What is a Travel Nurse? Everything You Need to Know

13 Min Read Published November 8, 2023
Mountains and lake looking out airplane window

The world of nursing is not confined to traditional hospital settings. For those seeking excitement, flexibility, and diversity in their nursing careers, travel nursing presents a unique and rewarding opportunity.

This guide will discuss travel nurse requirements, essential steps, qualities, and perks of becoming a travel nurse, offering valuable insights into this exhilarating profession.

Popular Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Programs

Sponsored
Grand Canyon University

GCU's College of Nursing and Health Care Professions has a nearly 35-year tradition of preparing students to fill evolving healthcare roles as highly qualified professionals. GCU offers a full spectrum of nursing degrees, from a pre-licensure BSN degree to a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Purdue Global

At Purdue Global, discover a faster, more affordable way to earn your Nursing degree. Purdue Global is committed to keeping your tuition costs as low as possible and helping you find the most efficient path to your degree.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, but certain programs have state restrictions. Check with Purdue for details.

Western Governors University

WGU's award-winning online programs are created to help you succeed while graduating faster and with less debt. WGU is a CCNE accredited, nonprofit university offering nursing bachelor's and master's degrees.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Georgetown University
Nursing@Georgetown delivers Georgetown University’s MS in Nursing program online, preparing RNs with a BSN to pursue certification in an APRN specialty. Students can earn their degree in as few as 19 months.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, excluding NY and WA.

How to Become a Travel Nurse

Want to learn how to become a travel nurse? The first step is obtaining the necessary education and licensure.

Aspiring nurses can choose to pursue an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from an accredited institution. Opting for a BSN opens doors to a broader range of job prospects, including prestigious healthcare systems and trauma centers.

After completing their nursing education, nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to obtain their state nursing license, laying the foundation for their travel nursing journey.

As a travel nurse, certain certifications are commonly required and highly recommended to ensure the nurse’s readiness to handle various clinical situations and emergencies. The two critical certifications that travel nurses typically need are:

  1. Basic Life Support (BLS): BLS certification by the American Heart Association is a fundamental requirement for all healthcare professionals. BLS training equips nurses with the skills to recognize and respond to life threatening emergencies such as cardiac arrest, choking, and respiratory distress.

  2. Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS): ACLS certification by the American Heart Association is essential for nurses working in settings where they may encounter patients with cardiac issues or in critical care situations. ACLS skills build upon BLS skills and provide additional knowledge and techniques to manage cardiac arrest, stroke and other cardiovascular emergencies. 

Depending on your specialty and the requirements from the facility you wish to travel to, other certifications such as PALS, NRP, and Stable may be required, so be sure to ask your recruiter before applying to travel nursing positions. Additionally, it's important for nurses to keep their certifications up to date, as they typically require renewal every few years.

>> Related: What do Travel Nurses Do?

The most important element to becoming a travel nurse is experience. Most travel agencies and hospitals require nurses to have a minimum of two years of nursing experience prior to applying for travel nursing contracts.

>> Click here to see available high-paying travel nurse opportunities!

Travel nurses frequently move between states, requiring them to research and understand each state's licensing requirements. Some states offer temporary "walk-through" licenses, enabling nurses to obtain short-term licenses swiftly. Familiarity with individual state licensing procedures and timelines is crucial for successful travel assignments.

Compact state licensure for travel nurses is a game-changer in the healthcare industry, streamlining the licensing process and making it easier for nurses to practice across state lines. By participating in the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC), qualified nurses can hold a single multi-state license, granting them the privilege to work in any other NLC state without the need for additional licenses. 

This simplification not only reduces bureaucratic barriers but also addresses the growing demand for healthcare professionals in various regions. Travel nurses can now embark on new assignments swiftly, providing crucial medical support where it's needed most, and ultimately enhancing patient care across the nation.

Key Attributes of a Travel Nurse

Effective travel nurses possess a unique set of qualities that enable them to excel in diverse healthcare settings. These attributes include:

  • Adaptability and flexibility: The ability to quickly adjust to new environments and handle various patient populations and healthcare systems

  • Strong communication skills: Effective communication is essential for collaborating with different healthcare teams, patients, and families

  • Problem-solving and critical thinking: Travel nurses encounter new challenges regularly, necessitating strong problem-solving skills and critical-thinking abilities

  • Compassion and empathy: A genuine love for patient care and empathy are vital in providing exceptional nursing services as a travel nurse.

  • Leadership abilities: Travel nurses should be comfortable assuming leadership roles when needed and confidently handling responsibilities

  • Love for adventure: A spirit of adventure and a curiosity to explore new places and cultures is essential.

>> Click here to see available high-paying travel nurse opportunities!

Benefits of Travel Nursing

Apart from competitive pay, travel nurses often enjoy an array of benefits:

  • Non-taxed stipends: Additional stipends for housing and living expenses on top of hourly rates if you qualify

  • Healthcare insurance: Comprehensive medical, dental, and vision coverage.

