Travel Nurse Salary 2021

Do you have a nursing degree? Are you tired of working with the same patients and staff all of the time? Consider the average travel nurse salary.

If you still want to use your nursing education, you can travel to different hospitals. Then, you can work with new people and learn more than you could in one environment.

But you need to make sure the pay will be worth the effort. Read on to learn more about travel nursing and the field’s earning potential.

What Is a Travel Nurse?

A travel nurse is a type of nurse who doesn’t work at one specific hospital. Instead, a travel nurse works for a staffing agency that helps place nurses in hospitals. 

The agency will contact you with an assignment, and you can accept it. Then, you’ll travel to that location and begin work at a new hospital.

As a travel nurse, you can find work all over the country or even the world. You’ll need to have the same training and background as a staff nurse. If you like to mix things up occasionally, travel nursing can be for you.

Travel nursing can be an excellent field for people who like to travel and meet people. However, the job also requires a lot of flexibility. You may not know where you’ll be working that far ahead of time, so you need to be ready to pick up and go.

What Travel Nurses Do

Travel nurses do a lot of the same things as staff nurses, but they do it at various hospitals. They will talk to patients and perform basic exams. Then, the nurse will consult with other nurses and doctors at the hospital to help decide how to care for the patient.

After deciding on a plan, the nurse will help deliver that care to the patient. They will also tell the patient about the plan to make sure the patient is okay with everything.

In the case of caring for a minor, the travel nurse will also speak with the parents. Travel nurses may also collect vital signs, such as a patient’s blood pressure.

However, other responsibilities can depend on your nursing specialty. For example, a labor and delivery nurse will manage vital signs for the mother and baby. They might also start IV lines and help induce labor or help the doctor with surgery when necessary.

A travel nurse working in the emergency room might help intake patients. They may collect a patient’s vital signs and gather the patient’s primary complaint. Emergency room travel nurses need to be able to think quickly to help address serious problems.

Requirements to Become a Travel Nurse

When looking at the average travel nurse salary, you should consider what it will take to enter the profession. Here are a few standard requirements you’ll need to meet if you want to be a travel nurse:

  • Hold an ADN or BSN degree
  • Be a registered nurse
  • Have a nursing license in good standing
  • Have some staff nursing experience

Depending on your specialty as a nurse, you may need additional training and certification. However, you won’t need training for other specialties.

After earning your degree, you will need to pass the National Council Licensure Exam for RNs (NCLEX-RN). Then, you can apply for your nursing license.

In some states, you may be able to get one license that qualifies you to work in other states. Meanwhile, other states will have unique requirements for you to obtain a license there.

Next, you will need to find a staff nursing job to get at least a year or two of experience as a staff nurse. Then, you can find a nursing staffing agency to transition to becoming a travel nurse.

How Much Do Travel Nurses Make?

On average, travel nurses can expect to make about $36.72 per hour. This translates to about $6,370 a month and $76,380 annually. This is slightly more than the average salary for registered nurses in general.

However, as a new travel nurse, you may make a bit less. Still, with an average hourly rate of $26.23, you can make a decent income at the start. That hourly rate means you can expect to earn about $4,550 in a month and $54,550 in a year.

Once you gain a bit of experience, you can make more than the average. Travel nurses may earn about $45.36 per hour and $7,860 per month. At the end of the year, this works out to an annual salary of around $94,340.

Your travel nurse salary can depend on a few things, such as where and when you work. The area of focus you choose can also affect your income. Consider how travel nurse salaries vary from state to state and specialty to specialty.

Travel Nurse Salary by State

When choosing where to obtain a nursing license, consider the average amount you can expect to earn there. For example, California isn’t currently part of the Nursing Licensure Compact (NLC), so you’ll need to meet the state’s specific requirements.

However, you can earn more in California than in other states. The average hourly rate for travel nurses in the state is $51.27, which works out to an annual salary of over $106,000. Hawaii is also not part of the compact, but its average salary for travel nurses is $100,720 per year.

Other high-paying states include Massachusetts ($44.60, $92,770), Oregon ($44.32, $92,190), and Alaska ($43.69, $90,880). The District of Columbia also offers a high travel nurse salary, with an hourly average of $44.99 and an annual average of $93,580.

South Dakota has the lowest average pay for travel nurses. The average hourly rate is $28.46, and the average annual salary works out to be $59,200. But the cost of living in South Dakota is considerably less than that of California and Hawaii.

If you want to get the most out of your money, you may want to work in Georgia. The state has one of the lowest costs of living. However, you can earn a respectable average of $33.33 an hour. Annually, that comes out to roughly $69,320.

