about the different companies in the professional travel market.


Myth #3: Travel Nursing is Like Being on a Constant Vacation

Truth: You’re still at work.

Although going to a new location feels like a vacation and can provide the adventure and change in pace you’re seeking, you are still moving to complete a professional work contract. While nursing provides exciting new adventures, the work demands must still be fulfilled responsibly. Even if you have a work contract, you can still be fired or let go if you do not deliver professional and competent nursing services. One of the advantages of travel nursing is to explore a new city with all its new restaurants, tourist attractions, and activities you desire.


For some people, this can feel like a vacation. However, one of the most common travel nursing misconceptions is that you are always on vacation. As always, you need to be the manager of your own schedule and still show up for work shifts! There is still laundry to do, meals to cook, and chores to complete.

travel nursing myths discussed as a woman unpacks her luggage


Myth #4: Travel Nursing Exchanges High Income for Job Security

Truth: Travel nursing contracts are typically short-term.


Most travel nursing contracts are generally only about 13 weeks, and you may be able to extend your contract if you’re really enjoying the new location and employer. One of the most common travel nursing myths is that travel nursing compromises job security for adventure. On the contrary, travel nursing provides professional stability thanks to the strong nursing demand across the United States for several healthcare professionals.


With good communication and positive relationships with your travel agency, you can create a year worth of contracts and still plan for vacation time and time off to meet your dreams. Unlike a full-time employee at a hospital, you may not be get paid vacation days. That said, agencies may offer other benefits, including health insurance, vacation experiences, and sign-on bonuses.


Myth #5: Travel Nurses Are Isolated

Truth: Camaraderie is everywhere.


You have probably enjoyed social interactions in your previous employment and enjoyed special friendships and teamwork. Your relationships are up to you. Fallacies that travel nurses work alone are false, as in reality they build strong professional networks during assignments. There is an entire world of kindred spirits like you who love travel nursing.


In fact, there are travel nursing conferences and social events just for travel nurses and allied health professionals who want to learn more about travel nursing, meet with new agencies in the exhibit hall, and connect. For instance, TravCon is a conference that offers continuing education sessions, tax and finance counseling, and even specialty certifications.


In addition, there are networking online groups just for travel nurses that will help you connect with other travelers in the city you’re going to. They have pooled their experience and have great recommendations for becoming a part of your new city.

health care workers standing together

The Bottom Line

Dispelling travel nursing myths will provide more accurate insights into its challenges and rewards. The take-home message as you travel away from home is to be cautious, realistic, and adventurous. You can always connect with other travel nurses to get their honest perspectives.