In 2022, we’ve seen a historic rise in gas prices, housing costs, and record inflation. We have also turned a page and are currently seeing the travel rates for healthcare professionals dwindle from the record highs we’ve seen at the peak of the pandemic. As a result, travelers are currently facing difficulty maximizing their income while facing a challenging housing market, fear of student loan interest rates kicking back up, and many other challenges faced during an economic downturn.
One popular option many healthcare professionals are adopting is RV Living versus previously hopping from one AirBnB or hotel to another. Living in an RV while on assignment is one way to maximize your travel nurse housing stipend. However, this lifestyle is not for everyone.
As a travel nurse, the majority of your paycheck comes from tax-free stipends, mainly your housing stipends. Maximizing your stipend is key to being a successful travel nurse (whether you go with mobile or traditional housing options). By choosing the RV lifestyle and staying at campsites can offer a much cheaper option than renting an apartment, Airbnb, or hotel.
During an assignment in 2020 in Arizona, travel nurses were paying a minimum of $1,500 for a 1 bedroom apartment while RV-living cost between $600-800 a month to stay at a nearby campground.
In another assignment in Vermont during 2021, many individuals at a hospital were struggling to find travel nurse housing. Some were even forced to turn down assignments due to the minimal options in the area. Many nurses lived in a tiny room at a nearby inn, with no kitchen and shared walls that cost more than $1,000 a month. At the same time and just minutes from the hospital, a campground was offering RV sites for $900 a month, which included amenities such as pools and activities.
Staying at campsites can save you money, maximize your earnings, and stretch your travel nurse housing stipend farther.
Careful consideration of the pros and cons of the RV lifestyle should be made prior to living in an RV while on a travel assignment. Some of the advantages of RV living include:
Many travel health pros love the great outdoors and seek adventure and RV living will offer all this and more.
Travel nurses and healthcare professionals who choose to maximize their stipends by living in an RV will encounter a major lifestyle change that will require constant creativity and flexibility when it comes to traveling in their homes.
Landing a travel assignment just weeks before your assignment start date can leave you scrambling to find an open campsite to park your RV. Camping and RV sales are at the highest level they have ever been over the past 2 years. Last year camping was up over 400%! Booking a campground, especially for a few months is now harder than it has ever been.
Look for assignments that have multiple campgrounds in the area. Starting the phone call or email by telling campground staff you are a travel nurse looking to come to the local hospital to help with short staffing may increase your chances of landing a spot!
Unfortunately, if you have been offered a job, but cannot find a campground nearby or there is no availability you may have to turn down a contract. It is important to do a quick google search of campgrounds, RV resorts, and parks prior to submitting to an assignment. Do not submit to travel assignments where there is no affordable travel nurse housing and minimal campgrounds in the area.
If you are looking to take big city assignments such as New York City, Chicago, Washington D.C, or Los Angeles, RV living may not be your best bet. Finding campgrounds/RV parks in highly populated cities can be very challenging, if not impossible. If you do find a campsite to stay you will likely be spending much of your time in city traffic getting to and from your assignment. Not to mention many of these campgrounds will charge outrageous monthly rents due to the close proximity of these cities. And beware, some are simply glorified parking lots in not-so-safe areas. Not a place I would find relaxing to live while on assignment. Choosing more rural or suburban cities will benefit you the most.
The cheapest way to stay at a campground is either monthly or occasionally seasonally – think summertime contracts (May through September). Monthly is typically the best option for travel nurses. Weekly and daily rates are more expensive. Amenities and location will also greatly determine the cost of a campsite.
The monthly cost of a full hook-up campsite (electric, water and sewer connections) cost anywhere from $500-1200/month. However, for example, Florida in the winter will cost you much more. Additionally, you may have to pay for electric or water costs at some campgrounds. State parks typically do not have sewer hookups and limit your stay at one time to 2 weeks. Boondocking (camping without any hookups) is another option for campers, however, this will not make travel nurses eligible for tax-free stipends because they are not duplicating their expenses where they are on assignment.
