May 24, 2024

Ultimate Guide to Travel Nursing: Exploring a World of Opportunities

Learn more about how how to navigate contracts and agencies before starting as a travel nurse.

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Ultimate Guide to Travel Nursing: Exploring a World of Opportunities

Travel nurses are registered nurses who fill short-term positions that hospitals and clinics cannot hire locally. Unlike full-time staff nurses, travel nurses are often employed by staffing agencies, not the hospital or facility where they work.

Leaving a full-time nursing position to become a travel nurse is a big decision. But for the right person, travel nursing can be a rewarding career choice. As a travel nurse, you will serve communities that need you. Professionally, travel nursing can help you advance your career and increase your salary. And on a personal level, travel nursing offers the opportunity to explore the world and make lifelong friends.

This guide will include everything you need to become a travel nurse, including finding a job and finding housing. Take a deep breath, read on, and prepare for a life-changing adventure.

Looking for a remote nursing job? Check out HealthJob's Remote Nursing Job Board.

Everything You Need To Know About Travel Nurses

The need for travel nursing comes from a nationwide nursing shortage. The shortage stems from numerous reasons, including an education bottleneck, retiring nurses and an aging patient population. Not all states are equally impacted, however. 

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, California and Texas will be short 44,500 and 15,900 nurses by 2030. Florida and Ohio, on the other hand, will have nursing surpluses.

Experts say that travel nursing offers a unique opportunity to explore different cities, states, and even countries while working in healthcare.

When you become a travel nurse, you can expect to have a flexible schedule. You have the freedom to choose when and where you want to work. Travel nurses often receive higher pay rates compared to permanent staff due to the demand for their services in various locations.

One surprising aspect of travel nursing is that it allows you to gain diverse clinical experiences by working in different healthcare settings such as hospitals, clinics, or long-term care facilities.

As a newbie travel nurse, it's important to be adaptable and open-minded since each assignment may come with its own set of challenges and differences in protocols or procedures.

Experts suggest that newbies should research potential destinations thoroughly before accepting an assignment. Factors like cost of living, climate, safety, and proximity to family/friends should be considered. It's crucial for newbies to establish good communication with their staffing agency or recruiter. They will assist with finding suitable assignments based on your preferences and qualifications.

Newbie travel nurses might find it surprising how quickly they can build professional networks across different locations. This networking can lead to future job opportunities and lifelong friendships within the industry. 

Related: How Much Do Travel Nurses Make?

How do you become a travel nurse?

Your path to becoming a travel nurse depends on where you are in your nursing career. If you're already working, congrats! It will be easy to find a travel nursing assignment. If you're at the beginning of your nursing career, don't fret. The path might be long, but it's straight forward.

Nursing degree and License

‍To become a travel nurse, you first need a nursing degree. Although some positions allow for Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) degrees or Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN), most prefer a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Once you have a nursing degree, you must pass the NCLEX-RN exam. The NCLEX-RN exam is the nationwide licensing exam for both Canada and the United States. When you take the exam, you must apply for licensing with the state where you live or where you want to work.

‍Work Experience

In addition to getting your degree and license, you will need the experience to become a travel nurse. Most travel nurse positions require at least one year of experience in the specialty applied for. ICU, ER and Labor & Delivery are some specialties that are frequently in demand. However, it’s best to speak with your recruiter to determine what positions are available and a good fit.

‍State License

Before taking a travel nursing assignment outside of the state where you’re licensed, you want to make sure you can work in that state. In the U.S., nurse licensing is regulated at the state level. Depending on where you’re licensed and where you’re traveling, you may need to apply for a new license. Thankfully, most states in the U.S. are a part of Nurse Licensure Compact. States that are a part of the Nurse Licensure Compact have reciprocal licensing. For example, Texas and New Mexico are part of the Nurse Licensure Compact. Therefore, you can also work in Mexico if you are licensed in Texas. In all, there are 34 states in the Nurse Licensure Compact.

