A woman on a journey

5 Things to Know About Being a Travel Nurse

  • One must understand the definition of “travel nursing” and its most important aspects
  • Examine the salary/pay of travel nursing and any required additional training
  • Analyze the benefits of being a travel nurse
Tracey Long

You may have heard from colleagues about being a travel nurse. You might have heard that travel nurses were making up to and beyond $200/hour during the COVID-19 pandemic, and you are ready to put that cash in your pocket!  Before you pack your bags and find your dog Fido another home, there are some essential things to know.


What is Travel Nursing?

A laptop in a health care setting

A “Travel Nurse” is a nurse who travels to a different location for a temporary work assignment. Most assignments are in the same nursing units offered in any acute care facility. Still, specialty assignments such as administration, long-term care, rehabilitation, and home health are also available. Most travel assignments are for registered nurses, but during COVID-19, LPNs were offered positions nationwide due to the nursing shortage and the need for more nurses everywhere. Even travel nurse assignments are open to nurse practitioners!

Allied healthcare professionals such as radiology technicians, pharmacists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists are also successfully entering the world of temporary professional travel assignments. Travel nursing is different than agency nursing. Whereas agency nursing is working for a company as a per diem nurse in the same city you live in, travel nursing is independently using an agency to create a contract of temporary work between you and the hiring employer in a different town.


What Does a Travel Nurse Need to Know?


The opportunities for being a travel nurse open a vibrant world of diverse work environments ranging from bustling urban hospitals to quiet rural clinics. Being a travel nurse can add new adventures, friendships, and personal and professional growth opportunities. Like any new position, there is a learning curve of nuances in this unique industry that you should know to have a successful experience.


Five things you should know if you want to be a travel nurse include the following essential bits of traveler wisdom:


1. Be Willing to Learn

Flexibility and adaptability become invaluable as each assignment introduces unique patient populations, charting systems, and facility protocols. Travel nurse contracts generally require at least two years of work experience, so this industry does not want to train a new nurse. The hiring hospital or employer expects you to be a competent nurse, mainly if you accept a critical care assignment. Like the anticipated increase in the pay scale for the essential units of care, travel nurse assignments that place a nurse in an acute care unit will pay the best, but you are expected to be familiar with critical care patients and skills. You will be expected to learn about a new hospital electronic health record, charting, the hierarchy of people, and the flow of a unit.

Travel nurses who do best are the ones who learn quickly and adapt without always saying, “Well, in MY hospital, we do it better.” Expect to see a different way of working on a unit and plan to learn from others as you contribute your solid skills. Remember, one of the benefits of being a travel nurse is learning and expanding your perspectives and skills. You may also want to be a travel nurse, so you don’t have to be involved in the usual work environment politics, but the reality is that politics are in every organization. You’ll have to learn how to navigate a new system and people. The essential pearl of wisdom is to choose to be flexible.


Emotional resilience is vital as travel nurses navigate the challenges associated with working in different environments; devising coping mechanisms to maintain their well-being and time management is an art, balancing work commitments with exploration of new locales and personal time.

2. Be Aware of State Licensing Requirements

Being a travel nurse means navigating licensing requirements across states necessitates careful preparation and knowledge of individual state mandates. Although the nursing compact affects more states yearly, each state still has unique requirements you must comply with. Don’t miss deadlines, and make sure your license is active before you travel to your new location, or you may not be allowed to work without an active license. Remember, even with a compact state, you must still pay their fees and possibly complete fingerprints repeatedly. In a perfect world, nurses would have just one national license, but until that state of nurse nirvana occurs, you’ll need to know and fulfill the requirements. Ignorance is not bliss but a barrier.

