If you are considering a career in travel nursing, one of the first things you should think about is what you plan to do in between contracts and what it will take to make that happen.
- Do you want/need to go home in between each assignment?
- Do you want to leisurely travel from one location to the next, sightseeing along the way?
- Do you want/need to get back to work immediately the following week?
Really, the choice is yours. You just need to plan and prepare accordingly. Keep in mind that travel nurses do not typically receive any form of paid time off, so budgeting for those down times is crucial. We typically do a mix of both. Sometimes we try to stack assignments back-to-back, and sometimes we take a week or two in between contracts. It all depends on what we have going on in our lives at the time, where our next assignment is located, and what our budget is looking like.
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Honestly, there are tons of assignments available at any given time. So if you are somewhat flexible, there should be no problems going straight from one assignment to the next. But you have to plan in advance to make it happen. For instance, if Skyler has any control over his schedule, we request that he works Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday the last week of each contract so that we have Wednesday through Sunday to get moved to the next location for a Monday start date. We also prefer mid-week start dates for the same reason, but most facilities are not flexible on their start date. If they are though and you end one contract on a Tuesday and begin the next one on a Thursday, you get eight days in a row off without ever missing a paycheck – that is the ideal scenario.
Once your current contract has about 4-6 weeks remaining, just speak with your recruiter(s) about your preferred start date range and they should start sending you possible positions to consider. Make sure you take into account time to pack up (and rest if necessary), travel time, and time to move into your new place. If we can make it happen, we typically like to have one day after Skyler’s last day of work to pack, return cable boxes, etc. Then we factor in the time it will take to drive to the new destination. And then we like to have a couple of days if possible to move in, find the hospital, get groceries, etc. It is definitely doable, and we have ended one assignment one week and started a new one the following week many times with no problems.
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Time Off In Between
Taking time off in between assignments can be a lot of fun and part of the adventure of travel nursing, but also costly. Not only are you not making any money, but you are also spending quite a bit on travel, lodging, meals, etc. But sometimes you just need a break, or you want to go home for a visit, or the drive is just way too long to cram into a couple of days. And occasionally, we will hold out for a week or so hoping for something that we want to open up (although I wouldn’t recommend counting on that to happen). But for any of these scenarios, you have to budget for your own PTO in advance. Budgeting as a traveler is EXTREMELY important! Another important thing to keep in mind is if you are receiving benefits (like insurance) from your agency, you need to find out their policy on time off and stay within those parameters. Each agency is very different on how much time they will keep you insured for between contracts, so educate yourself and stay on top of it.
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Common Questions Regarding Time Between Assignments
Q: Is it common to take time off between assignments or do most travel nurses work back to back?
A: I think this varies from traveler to traveler and even from assignment to assignment. I would say it is about 50/50 for us – maybe favoring back-to-back a bit more. I think a good balance of the two is a smart idea though. If we are staying in the same region (like going from San Diego to Phoenix or LA), we will usually try to keep those back-to-back with no time off. But our last trip from NC to CA, for instance, required two weeks off in between and we were able to sight see along the way and spend some time at home as we drove all the way across the country.
Q: How much time is usually taken off in between assignments?
A: Again, it’s totally up to you! You can go straight from one contract to the next or take weeks or even months or years off in theory. We know some travelers that only take summer or winter contracts once a year while their kids are out of school or to escape a cold winter. They work a full time staff job or per diem in their home town the rest of the year and only travel for 13 weeks.
Q: What are some tips on how to stay financially set while not working?
A: BUDGET!!! Know how much it costs you to live each week/month. Plan for the unexpected. Budget for time off. Have money set back. These are all just good tips to be financially sound whether you travel or not, but when you are away from home and work contract jobs it makes this advice all the more important! You have to remember, even though most agencies pay for travel expenses – it doesn’t always cover all of your expenses and it is a reimbursement that you will receive after the fact once you submit mileage logs and receipts. So make sure you leave plenty money in the checking account to live on in between assignments.
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Q: Is it common to go home during breaks between assignments or do most TN’s stay in their current location (where the previous assignment just concluded)?
