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Five Most Expensive Travel Nursing Destinations by Cost of Living

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Health Carousel Travel Nursing
October 5, 2022
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Travel nursing is a great way to get paid to see the country. But not all travel nursing destinations are created equal. Some locations are far more expensive than others, eating into your earnings and leaving you with less money to save or spend on leisure activities..   

If maximizing earnings as a travel nurse is one of your key priorities, you should pay extra attention to the location’s cost of living when choosing your next assignment. Whether you are searching for a new place that offers the most money per assignment or if the benefits of the travel assignment play a part in your decision-making process, looking at the highest-paying states across the country compared to their cost of living is essential. There was recently a study released detailing the most expensive travel nursing destinations by cost of living.*

You may automatically assume the most expensive state to live in is California. This assumption would be logical, especially if you read our recent post about the Top-5 highest paying states featuring the highest hourly mean rate for nurses. However, California is not number one on the list as the most expensive state to live in; instead, it comes in at number four. The following are the most expensive states to live in the United States., according to the cost of living index data:

Hawaii: 189.9

Washington, D.C.: 154.5

Massachusetts: 147.9

California: 139.8

New York: 136.8

These locations may be beautiful and exciting, but they have a high price tag. So, if you're looking to maximize your earnings, you may want to steer clear of these states.

Hawaii

With its sandy beaches and year-round sunshine, Hawaii is definitely worth considering for your next travel assignment. Hawaii, of course, blows away the rest regarding the high cost of living, but let’s be honest, paradise isn’t cheap. Housing costs are expensive in Hawaii. According to grassrootsinstitute.org, the median price for a single-family home is over one million dollars. Luckily, Hawaii does boast the second-largest average salary for nurses at $50-74 per hour (according to Medscape data). Considering the state’s cost of living rank, it almost has to. If you are a travel nurse looking for an assignment to beat the blues in the winter months along with great pay, you should consider going to Hawaii.

Washington, D.C.

Our nation's capital is another popular destination for travel nurses seeking exciting work assignments and great pay. However, the cost of living in Washington, D.C. can be pretty high, especially if you want to live close to the action downtown. Washington D.C. is extremely expensive, particularly if you hope to buy a house. According to Realtor.com, a renowned housing site, “the median price of homes currently listed in Washington is $630,000 while the median price of homes that sold is $624,000.”

Luckily, that data is irrelevant for travel nurses who may only be in Washington, D.C. for a 13-week assignment. Traveling nurses will have the luxury of using services like Airbnb or the resources of their travel nursing agency to secure good temporary housing at a competitive price. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Washington, D.C. stands on the higher side of average nursing pay, with an annual salary of $94,540.

Massachusetts

If you’re surprised to see Massachusetts on this list, so were we. But it turns out the New England state is pretty expensive, especially in and around the harbor town of Boston.  Bostonpads, an information and technology services company, states that the housing costs in Boston are 300% higher than the national average. This area of Massachusetts is also considered an education hub with access to many colleges and World-class universities. For those of you looking for natural beauty and a change in seasons, then a travel assignment to Massachusetts may be the best fit. 

California

It’s worth noting California comes in at No. 4, so it’s not like it’s an affordable destination. But considering nurses actually make the most in the West (average salary of $105,000, according to the Medscape Compensation Report), California suddenly becomes more attractive than it already is. Although the cost of living in California isn’t cheap, there is always a demand for travel nurses. Depending on your preferences, your travel assignment could be located close to the great outdoors or to one of the best cities in the southern part of the state. 

New York City

The Big Apple is notorious for being one of the most expensive places to live in the United States. If you're a travel nurse working in New York City, you can expect to pay high prices for basic necessities like food and housing. According to the New York State Association of Realtors, “The median sales price of homes across New York state escalated 3.8 percent in August, from $390,000 in 2021 to $405,000 in 2022. This marks 28 consecutive months in year-over-year comparisons that median sales prices have increased”—a reason for New York’s presence on this list of the top five most expensive destinations. 

Realtor.com states New York is one of the most expensive places to live, with a cost of living more than 100% higher than the average in other major U.S. cities. Currently, the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment is over two times the national average at $4,200 per month, making New York City one of the most expensive cities to take a travel nurse assignment. However, this may not be as big of an issue for those nurses who take shorter assignments and use their travel nursing agencies’ housing stipends to help secure temporary housing. 

Expenses to Consider as a Travel Nurse

Keep in mind, travel nurses can still come out ahead even if they work in one of these states. Using company per diems for housing and selecting trusted affordable housing services, travel nurses have the luxury of higher pay without the steep financial commitments of purchasing permanent housing. Any traveling RN’s compensation package will depend on more than location – specialty area, shifts worked, and facility types all play a role. However, as the Medscape data illustrates, traveling nurses, on average, make more than their full-time peers across the board.

Before you accept your next travel assignment it is also a good idea to check with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and review the Nurse Licensure Compact. Under the NLC, nurses can practice in other NLC states without having to obtain additional licenses. This can help nurses keep licensure costs at bay.  

If you're considering a career in travel nursing, be aware that not all destinations are created equal. Some states and cities have a higher cost of living than others, which can affect your travel nursing salary. Before accepting a job in one of these five most expensive travel nursing destinations, make sure you are prepared for the high costs of living. With proper planning and budgeting, you can still enjoy everything these amazing places have to offer!

* The above cost of living index data comes from the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC) second-quarter report.Note: Cost of Living Index measures the cost of services and consumer goods in an area relative to the rest of the country. The average for the entire U.S. is 100 and the Cost of Living Index is read as a percentage of that average.

Author Bio

Miranda Edwards, DNP, CRNA

Miranda is a practicing CRNA with almost 20 years experience in nursing. Miranda aspires to produce health and medical content for both businesses and consumers that is relevant and relatable.

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Interested in how the pay stacks up in other states not on this list? Our trusty Super Nurse sidekicks are standing by to answer any questions you have. Click below to get information on opportunities in other states!

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