One of the most talked about benefits in the travel nursing industry is the salary. In addition to the benefits of traveling the country, your travel nurse compensation package will likely have a higher average annual salary than those of your full-time peers in permanent positions. Pay rates of travel nursing jobs fluctuate depending on the destination and staffing needs, but travel nurses typically receive higher salaries and unique benefit packages when compared to staff nurses. Travel nurse salaries vary and we will break down salary and benefits for you below.
What is the Average Travel Nurse Salary?
According to Zip Recruiter, (as of February 2023), the average travel nurse salary in the United States is $105,818 per year, and approximately $50.87 an hour, $2,034/week, or $8,818/month. Travel RN salaries currently range between $80,000 to $127,500, with top earners making $150,500 annually across the United States with various travel nurse agencies.
Cities with the highest average annual salary (ranging from $127,092 to $121,520) include San Jose, CA, Jackson, WY, Oakland, CA, Vallejo, CA, Hayward, CA, Seattle, WA, Truckee, CA, Santa Barbara, CA, Sunnyvale, CA, and Vail, CO.
The remainder of your salary will be in stipends, which are tax-free if you travel away from your tax home. Sometimes bonuses are also offered after completing a contract, but be aware that these bonuses are taxable. If you work several bonus-eligible contracts a year these taxes can add up.
Your staffing agency will likely provide several types of stipends in travel nursing salaries, which are tax-free, enabling you to keep more of what you make and increase your travel nurse salary.
Average Travel Nursing Benefits
Travel nurse pay packages include benefits packages in the form of tax-free stipends. This results in higher travel RN salaries.
Common stipends for travel nurse jobs include housing, travel, food, and sometimes “incidentals” stipends. Many agencies provide free housing for travel nurses or a weekly housing stipend. If you receive the housing stipend and your rent is less than the stipend, then you can pocket the extra money.
To qualify for tax benefits as a travel nurse, you need to keep your “tax home.” This is usually your permanent address, away from your travel nurse jobs.
Travel nurses can receive medical, dental, and vision benefits from their staffing agency. Many travel nurse staffing agencies also match retirement fund contributions when they hire travel nurses.
Many travel nurse jobs also cover nursing licensure, continuing education, and travel reimbursements. Ask about guaranteed hours, pay, and potential for overtime as well. During low census, guaranteed hours will protect you from cancelation and possible impact to your travel nurse salary.
Travel nurse wages ebb and flow during shortages and health crises. High demand for nurses leads to higher pay for travel nurses. Hospitals will offer higher travel nurse wages to attract travel nurses to fill gaps in staffing, especially during a real nursing shortage. Try to take advantage of higher rates whenever the opportunity arises, as hospitals' tendencies to hire travel nurses can fluctuate quite frequently. Healthcare facilities and agencies often offer sign-on and completion bonuses to entice travel nurses during nursing shortages as well.
Working extra shifts is another way to earn more money. Travel nurses often work holidays or pick up overtime to earn one-and-a-half to two times their hourly pay rate. Travel nurse agencies usually make more money when their travel nurses work overtime, so some may offer additional bonuses if you work a certain amount of overtime too.
Consider your salary as a whole travel nurse compensation package instead of just looking at your hourly wage. Travel nurses generally earn higher rates than staff nurses when stipends are considered.
Why Travel Nursing is a Great Choice
Travel nurses have the unique freedom to choose assignments based on the salary they will make and the locations that best interest them. Travelers enjoy the flexibility of working for a few weeks to several months, depending on the contract length, leaving more downtime to travel and take time off work.
Travel nurses also have the opportunity to work in various healthcare settings and gain experience with different patient populations and different specialties, which can help develop their skills and expertise.
Travel nurses come from all backgrounds, including, the intensive care unit, medical-surgical unit, labor and delivery, emergency nursing, operating room, neonatal intensive care, or even a certified registered nurse anesthetist. Travel nurse specialties often pay at different rates depending on the specialty. For example, an operating room nurse may get paid at a higher rate than a medical surgical nurse. Travel nursing jobs provide opportunities for nurses to network with other healthcare professionals in locations throughout the country and potentially lead to new job opportunities.
Working in temporary positions in travel nursing jobs also leads to less burnout. Travel nurses usually do not get caught up in hospital politics and move on to a new location before they have time to feel depleted and burnt out. Travel nurses tend to experience less work drama than staff nurses.
Travel nursing is a great choice for nurses with a sense of adventure who enjoy exploring new places and meeting new people. It allows nurses to explore new cities, regions, and even countries while getting paid and having their travel and accommodations covered.
Aside from the adventures of traveling and breaking the monotony, travel RN salaries can supercharge your earnings, making it an excellent opportunity for nurses willing to try it out. You will likely be making a higher average annual salary than your full-time, permanent nursing peers, and have a great time while doing it!
How Health Carousel Travel Nursing Can Help
Health Carousel Travel Nursing offers full circle support to help travel nurses further their careers and improve their quality of life. We offer comprehensive benefits packages and travel nurse housing when we hire travel nurses. Health Carousel Travel Nursing recruiters are well-versed in travel nursing salaries and benefits packages. HCTN has created an On Demand app and the Travel Nurse Academy to make it easy to see how much you could earn each week and to stay up to date on the latest nursing news. Download the app and create a profile to see weekly pay rates for all available jobs. Consider contacting one of our travel nurse recruiters to talk about your travel nurse salary and discover the travel nursing job of your dreams today.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much money do travel nurses make?
Travel nurses generally earn higher salaries than permanent nurses due to the short-term nature of their assignments. Healthcare systems often hire travel nurses due to high demand to fill in gaps in staffing. Travel nurse salaries vary depending on the location, specialty, and experience level of the travel nurse. An operating room registered nurse or intensive care unit nurse may get paid at higher rates than other travel nurse specialties. Rates will often be higher during a real nursing shortage. An average annual salary is often higher for a travel nurse than a staff nurse.
What are the challenges of travel nursing?
Travel nursing can be challenging due to the frequent travel required and need to adapt quickly to new healthcare settings. Travel nurses are always the new person on the unit and need to be confident and comfortable in that role. Travel nurses also need to be comfortable being away from their friends and family for extended periods as well, as being comfortable traveling and living alone.
How do you become a travel nurse?
Becoming a travel nurse requires the same path as any registered nurse. If you are looking to get into the travel nursing industry, this list will be helpful to you.
A step-by-step list may include the following:
- Obtain a nursing degree through an accredited nursing program
- Take the NCLEX
- Apply for a nursing license
- Obtain BLS and ACLS certification
- Choose a nursing specialty and get at least 2 years of experience
- Select a travel nursing agency like HCTN and complete an application
- Work with a recruiter to find a good fit for your first assignment and complete all onboarding paperwork.
Can nurse practitioners become travel nurses?
Healthcare systems will often hire a travel nurse practitioner to fill in for other practitioners on leave. A certified registered nurse anesthetist can earn an attractive nurse practitioner salary and experience a different hospital system. The average annual salary of a nurse practitioner who travels is higher than a staff nurse practitioner salary.