How to Become a Travel Nurse in 8 Steps

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Nurse holding a stethoscope

Are you considering a career in travel nursing? If so, you’re likely wondering how to get started.

Travel nursing is a rewarding and exciting field, and it’s perfect for nurses looking to see the world. So we’ve put together this handy guide to help you get started.

What Is a Travel Nurse?

A travel nurse is a registered nurse who works temporarily in a healthcare facility. They fill in staffing gaps caused by vacations, illnesses, leaves of absence, or turnover. They may work in various settings, such as hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities, or schools.

Travel nurses typically have at least one year of experience in their field and are licensed in the state where they work. Some travel nurses also have specialty certifications in intensive care or emergency room nursing.

Nurse shaping the stethoscope wires into a heart

Pros and Cons of Travel Nursing

Like any job, travel nursing has its pros and cons. Here are some of them:

Pros:

  • You can see the country (or world!) while getting paid to do what you love.
  • You’ll gain valuable experience working in different healthcare facilities.
  • You’ll have the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends.

Cons:

  • License issues can be a pain. You may have to get licensed in multiple states to travel to different parts of the country.
  • You may have to work in less than ideal conditions.
  • You’ll have to adjust to a different setting every time you move.

Young female nurse with a clipboard on a hospital hallway

8 Steps to Becoming a Travel Nurse

Becoming a travel nurse isn’t as easy as packing your bags and hitting the road. First, you’ll need to have the right qualifications and experience.

Here are 8 steps to becoming a travel nurse:

1. Understand the Role: Is It Right for You?

For starters, it’s essential to understand what exactly a travel nurse does. Travel nurses are registered nurses who fill in for staff RNs on vacation, sick leave, or otherwise absent. They work in all nursing specialties and settings, from inpatient to outpatient care, and their assignments can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months.

Travel nursing is a great way to see the country while getting paid to do what you love. But it’s not for everyone.

If you’re considering becoming a travel nurse, here are a few questions you should answer.

  • Do you like change? As a travel nurse, you’ll constantly be moving to new places and meeting new people. Travel nursing may not be for you if you’re the type who gets homesick quickly or doesn’t like change.
  • Do you have a sense of adventure? Because you’ll be living in new places and trying new things, it’s crucial to be the type of person who’s up for anything. But, on the other hand, if you’re the type who likes routine and hates surprises, travel nursing may not be for you.
  • Are you flexible? As a travel nurse, you’ll need to go with the flow. Things will change constantly, and you’ll need to adjust on the fly. If you’re the type who likes things to be just so, travel nursing may not be for you.

2. Earn the Required Degree

There are three types of traveling nurses:

  • Registered Nurses (RNs)
  • Nurse Practitioners (NPs), and
  • Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs)

RNs are the most common, and to become a traveling RN, you’ll need to have at least an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) from an accredited program. However, most travel nursing agencies require you to have a bachelor’s degree (BDN).

3. Pass the NCLEX and Get Licensed

Once you have your degree, you’ll need to obtain a license to practice nursing in the state where you’ll be working.

The process for getting a license varies from state to state. Generally, it involves passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), a national licensing exam administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) in the USA and Canada.

Once you pass the NCLEX, you can apply for a nursing license in your state.

4. Get Experience

Most travel nursing agencies and hospitals require at least 1-2 years of experience as a staff RN before you can apply for a travel nursing position.

Some agencies may require more experience, and some may not require any at all. So, it’s critical to check with the agency or hospital you’re interested in to see their requirements.

Additionally, if you get experienced in specialized fields such as OR or ICU nursing, you can potentially get paid more.

5. Get Certified

While not required, many travel nursing agencies prefer or recommend their nurses to be certified in their specialty. Certification shows you have the knowledge and skills to provide quality care in your specialty.

6. Apply for a Compact Nursing License

If you plan on working in multiple states as a travel nurse, you should apply for the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC). This allows you to have one license valid in participating states, making it easier to work in multiple states without going through the licensing process in each one.

7. Find an Agency

Once you have your degree, license, and experience, you’re ready to start looking for travel nursing jobs.

Many agencies offer travel nursing positions, so do your research to find the right one. Consider things like pay rates, benefits, housing options, and whether or not they place you in the location you want.

Most agencies will have an online application process, and some may require you to submit a resume and cover letter. Once you’ve submitted your application, they’ll review your qualifications and get in touch with you to discuss the next steps.

If you’re selected for a travel nursing job, the agency will help you with the details, from securing housing to getting your license in the state where you’ll be working. They may also provide a stipend for things like travel expenses.

8. Begin Your New Adventure as a Travel Nurse

Travel nursing is a great way to see the country, meet new people, and earn good pay while doing it. With some preparation, you can be on your way to a new adventure as a travel nurse.

Female nurse squeezing a syringe-full of liquid into a patient's dextrose bag

Travel Nursing Tips

1. Get Organized

The first step to being a successful travel nurse is to get organized. This means having your paperwork in order, such as your degree, transcripts, license, and certification. You should also have a list of the agencies you’re interested in working with, as well as your resume and cover letter.

2. Know Your Rights

It’s essential to know your rights as a travel nurse. This includes things like getting paid on time, having a safe working environment, and being treated fairly by your employer. If you’re ever in doubt, contact the American Nurses Association (ANA) or your state board of nursing for guidance.

3. Be Professional

Remember that you’re a professional nurse, even when you’re working as a travel nurse. This means being punctual, dressing appropriately, and respecting the rules and regulations of your workplace.

4. Be Prepared to Adapt

One of the best things about being a travel nurse is that you get to experience different places and meet new people. But it’s also crucial to be prepared because each assignment will be different, and you may have to adapt to your new surroundings.

That’s why you should always research before each assignment. Find out as much as possible about the area you’ll be working in, the hospital you’ll be working at, and the staff you’ll be working with. This will help you hit the ground running and make the most of your assignment.

You should also be prepared to deal with any homesickness or culture shock you may experience. Talk to your family and friends before you leave, and make sure you have a support system in place.

And finally, remember that things may not always go according to plan. So be flexible and go with the flow, and you’ll surely have a great experience.

5. Make the Most of Your Experience

Travel nursing is a unique experience that can offer you many opportunities. To make the most of it, be open to new things and take advantage of all that your assignment has to show.

Visit new places, try fresh food, and meet new people. Above all, enjoy your time as a travel nurse!

In Summary…

Travel nursing is a great way to see the country, meet new people, and earn good pay. With some preparation, you can be on your way to a new adventure as a travel nurse. Just remember to get organized, know your rights, and be prepared to adapt.

Cam Woodsum
I've been building digital businesses, wandering the world, and writing about optimizing life for freedom since early 2017. My mission is to lower the barrier for people who want to live with more freedom: whether that be as an entrepreneur, a digital nomad, an early retiree, or just as someone who wants to live a happiness-driven life.