You have two different options when it comes to housing for a travel nurse assignment. You can take agency provided housing or you can take a housing stipend and secure your own place to live on assignment. I always recommend to new travel nurses to take the agency provided housing for at least their first one or two assignments just until you get the hang of this traveling thing.
Once you’ve got the hang of travel nursing, taking the stipend and finding your own home away from home can be a great option. Our favorite housing situations were always the ones that I found for us, and for good reason – I know what we like!
Your housing stipend is (typically) quoted in a monthly rate and will be prorated each week. Keep this in mind if say you have a 3.5 month assignment but you have to pay rent for four full months.
We learned this the hard way early on when we had a weird three week assignment and they still quoted us a monthly stipend rate. We assumed the rate she was giving us was for the contract but we were wrong. We already paid our rent and deposits, etc. out of pocket and then we got his first check and freaked out wondering why it was so low. The difference ended up being several hundred dollars and a lot of stress. Needless to say, we didn’t make that mistake again!
Stipends are usually paid out in its prorated amount on each paycheck. This means you won’t receive your first stipend pay until your second week or even further into your contract (depending how often you’re paid). This means if you have to pay a deposit and of course rent up front, you have to have that money on your own to cover it while you wait to get paid. It all comes out in the wash, but just keep that in mind because it can add up before your first paycheck.
Keep in mind when searching for your own housing that you need something short term. Many traditional rentals aren’t even available for less than 6 or 12 months. The ones that are sometimes charge a premium, but they are out there.
Also, try to find a place that includes utilities in the monthly rent, otherwise you have to deal with getting those set up and turned on/off, along with any paperwork and deposits required. It can be a lot to try to do every three months so getting it included is just easier.
You will also need furnishings, so again try to rent a place that already has this available so that you aren’t stuck trying to piece together thrift store finds or dealing with a furniture rental company. We tried doing things completely on our own one time and it was way too much of a headache – we will not be doing it that way again.
Housing stipend amounts vary greatly based on the location and the contract. You will receive more of a stipend in say NYC than you will in a sleepy town in the Midwest. At first your stipend might sound like a lot, but keep in mind it can be very costly to find somewhere to live that offers short term, furnished, utilities included rentals. I found that the stipend wasn’t as much as I had hoped more times than not. Do however, be wary of companies that will pay a super high stipend and an extremely low hourly rate. It might sound good up front and on paper, but it should be a red flag.
Housing stipends are tax free if you’re traveling outside a certain mile range (I believe it’s 50-60) of your tax home AND if you have a legitimate tax home. You need to discuss these details with your recruiter and a tax professional, but this can be a great perk!
You can often transfer other payments from your company into housing if you discuss it before you go to contract. For instance, we always have any bonuses transferred to housing or travel. Bonuses are taxed at 40% whereas housing and travel are typically tax free – that’s a huge difference and puts 40% more money in your pocket! Shifting your pay allocations like this can really be helpful, especially in locations with high cost of living.
I will start with the more traditional housing – rentals & sublets. We wanted the comforts of home with amenities and space, so for our first five years traveling we always opted for an apartment, condo or rental house.
It was at times difficult to find one that fit our traveler budget, especially something that was furnished, offered a short term lease, and came with utilities included. The best we found to stretch our budget when looking for a rental or sublet was with websites like VRBO/AirBNB/HomeAway/etc.
This can be a tedious process, but the most effective way to get what you want while staying within budget is to get on a couple of these websites once you have a location and budget and literally contact every single one that is reasonably close to your budget.
I have had owners rent me their incredible units for half of their advertised monthly rate just to get a good, professional, longer term renter (longer term referring to VRBO where they usually rent by the day or week). I found us some fabulous deals with this method but it took a lot of time and patience. For us though, it was worth it to live beachfront in Hermosa Beach, in a converted candy factory within walking distance to the San Antonio River Walk, on top of the metro station in Arlington right outside of DC, in the Gaslamp District in San Diego, etc., etc.
If you’re okay with a smaller space, extended stay hotels can be a good option. However, we found that for the sacrifice in space the price wasn’t that much less than an apartment, or sometimes even more since they usually only offer nightly or weekly rates. Depending on what is available in your area and what your standards for housing are, this could be a viable option and could potentially save some money.
A very popular option among traveling nurses is living full time in an RV. This was something my husband and I were not really into at first, but we recently made the transition and couldn’t be happier! The great thing about the RV is that even if you are making payments on it, you will eventually own it , so you can look at it as the agency/hospitals paying for you to own an RV. And if you own it outright, that means your expenses each month will be even less.
Camp sights and RV payments combined are almost always much cheaper than what you can rent an apartment for. And the great thing about the RV is once you get started you never have to do the move-in/move-out thing every few weeks. When an assignment is done you secure your belongings and drive on to the next destination. Much simpler process and can save a ton of money.
Now if you’re like we were and you hear the word RV and all you can think of is what you grew up camping in, take another look. RV’s these days are incredible! Ours is 430 square feet, 2 bedrooms 1.5 baths, 2 fireplaces, 4 TV’s, an outdoor kitchen, full fridge plus mini fridge, king sized master bed, tons of storage…it truly feels like a house! And the great thing about an RV is that you can make it homey and it is yours.
Another awesome way to stretch your housing stipend is to travel with another nurse and room together. You will have two stipends to apply to one place to live. We have met sisters, friends, and spouses traveling together and doing this. Having a roommate is a great way to maximize your housing stipend!
Speaking of roommates, if you don’t have another nurse to travel with but are cool with sharing common areas, you can always try to find people that are renting out a room wherever you are going. There are several websites that offer this type of service such as Airbnb and Craigslist. You could definitely save a lot of money versus renting an entire place for yourself.
If you have friends or family in an area you are staying, you could always hit them up for a free or deeply discounted place to stay. It could be a great opportunity to catch up and save some money in the meantime.
There is always the option for house sitting. I don’t have any experience with house sitting, but I know others who swear by it. You can actually live somewhere for free and maybe even make a little money to house sit for them if the dates happen to correlate. Websites such as HouseSittersAmerica are a great place to match up with homeowners in need of a house sitters.
As you can see, there is a multitude of ways to maximize your housing stipend while traveling. It goes without saying, but always do your homework and make sure before you send any personal information or money that it is a legitimate source. I have heard way too many horror stories of people sending money ahead of time and showing up to a phony address.
Be cautious and use good judgement, but also keep an open mind when scouting housing possibilities for a new assignment. Don’t be afraid to get creative with stretching that budget!
By Kelli Leach
Kelli Leach and her husband Skyler have been traveling since July 2010. Skyler is a CVICU RN and Kelli is a writer. 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.