13 Pros and Cons of Being a Travel Nurse

Written By: Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN

So, if you have found yourself here, then you must be considering a career as a travel nurse. For starters, having a job as a travel nurse will enable you to see the country and all that it has to offer. This may sound like a dream to some people, but as with any job, you will find pros and cons, and travel nursing is no different. Mapping out the pros and cons of being a travel nurse can be a tedious endeavor, but rest assured I am here to help you out with that feat. If you keep reading below, you will find the top 13 pros and cons of being a travel nurse. This article will surely help you decide if this is the right career choice for you.


(The following are the top 13 disadvantages of being a travel nurse.)

1. You will always find yourself in an unfamiliar environment.

As a travel nurse, you will always be taking on contracts in unfamiliar environments. You will have to learn the ropes wherever you go. This means in your work environment, you will always be learning their policies and procedures and where things are. You will also always have to be learning about your new living environment. For example, you will not even know where the supermarket is when you first get to your new contract location. You will probably have to move again once you start feeling comfortable in your surroundings.


2. You will always be the new guy.

As a travel nurse, you will always be the new guy. What this means is basically, you will be showing up on a unit one day and not know anybody. Always being the new guy is definitely one of the top disadvantages of being a travel nurse. It can make you feel lonely and like a fish out of water. Not knowing anybody on your new unit can affect the type of help you will get in your work environment. If you are great at making friends, this may not be a problem, but for others, this may lead to a really lonely and difficult workday if you are more of an introvert.

3. Varying pay rates

Each contract that you undertake with an institution will have varying pay rates. One contract that you undertake may pay one rate, but the next one that comes along may be a lot less. What this will break down to is that for example, institution A in California will pay you one amount for your contract, whereas institution B in Oklahoma will pay you much less for the same type of work and contract. You will not have a steady income throughout the year. Some people may not be able to live on a varying income.

4. What do you do when your contract has ended?

At times, you may not know when your next contract will start or if your current contract will be extended by the institution. This uncertainty makes this one of the disadvantages of being a travel nurse. This can be very anxiety-provoking to some because they do not know what they will be doing for work once their current contract has ended, let alone where they will be going.

5. Not the best work assignments

As a travel nurse, you will always be the new guy, as we discussed before. Well, that can impact the type of assignments you will be given during the day. You may find since you are the new guy, you will be given the more undesirable patient assignments in the unit you are working in. If you have thick skin, you may not care too much about this but, trust me, it will happen with each contract.

6. License issues

Every state that you work in will require that you hold an active and unrestricted license for that state. Although in some states you will be able to get a compact license, yet in others you will find obtaining your license can be challenging and timely. This can severely limit your choices in contracts. Having to have multiple licenses in order to practice is one of the biggest cons of being a travel nurse.

7. Floating

So, although you are contracted for a particular unit during your travel nurse contract, you may find yourself in even further unfamiliar territory when you have to float to another unit. Although you are supposed to work in a specific unit, if a nurse needs to float to help out due to short staff on another unit, you will be sent first. Many institutions have policies that state that the travel nurse is the first to float. So, here you are, once again learning the ropes and being the new guy in a new place.

8. Your contract can be canceled.

Sometimes it may just not be working out with an institution, and your contract will be canceled. In other circumstances, your contract may be canceled before it is even started because the institution feels they no longer need to fill a travel nurse position. Suddenly being left without a job is another one of the disadvantages of being a travel nurse. Well, where does this leave you? It leaves you without a job searching for another contract. This can really uproot your plans.

9. You may not have your dream schedule.

As a travel nurse, you will be considered the additional staff to fill the holes in an institution's schedule. What this means for you is that you may not have your pick of the schedule. You may find yourself working less than desirable days and hours. This will affect multiple aspects of your schedule such as if you will be working days, nights, weekends, or even a variable schedule.

10. You may become homesick.

As a travel nurse, you ultimately have the decision if you are willing to accept a contract in a particular area or not. Even though you have this control, you still may accept a contract in a location that is not near your family and friends. Although you can talk to these people when you want, you may become homesick because talking to somebody on the phone is just not the same as seeing them. You may also be left yearning for some of the comforts of home.

11. Where are you going to live?

When examining the pros and cons of being a travel nurse, you need to look at many aspects including housing. Most travel agencies will provide travel nurses with a living stipend. I mean, that sounds great, but the problem lies in that you will need to find your own housing. Many times, you are going to be signing housing sight unseen which cab make this one of the top cons of being a travel nurse. This can be very risky. Another thing you need to consider that you may be moving to a state that you know nothing about. You may be moving to a neighborhood that you don't know anything about. This could land you in some pretty questionable parts of town.

12. Your taxes could be a nightmare.

Travel nurses are constantly moving around. Therefore, you need to claim income in all these different places you work. You will be filing multiple state returns. This can be very confusing and could lead to mistakes. These mistakes can be costly to fix. Many travel nurses will hire professionals to complete their returns to avoid errors, but their services do not come free.