Benefits of Travel Nursing Jobs:

Adventure and Exploration: Travel nurses have the opportunity to immerse themselves in new cities, experience different cultures, and explore exciting destinations. From vibrant urban centers to picturesque rural areas, travel nursing offers a chance to expand professional and personal horizons.

Flexibility and Work-Life Balance: With the ability to choose assignments and contract lengths, travel nurses can tailor their schedules to accommodate personal commitments, such as family, education, or other pursuits. This flexibility enables them to strike a balance between work and personal life.

Diverse Clinical Experiences: Travel nurses gain exposure to various healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities, and more. This exposure enhances their skills, knowledge, and adaptability, making them highly sought-after healthcare professionals.

Travel Nursing Agencies: Your Guide and Support System

Travel nursing agencies are vital in connecting nurses with travel opportunities and providing support throughout the assignment process. These agencies act as intermediaries between healthcare facilities and travel nurses, handling logistics, and paperwork, and often offering additional benefits.

Benefits of Travel Nursing Agencies:

  • Job opportunities: Travel nursing offers a wide range of job opportunities in various locations, allowing nurses to explore different healthcare settings and gain diverse experiences.
  • Flexibility: Travel nursing provides flexibility in terms of choosing assignments, working hours, and time off. Nurses can have more control over their schedule and work-life balance.
  • Higher pay rates: Travel nurses often earn higher pay rates compared to permanent staff due to the demand for their specialized skills and willingness to travel.
  • Housing and travel expenses covered: Most travel nursing agencies provide housing accommodations or a stipend for housing expenses. Additionally, they cover travel costs such as airfare or mileage reimbursement.
  • Professional growth: By working in different healthcare facilities with varying patient populations, travel nurses can enhance their clinical skills, adaptability, and problem-solving abilities.
  • Networking opportunities: Travel nursing allows nurses to meet professionals from different backgrounds and build a strong professional network that can benefit them throughout their career.
  • Tax advantages: Depending on the location of assignments, travel nurses may be eligible for tax benefits such as deductions on meals, lodging expenses, licensure fees, etc.

Travel Nursing Salary: Competitive Compensation for the Nomadic Nurse

One of the significant advantages of travel nursing is the potential for higher earnings compared to permanent nursing positions. While specific salary figures can vary based on factors such as location, experience, specialty, and demand, travel nursing salaries are generally attractive and include various components.

How Much Do You Make As a Travel Nurse?

The average hourly rate for travel nurses is $38.83 per hour. However, your total compensation will depend on other factors besides the hourly rate. Much of your compensation will depend on the number of hours you’re contracted to work and your reimbursements, such as travel and licensing reimbursement.

How Do Travel Nurses Find Housing?

Your housing options will differ depending on the staffing agency that you work with. There are two main options: agency-provided housing or a housing stipend.

Agency provided housing


  • You save time by not having to search for housing
  • Monthly payments, credit checks and other logistics are taken care of by the staffing agency


  • You have less control over where you live

Housing stipend


  • You have complete control over your housing choices
  • If you have money left over, you might be able to keep the difference


  • Finding housing can be time-consuming and difficult
  • All credit checks are in your name

Components of Travel Nursing Salary:

Base Pay: This is the core salary that travel nurses receive for their clinical work, which is typically higher than what they would earn in permanent positions.

Housing Stipends: To offset the cost of housing, travel nurses often receive tax-free stipends, which can be used to secure accommodations of their choice.

Travel Reimbursement: Many agencies provide travel reimbursement, covering the costs associated with relocation to the assignment location.

Benefits and Perks: Travel nursing agencies often offer additional benefits, such as medical and dental insurance, retirement plans, paid time off, and continuing education opportunities.

Final Thoughts

As a travel nurse, you can dictate your salary and choose where you live. You will also meet interesting people and serve communities that desperately need you. Finding the right assignment can seem overwhelming, but with the right recruiter and staffing agency, it can be a pleasant experience.

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