A: This completely depends on the nurse and their preferences. I think that most travel nurses go home at least a couple of times a year (some more, some less), and in between assignments tends to be the easiest time to make that happen. But like I said before, if we are just going a couple hours down the road we will typically not take any time off in between. But when we are on a cross country road trip, stopping off at home just makes sense for us, as MO is nice and in the middle of the country.
Q: If staying in their current location, what are some tips on housing?
A: Most agencies allow you to move into your provided housing 2 days prior to your start date and stay 2 days past your end date. If you need to be in longer, speak with your recruiter about it. They will often have a daily rate they can charge you to extend your stay either way. Another option is of course a hotel. Or, if you take the housing stipend, you can book your housing for however long you want. We have done that a couple of times to give ourselves a little extra time in the city before or after an assignment. We have also crashed with friends and family during our downtime to save money. It’s a great way to catch up with people you know across the country!
If you are staying in the same city for your next assignment and like your housing, as long as you are with the same agency, ask your recruiter if you can just stay put. Sometimes you can, but sometimes they might have already let your lease go, in which case you would have to move. This happened to us in Burbank earlier this year. We loved our apartment and wanted to stay and Skyler was offered an extension, but the complex already had another contract on our unit so we had to move. So we chose to take a new assignment in a different city altogether since we had to move anyway.
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Q: What are some tips to avoid breaks in between assignments?
A: Like with anything, just keep you recruiter in the loop on specifically what you are looking for, and they can often make it happen if you are flexible. Keep in mind that sometimes what you’re looking for just might not be available when you want it. It took us several tries to find a position in San Diego, so in the meantime we remained flexible and took assignments in Hermosa Beach and Santa Clara. Same goes for NC – we wanted to get there for a couple of years before something opened up that we were willing to take (day shift CVICU with decent pay). So in the meantime we of course had to be flexible to take other assignments. Travel Nursing requires a lot of give and take. The more flexible you can be the more opportunities you will have. But if you want to work continuously, the opportunity is certainly there.
Q: Is there a mandatory amount of time that needs to be taken in between assignments or can you start a new assignment the next day?
A: No mandatory time off between assignments, although starting the next day isn’t likely. A typical contract will end on a Saturday and start on a Monday (although each hospital varies). So it’s more realistic to plan for starting a new assignment the following week.
Q: How much time is too much time off where it becomes difficult to find new assignments (are refresher courses needed after a certain amount of time off? Does it look bad to recruiters/facilities when too much time is taken off)?
A: As long as you continue working as a nurse, in your specialty, I don’t think that time off between travel assignments really matters. I suppose there are some contracts looking for nurses with a particular amount of recent travel experience, but for every one of those there are many more that aren’t that specific. A traveler with an extensive and recent travel profile probably looks better and is easier to place than one with gaps, but again, there are always lots of jobs out there; you just might have to be more flexible to get back at it.
No refresher courses are needed specifically for travel nursing, but you have to keep up with all of your certifications that are required for your specialty as well as licensing and CEU requirements for each state, etc. If you have taken some time off and are looking to get back into travel nursing, talk with a recruiter(s) and just ask what they need from you to get started again. You will of course have to update all of your paperwork and skills checklists, but as long as you have kept up with your skills they should be able to place you.
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The Flexibility in Travel Nursing is a Beautiful Thing!
As with anything in travel nursing, your options are fairly flexible when it comes to length of time between contracts. We keep our calendar as up-to-date as possible throughout the year so that when we book assignments we can work around what we have going on. For instance, if we have a wedding we need to be at in 12 weeks, we might ask for a 12 week contract instead of 13 weeks and plan our time off around that. And on the other hand, if we are trying to make a lot of money in a given amount of time we try to make sure we book his assignments back-to-back with no down time so that we don’t miss a paycheck. Just keep your recruiter(s) in the know on your plans and intentions and you should be able to create an agenda that suits your lifestyle!
By Kelli Leach
Kelli Leach and her husband Skyler have been traveling since July 2010. Skyler is a CVICU RN and Kelli writes a blog www.kellitravels.com all about their traveling adventures. They are from Missouri and had a baby boy in November 2013 so they are now a traveling family of 3! Connect with Kelli on Facebook and Google+
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