Travel Nurse Salary: How Much Do Travel Nurses Make?
The allure of travel nursing is often the travel nurse salary among other benefits like flexibility and adventure. Jokingly, many healthcare professionals refer to travelers as the Rolls Royce or Louis Vouttin of nurses. They are perceived to make a lot of money in a short period of time. Because of this, staff nurses often wonder how they stack up next to the visiting travel nurse when it comes to hourly and weekly wages. How much do travel nurses make, really? It depends on the state they are in, their specialty, and their experience! We break it all down for you so you can finally answer the nagging question of “How much do travel nurses make?”
How Much Money Do Travel Nurses Make?
Compensation is one of the most talked-about topics when it comes to travel nursing. Unfortunately, there is no straight answer. A travel nurse salary depends on multiple factors like the severity of a need in a given location, and the state in general. On average a travel nurse will make 16% more than a staff nurse. During the pandemic with crisis rates, travel nurses were making upwards of 30% more than staff nurses.
We often see higher rates in some states than in others and this is because of the cost of living and the demand for nurses. For example, California is one of the highest-paying travel nurse states because of its high demand and high cost of living.
Below, with the help of Nomad, we broke down the average RN salary per state compared to the average travel nurse salary per state. Keep in mind these are based on statistics and data, but can always vary!
|State||Average RN Salary||Average Weekly||Average Hourly||Average Travel RN Salary||Average Weekly||Average Hourly|
|District of Columbia||$90,110||$1,733||$48||$106,330||$2,045||$57|
Highest Paying Travel Nurse Specialties
When determining travel nurse salary, location is a big piece of the puzzle but so is a specialty! To earn more money as a registered nurse, getting additional certifications and specializing are great ways to advance your career. Once specialized, getting experience also helps increase wages. The more specialized, certified and experienced a nurse is, the better care they can give to their patients. This increases their value and wage!
Below are the top-paying specialties in travel nursing according to Travel Nursing.org and American Mobile. Keep in mind these may fluctuate depending on what is going on in the world. For example, during the pandemic, ICU and vaccinators were high in demand and got paid really well because of it.
|#1||Operating Room||$2,974 to $5,394|
|#2||Labor & Delivery||$2,620 to $4,422|
|#3||Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU)||$2,667 to $4,235|
|#4||Intensive Care Unit (ICU)||$2,513 to $4,171|
|#5||Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)||$2,365 to $3,931|
Factors That Influence A Travel Nurse Salary
Location, Location, Location!
Location is a huge factor in travel nurse salary. Often new travel nurses want to work locally or go to popular destination locations. The problem? So does everyone else. A traveler will get paid less in a destination location because there is a high demand for travelers wanting to work at that location. This lessens the demand for nurses. Destination locations include states like Florida and Colorado, especially during the winter months. In areas like South Dakota where there isn’t a huge destination draw, a traveler will get paid more because the facility has to compensate generously to get candidates there.
Another factor in the location that affects travel nurse salary is cost-of-living. You may get paid more to work in a certain location, like Los Angeles. Why? Living in these areas costs a lot! High cost-of-living locations are normally metropolitan areas like New York City, Boston, and San Francisco. Cost-of-living is exactly what it sounds like, it takes into account the cost of living a certain lifestyle in a given location. This includes food, rent, transportation, etc. These are all elements that play into your travel nurse salary. Always do research on the cost of living in the area you are looking to travel to, before traveling.
Let’s be honest, working the night shift pays more! It takes a certain kind of person who can quite literally work until the sun comes up. Some nurses prefer the night shift and crush the nocturnal lifestyle, while others don’t. There are lots of tips for becoming a night shift nurse, so don’t NOC it until you try it. If you are a tried and true day shift worker, that is okay! You can earn extra cash working overtime, on weekends, and on holidays. There are plenty of differentials you can take advantage of to supplement your travel nurse salary!
Travel Nursing Expenses: Taxes, Stipends, Benefits
Taxes, stipends, benefits, oh my! Travel nursing expenses tend to be one of the more complicated areas. There is a lot of misconception and confusion, especially among first-time travelers. If you have a question always reach out to your recruiter or account manager! In this section, we are going to answer some of the main questions about taxes, stipends, and benefits and how this impacts your travel nurse salary.