  • Retirement plans: 401K investment options for long-term financial planning

  • Bonuses: Sign-on, completion, and referral bonuses as incentives

  • Continuing education: Access to free courses for continuous professional development

  • License reimbursement: Support for renewing and maintaining licenses

  • Reliable pay: Weekly or bi-weekly pay schedules

  • Tax advantage plans: Tax-saving options for travel-related expenses

  • Insurance coverage: Coverage for life, liability, disability, and worker's compensation

  • Travel reimbursement to and from your assignment

Support: 24/7 support from the staffing agency. 

Travel Nurse Salary

The compensation for travel nurses varies significantly based on location, specialty, experience, and the chosen agency ZipRecruiter.com reports the national average for travel nurses is $118,400 per year.  While the pandemic and nursing shortage temporarily drove higher wages due to increased demand, these exceptional rates have not since been sustained post-pandemic. 

​​Travel Nurse Salary by State

State

Mean Annual

 

Avg Hourly

Alabama

$101,202

 

$48.66

Alaska

$119,051

 

$57.24

Arizona

$119,755

 

$57.57

Arkansas

$94,152

 

$45.27

California

$140,008

 

$67.31

Colorado

$107,874

 

$51.86

Connecticut

$115,057

 

$55.32

Delaware

$108,337

 

$52.09

Florida

$101,095

 

$48.60

Georgia

$117,722

 

$56.60

Hawaii

$121,275

 

$58.31

Idaho

$121,246

 

$58.29

Illinois

$111,986

 

$53.84

Indiana

$119,793

 

$57.59

Iowa

$116,089

 

$55.81

Kansas

$102,847

 

$49.45

Kentucky

$95,710

 

$46.01

Louisiana

$100,376

 

$48.26

Maine

$127,123

 

$61.12

Maryland

$109,949

 

$52.86

Massachusetts

$126,115

 

$60.63

Michigan

$103,209

 

$49.62

Minnesota

$120,385

 

$57.88

Mississippi 

$106,982

 

$51.43

Missouri

$102,593

 

$49.32

Montana

$114,891

 

$55.24

Nebraska

$99,763

 

$47.96

Nevada

$125,873

 

$60.52

New Hampshire

$118,773

 

$57.10

New Jersey

$124,510

 

$59.86

New Mexico

$112,506

 

$54.09

New York

$141,893

 

$68.22

North Carolina

$95,073

 

$45.71

North Dakota

$115,696

 

$55.62

Ohio

$111,972

 

$53.83

Oklahoma

$104,600

 

$50.29

Oregon

$122,756

 

$59.02

Pennsylvania

$118,694

 

$57.06

Rhode Island

$115,949

 

$55.75

South Carolina

$104,127

 

$50.06

South Dakota

$115,784

 

$55.67

Tennessee

$109,597

 

$52.69

Texas

$102,697

 

$49.37

Utah

$109,535

 

$52.66

Virginia

$110,096

 

$52.93

Vermont

$127,957

 

$61.52

Washington

$123,943

 

$59.59

West Virginia

$102,274

 

$49.17

Wisconsin

$124,244

 

$59.73

Wyoming

$121,026

 

$58.19

Source: ZipRecruiter

Wages for travel nurses involve more than a straight hourly rate. They can receive non-taxed stipends for travel nurse housing and living expenses. Stipends are paid on top of the nurse’s hourly rate.  Other benefits for travel nurses, depending on the staffing agency,  include, 

  • Medical, dental, and vision insurance
  • 401K investment options
  • Sign-on, completion, and referral bonuses
  • Free continuing education courses
  • License Reimbursement 
  • Weekly/Bi-weekly Pay
  • Tax Advantage Plan
  • Life Insurance
  • Liability Insurance, Disability Insurance, and Worker’s Compensation
  • 24/7 Support

Additionally, you can increase your travel nurse salary through specialization or advancing your education. The average travel nurse practitioner salary is significantly higher than that of travel RNs.

What Are The Best Travel Nurse Agencies and How Do You Pick One?

Your travel nurse company and recruiter can make or break your experience, so this question should not be taken lightly. 

When you’re starting your travel nurse journey, one of the first steps you need to take is finding a travel nurse company and recruiter. This process might feel overwhelming because there are so many options out there. How do you know if you’ve found a good travel nurse company and a recruiter who has your best interest at heart?

When looking into travel nurse agencies, you should first make sure that they have these non-negotiables:

  • A dedicated housing department of experts to help you find housing or do they give you a stipend to find your own housing
  • Day 1 health, dental and vision insurance, and premium cost
  • 401K that you can start contributing to immediately
  • Travel reimbursement
  • 24-hour customer support. Make sure to choose one with a clinical department that is available as a resource for you. 
  • Have a variety and abundance of travel nursing jobs all over the country for your specialty.

Make sure to ask if they are Joint Commission credentialed. Agencies that obtain this certification must complete a strict qualification process, and it helps ensure that the company is upheld to the highest standards in the industry.

