What Happens to Your Paycheck During Time Off as a Travel Nurse

As a travel nurse, you will undoubtedly need some time off during your contract. Whether you are taking a weekend trip home or going on an extended vacation, it’s important to understand how your paycheck is affected.

In this blog post, we will discuss the three different types of time off and what impact they have on your paychecks. We will also provide some tips on how to manage your finances while you’re away from work!

Table of Contents

Types of Time Off

There are three types of time off that can be taken as a travel nurse: vacation, sick, and personal. Each type of time off has its own set of rules and regulations, so it’s important to understand how each one works before taking any time away from work.

  • Vacation days are the most common type of time off for travel nurses. Typically, you determine the amount of time and time period you would like to take off from your travel assignments. However, it’s important to note that vacation days are unpaid, so you will not receive your regular paycheck while you’re away.
  • Sick days are another common type of time off for travel nurses. Unlike vacation days, sick days are typically unpaid days off. However, some travel agencies provide paid time off based on tenure. The amount of pay you receive will depend on your contract and the policies of your travel nursing agency.
  • Personal days are the least common type of time off for travel nurses. These are typically unpaid days off, but some agencies may offer a small stipend to help cover expenses. Personal days are usually used for emergencies or unexpected events.

Does Paid Time Off Affect the Travel Nurse's Rates?

Nothing ever comes for free in the travel nursing world. While you may be able to take some time off, it’s important to understand that your pay will be affected. Typically, travel agencies deduct pay for each day that you’re away from work. For example, if you take three days off, your agency will deduct three days’ worth of pay from your paycheck.

Agencies have only one source of revenue which is the rate they receive from the hospital for hours worked by the travel nurse. Your pay rate is a percentage of this “bill rate” that the agency and hospital have agreed upon. Traditionally, travel agencies will market that they provide “free benefits” that do not affect the rate. While recruiters are not lying regarding the benefits they offer, it comes down to the minimum profit margin agencies have determined is acceptable. PTO is part of the agency’s cost analysis.

For example, if an agency provides PTO then the minimum profit margin will be higher than those agencies that do not offer PTO. These changes in profit margin for the companies occur as they cannot foresee who will work long term with the same company or only one assignment.

Travel nurses tend to want to travel to all parts of the country. This is one of the main reasons why travel nurses switch between agencies or work with multiple agencies. Not all agencies offer the same assignments, compensation packages, or locations. This inhibits the travel nurse from being able to accrue PTO and vacation benefits.

This can be a significant deduction, so it’s important to plan accordingly. If you’re planning on taking any time off, we recommend saving up in advance so that you’re not caught short when your paycheck arrives.

Vacation and PTO for Travel Nurses

The travel nurse profession has been based around the dire need for hospitals to staff their units. The hospitals expect that the travel nurse will work all scheduled shifts or they would not be employed otherwise. This is why sick days are typically frowned upon. The travel nurse agencies act as a middle-man between the employer and the nurse.

When a travel nurse requests vacation or PTO, the agency or hospital will attempt to fill the shift with another available travel nurse. If they are unsuccessful, the shift will likely go unfilled and the agency will lose money.

This is one of the biggest reasons why requesting time off can be difficult. Not only does it put the agency and hospital in a tough spot, but it can also reflect negatively on the travel nurse. If you’re planning on taking any time off, be sure to give your agency as much notice as possible. This will give them the best chance to fill your shifts and avoid any negative repercussions.

Once the hospital provides the final approval of vacation time, there should not be any problems with your request. However, you will not receive any pay during this time unless otherwise stated by the agency.

Understand your Travel Nursing Agency's Policies for PTO/Vacation

Before you request any time off, be sure to check with your agency to see what their policies are. Each agency is different, so it’s important to understand what you’re entitled to.

Some agencies will allow you to accrue PTO/Vacation, while others will not. If your agency does allow you to accrue PTO, be sure to find out how much you’re allowed to carry over from year to year.

There is often a blurred line between PTO and vacation benefits. What you will find is that many companies will market PTO but once you evaluate the policy, you will find the benefit is more related to vacation time than PTO. This is because many companies will not pay for sick days off and the benefits are usually provided between assignments.

It is also important to note that many agencies will not pay out any unused PTO if the traveler decides to leave the company but may use a PTO bank if the traveler decides to return but not always.

As for vacation programs, there are some agencies that provide points towards vacation time based on the hours worked over a year. These points can be used for an annual trip that the agency plans. If the traveler does not accumulate enough points for the trip, they can pay the difference in the remaining trip value.

Lastly, different companies place different values on the PTO offered. For example, an agency may value your PTO based on a blended rate for your current contract instead of a previous contract. Others may value the PTO at a taxable base rate for the current contract you are working on.

Tips for Managing Your Finances During Time Off

Now that you understand how your paycheck is affected by time off, here are a few tips to help you manage your finances while you’re away from work:

  • Create a budget: Before taking any time off, create a budget to help you plan your spending. This will give you a better idea of how much money you have to work with while you’re away from work.
  • Save money: If possible, try to save up money before taking any time off. This will help you cover any unexpected expenses that may come up while you’re away from work.
  • Create a Debt Repayment Plan: If you have any debt, create a plan to help you repay it while you’re away from work. This will help you stay on track with your debt repayment goals and avoid falling behind.
  • Look for your next contract early: When you decide to work another contract, start looking a month in advance. This will help you evaluate how the market is trending and prepare you for budgeting your finances prior to returning.


Traveling for work can be a great way to see new places and earn a good income. However, it’s important to understand how your paycheck will be affected if you take any time off. Be sure to check with your agency to understand their policies and create a budget to help you manage your finances while you’re away from work.

By following these tips, you can ensure that you’re prepared for any time off you take as a travel nurse.

Do you have any tips for managing your finances during time off as a travel nurse? Share them in the comments below!

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