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RVing as a Travel Nurse

Travel nursing has always appealed to me, but I wasn’t sure it was possible once I was married and had children. I became a progressive care unit (PCU) registered nurse after having kids, and figured the travel nursing ship had sailed, or more appropriately, the RV had driven away. But that changed when I learned about a travel nursing family and began to research how I could make this work. 

Finding the Right RV for Our Family

Once we realized we could make this happen, I set out to find a house on wheels that could accommodate myself, my husband, and our two children. Of course, it had to meet certain requirements since it would be our family’s full-time home instead of a weekend camper. We were leaving behind our five-bedroom, three bath home with a pool, to be semi-stationary for 13 weeks at a time, the length of a typical travel nurse contract. We ended up purchasing a fifth wheel with a bunkhouse. 

My family and most other travel healthcare workers that travel with their families choose the RV lifestyle for a variety reasons, most of them similar. 

  • You can provide consistency for your children which may ease the transition by always having your home with you.
  • You don’t have to pack up your whole household every three months, which is much more work when there is more than just you.
  • Sometimes you can find an RV park that is closer to nature than you would a short term rental or hotel.
  • You get to travel the country in a much different way, sometimes being able to stop in obscure locations you wouldn’t stop otherwise but provide amazing experiences.
  • It’s usually a much easier way to travel with pets.
  • You get to be a part of an amazing RV community that can understand your nomadic lifestyle and make lifelong friends along the way for both you and your children.

Taking Our Family On The Road

Being a travel nurse with a family takes creativity, research, and a whole lot of courage as you begin life on the road. I eventually came across a few families on social media pursuing the same lifestyle. They became my gurus. I reached out over social media to ask more in-depth questions and gained valuable insight. I found my favorite travel nurse agency through one connection. I also found out locations that were great and not so great for a family. I got to ask how it truly affected their families both good and bad.

Your children’s education is important, regardless of what lifestyle you choose. When you decide to bring your kids into a life of travel, you have to think about things like how will your children be schooled? Will you choose an online school format, “unschool”, buy a homeschool curriculum, or piece together your own? 

Another thing to consider is your spouse’s or travel partner’s needs. Will they work? If so, how will that impact your daily life? For us, it made more sense for my husband to quit his job and focus on homeschooling our children. However, it wasn’t as easy of a transition as I expected. He worked since he was 14, without a break, and being a perfectionist in his work made him a bit of a workaholic. We struggled with feeling like we were both contributing- he was uncomfortable not contributing to our family’s finances, while I didn’t think I could homeschool our children full-time. It took a few months of adjusting for us to find our groove in this new life, but we eventually did.

Transitioning to a life of travel, especially one that involves downsizing to an RV, impacts other parts of your family’s life. For example, do you, your spouse, or your children have hobbies you want to continue? How will you make time and space for them? 

Travel Nursing and RVing

When you decide to marry your travel nursing goals with your dream of RVing, you are now part of two communities; those who travel full-time either employed or not employed, and travel nurses, who do not all live in an RV. When I started researching the lifestyle and how we would transition into it, I found that we didn’t completely fit into any particular category of travelers. I wasn’t a travel nurse who was single and staying in hotels or rentals. We weren’t a family who was choosing to travel full-time in an RV and travel whenever, wherever we wanted. There are a lot of resources for these types of travelers, some of which were helpful, but only some of the information applied to our situation. You, too, may find yourself benefitting from understanding both but will also not feel like you 100% belong to either. 

Thankfully, with a little more research we found communities of travel nurses who live in RVs and even some who travel with their families. Tapping into these resources can provide advice or give you support as you navigate this lifestyle.  

Finding More RVing Travel Nurses

I have found that social media is the easiest and most reliable place to seek information as a traveler. There is a Facebook group specifically for travel nurse families that is available now but wasn’t when I first started out that is such a helpful resource. I also started an Instagram account and follow #travelnursefamilies so I can continue to find travelers like us to connect with. There is a travel nurse Facebook group for many kinds of different travelers, even one for RV nurses and newbies where there are nurses to support you on your journey. Becoming part of these virtual communities have helped me:

  • Learn about hospitals to which I want to apply
  • Get advice on reliable RV parks near my assignments
  • Learn about desirable (and undesirable) cities to visit
  • Keep in touch with what is going on in the travel nurse community, and the larger RVing community
  • Develop my own community for my family

All of the resources I have mentioned have done so much for our RV travel experience. I have been able to find reviews through Facebook groups on all the hospitals I have applied for. This has kept me taking contracts at all traveler friendly hospitals because there are horror stories of one’s that are not. We also never considered going to New Orleans for a contract due to hearing about all of the crime through the news but I read several times over on social media that nurses loved their contracts there so we took the chance and guess what?! My kids can’t stop talking about how much they love New Orleans. It’s distinct culture and food provided all of us an experience we couldn’t have anywhere else in this country. Connecting with other travel nurse families in any way you can is helpful to find suggestions on places that will provide not only a great work experience for you but also an adventurous time for your family. 

