Travel Social Work 101

Many people have asked me about my role as a travel social worker, what it means, how it works, etc. I figured I would do a post on the process of becoming a travel social worker and what it entails. Here are answers to some of the questions I have been asked:


The way that I got started was first researching travel-based social work agencies. There are a few Facebook groups where recruiters will post assignments and there are a few websites that I went through. I started by looking at Wanderly and AMN Healthcare however when a traveler came to the hospital I was working at I learned from her of a few more places. The very next step is to reach out to a company and typically they will assign you to a recruiter. Your recruiter becomes your best friend through the waiting game of getting your first assignment. They are the ones who submit you for assignments to account managers for hospitals. They take your resume to the next level and their job is basically to sell you and your experience to the hospital, saying why you are so awesome!


It’s not ALWAYS the amount of time you have, but often times that will be a requirement. Many companies will require 1-2 years of medical social work experience in acute care (hospital). I personally had 1 year of acute care experience. Often times it is also based on what kind of experience you have. For example, my first assignment in North Dakota was looking for a dialysis social worker and I just so happened to have dialysis experience. Same with my second assignment, they wanted a trauma social worker and I have trauma experience.


Honestly, it can take a while. I started looking a looong time before I actually got serious about leaving my previous job and way before I received my first offer. What I have noticed is that a lot of recruiters try to weed out who is serious about it and who is “just kinda looking”. One of the first questions I was asked by every recruiter is: Why do you want to travel? Let’s be real, everyone these days wants to travel whether it is for work or for leisure. However, how many people want to travel so badly (for work specifically) that they will leave everything in their life behind like I did to take that leap of faith? More so, how many people are able to realistically do it? For an actual answer, I had been looking for at least a year, however I did not have the experience I do now. After working at my first hospital in San Jose there were a lot more opportunities that I was eligible for than without that experience. On the other hand, my coworker at my current hospital who is also a traveler started without any medical experience BUT she had social work experience. Some hospitals will accept a traveler for having any kind of experience period. In other words usually new graduates are not the first pick.


I was shocked to find out how much of a difference there was for me personally. In San Jose I made about 1/3 of what I make now. HOWEVER, the pay package I chose might not be an option for people with other circumstances. Let me explain. Typically there are a few pay “packages” you can choose from. Most commonly I have seen:

  • Higher taxable hourly rate and lower non-taxable rate
  • Lower taxable hourly rate and higher non-taxable rate

From those two choices, there are other options including method of transportation to get there and back; whether you want money for flights to go home during your assignment; whether your hospital includes a rental car or not; whether you choose your own housing. I personally chose the lower hourly rate and maxed out my non-taxable rates which include my housing stipend and per diem incidentals/meals.

Here is an example using my first assignment:

Hourly rate (taxed): $22 (seems REALLY low compared to my $40+ rate in CA right?) x 40/week = ~$880 gross per week = $3520/month
Housing (non taxed): $95/day x 7 days per week = $665/week = $2660/month
Per diems (non-taxed): $55/day = $385/week = $1540/month

Obviously I get taxed on the gross amount I make which in this case is $880. HOWEVER. Housing and per diems are NON-TAXABLE meaning I was guaranteed $1050/week no matter what with no taxes taken out. With my hourly rate I usually took about $700 home with benefit payments taken out. Seeing as we get paid weekly, that is $1750/week pretty much guaranteed.

Now, keep in mind another reason I get to pocket all of that is because I chose to do everything myself. I chose to find my OWN housing. I chose housing that was well within my budget so I got to pocket the rest. This came really handy when I was paying double rent in North Dakota and San Jose!! In addition to that, I chose to drive my own car. I received $1000 in my first paycheck just for that alone. For my current assignment, I get $1500 on my first and last check!

Keep in mind, the pay package is easily more negotiable as you gain more experience and depending on the cost of living where you are on assignment. I get paid more in Philadelphia than in North Dakota.


It is really about personal preference. If you choose for your company to choose your housing it is typically at corporate housing or a hotel. Since I always choose my own housing, there are a few things I look for: price, that it is well furnished, close in proximity to the hospital I am working at, flexibility with cancellation (in case something comes up), and definitely reviews. I personally use AirBnB because I really like “home-y” feeling places when I am traveling. There is just something really cool about staying in a new spot that is comfortable and your own space while also getting a feel for the vibe of the city. I like finding places with lots of natural light, somewhere I can picture myself feeling at home. Another resource is FurnishedFinders. One thing you always want to ask about on FurnishedFinders though: is there a deposit? AirBnB has a service fee, so that is another thing to watch.


It depends. For my first assignment, I took the only offer I got because it was my first one and typically hospitals like to know you have some experience traveling. For my second assignment (after I had the first experience of traveling), I got 3 offers! I was offered one in Daytona Beach, FL; Oakland, CA; and Philadelphia. Y’all know which one I chose 😉 They all had different pay packages and actually, Philly paid the LEAST but I knew it was a location I would want to explore on the East Coast, so I was willing to make that sacrifice. The more experience I get I have a feeling I will get more offers too.


They expect you to literally hit the ground running. Some places expect you to be up and running independently within a few days, others a week, others weeks. It depends on the hospital. I have gotten lucky and I have had patient managers and staff but it is not always the case. You are expected to work holidays (so if you want to take them off make sure you get them written into your contract!!!), weekends… typically the shifts that their staff want a break for. Remember, you are there to fill a need and are not permanent staff. There are pros and cons to that.


Of course! And I definitely get lonely at times, I won’t deny it. It is only natural. However FaceTime and Social Media exist and I am a born social butterfly that craves change so for me it is the perfect fit… it is a nice trade-off. I do go home at least once per assignment though to see family and my pup. The traveling life isn’t for everyone, but I have found that


Flexibility. Sense of humor. Sense of adventure. Going with the flow and liking it that way. Loves change. Gets bored easily and wants to cure it. Spontaneous. Social/outgoing. Good with people. Likes diversity and meeting people with different backgrounds. & the most obvious one… LOVES TO TRAVEL! 😎


It moves FAST when you get your offer. I got my offer on a Friday and a week from that following Monday I was on my way driving to North Dakota. Breathe and just keep in communication with your recruiter. They are there to support you.

Also… MAKE ABSOLUTE SURE your recruiter writes your time-off requests in the contract. Once your contract is signed there is not really the option to change your off dates.


I hope this was helpful for some of you! Let me know what other questions you may have for a future entry!

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