A travel nurse's average base salary is typically higher than a staff nurse's. When looking for travel nursing jobs, some of the highest paying states may seem lucrative. However, you'll also need to consider housing and cost of living expenses, which can cut into your final take-home pay. Let's review some of the low-cost states for travel nurses and tips to evaluate your travel nurse salary versus cost of living.
What Is Travel Nursing & Why Is It So Popular?
Before diving into the lost cost state for travel nurses, let's discuss travel nursing and why it's become so popular. Travel nurses accept travel nursing jobs throughout the country, where there is a high demand for nurses. While they perform the same responsibilities as staff nurses and solidify patient care practices, they do not work for a particular hospital or healthcare system. They work for travel nurse companies. Travel nurses have the same specialties as staff nurses, ranging anywhere from pediatric to perioperative to the post-anesthesia care unit. They get to work in some of the country's highest- ranking medical centers.
While travel nursing jobs have been around for decades, travel nursing has become more popular over the past several years. This is because nurses are finding that traveling nurse jobs offer a higher average base pay or average base salary when compared to staff nurses. You can earn more money travel nursing. Who wouldn't want to earn more money travel nursing for the same job?
Evaluating the Cost of Living vs. Your Nurse Salary
A travel nurse salary is determined by many factors in a compensation package. Compensation packages can include average base pay, a housing stipend, and meal stipends. They can also include other items such as travel reimbursement, bonuses, and overtime pay. Due to the varied nature of a travel nurse’s average base pay rate, it can be challenging to definitively say where a travel nurse will make the most (or the least) money. The travel nurse’s experience, specialty, and the hiring unit’s level of need all play a part in determining a traveling nurse's take-home pay. For example, specialties such as the post-anesthesia care unit may get paid more than those on a medical-surgical unit. However, this does depend on the assignment location and demand at the time.
As a travel nurse, you must evaluate each of your traveling nurse jobs or assignments individually. While you may find a higher-paying assignment, it's important to consider the cost of living in the area. An area with a higher cost of living (many east coast travel nursing jobs) will eat into your expenses and net pay. You may find that even though the weekly pay is higher, your net pay is smaller. In some of the lowest-paying states, your take-home pay may be higher. Thus, it's important to estimate the cost of living when looking at your travel nurse salary.
Average Travel Nurse Salary
As mentioned, the average travel nursing salary depends on various factors. These factors include assignment location, specialty, experience level, and current demand. Also, take into account housing costs, cost of living expenses, and travel. Below we review some of the low-cost states for travel nurses to help increase your take-home pay.
CNBC used the Council for Community and Economic Research’s 2016 annual average Cost of Living Index to compile a list of the most expensive states in which to live. The determination was made based on common grocery costs, energy bills, doctor visits, and home prices and is, therefore, not overly scientific, but it gives a good indication of where a travel nurse might have more money going out than into their wallet.
Oklahoma is the fifth-cheapest state in the country based on CNBC’s analysis of the state’s average home price, common grocery prices, and energy costs. Working in Oklahoma can be low on a travel nurse’s list of desired destinations, which may work in your favor if maximizing pay is your main goal. There are many traveling nurse jobs available at top medical centers.
Travel nurses heading slightly southeast will find the fourth-cheapest state (if looking at the cost of living). You can secure an apartment for roughly $700 per month. This is roughly six times less than an apartment in Boston. Plus, an apartment in Boston will likely be much smaller due to urban living. And it will cost you half as much to heat or cool that space as it does in Boston!
Michigan is the third cheapest of all U.S. states when considering the cost of living. The University of Michigan Hospitals are some of the highest-ranking medical centers in the world. Detroit is making a comeback, and the Great Lakes are an excellent travel nurse destination. Gasoline, groceries, housing, and energy prices are all reasonable, ensuring the money you make stays in your pocket. Even better, Michigan is the 21st-best paying state in the country for nurses! The median hourly rate is more than $32 per hour. Michigan is the perfect combination of high pay and low cost of living for travel nurses.
The next least-expensive state in the country is Indiana. This Midwest state boasts modest home and energy prices, as well as inexpensive groceries. Great state parks and up-and-coming city life just might secure Indiana a spot on your travel destination list. The average travel nursing salary in Indiana is around $2,300 per week.
Mississippi is the cheapest state in the nation in which to live. The average home price is less than $200,000 (roughly a 10th of that in the most expensive state in the country). Unfortunately, it is also the third-lowest paying state for nurses, with a median hourly rate of less than $27. It might still make your list for its fascinating history and beautiful gulf beaches.
Nurses who travel have a myriad of motivations for their journey. While money isn’t everything, expenses do pop up, and those expenses are lower in some states than others. When deciding on your next travel nursing contract, consider the cost of living so you can make the most of your time.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which state pays best for travel nurses?
While east coast travel nursing offers decent pay, not every high-paying state is located on the east coast. Some of the highest-paying states for travel nurses include California, Massachusetts, Hawaii, and New York. For most travel nursing specialties, California is the most consistent, highest-paying state on the list. However, you'll also have to account for the cost of living expenses.
Where is the highest demand for traveling nurses?
The demand for travel nurses and travel nursing jobs follows where there are nursing shortages. Nursing shortages can vary on patient volume and acuity or depending on the time of year and season. For example, during influenza season, there will be a spike in travel nursing demand. Some of the consistently high travel nursing demand places are in larger metropolitan areas, such as Los Angeles and New York City.
What state do travel nurses pay taxes in?
Travel nurses will pay taxes in every state where they worked a traveling nurse job during the year and in their tax home state. Your tax home state is where you claim permanent residence. States where you do not pay state income taxes include Alaska, Nevada, Florida, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Texas, South Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming.
Is travel nursing worth it in 2023?
If you're looking to earn a higher income, while having the opportunity to travel, travel nursing is worth it. Travel nurses make a higher average base pay or average base salary than staff nurses, even for some of the lowest-paying states. Also, travel nurse companies, such as HCTN, offer their travel nurses many great benefits.
Learn More about Health Carousel Travel Nursing
Ready to nail down your next travel assignment in one of the cost-friendly states listed above?
Health Carousel Travel Nursing has many travel nursing jobs available! With our On Demand platform, you can search and apply for jobs easily. You can view your application status and quickly upload your nursing documents.
Health Carousel Travel Nursing also offers a variety of benefits to its travel nurses. If you aren't sure how to utilize or maximize your benefits, check out our full circle of support.