13. You may not have paid time off.

It is not typical for travel companies to offer their travel nurses paid time off. This means if you wish to go home and visit family, it will be unpaid compared to somebody who holds a permanent position with the institution. Not having paid time off can really impact your life. What if you come down with the flu? You would have to miss work, or find switches, or see if the hospital needs you another day for you to staff, or else you do not get paid. In some instances, your living stipend can be deducted for the day you missed.


(The following are the top 13 advantages of being a travel nurse.)

1. Great pay.

One of the biggest advantages of being a travel nurse is that you have the ability to be making a six-figure salary. That is a great living. Now, if an institution really needs staff to work, they can really increase the amount they will pay you for your contract. Being a travel nurse, you can definitely expect to be earning more than the permanent employees at the institution you are hired at.

2. You will have a tax-free living stipend.

As a travel nurse, you will be allotted a tax-free stipend for things such as your housing at your assignment location, travel to and from the assignment, and meals and incidental expenses. Each state will allow different stipend amounts. Having this stipend will increase your yearly income since you will be allotted additional tax-free funds for things that people usually spend their paychecks on.

3. You get the chance to travel.

A travel nurse does precisely what is in their name; they travel! When weighing the pros and cons of being a travel nurse, being able to travel the country is definitely one of the advantages of being a travel nurse. You will have the opportunity to see and visit many different places. You will have the chance to live in these places where you accept your contracts. This will indeed allow you to explore everything these new places have to offer. Many people cannot say that they have taken advantage of an opportunity like this one. Think of all the adventures you could have in your new home.

4. You will make new friends.

As we discussed earlier, you will always be the new guy, but that does not mean you will not be making friends. Some of these friendships may last a lifetime. You could be making friends all around the country, which will enable you to visit some of these fantastic places that you have been to before.

5. You can avoid all the politics at work.

Let’s face it, no matter where you work, there will always be issues and politics. One of the top pros of being a travel nurse is that you do not have to get wrapped up in workplace issues and politics. You basically get to show up at work, do your job, get paid, and go home. You also do not have to attend meetings, participate in committees, or work drama.

6. You will gain experience.

As a travel nurse, you will be working at many different institutions with their own way of doing things. You will gain experience in the aspect that you will be able to learn different ways of performing a task, other processes, procedures, equipment, goals, and challenges. You will also have the opportunity to try out different specialties that will definitely broaden your resume and learning. All of the experiences you will gain will make you so much more employable in the future.

7. Flexibility

Although travel nurses do not have paid time off, they do have the ability to control when they work. Having so much control over your life is one of the top advantages of being a travel nurse. Unlike their counterparts who hold permanent positions, they are not subjected to applying for vacation in the hopes of getting certain weeks off. As a travel nurse, you can plan to take the summers off if you want to. No more fighting for a summer vacation spot.

8. You can try before you dive all in.

We already have it pretty much nailed home that if you are a travel nurse, you will be traveling all around the country. This is an opportunity to try to figure out where you eventually would like to settle down. You will have the opportunity, with no strings attached, to live in different parts of the country till you find where you genuinely think you belong. Being able to try before you buy is definitely one of the advantages of being a travel nurse.

9. Travel nursing can be a networking event.

As a travel nurse, you will meet many different people in many different job positions. This should be used as an opportunity to further your career. If you plan on advancing your career, you will have the opportunity to reach out to people you have met along your travel path to possibly look for career opportunities that will help you climb the career ladder if you decide to settle down one day.

10. You can choose your adventure.

The fact that you can handpick the setting of your travel nurse contract is one of the pros of being a travel nurse. This ultimately means that if you want to see and feel the hustle and bustle of New York City, you most certainly can and get paid for it. Maybe city life is not for you; you may want to be a beach bum on your days off, well then you have the choice of accepting a contract near the beach.

11. You will learn life skills.

As a travel nurse, you will be meeting new people in new environments and be in different situations than the comfort of home. This will all teach valuable life skills like critical thinking, adaptability and will help you enhance your communication skills.

12. Job security

As a nurse, you will always be in demand and always have a job. Now this means hospitals are always looking for qualified staff. As a travel nurse, you definitely fit the bill making this one of the advantages of being a travel nurse. You are there to fill the ongoing nursing shortage that has risen and to meet any seasonal needs such as the flu season. Travel nurses have also been highly sought after in response to the COVID 19 crisis to care for the numerous complex patients and to fill the vacancies left by those who left the profession in response to this crisis.

13. Reimbursement

As a travel nurse, you can receive reimbursement for things such as your travel expenses, nursing license expenses, and uniform expenses, to name a few. This is great! Reimbursement for these items will only add to your take-home salary. It is like you get to move and start your career for free!

The Bottomline

So, what are the pros and cons of being a travel nurse? I bet you can answer that question now. Travel nursing can be a fantastic, rewarding, adventurous experience for some. On the other hand, it could sound like a nightmare to others. To each their own! The top 13 pros and cons of being a travel nurse that I have just presented to you are a lot to think about. You ultimately have to decide if the pros will outweigh the cons for you. You know what they say, pick your poison.

Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN
Jennifer Schlette is a registered nurse in pediatric critical care in New York City. She is the former Director of Undergraduate Nursing at a college located in New York. After obtaining her BSN from the College of Mount Saint Vincent, she went on to complete her MSN.