What to Look Out for When Working With Travel Nurse Recruiters

Travel nurse recruiters play a vital role in connecting nurses with suitable assignments. A skilled and honest recruiter advocates for the nurse's best interests, secures desirable contracts, and provides transparent and accurate information in a timely manner. 

Conversely, nurses should be cautious of unprofessional recruiters who submit them to assignments without consent or make false promises. In many cases, travel nurses build long-time friendships with their recruiters! You want to find a recruiter with whom you can connect quickly and establish a bond. They should be someone who helps put your mind at ease, has your back, and actively listens to what you want instead of pushing their agenda.

Don’t be scared to interview recruiters to find the right one. Working with a recruiter whose personality, values, and humor complement yours will make your travel nurse experience even more worthwhile.

We encourage you to work with travel nurse recruiters who have been vetted and highly recommended by fellow travel nurses or with our trusted partner, travelnursing.org.

Certifications for Travel Nurses

While there are no specific national nursing certifications for a Travel Nurse, having advanced RN certifications can make an individual look more desirable to hospitals. There are a plethora of nationally recognized certifications including, 

The most common certifications for travel nurses are,

What Are the CEU Requirements for Travel Nurses?

Continuing education is essential for all registered nurses, including travel nurses, to maintain their active licenses. Each state has specific continuing education requirements that nurses must fulfill to remain compliant.

Examples of continuing education requirements for RNs are as follows: 

Some states do not require CEUs to maintain an RN license. Examples include Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Maine, and Maryland. Several states also require HIV/AIDS education such as New York, Minnesota, and Kentucky. It is important for nurses to check their state’s RN credentialing body for exact CEU requirements. 

Nurse.org has a comprehensive list of CEUs by state for RNs here.

Brandy Pinkerton's Journey to Becoming a Travel Nurse

Brandy Pinkerton shared with us why she decided to become a travel nurse and what her journey was like.

Why did I decide to become a travel nurse? I was burned out in my staff job and needed to renew my passion for nursing. After finding a great company and a trustworthy recruiter, I embarked on my first assignment solo with my two doggies in tow and never looked back! 

Since pursuing a career as a travel nurse and completing over 15 assignments, I’ve had adventures in Florida, Colorado, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas, and Montana. Becoming a travel nurse was the best decision I could have made for myself! While I’m grateful I made the decision to become a travel nurse, I also know that there are a lot of logistics involved in getting started. I’ll tell you all there is to know about travel nursing, so that you can feel prepared to take the leap into this exciting, rewarding profession!

Here are a few things travel nursing has given me:

  • A better compensation package with benefits. Because of this, I could pay most of my debt, and I no longer had to work two jobs. 
  • More time off and flexibility with my schedule. You can imagine all the wonderful things that can happen when you have more time back.
  • Experiences that I would never usually get to have. Through these experiences, I discovered what I like and some new hobbies.
  • Less burnout – this is HUGE!
  • New relationships and friendships all over the U.S.
  • More confidence. I have grown both professionally & personally.
  • The ability to build my resume. I’ve been able to try out so many hospitals and have great takeaways from them. Who knows? There are some I may go back to one day.

Final Thoughts on Travel Nursing

Becoming a travel nurse is a thrilling journey that promises adventure, personal growth, and unique experiences. From education and licensure to acquiring experience and embracing essential attributes, travel nurses embark on a profession that combines professionalism with exploration. With competitive salaries, a range of benefits, and the potential to make a meaningful impact on patients across various locations, travel nursing offers a gratifying and fulfilling career path like no other! 

Popular Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Programs

Sponsored
Grand Canyon University

GCU's College of Nursing and Health Care Professions has a nearly 35-year tradition of preparing students to fill evolving healthcare roles as highly qualified professionals. GCU offers a full spectrum of nursing degrees, from a pre-licensure BSN degree to a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Purdue Global

At Purdue Global, discover a faster, more affordable way to earn your Nursing degree. Purdue Global is committed to keeping your tuition costs as low as possible and helping you find the most efficient path to your degree.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, but certain programs have state restrictions. Check with Purdue for details.

Western Governors University

WGU's award-winning online programs are created to help you succeed while graduating faster and with less debt. WGU is a CCNE accredited, nonprofit university offering nursing bachelor's and master's degrees.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Georgetown University
Nursing@Georgetown delivers Georgetown University’s MS in Nursing program online, preparing RNs with a BSN to pursue certification in an APRN specialty. Students can earn their degree in as few as 19 months.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, excluding NY and WA.

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Kathleen Gaines
MSN, RN, BA, CBC
Kathleen Gaines
News and Education Editor

Kathleen Gaines (nee Colduvell) is a nationally published writer turned Pediatric ICU nurse from Philadelphia with over 13 years of ICU experience. She has an extensive ICU background having formerly worked in the CICU and NICU at several major hospitals in the Philadelphia region. After earning her MSN in Education from Loyola University of New Orleans, she currently also teaches for several prominent Universities making sure the next generation is ready for the bedside. As a certified breastfeeding counselor and trauma certified nurse, she is always ready for the next nursing challenge.

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