I hope this doesn’t come as a shock to you, but a big part of travel nursing is the travel part. Meaning that you’ll be away from home, or at least not within a reasonable commutable distance. So a big question presents itself: “Where will I stay?” Don’t freak out! You have plenty of options, each with their own pros and cons to consider. As you’ll find, no one method is good for everyone or in all scenarios. It’s really not one-size-fits-all. There are a lot of different factors that must be taken into account, and it’s often best to evaluate these methods of securing housing on a case by case basis while weighing in your personal preferences and comfort levels. The following will serve as a starting point as you examine job postings, surrounding cities and towns, and housing options.
Do Your Research
Before we can start looking for housing, it’s often best to do a quick search of the area in which you’d like to stay. Typically, this will be close to the facility for which you are having your profile submitted. I tend to like to live within a fifteen-minute commute to work. Other people might prefer to walk or bike so they might need to be a little closer. Still, others might not care about the commute and would rather live in a separate area altogether. Finding your goal area is a synthesis of personal preference and taking the logistics of the housing marketing into account.
I usually do my search prior to considering a contract and then again once I accept a contract in an actual attempt to pursue housing. The reason that I do this before I consider a contract is because I’d rather not waste my efforts in finding a job that’ll force me to stay in an unsafe or undesirable area. First, I do a quick search and find it on Google Maps so that I know where the location is, geographically. You can also zoom in and see neighboring cities, major roadways, and amenities. Another useful feature with Google Maps is your ability to see traffic and commute times at various times of the day by choosing “Directions” and “depart at”/”arrive by” options. If you plan on going to a traffic-plagued city like Los Angeles, this will prove useful since a few miles can often mean hours in the car if you leave at the wrong time. Once I understand the layout of the area pretty well, I look to see how these cities and towns stack up to one another.
If I were giving advice to someone traveling to my hometown, I’d be able to tell them where they should stay, what areas to steer clear of, etc. However, it would be impractical to think that I’d be able to do that in a place I’m unfamiliar with, never having been there before. Luckily for us, there’s this pretty cool website, AreaVibes, that uses various metrics (i.e. Amenities, Cost of Living, Crime, Education, Employment, Housing, Weather) to reach an overall rating or Livability Score. Once you search for a particular town or city, it’ll also populate some other demographics about the town and provide the surrounding towns’ grades as well.
Again, you need to decide what’s most important to you and reflect on your priorities when analyzing the area. For me, low crime is most important, especially being in an unfamiliar place. Things that I don’t necessarily put emphasis on in terms of these metrics are education (I don’t have kids), employment (I’m going there for purpose of work), and cost of living/housing (usually accounted for in my contract via stipends). Therefore, after examining my priorities, I typically like to stay in an area that is safe, reasonably priced in relation to surrounding areas, and a short drive to work (in this order from highest to lowest priority). Although sometimes overlooked, it’s very important to think about the area that you’ll be staying and if it’ll be a good fit.
Housing Package vs. Stipends
I originally wasn’t going to dive into this, but I feel like it’d be a question left unanswered if I didn’t address it, even if it’s not 100% on-topic.
Basically, you almost always come out ahead if you take the stipends as opposed to the housing package. When you opt into the housing package, your agency will set aside a piece of your weekly pay as a budget to cover the cost of housing, which typically isn’t the greatest and leaves you with little to no flexibility and less money in your pocket. Having your agency take care of the housing aspect, although more care-free, is not the best option and you should take the stipends.
For more on stipends and pay breakdown, read my previous post here.
Here, I’ll address some of the different options you have in terms of choosing where to live while on assignment. As mentioned earlier, there are plenty of pros and cons to each method of acquiring a place to stay, and we will examine those in this section. Remember that it is up to each individual to decide what is best for them given their comfortability and preference. The following order is based on how difficult I feel it is to pursue each option from least to most difficult.
This is obviously not something available to everyone in every situation in every part of the country, but it happens. Sometimes, the reason you take an assignment is to because how close it’d bring you to family in that area. I’ve encountered some travelers you have stayed with family while on assignment to save money and to rekindle relationships that may have been neglected as a result of distance and time away. I’ve also seen instances where matches are made through mutual friends where someone has a guest room available. Depending on the situation, these arrangements may or may not be for the duration of your contract based on personal preference and logistics of course. Just make sure that you pay some sort of rent (may not have to be fair-market, call TravelTax for more questions specific to your situation) so that you continue to duplicate expenses and remain eligible for tax-free stipends. Also, ensure that guidelines are set in place to create a positive environment and foster healthy relationships.