By living in an RV that serves as your travel nurse housing, you are only protected by thin walls, a rubber roof, and no foundation. You are literally sitting on wheels. When choosing an assignment where you will be living in your RV it is necessary to consider what type of weather events you will encounter. Hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires, snowstorms, and all Mother Nature has to offer must be considered. Perhaps not taking that assignment on the gulf coast during hurricane season, or staying out of tornado alley during tornado season would be wise.
Winter is the most difficult time of the year to book an RV site because snowbirds all head south to states like Florida, Texas, and Arizona. To combat the influx of campers, book a few options months (or even a year) ahead of time. Summertime around the country is also proving to be increasingly more difficult since the boom in camping 2 years ago.
Keeping your RV warm in a very cold climate in the winter or trying to keep it cool while in a very hot climate in the summer can also present many challenges and be costly. Will your AC units be enough to keep up? Should you heat with propane or electric during those cold months? Freezing temps can cause not only your water to freeze but cause major, costly repairs to fix this if it happens.
Camping in the winter or freezing temps also requires extra preparation including skirting your RV, larger propane tanks or more frequent refills, purchasing space heaters, and other potential hurdles. However, if you are brave enough to endure cooler or not ideal climates in the winter, if you can find an open campground you may find cheaper campsite rates.
It is important to note many campgrounds in the northern states close due to freezing temperatures that will freeze water lines and sewer hookups.
Although RV living can be a rewarding and cost-effective experience, there’s still additional costs that travelers should be aware of before deciding on this route for travel nurse housing.
Living in an RV will require constant maintenance repairs and prevention that will be your responsibility. While some RV maintenance issues and damage can be fixed on-site either by yourself or a mobile tech, other issues may require you to bring your RV to a repair shop or the manufacturer for repairs. Now as quickly as you hope these repairs will be, these repairs can be complex and take time. You will likely be left without your home for a period of time on or in between assignments. Check if your RV manufacturer reimburses costs under warranty, but this may be not the case for many.
Gas prices rose up nearly 100% in 2022, which made many start considering ways to save on fuel in the RV lifestyle. Maximizing your travel nurse housing stipend may mean trying to find camping accommodations closer to the hospital you will be working at. While you may pay slightly more monthly for these accommodations you can save on gas money.
Consider taking assignments closer to home or closer to your current assignment versus taking long, expensive cross-country trips. If you have the possibility to stay and extend at your current facility this will also save you money on gas even if the hospital is considering a rate cut for your extension. Planning to do all your errands on one day or grocery shopping once a week instead of twice can also save you money and maximize your travel nurse housing stipends.
After dipping her toes into the full-time RV lifestyle over the past 4+ years, travel nurse Tina Nault can honestly say she wouldn’t still be in travel nursing if she couldn’t live in an RV. However, the number of challenges she would face choosing this lifestyle was truly underestimated. As you can see, RV living really does have many pros and cons. It is truly not for everyone. Extensive planning and having multiple backup plans when choosing assignments are imperative. Considering weather conditions, ways to save on fuel while traveling and maintenance costs will all be deciding factors in choosing if the RV life is best for you and your travel nurse career.
But for people like Tina, there is no better way to see the country and follow her dreams of being a travel nurse than living full time in her RV!
Tina Nault is the face behind @thervtravelnurse and the author behind her own blog. She has been an ER nurse for over 7 years now and has spent the last 4 and a half years traveling the country as a travel nurse. After setting out on her travel nurse journey in 2018, she and her fiancé bought a fifth-wheel RV to call home for them and their cats. She began her journey when travel nursing and RV living was a less popular concept. Since then, she has traveled around the country and absolutely thrives on the lifestyle, and offers advice to others. She has started her own blog, thervtravelnurse.net where she shares travel nurse tips, helpful resources, tips for living in an RV, and some of the amazing destinations she has been.