June 24, 2024

Advice for First-Time Healthcare Travelers

You completed your application, nailed your hospital interview, and signed your first travel nurse contract. Welcome to the world of healthcare travel!

As you start preparing for your orientation, you need to start thinking about what you will bring on the assignment with you.

It might feel overwhelming to think about everything you’ll need to make your first travel assignment a success. Fear not: we’ve got you covered with some top tips for first-time travelers. This tried-and-true advice can help you seamlessly adapt to the travel nurse lifestyle, giving you a smoother transition to your new life on the road.

8 Tips for Your First Travel Nurse Assignment

Pack Just the Essentials

The first step to a successful assignment is learning how to pack and what to bring. Be an organized, light packer – you don’t want to be that travel nurse who brings everything and the kitchen sink to your first assignment. You don’t need six pairs of the same shoes or your best stemware. Considering your assignment will only last a few months, you should pare down your items to the essentials.

Here are some ideas to help you pack like a travel nurse:

  • Ask what items like furniture or appliances are included with your housing
  • Pick functional clothing & shoes that you can easily mix and match
  • Ditch the giant flatscreen & use a streaming service on your laptop
  • Purchase essentials — like garbage cans, zip lock bags, personal hygiene items, or shower curtain liners — when you get to your new destination
  • Don’t forget essential items like your license, credentials, documentation, and any other paperwork you’ll need to start your assignment

Remember: you’ll have to unpack everything you bring when you get to your new place and then repack everything when it’s time to move to your next one. Pairing down to the essentials and packing light will save you time and frustration traveling between assignments.

For all our best packing tips, check out our packing tips and checklist!

Arrive Early to Explore

Most of our nurses suggest arriving 3-5 days before your start date so you’re not rushed to move in and acclimate to your new town. This will give you time to find the places you’ll need while still allowing some downtime.

  • Find a grocery store, gas station, and cafe near your home
  • Drive or take public transportation to the hospital or clinic so you get used to the route
  • Ask for a tour of the hospital and to meet your supervisor and team before you start so you become more comfortable

In addition, arriving early allows you to explore options for one of the greatest perks of the travel nurse life – exploring new places! Treat yourself to a day on the town to explore local restaurants, shopping, and cultural experiences. If you are an adventurous or outdoors-loving traveler, you can also connect with local guides or hiking groups to learn the best places to unwind and get some spectacular views.

Build Your Social Network

Moving to a new place where you don’t know anyone can be daunting. Luckily, technology can help connect you to your new location. Use free resources like The Gypsy Nurse group on Facebook to tap into nurses familiar with the area. You can get tips and advice – and you may even make some new friends! Here are some more ways to connect while on assignment:

  • Follow our hashtag on Instagram, #travelwithTNAA, to see if there are other TNAA nurses in your area
  • Join neighborhood-specific groups for local events
  • Consider apps like Meetup or BumbleBFF to take the awkwardness out of approaching new friends
  • Join local hiking or other hobby-specific groups

Get to Know Your Coworkers

Another great way to get social on assignment? Your coworkers! Make an effort to be a positive presence in the hospital or clinic. Bring coffee and bagels for everyone, or connect with a couple of colleagues and invite them to a local cafe. Your colleagues have a lot of knowledge that you can tap into and offer up some of your own experiences in exchange. Always be respectful, kind, and open; that way, you’ll be sure to make a great impression.

“Bring the coffee. It’s a great icebreaker when you start and a good way to start the shift each night. We all know the hospital coffee isn’t the greatest… I’m still friends with people I met on my first assignment. You meet people from all walks of life, and if you allow it, they can all teach you something about yourself. Take those lessons with you to your next assignment.” — Ethan, RN 

Prepare for Challenges

Your most significant strength is how you respond to challenges. Perm staff are not aware of the skills you bring to the table, so, unfortunately, you may need to prove yourself on the job. It can feel like “sink or swim” — but maintaining a positive outlook is the best approach. Find a way to manage stress by exercising or meditating to feel balanced.

travel nurse seattle

At the beginning of a contract, I do find myself working with more of the ‘feeder/grower population,’ meaning NICU babies who are learning how to eat and growing more before going home. After some time at my assignment, I usually will be given babies who require higher levels of care. I’ve learned that I adapt quickly. I had to go into my first assignment with confidence and not be scared. I had to embrace the new and push forward, as this was going to be my new normal. I have become a person who grows and learns with each assignment. I’ve realized that I’m so much stronger than I thought.” — Kelsey, RN

Leverage Your Recruiter

Keep the lines of communication with your recruiter open during your assignment. While you might not need them right now, they’re there to support you while you’re away from home.

  • Schedule a weekly call or text so they know what’s going on and have communication on any issues that arise
  • They can get you in touch with the right people for any problems, from housing to payroll
  • After a few weeks, your recruiter will begin helping you look for your next assignment, so be sure to tell them about your assignment experience

travel nurse with dog in wyoming

Nick is an absolute dream recruiter. Not only is he a professional, but he’s also become a friend and family member. He texts regularly to check up on us, he’s connected with us on Facebook and Instagram, and he’s just so encouraging. He cheers us on when we go on adventures and asks about them afterward. I’m so grateful that Nick is with me for this adventure. What I find most endearing is that he genuinely cares about what’s in our best interests. He knows that we have an ill family member in lower Washington, and he worked to get me an assignment that would put us in proximity to my family.” — Laura, RN

Have Fun Recording Your Travel Nursing Experiences

A new adventure like travel nursing will present challenges and give you opportunities to grow. Have fun recording your travel nursing experiences – even the tough ones – by making photo albums, a journal or vlog, or even writing letters to yourself. In a few years, you’ll be glad you did.

Stay Flexible

Whether you are deciding where to take an assignment or packing your belongings, the most important thing to do is stay flexible. Travel healthcare can offer you so much freedom and autonomy, but you must be willing to embrace change and adapt along the way.

Brandy Pinkerton of Travel Nurse 101 has been a travel nurse for over 20 years, and she offers this piece of advice for those new to travel healthcare:

“The best advice for a brand-new travel nurse? Stay flexible and open-minded. Embrace the changes, be ready to learn, and always communicate clearly. A positive attitude and adaptability will help you thrive in any new environment.”

Schedule Your Complimentary Mentorship Session

Through a partnership with Travel Nurse 101, we offer complimentary mentorship sessions for new travelers. Brandy’s wealth of experience and her passion for nurturing the next generation of nurses make her an invaluable resource for anyone embarking on their travel nursing journey.

Schedule your complimentary mentorship session

Travel With TNAA

Deciding to take on your first travel nursing assignment is a huge step. You’re choosing an adventurous life full of change and new experiences. Enjoy this new beginning by maintaining positivity and reminding yourself why you want to be a travel nurse. Whether it’s a life change, to see new places, meet new people, or gain new skills, adventure is guaranteed to be in store!

Wherever you choose to travel, make sure you are traveling with an agency that has your back no matter what. When you travel with TNAA, you’re fully supported every step of the way. Housing, credentialing, benefits, sick leave – we’ve got you covered. All you have to do is pack your bags and decide where you’re going.

Ready to embark on your next travel assignment? Check out TNAA’s available jobs and apply today!