Looking for adventure by working as a travel nurse? Whether you specialize in telemetry, med-surg, critical care, emergency, home health, hospice, or nursing administration, there are an abundance of nursing jobs and healthcare opportunities out there (physical and occupational therapists travel, as well.) Travel nursing is a great to make a lot of money fast, but living on the road can be hard and lonely.

And very unhealthy… trust me I know. I think my next stop is “The Biggest Loser” after years of living on the road the wrong way.  But I’ve been able to visit some great and not-so-great places, including New Orleans, upstate New York, and the Navajo reservation. I even have a practice certificate for New Zealand collecting dust, but someday…

Here are a few tips this old travel nurse has picked up along the way to make your travels a little more pleasant.

Picking the Right Travel Nurse Company
There was a time when you could pretty much assume any company had its act together, and given the stiff competition, would take care of business. Not so much anymore. New travel nurse and temporary job companies are cropping up overnight, and their lack of experience can have a serious impact on you. If a company doesn’t follow through on travel arrangements, hotel and yes, even getting you paid, you may find yourself stranded far from home, so choose wisely. I recommend sticking with long established companies unless you have the bank account to bail yourself out if necessary, which many times, travel nurses can be financially light if getting the next assignment takes longer than anticipated – this can be a game of feast and famine.

Interview the Interviewers
Just as you will be interviewed for a position, you better interview them, because once you get there, if you are treated poorly and want to leave, your travel nurse contract can have severe penalties for leaving, and you jeopardize your ability to find future work. And sorry to say, but don’t think they don’t know this.

Read That Contract
And yes, including – and especially – the fine print. What are the penalties if you get there and find the conditions unbearable? What if you have a personal or medical emergency that forces you to leave early? Make sure you know what you are getting into. And the biggie: what are the minimum hours required each week, and what happens if the company doesn’t give you the minimum? Do they still have to pay the minimum hours per week? I once went on a  travel assignment for home health and they were giving me 7 visits a week with no guarantee to make up for being underbooked. Harsh lesson learned.

If your legal residence is on a “compact” state and you are licensed there, you are set for working on all the states in the compact. If not, you’ll have to get licensed in the state you want to work in, and the length of time varies from state to state. Some issue temporary permits, some don’t. Check the website yourself: while your agency is fairly knowledgeable about state licensing, don’t take their word for it.

Getting There – to Fly or Drive?
Flying will limit how much you can take, but if your agency will provide a rental car, far more convenient (and better on your personal car) than driving. I have been criticized for this by some, but when I have flown, I have been known to pick up things like a DVD player and small appliances at a large national chain store, then return before leaving. The reality is there is only so much you can travel with and you need to try to make your temporary home as “homey” as possible.

If you have pets, you will most likely have to drive, but if you choose to fly, you can be pretty sure the cost of your pet’s flight will be on you.

What to Take
The more work clothes you take the less you will have to do laundry, which may be inconvenient depending on your hotel’s laundry availability. Fabrics that resist wrinkles and separates you can mix and match will maximize your options if your doing an administrative type job. Otherwise, scrubs are the default. Try to limit going out clothes to a couple of outfits – you will likely do some shopping there and many travel jobs work long hours which limit socializing anyway. Keep toiletries basic and small — you can re-buy once you are there. If you love to read I can’t recommend a Kindle enough rather than lugging books around like I have done for years. Likewise, and mp3 player instead of CDs and a laptop should cover your basic electronic and entertainment needs.

It’s always more comfortable to get an apartment, but more and more agencies are going with hotels. Sometimes long stay, but depending on the area you are working in, sometimes only short stay type hotels are available. At the very least, you want to try to get a mini-fridge and microwave, but that is far from ideal.

Traveling with Pets and Family
Agencies will accommodate your pets, but be prepare for limited housing options – the nicer long stay hotels often take no pets, and even if they do, not always dogs. Also be prepared to pay a hefty pet deposit, which you will pay yourself. Pets are great company, but do make traveling that much more challenging. They will also make it difficult to get room service while you are at work unless you can cage them all day for housekeeping staff. And small rooms limit their exercise.

Your Hotel “Kitchen”
If you don’t get a room with a kitchenette, a few appliances can make it a little more bearable:

* Toaster Oven – indispensable in a conventional hotel room.
* Electric Skillet – much better than a hot plate for frying foods
* Electric Kettle Pot – safer option than a hotplate. Many of them also serve as a steamer.
* 1-2 place settings of plates, bowls, silverware, glasses
* Plastic drawers for food, dishes and appliance storage.

Healthy Habits for Travel Nurses
A hotel gym can make fitness much easier, especially in very hot or cold climates. If you opt for fresh air exercise such as jogging or walking, be sure to check with locals as to safe areas for these activities. Hand weights and in room videos can be used IF you have enough space, but it’s usually in short supply in these rooms. Some local gyms may offer short term memberships – if they say no at first, make sure they know you aren’t staying and will not sign any long term contracts under any circumstances. If they see it’s agree to a short term membership or lose a sale, many will accommodate your special situation.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are an option regardless of your kitchen set up. So no excuses!