What to know before you take the travel nurse plunge

Traveling Tips From Veteran Flight Attendants

For some, being a travel nurse is an amusing daydream involving adventure, high pay and flexible hours. Others would willingly apply for a position tomorrow and jump on a plane if an offer came through. If you're in either category, it pays to know how travel nurses get their start so you can see if you'd be a good fit. And if your answer is "absolutely," you can get an edge as a prospective travel nurse by following these tips from hiring experts and nurses who have been there:

Anticipate what type of travel nursing you'd like to do. The agencies that recruit nurses for travel spots typically require at least a year of experience. And keep in mind that it's far more difficult to take on travel nursing if you don't have at least two years work experience, according to Georgia-based board-certified family nurse practitioner Zakiyyah Weatherspoon, who is CEO of Weatherspoon Medical Staffing. She further recommended making sure you're already performing the type of work you'd like to do as a travel nurse. "It will make it easier to find work and also succeed at the job if you have worked that two years in your field of interest," she said. If you know you want to work on a specialized unit, like labor and delivery, you may need even more work experience before you can earn the big bucks as a travel nurse, according to TravelNursing.org.

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Work closely with recruiters. Ideally, you'll be able to work with someone who's interested in you as a professional. "One company might offer you $50 more per week for an assignment, but that doesn't mean they'll be responsive throughout your entire travel experience," Weatherspoon cautioned. "Make sure you develop a relationship with your recruiter and work with someone who's available to you after you start. As you talk to recruiters, make sure to speak up about what you need and what you want."

Keep your options open. Even though Monster alone lists more than 27,000 job openings for travel nurses, the field is still "very competitive," Weatherspoon added. "I advise qualified candidates who want to work as travel nurses to submit more than one application, and to submit to more than one facility." It doesn't hurt to pin your hopes on a certain location or health care company, but it takes far longer to get your first travel nurse assignment if you're only applying to one job at a time.

Consider lesser-known travel spots. You may dream of working in Honolulu or New York, but it's helpful to keep an open mind about less popular cities, according to the All Nursing Schools blog. "It's also important to note that the most competitive destinations often have the highest cost of living. Your salary could go much further if you take an assignment in a less coveted location," ANS added.

Work with more than one agency. "Different agencies work with different medical facilities and specialties," ANS noted. "Work with multiple agencies so you can find the assignment that fits your needs."

Don't rule out travel nursing as a licensed practical nurse. Most travel nurses are registered nurses or nurse practitioners, but some LPNs also take on the job. "These roles are not required to hold a college degree, but an LPN education must be completed in a state-approved program," cautioned ANS. "To work as an LPN, you still need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) that's required of all RNs and higher."

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Understand your tax situation well ahead of time. Travel nursing can be a spontaneous adventure once you're established, but before you accept your first assignment you'll need to think in terms of establishing a "tax home" as per IRS restrictions. "That simply means you have to prove that you have a full-time residence when you're not working as a travel nurse," according to Travelnursing.org. "If you don't have a full-time residence that you maintain and pay for when you're not working as a travel nurse, don't worry — you can still work, but you will have a tax status as an itinerant worker, which means you have to pay taxes on all of your income, including any stipends or reimbursements." In most cases, being a non-itinerant nurse with an IRS-qualified tax home is a better bet, since those nurses pay taxes only on their wages. Itinerant nurses pay taxes on their meals, housing allotments and travel reimbursements; nurses with a tax home do not.

Suffer through the paperwork from the start. ANS advised aspiring travel nurses to gather up all the necessary paperwork early in the process, including licenses, certifications, clinical records and a resume customized to highlight travel nurse potential. "Most medical facilities will only consider candidates who meet their requirements upfront," ANS said.

Put your whole heart into it. According to Weatherspoon, travel nursing is not for the dabbler. "Make sure that you are all in before you sign on," she advised. "The money is great but make sure you are doing it for the passion as well. Travel nursing should be another way you always strive to be the best in your field."