Travel Nurse Salary by Specialty

Some specialties offer a higher average travel nurse salary than others. The highest-paying specialty is that of a travel nurse practitioner. You can expect to earn about $51.70 an hour, $8,960 a month, or $107,540 a year.

However, you will need to obtain an advanced degree to become a nurse practitioner. Other well-paying specialties to consider include:

  • OR travel nurse: $38.01 hourly, $6,590 monthly, $79,060 annually
  • Critical care travel nurse: $36.75 hourly, $6,370 monthly, $76,430 annually
  • RN travel nurse: $36.72 hourly, $6,370 monthly, $76,380 annually
  • Hospice travel nurse: $35.83 hourly, $6,210 monthly, $74,530 annually
  • ER travel nurse: $35.66 hourly, $6,180 monthly, $74,180 annually

Other specialties, such as home health, ICU, and labor and delivery, also offer decent pay. These specialties range from $33.19 to $34.96 per hour. Annually, you can expect to earn about $69,040 to $72,710 in these areas.

The lowest-paying travel nurse specialty is licensed practical nurse (LPN) or licensed vocational nurse (LVN). You can make about $23.07 an hour, $4,000 a month, or $47,980 a year. However, you won’t need as much training as other nursing specialties.

Travel Nurse vs. Staff Nurse Pay

When considering the average travel nurse salary, it’s worth comparing it to staff nurse pay. As a staff nurse, you would earn a set salary. The hospital considers your nursing experience and education to determine your pay.

As you gain more experience and work at the same hospital for a long time, you can receive raises. This can be nice for some nurses who want a more predictable income.

However, pay for travel nurses works a little differently. Instead of a set salary, you will receive a pay package for each contract you accept. The package can include your hourly earnings, but it might also cover:

  • Housing stipends
  • Travel reimbursements
  • Per diem rates

Like a staff nurse, a travel nurse will have to pay taxes on their hourly income. However, you can receive stipends without having to pay tax on that money. That can be useful if you want to work in states with higher costs of living.

You’ll have a higher overall earning potential, but you won’t have to pay taxes on all of the money you receive. Plus, the travel reimbursements and per diem pay can help add to your income to help you afford to live where you’re working.

Factors Affecting Pay for Travel Nurses

As with other professions, multiple factors can affect how much a travel nurse makes. Before you look to become a travel nurse, you should know what may impact your earnings.

Then, you can use those factors to your advantage. You may be able to make a lot more money as a travel nurse than you would when working for a single hospital.

Even if you don’t have much experience or choose a lower-paying specialty, travel nursing doesn’t have a set salary. So if you aren’t happy with what you earn from one contract, you can look for a higher-paying contract next.


Of course, the most obvious factor that affects the average travel nurse’s salary is the city or state where you work. Cities such as New York and Los Angeles have high costs of living. You may make more money working in those cities than in a small town in the Midwest.


You can also make more in certain specialties, such as OR, critical care, or a standard RN. If you want to make even more money, you can go back to school to become a travel nurse practitioner. Then, you’ll have a higher earning potential.


Regardless of where you work and what you focus on, you can earn more with experience. As you gain experience, you may be able to take on contracts that pay a higher rate. Then, you can earn more, and you might even have more options to choose from as a more experienced travel nurse.


Some nursing shifts may also offer higher pay than others. In general, you can expect to earn more if you work outside of traditional business hours. Working on holidays can also increase your earning potential. The same is true if you take on extra hours and qualify for overtime.

Other Forms of Compensation

Along with your hourly pay and per diem pay, you can earn other forms of compensation. Just like staff nursing and other jobs, travel nurses sometimes qualify for health insurance benefits. Having a good health insurance plan is crucial as a travel nurse. That way, you can obtain affordable care for yourself if you get sick or injured when traveling for work.

You may also qualify for a 401(k) retirement account, and you might be able to get an employer match. However, retirement and insurance benefits may not always be an option.

Still, you can also receive bonus pay when you sign on for a contract and complete the assignment. Another benefit you may get is free housing or a housing stipend to help pay for your accommodations while completing an assignment.

In some cases, you may even receive free continuing education as a nurse. That way, you can maintain your license in multiple states to keep practicing as a travel nurse.

How to Increase Your Travel Nurse Salary

Maybe you choose a good specialty and are selective when it comes to accepting assignments. But you still want to make a bit more money as a travel nurse.