To learn more about the US Nurse Compact States, go to:


3. Be Flexible About Your Housing

Housing considerations add another complication for travel nurses, leading them to opt for temporary solutions such as furnished apartments or extended-stay hotels. Different travel agency companies may include housing assistance in their contract, but buyers, beware and ask specific questions about your housing, the location, the access to begin the rental, and amenities nearby. You’ll also have to consider transportation and whether you bring your car to your short-term assignment or if you can rely on public transport during your assignment. Decide if you want roommates or not. There are many advantages and disadvantages to that decision alone. Traveling and living in a recreational vehicle (RV) motor home is also available. For more information specific to an RV home, go to: https://www.hctravelnursing.com/blog/rv-travel-nursing

4. Be Smart About Your Finances

Financial acumen is essential; even though higher pay rates are tempting, they may become outweighed by travel and moving expenses and the responsibility to pay your taxes. Travel nurses need to budget effectively, including travel and living expenses. Plan to save for taxes not taken out of your check compared to when an employer does it for you. Many companies specialize in travel nursing that offers a variety of benefits, but not all provide the same. Compare travel nursing companies and make a comparison list before signing a contract with any one company. You should also pay for your professional insurance to cover you wherever you work.

5. Be Aware of the Details of Your Contracts

Contracts varying in duration, pay, and benefits must be reviewed thoroughly before signing. A typical contract is 13 weeks; however, hospitals may cancel the agreement or give you only limited work hours compared to the contract. Some travel nurses have even been canceled with only one day’s notice before their planned trip to move.

All travel nurse companies will be the broker between you and the short-term employer. Still, some offer living expenses, bonuses, housing, and even continuing education, but they are all different. Your new best friend is your recruiter, who will advocate for you in your new contract. Let them know what you are looking for and have an open dialog to work together. Learn more about the different companies in the professional travel market.

What Additional Training is Required?

Nurses and health care workers collaborating on patient care

You will be expected to be competent when you begin your assignment. Still, you may be able to receive additional training through your travel nurse agency and the hospital/employer you will be working with. For example, you may benefit if the hospital at your assignment offers employee training. Some agencies may also provide additional training and continuing education. Ask your agency before you sign the contract. Remember, different certifications and skills, such as fluency in a foreign language (especially medical Spanish), can increase your wage. To learn more about an online medical Spanish course, visit www.bridgesforhealth.org. Remember to update your resume of professional skills each time you have gained a new certification or clinical skill, including competency in different EHRs.


How Much Do Travel Nurses Make?

The financial realities of being a travel nurse

Compensation varies for a travel nurse, just like it does in your usual employment location. Wages vary based on the shift time and the unit you are working on. Night and weekend shifts and critical care units pay the best. Remember, an hourly wage is only one of the factors to consider when choosing a contract—quality of life matters. The city and state you work in may be worth a lower hourly wage because it offers you the lifestyle you’re hoping for. Generally, wages for a general registered travel nurse range from $45 to $200/hour and up to $4700/week!

The details of your skills and the type of nursing unit make the difference. Be aware that sometimes regular staff nurses may be less than enthusiastic to meet and help you on their unit when they know you are making a higher hourly rate than they are. It is important to note that those high hourly rates are not as standard anymore compared to the climax of the pandemic. Even if the hourly rate is the same as what you earned at your home employer, the adventure, networking, new skills, and experience may still be worth it.


What are the Benefits of Working as a Travel Nurse?

Most nurses focus only on the higher hourly wage, which is a worthy benefit. However, that should not be the only reason to begin an adventure as a travel nurse. You get the flexibility of choosing where and often when you work. Travel nurses have even brought their children or spouses along on travel assignments to the new city. Spouses who can work remotely and children who can do home school often enjoy the unique setting also. Gaining professional connections during assignments opens doors to future opportunities and provides vital insights into the healthcare environment.

Ironically, two human needs are polar opposite, which is the need for security and the need for adventure. Travel nursing may provide both. Traveling to new locations offers new adventures, with the protection of good wages. Expanding your horizons and exposure to different people helps strengthen your cultural competence and skills. To learn more about travel nursing and to attend an annual conference for travel nurses, visit https://travcon.org/


Your quest for adventure and travel may also extend to international travel assignments, including Canada and Australia! Medical missions are generally voluntary.  With an RN after your name and wanderlust as your middle name, the world opens up to you!


The Bottom Line

Travel nursing is a growing field with many happy nurses. As in any profession, learning more about this unique field will help you be better prepared to work successfully. Many resources are available to you, but you must research the contract, location, and travel style that best suits you. Being a nurse opens up the world to you! Start packing!