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Getting paid for traveling: Nurses embracing van life bank up to $20,000 a month

Travel nurse couple: Van life helps us save up to $20,000 a month
Travel nurse couple: Van life helps us save up to $20,000 a month

After working a 12-hour shift as nurses at the hospital, married couple Meg and Ty DeWitt go home to their van, where they live full time. After a three-day workweek, Ty, 33, and Meg, 28, hit the road in their van to explore surrounding areas.

In the past, that's meant hiking in Glacier National Park in Montana, camping in Sedona, Arizona, or taking a road trip along the Oregon Coast. As travel nurses, the DeWitts, who are from South Carolina, work short-term contracts at hospitals with staffing shortages around the country.

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"Getting to travel the country and see what every state has to offer as far as adventure goes, and getting paid to do it … is why I wanted to become a travel nurse," says Ty.

The DeWitts took up van life in 2019 to travel more efficiently and save as much money as possible to meet their long-term financial goals. Now the couple is able to put away up to about $20,000 per month.

Meg and Ty DeWitt moved into a van in 2019, to save money while working as travel nurses.
Photo by Meg and Ty DeWitt

Moving into a van

Meg and Ty met by chance, because of their jobs. In 2017, they were both working night shift as staff nurses at separate hospitals in Charleston, South Carolina. One day, they crossed paths at the beach after work. "There were two people on the beach wearing scrubs," Ty says. "You don't usually see that, at that time in the morning. So yeah, we just kind of hit it off."

The couple married in April 2020. They bond over their shared love of adventure. "Every free day, we would just plan mini-trips and even just traveling locally," says Meg.

That led the DeWitts to quit their staff jobs and become travel nurses in 2019. They have completed seven short-term contracts so far, each time working together at the same hospital.

"It's not uncommon for one unit to have two positions open," Meg says. "So we might have to wait a little bit longer and do a little bit more of a search to get two positions. But it is definitely possible."

The DeWitts eloped in April 2020 while working a travel nurse assignment in Arizona.
Photo by Chasing Sunsets Photo and Film @ChasingSunsetsLLC

After working two three-month contracts in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Auburn, Washington, the DeWitts felt burned out from moving around. They had only two weeks to find housing before starting a new assignment.

"Before we got the van, there were a couple of times where we were driving into the city still making calls to people, trying to find a place to stay," Ty says.  

Meg adds, "So then you have to move all your stuff into the hotel or the Airbnb until your permanent space is, you know, ready for you to move in."

Meg had been "in love with van life" for years, so she pitched the idea to Ty, who didn't need much convincing. The couple bought a former FedEx van in September 2019 for $26,000. They traded in their old Honda Civic, which got them about $2,000.

The van came completely empty. Aside from hiring someone to take care of its electricity needs, the pair renovated it themselves for about $4,000.

The DeWitts purchased a former FedEx van for about $26,000 and renovated it themselves, for about $4,000.
Photo by Meg and Ty DeWitt

Travel nurses typically earn $2,000 to $5,000 a week

The van has allowed Meg and Ty to save a lot more of their travel nurse earnings. Travel nurses are generally paid more than staff nurses, as incentive for uprooting their lives and moving, temporarily, to a new location.

As staff nurses, the DeWitts each earned about $700 per week. As travel nurses, they have each earned up to about $2,900 per week.

The DeWitts have avoided extremely high-paying crisis contracts, in order to preserve their mental health. "The most money that we've seen nurses making since the pandemic started was $10,000 a week, and we knew nurses personally, that did it," Meg says. "They said that it was pretty unsafe staffing conditions. They saw death every single day, all day."

The DeWitts took up van life in 2019, to travel more efficiently and save as much money as possible to meet their long-term financial goals.
Photo by Meg and Ty DeWitt

Travel nurses typically earn anywhere from $2,000/week to more than $5,000/week, according to April Hansen, an executive vice president at travel nurse agency Aya Healthcare and former travel nurse.

That rate includes a tax-free stipend for food and housing. Average pay for registered nurses in the U.S. ranges from about $1,000/week to about $1,500/week, according to ZipRecruiter data.

During the pandemic, soaring demand for travel nurses has pushed up wages. Demand for travel nurses jumped about 105% in 2021, according to data from Aya Healthcare, which attributes that rise to the pandemic, hospitals opening operating rooms, and workers retiring or leaving the workforce due to burnout.

The DeWitts quit their staff nurse jobs to become travel nurses, who generally earn higher wages.
Courtesy Meg and Ty DeWitt

'Saving a lot of money doing van life'

"We actually have been saving a lot of money doing van life," Ty says. "Comparatively, you're spending $400 a month on a car payment to the $1,400 a month you're spending on rent."

The DeWitts are able to save up to about $20,000 a month by living in their van, while each earning about $2,900 a week. A lot of that savings comes from reducing housing costs while working and traveling.   

The couple spends $430 per month paying off the loan they took out to purchase the van, which they say they've almost paid off. They spend $400 to $650 each month to rent a space to park the van, too, whether that's at a campsite or outside someone's home.

The DeWitts save money on hotel or Airbnb costs when traveling to a new assignment or on their days off. "Having the van, we're able to check apps on our phone and find free places to stay in the area," Meg says.

The DeWitts save up to about $20,000 per month by living in their van.
Graphic by Euralis Weekes

The couple spends less on food, now that they have a full kitchen with them at all times. Instead of eating out, "we're able to actually pull over anywhere on the side of the road and cook a full dinner, lunch," Meg says.

Monthly gas costs come out to about $200 to $400, depending on how much they're traveling. To make sure they have access to showers wherever they go, the couple pays $20 a month for a Planet Fitness membership.

The DeWitts pay $300 per month toward the loan for their second vehicle, which they drive alongside the van when they are traveling, in case of emergencies.

The DeWitts have paid off all their credit card debt and made good progress on their student debt and van loan.
Graphic by Euralis Weekes

With the money they've saved, Ty has paid off his credit card debt, while Meg has nearly paid off her student loans. In the not-too-distant future, the DeWitts plan to invest more and eventually create more income streams.

"Our major financial goal that we're working towards is just banking as much money as possible, so that we can buy a large piece of land somewhere, and hopefully build maybe a tiny home or multiple tiny homes, and have passive income through Airbnb or campsites," Ty says.

"We even talk about doing classes for camping or outdoor adventure excursions — something along those lines, just to have a different source of income."

Saving money doing van life is allowing the DeWitts to save up for their long-term financial goals, such as building tiny homes on a plot of land.
Photo by Meg and Ty DeWitt

'I will forever be a better person because of this experience'

The DeWitts have had their fair share of unexpected challenges, navigating travel nursing and van life.

"Nothing's ever going to go as planned," Meg says. "As a travel nurse, your start date is going to get pushed back. You're always going to have an issue — you know, with the hospital or with your contract. Just, unexpected things happen. With van life, you're always having something break. You're always having to constantly learn new skills."

She adds, "Especially when we're traveling, we don't know where we're going to sleep that night. So you just kind of have to roll with the day and kind of take it as it comes. So I think I will forever be a better person because of this experience."

The article "Getting Paid for Traveling: Nurses Embracing Van Life Bank up to $20,000 a Month″ was originally published on Grow (CNBC + Acorns).

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