Other Aspects of RVing and Travel Nursing to Consider

When considering becoming a travel nurse you have several decisions to make and a lot to contemplate for all involved. 

Who is joining you or not joining in your journey? Will you leave your family behind while you try out traveling first? Does your spouse have to stay behind for work? Are you taking your pets and will they be allowed in most RV parks?

How much money do you need to make to cover your expenses? Most travel nurse families choose life in an RV because it’s easier and more consistent. There is the option for an agency to organize living arrangements for your family in the form of an apartment, a hotel room or other rentals. There is also the option to take the housing allowance from the agency and find your own mode of living, which can give you more flexibility if you choose to live in your own RV.

What a lot of travel nurses seem to miss, don’t understand, or get told incorrectly, is that you must duplicate expenses if you would like to receive tax free stipends. This brings us to the finances and how salary works for a travel nurse. You can take your salary either by duplicating living expenses, which then qualify you for a taxed hourly rate plus tax free housing and meals or you take a higher hourly rate that is completely taxed. To duplicate expenses is to maintain a tax home in your home state and to also pay for housing in the location of your job. You should always seek a tax professional for advice on how to maintain both and be in compliance, legally. Your established home state is also where you keep your primary nursing license which is an important step to not forget. 

Healthcare Travel Agencies

In travel nursing, there are usually agencies who will find your travel contracts for you. For most travel healthcare workers this seems to be the most challenging, and overwhelming, decision.

  • You can choose to find contracts on your own. This may leave you limited in your facility options. However, there are some facilities that only do their own staffing, so contacting them yourself is your only way to go there.
  • There are possibly hundreds of agencies with their own recruiting teams. Each agency and recruiter has their own benefits. These can heavily affect your decision. Find a recruiter you can trust, and with whom you feel you work well. Think of it as picking your own boss, but they work for you. Personally, I find it best you have at least a couple you are working with to give you more options.

What is Your Why?

Perhaps the biggest thing to consider is why you want to RV as a travel nurse? Is it the travel, seeing the country with your family or alone? Is it the money to help you get out of debt? Or is it something else entirely?

Our desire to travel played a big factor in our decision. We love traveling, and as a result, spent a large amount of our budget on travel, whether it was quick weekend trips a few hours away or sailing through the Caribbean on a cruise. One day, we realized all the trips we had envisioned taking with our kids before they left our home were adding up, but our time with them was dwindling down. RVing felt like a way to better afford the time and expense of family travel now. Though it required us giving up the comforts of a stationary home (like our lovely pool and three bathrooms), our family has been able to see more of the country in the past 11 months than we could have otherwise. 

You also need to consult your deciding partner in this matter. Do they have concerns holding them back from pursuing this lifestyle? I would say that I was all aboard the minute I came across this possibility, but my husband had some concerns. He had needed a career change for several years but, you know, something always comes up and he didn’t make a change. I figured I could make enough if we could reduce our expenses and he could homeschool our children on the road, or “roadschool”, but I had to bring the facts to our discussion to prove it. After talking it over extensively, and evaluating our options, we both agreed this would be a worthwhile adventure for our family.

As we’ve seen, the RV lifestyle has both it’s pros and cons as a travel nurse. Each person must decide for themselves what works best for their travel goals, career goals, and comfort. I am completely satisfied that we took the leap and made this our life. I’ve given our whole family experiences that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. Some travel nurses say that you shouldn’t jump into buying an RV until you know you will love travel nursing first, but I haven’t ever really followed any sort of typical standard in most things in my life, so why start now. 

Author

Cristina Jackson

Cristina Jackson travels the U.S. in a 41 foot fifth wheel with her husband, Nate, two children, Kaitlyn and Aiden, and their dog, Koda, while having her travel nursing career dictate their travels.  Primarily working as a progressive care unit nurse but constantly expanding skills and units with each contract. She’s been travel nursing and living in an RV nearly a year, originating from their home in Queen Creek, Arizona.  She loves being able to show her children history and locations rather than just read about them. Her family also loves the ability to spend a longer amount of time in each location and get a taste of becoming locals. You can follow Cristina and her family’s adventures on Instagram @raisingonroadtrips. 

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