By Alex McCoy, Contributing Writer, Owner of Fit Travel Life
Despite what most people think, finding housing as a travel nurse is not as hard as it may sound. Short term leases are surprisingly more common than most people would expect and there are lots of ways to get creative when it comes to furnishings, stocking a kitchen, and bringing your own linens.
Learning these short cuts takes a little bit of time and practice, but first and foremost you want to be sure your housing is safe and legitimate. Most travel nurses live alone and rent sight unseen, so be sure to feel comfortable about the place you are booking when you start shopping around. There are some easy-to-spot red flags that make it possible to navigate the worlds of Airbnb, short term rentals, Furnished Finder or even Craigslist and help you land a spot that is affordable for the area and safe to your standards.
Travel Housing Red Flags #1: Asking for money up front.
If you find any sort of housing situation that asks for money via PayPal, bank transfer or Venmo prior to you getting to the location I would skip to your next option. Sending money directly to an individual is risky and hard to track. I have heard horror stories of nurses getting to a location and finding the housing either unlivable or non-existent, and they are left with zero deposit money scrambling to find something last minute.
There are a few exceptions to this rule. If you use a booking service like Airbnb or VRBO there may be a deposit or even first month’s rent due ahead of time. This is okay if it is paid directly through the vendor who should back you up if something goes awry.
Another exception is if you sign a short term or month-to-month lease through an actual apartment company. If there is a legitimate website with reviews and they ask for a deposit through their portal you are generally safe to pay some sort of fee to hold the unit.
Travel Housing Red Flags #2: Strict rules or guidelines regarding guests, alcohol, quiet hours, etc.
As a hardworking adult, the last thing I want to worry about when I come home is following a strict set of rules or quiet hours. Generally speaking, there are courtesies that will be followed, but I would caution nurses against taking a housing offer that has very strict guidelines. Not only does this leave room for conflict, but it gives the landlord easy reasons to end the housing contract early.
In addition, I have had friends and family make plans to visit a month or so into my contract and I would hate to have to tell them no because of restrictions at my place of residence. I would definitely ask about visitor guidelines when setting up housing, especially if you will be living in a rented room as opposed to a full private suite.
Travel Housing Red Flags #3: Paying the full amount up front.
When booking through Airbnb or other rental services, be sure to ask to have your stay divided into monthly payments. This is not a default setting—landlords have to enable the feature. I would advise strongly against putting down more than a month’s payment up front in case something goes wrong with either the housing or your contract once you get to your assignment.
Another option is to only book a week or two at the beginning, and let the landlord know you will likely extend to a 3-month stay once you arrive at the location and verify it works for you. In this situation, you may be able to negotiate a lower rate once you are there in person as well.
Red Flag #4: Having no easy way “out” of a lease agreement.
Some travelers absolutely refuse to sign anything else than a month-to-month housing agreement. If a contract is canceled and you have signed on for more than 30 days, this could land you with a hefty lease buyout or the remainder of your stay.
I always, always read my lease carefully or ask about early cancellation fees. I explain the nature of my contract work and ask what would happen if I have to leave early. Then I decide based on my budget if the fees I would have to pay would be manageable.
If you are unwilling to take the risk and only want to do month-to-month you can try speaking with a complex manager directly and offer to pay a slightly higher rent to offset this favor.
Red Flag #5: Requiring a 60-day move out notice.
I have only gotten burned by this once, but it cost me a few hundred extra dollars. Some apartment complexes require a shorter (30-day) notice on short term leases, while others stick to the standard 60-day notice.
Unfortunately, when we are talking about a 13-week contract, it is unlikely that we will know if we need to give notice or not a mere four weeks in. Having that extra 30 days can be crucial in saving you penalty fees when moving out or changing travel plans.
No matter how carefully you plan, travel nurse housing will likely cost you a little extra time and money, but you should not have to settle for unsafe housing or thousands of wasted dollars at each assignment. By knowing what not to do when booking short term housing you can ensure you have one small piece of the puzzle under control as you move from one assignment to the next.
In the end, if you feel unsure or your gut says no, trust it. Do not skimp on housing costs if you will feel unsafe, and do not send money to unverified strangers. Keep an eye out for red flags, and reach out to other travelers to help find safe, reliable housing.
Alex McCoy currently works as a pediatric travel nurse. She has a passion for health and fitness, which led her to start Fit Travel Life in 2016. She travels with her husband, their cat, Autumn and their dog, Summer. She enjoys hiking, lifting weights, and trying the best local coffee and wine.
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