Stipends and Tax-Free Money
We personalize all our travel nurse contracts and pay packages based on each individual nurse. One question we get a lot is about tax-free money. To qualify for travel stipends, also known as tax-free money, you must be duplicating living expenses. This is obvious if you are moving cross-country for a travel contract. Our Housing Coordinator will get you set up with a hotel, VRBO, or Airbnb. Your options are limitless when it comes to choosing your travel nurse housing. Your stipends, or tax-free money, will be paid out weekly in your checks!
Local Travelers and the 50-Mile Rule
If you are a local traveler this can be more confusing. A lot of the time the “50 Mile Rule” comes up. This is a fictional rule that states if you exceed 50-miles from your residence, you qualify for stipends. This was never set by the IRS. You must always duplicate living expenses to qualify, regardless of mileage. Some local travelers duplicate their living expenses by staying in a hotel or Airbnb on certain days of the week to cut down on driving. Since they duplicate their living expenses, they will see the stipends in their weekly check.
We are not an accounting firm, so we always tell our travelers to talk with their tax advisors about specific questions regarding tax-free stipends.
Travel Nurse Benefits
Travel nurse benefits vary depending on the agency. At PRN Healthcare if you work 30+ hours a week, you qualify for a comprehensive benefits package! This includes health, vision, dental, and life insurance along with a 401K plan, referral bonuses, renewal bonuses, and continuing education (CEUS) reimbursement. Click here to see a full list of benefits! PRN Healthcare is big into mental health and offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that gives employees access to free short-term counseling, financial and legal consultations, and more! Make sure to talk to your agency to see what benefits they offer.
How To Increase Travel Nurse Salary?
Some agencies have the best rate upfront, others do not. Being open and honest with your recruiter about your travel nurse salary expectations is important. If you really want to go to a certain location but the pay isn’t to your standards, ask them for more money. Sometimes the recruiters can match other agency rates and can reach out to the facility to see if they can budge on the pay. It is the recruiter’s job to find you the perfect contract, so be sure to state your needs and wants when it comes to compensation. Blue Pipes highlighted the different ways to negotiate pay:
- Collaborating: Attempt to reach the best outcome for both parties.
- Competing: Try to maximize your own outcome with no regard for others.
- Accommodating: Put the other party’s concerns first.
- Compromising: Try to reach a middle ground.
- Avoiding: Do not negotiate at all.
Ideally, you will model a collaborative approach with your recruiter and reach the best outcome for both of you!
Loyalty means a lot! Some agencies, like PRN Healthcare, will give you a renewal bonus for signing on to another contract or extending. This is often calculated by the hours you worked in your last contract. So if you worked 48-hour weeks during a 13-week contract, you worked a total of 624 hours. PRN Healthcare would then give you a $624 bonus for continuing to work with us as a thank you! An added bonus of extending your contract is that it’s easy on the nurse, facility, and account manager! Here is everything you need to know about extending your contract in 2022.
Referral bonuses are easy money makers! If you know a nurse who is looking for new opportunities, refer them and make money while they work. That’s it! It is really that easy. If your referred friend starts working, you start making money too! At PRN Healthcare you get up to $500 for every working friend. This is a great way to earn extra cash while helping your friends find new and exciting opportunities!
The most important part when looking to make more money as a travel nurse is being flexible! For example, South Dakota may not be the most appealing place to travel but it might have the highest pay for you and your specialty at this time! Being flexible with location is a huge factor in travel nurse salary.
When a travel nurse is traveling locally, they may have their eye set on a facility that is a 15-minute drive away. Sometimes there are facilities that are paying more but are a 30-minute drive instead. Will the extra 15 minutes deter you? These are just some examples that might be thrown at you throughout your career. We always recommend being flexible. The small detour you may not have taken might lead to the best destination!
Travel nursing opens a door to huge benefits and opportunities! One of those opportunities is definitely the influx of money! If you are willing to be flexible, travel to different high-paying states, and are open about your travel nurse salary requirements, you will succeed as a traveling nurse! We hope we answered your question “How much do travel nurses make?” If you have more questions, let us answer them for you! Get in contact with a recruiter.
Also read our other articles about travel nursing!