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Hawaii Travel Nursing & Therapy: The Ultimate Guide

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Hawaii is an island paradise. For some people, it can be the dream travel assignment. For others, it may be better left as a dream vacation. Taking a Hawaii travel nursing or therapy assignment is not as simple as hopping in your car and driving to your next job. It takes planning, money, and the right personality fit to enjoy a travel assignment in Hawaii.

I’ve been a traveling therapist for 13 years to date and spent 7 of those years based in Hawaii. I’ve had the pleasure of working as a traveler, working permanently, and working PRN at multiple hospitals across Oahu and Hawaii Island (The Big Island). Hawaii will always hold a special place in my heart and I think it’s generally a “must-do” for most healthcare travelers. My favorite assignments were in Hawaii and I’ve met some incredible traveling friends there.

After years of working across multiple islands in Hawaii, I formulated the ultimate guide to help you on your journey to Hawaii.

Related: How to Find Housing for Your Hawaii Travel Assignment

a women looking at Akaka waterfalls in Hawaii
Akaka Falls in The Big Island

Know the Hawaiian History & Respect The Land

Anywhere you work and live as a healthcare traveler, you are a guest in somebody else’s community and land. As a healthcare provider, you provide needed services to the community with respect to the culture and norms of that community. This is of the utmost importance in Hawaii. Hawaii, the 50th state in the United States, was an independent sovereign nation until 1893 when the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarch happened by the United States and later annexed Hawaii as part of the U.S. in 1898. 

During the time that the United States was colonizing Hawaii, germs, and diseases were killing Native Hawaiians. The government was also oppressing the teaching of Hawaiian culture. 

As a haole (meaning foreigner to Hawaii), I don’t feel comfortable sharing the history and culture of Hawaii in depth. But I do feel comfortable sharing and warning all travelers who want to work there, that if you go to Hawaii, go with respect for the people and the land. Don’t feel entitled to expect things you may easily get on the mainland, even in the major hospitals. When you’re adventuring, leave the land and sea as you found it.

Determine Which Island You Want to Work On

There are 5 Hawaiian islands that staff travel nurses, therapists, and allied health professionals

  • Oahu (This is where Honolulu is)
  • Kauai
  • Maui
  • Molokai
  • Hawaii (also called The Big Island)

Each island has a unique vibe, community, and feeling. All of the islands have wonderful outdoor adventures. Hiking, surfing, snorkeling, diving, and waterfalls are abundant on all islands. 

You may want to take a travel nurse or therapy assignment on Oahu if:

  • You like the city life.
  • Walking, taking public transit, or biking to work is important to you.
  • You’re a night owl and want to go out to places after 9 p.m. (yes, the other islands can be pretty sleepy).
  • Being close to world-class shopping and stores is important.
  • You want to work in a trauma center – Queens Medical Center, on Oahu, is the only level 1 trauma center in Hawaii.

Consider an assignment on Kauai if:

  • You’re ready to take things very slowly and want a more rural vibe.
  • Rain doesn’t bother you.
  • You like working in critical access hospitals.

A travel nursing assignment on Molokai may be for you if:

  • You really want to be off of the grid – like really off the grid.
  • Critical access is your jam.
  • You’re okay taking a ferry to Maui to go to Costco and other major stores.

Consider a travel nursing or therapy assignment on Maui if:

  • You’re ready to pay premium housing prices.
  • You don’t want the city life, but you don’t want to be totally rural either.

You may like working on Hawaii (The Big Island) if:

  • You like a more rural feeling.
  • Having a community of travelers is important to you. Hilo Medical Center is almost always 50% staffed with travelers and they tend to form good communities there.
  • You want to see active volcanoes.

Pack Your Bags, But Don’t Overpack

When you go to Hawaii, chances are you will be flying there. This is going to greatly limit the amount of stuff that you bring with you. Do not fret and please, do not overpack. 

You do not need much stuff in Hawaii. It is an extremely minimalistic culture. And, it’s hot all year long, so you don’t need much more than shorts and tanks or tees to wear on your days off. 

At the most, pack 2 bags to bring with you as checked luggage. Houses and apartments in Hawaii are much smaller than what you’re probably used to, so even if you bring a lot of stuff, you may be disappointed that you don’t have any place to put it. There are tons of furnished rentals, so you’ll probably find that all of the home goods you need are already in your unit.

Don’t forget to pack:

  • A couple of pairs of scrubs and work shoes
  • Athleisure clothes – basically the uniform of Hawaii when you’re not working
  • Some sandals (called “slippers” in Hawaii)
  • Toiletries
  • Bathing suits
  • Your computer/tech gear

Should I Bring a Car to My Hawaii Travel Nursing or Therapy Job?