Always an option and, luckily, they’re just about everywhere. Some use these as their primary plan for housing and others may only use this option in a bind (i.e. before/after assignment, in the interim while finding other housing). Oftentimes, when an agency places you in housing at your request (forgoing the stipends), this will be your likely situation (which is why I suggest taking the stipends – if worst comes to worst, you can always do this yourself with a quick google search and save yourself quite a few dollars in the process). If you can get past the impersonal feel and don’t have a lot of stuff, it can be a viable option. Remember that these are furnished so you won’t need a ton of things to make them complete. However, many don’t have full kitchens with ovens which may be a letdown to those who like to cook. As a result, be sure to minimize dining out costs as much as possible so they don’t creep up and suck away your whole paycheck. When comparing these options, do your research – examine prices and make sure they work with your budget. See if there are any corporate discounts through your agency or reduced rates for consecutive/long-term stays. Also, enroll in their loyalty rewards program and you might find yourself with some free stays down the line!
Finding apartments that do short-term leases can be hit or miss; many complexes will only do contracts that are one year or longer (keep in mind: to remain eligible for tax-free stipends, you can’t stay in any one metro area for longer than 12 months in a 24 month period – see “RETURNING TO THE SAME AREA”). You’ll need to do some work finding a few through internet searches and phone calls. However, if you can find a complex willing to work with you, they can be a great option. Depending on how long your lease is, it may force your hand, however, in terms of subsequent contracts in an effort to not break your lease or commute long distances. If you plan on staying in an area for a while though, this takes the headache out of moving around. If you plan on staying in an area but don’t have a contract with the hospital for the entire duration, you might want to situate yourself in the middle of a couple prospective hospitals so that you are equidistance and can easily take an assignment throughout the city if necessary. Also, remember that this option might cost a bit of money upfront to get it rolling because you have a security deposit and may need to provide the furniture if your unit is unfurnished. Depending on the complex, you may need to go out and secure your utilities, including internet and cable as well.
A solid option from top to bottom that allows for quite a bit of flexibility and offers a lot of variety. I’ll come right out and say that some cities do not allow Airbnb or companies similar to operate, which is why this is not higher on the list. However, if you find yourself in one of those cities that are not affected by these rules, you have a lot at your disposal. For those not familiar with Airbnb, it is a service that allows “hosts” to offer up space in a room, an entire room, or an entire house/apartment to those willing to stay there for a fee. Users create a profile and have reviews/ratings based on stays. Payment is all done through Airbnb’s portal so there is never any direct exchange of money among hosts and guest. Many use this service for vacations as an alternative to hotels and resorts in an effort to have a more authentic experience of the area. Many hosts also have their spaces with the eligibility to book for long periods of time which works great in the case of travel nursing.
As you can see above, you can choose the time period (allow for some time before and after your assignment for travel and packing), the number of guests, room type (i.e. shared room, private room, or entire house/apartment), and price. There are also other filters (e.g. on-site laundry, wifi, kitchen) that you can use to help find the best fit. Again, this all comes down to preference and how private you wish your living space to be and what amenities you wish to have. If this is something that you may try, I suggest using this service on some getaways and getting some reviews on your profile so you have a solid track record and hosts are more comfortable with booking your long-term stay.
I’ll be honest in saying that this is not one that I’ve personally had success with, but countless others I know have made it work. Craigslist acts as a forum for people to list classified ads and have discussions. One of those ad types includes housing for rent.
All you have to do is search for the location specific to where you are looking to be placed (at the top) and then search through the housing section. I would start in the sections where people are offering their listings (i.e. “apts / housing,” “rooms / shared,” and “sublets / temporary”) first as you’ll most likely get the ball rolling faster. However, if you can’t find anything that meets your needs, then you can always post an ad requesting a place to stay in the respective sections (i.e. “housing wanted” and “rooms wanted”).
Once you dive in, Craiglist will allow you to further filter potential listings by distance, price, bedrooms, bathrooms, square feet, availability, etc. You will most likely have plenty to choose from. However, you must be cautious when trusting people over the internet. Unlike Airbnb, payments are not overseen by an objective third party. For safety’s sake and in an attempt to prevent yourself from getting scammed, please do your due diligence and heed notice to Craigslist’s safety tips.
Traveling with an RV is a unique circumstance because it allows you to forgo trying to find housing, packing, unpacking, etc. Instead, your goal is to find an RV park where you can unload. In order to do this, you obviously first need an RV, which will cost you around $35,000 used. This can seem like a huge cost, but figure that it’s also the bulk of your rent upfront (there will be some fees at the RV park). It’s also important to note that RVs depreciate in value like a car would, not appreciate like a home typically would. Also, in order to qualify for stipends, you need to have another permanent residence in addition to the RV. Many RV parks also have a limit on how old the RV can be to stay in their park. This is definitely not a path for everyone, but it’s definitely something to think about when deciding to embark on your adventures as it gives you a lot of flexibility on the road. For more information on RVs in general and for travel nurses who use RVs, there are many groups on Facebook that you can ask more specific questions on how to get involved and pursue this avenue!
Housing is an important step in the pursuit of the travel nursing career, but it doesn’t have to be a scary one! Everyone has their own preferences, and it’s okay to use a variety of methods for acquiring housing throughout your time on the road as you evolve as a traveler and after seeing what works for you. Just take your time and do your research when it comes to evaluating locations and contracts to assure they’re a good fit and you’re bound to have an experience of a lifetime!