The simple answer to this is no, not for a 3-month assignment. If you know you’ll be there for 6 months or more, you may consider it. It’s very expensive to ship a car to Hawaii and fairly easy to rent a car while you are there. There are a lot of locals who rent cars to travel nurses and healthcare professionals. You can seek out recommendations for local car rentals from travel nursing Facebook forums or group chats like Travel Nurse Takeover or MedVenture.

You can also buy a used car or moped off of Facebook Marketplace and sell it when you leave. Used cars and mopeds tend to maintain their same value and don’t depreciate. So, you may buy a car for $3,000, put 500 miles on it, and then sell it for the same price (or even more!) when you leave.

If you want to ship a car, you can ship it directly through Mattson or Pasha, or indirectly through a broker who will put your car on a Mattson or Pasha boat. If you can drop your car off at one of the West Coast Mattson or Pasha ports, it’s cost-effective to book directly through the cargo boats. A one-way ticket from the West Coast to Hawaii is on average $1,000. I’ve seen fares for more or less depending on the time of year. If you need to have your car transported from another location to the port, then you may want to consider booking through a broker.

If you’re working on Oahu, you may not even need a car. Many of the hospitals in Honolulu are public transit-friendly. You can always rent a car or bum a ride from co-workers to explore on your days off. 

Can I Bring My Pet to Hawaii?

a dog standing on the beach in Hawaii
My dog living his best life in Hawaii

Hawaii is rabies-free. Thus, any animal that is coming to the state must also be certified rabies-free. This means that bringing your pet to Hawaii is more challenging than any other state. 

So yes, you can bring a pet. 

However, that pet must complete a series of rabies titers over a 3-month period prior to coming to Hawaii and have the proper paperwork to show that they are rabies-free. If they don’t have that, they have to live in a quarantine center by the airport for 3 months until they are deemed rabies-free. 

All of the information that you need to know about the pet quarantine is here on the Hawaii State website. If you want extra help with the quarantine and travel process, I recommend Island Pet Movers. I used them to help me move my dog from Hawaii to the mainland and they were excellent. They will also book your pet’s travel. If you have an XXL dog, like me, your pet may have to fly on a private cargo flight. Pets up to a certain size can fly in the cargo hold of commercial liners.

In my opinion, if you’re coming to Hawaii for 3 months, I would leave your pet at home with a trusted loved one. Aside from the travel being difficult and involving flying in cargo, Hawaii really isn’t a pet-friendly state. It’s hard to find pet-friendly housing, hiking trails, and parks. If you’re going for longer, or a permanent move, then I think it’s worth the time to go through the rabies titers and move.

The Price of Paradise

Speaking of the size of apartments and cars, let’s talk about “The Price of Paradise” which is a common term you may hear while working on a Hawaii travel nursing or therapy assignment. 

Hawaii is expensive. Period.

You aren’t going to find great deals on housing, cars, or food because you’re a travel nurse or travel therapist.

Meanwhile, the hospitals don’t pay that well. 

Meaning, you are likely going to be making less and spending more than you would be if you were working a job anywhere else on the mainland.

Do not come to work a Hawaii travel nursing job if you are just interested in money. This is not the assignment for you. If anything, you may want to have a nest egg saved up so you can take more side trips and adventures while you are in Hawaii. Once you’re there, you’ll find that you want to do everything, and excursions can be expensive. We’re talking about snorkeling boats, SCUBA certifications, helicopter rides, night dives with the manta rays, etc. 

Taking a Hawaii travel nurse or therapy assignment should be to slow down, relax, and enjoy the island life, NOT to earn the big bucks or save money.

Get Ready To Slow Down

picture of Diamond Head and the beach in Waikiki, Hawaii

Things move slower in Hawaii, and it’s not something to get upset about. 

If you’re at a red light and the light turns green and the car in front of you doesn’t move, you’ll notice nobody honking at that car. There’s not a rush to get places or do things. It’s island time.

Be prepared for hiccups that may seem like an inconvenience to you, but are a part of slowing down. Maybe your license will take a long time to process from the state. Or, you’ll get accepted to an assignment but it will take a while to process your onboarding. 

Things move at a slower pace.

Embrace it, slow down, and live the aloha lifestyle.

Did you read this and decide Hawaii is an assignment for you? 

If yes, then read on! I have plenty of tips on Hawaii travel nursing and therapy assignments:

2 thoughts on “Hawaii Travel Nursing & Therapy: The Ultimate Guide”

  1. I’m not a health care professional, but I still found lots of value in your post. I didn’t know about the aloha culture and the less is more approach to life. I remember visiting as a busy New Yorker and being frustrated at the slow pace. Haha! For me, Hawaii is a wondrous place to visit, but not somewhere where I’d live. Thanks for your tips!

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