Fortunately, you can find other ways to increase your earnings. That way, you can earn what you need to support yourself and your family. As long as you’re willing to work on different assignments, you can make more as a nurse.

Here are a few things you can look for in a contract to make more money.

Get a Bonus

First, you can look for contracts that come with bonus pay. If you’re looking for your first assignment, you may qualify for a bonus from your staffing agency or the hospital. The agency may offer you a bonus upfront for accepting an assignment, though that can affect your pay throughout the length of the contract.

A hospital bonus won’t affect your pay, but you won’t receive it until the assignment is over. The hospital may pay you anywhere from $250 to $5,000 extra for your work. Be sure to ask where the bonus comes from to learn if it may affect your pay throughout the assignment.

Once you complete a certain number of assignments with an agency, they may offer you a bonus. If you haven’t joined an agency yet, ask a few about their bonus structure. Consider how many assignments you’ll need to complete and how much you can earn. Some bonuses are as little as $100, while others can top $2,000.

And if you know other nurses who are looking to travel, you may want to ask about a referral bonus. You will receive the bonus if a nurse you refer to the agency completes an assignment. In some cases, you may earn up to $4,000 for each nurse you refer.

Rapid Response Assignments

Another way to increase your earnings with travel nursing is to take rapid response assignments. These are contracts that require you to start working sooner than other contracts. You might need to be available within a couple of weeks, but these contracts can be shorter than the standard 13 weeks.

That can be nice if you don’t want to be away from home for that long. However, rapid response contracts aren’t for everyone.

A lot of these assignments come from hospitals experiencing things such as:

  • An increase in local population (and therefore patients)
  • Emergency responses
  • Unit openings
  • Upgrades to EMRs (electronic medical records)

Sometimes, a rapid response assignment might be for a hospital in an area that just experienced a natural disaster. The hospital may need more nurses to help care for an influx of patients due to recent events.

If you want to accept rapid response assignments, you’ll need to stay on top of your paperwork. Make sure you know where your documents are so that you can submit them to your agency to qualify for such an assignment.

You may also want to ask your agency about how they help nurses accept these contracts. In some cases, the agency may help you pay for a license in the state where the work will be. That way, you can meet all of the requirements and accept the contract.

Nursing Strikes

Another way to make more money as a travel nurse is to cover a nursing strike. If a nursing union and a hospital can’t agree on a contract, the staff nurses will go on strike. To keep everything running, the hospital may call in travel nurses.

That way, the hospital can continue to accept and treat patients. Of course, a strike can occur without much warning, so you’ll need to be able to start working quickly. These contracts can also be unpredictable because you don’t know how long the strike will last.

Still, it can be an excellent way to make some extra money. As long as you’re ready to jump in and work and you don’t mind being away from home for a while, you can cover a strike. Then, you can return home and move to your next contract when the hospital and staff reach an agreement.

Hospitals need nurses of all specialties to cover nursing strikes. That means there’s a chance for almost any travel nurse to make money filling the gap of a strike. So consider if you’re willing to work on short notice.

Obtain Certification

Maybe you don’t want to work on short notice, but you still want to earn more. Think about getting certification in a field with high demand for travel nurses. For example, you might choose to obtain certification in critical care.

Then, you can work as a critical care travel nurse, which offers a higher-than-average salary. If you don’t have a specialty or your specialty doesn’t pay well, switching can be an excellent decision. You won’t have to worry about taking rapid response contracts to increase your earnings.

If you want to open yourself up to more contracts, you can obtain certification in different areas of nursing. This may take some time, but you will have access to more contracts when you complete those certificates. Then, you may be able to pick and choose where you want to work.

While you should look at specializations that pay well, make sure you love the work. If you don’t enjoy the work, you may make a lot of money. However, that’s not always worth stressing yourself out about work. Instead, find something that you like, and that can pay well.

Get an Advanced Practice License

Another excellent way to increase your earning potential as a travel nurse is to look into advanced practice. You can become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). If you want more responsibility as a nurse, this is a fantastic option.

Within that, you can even choose from different specialties. For example, you might decide to become a nurse practitioner and work under a doctor. Or you might prefer to become a nurse-midwife and help new mothers. Being a nurse anesthetist is another excellent option.

To become an APRN, you will need to go back to school for a master’s degree. Because of the time commitment and cost, this isn’t the right path for everyone. However, it’s worth considering if you want to advance your career as a travel nurse.

You may face an income ceiling in other specializations. So when you want to keep earning more money, getting an advanced practice license might be your best option.

Get a Nursing License in Multiple States

If you want to increase your earnings, you can get a nursing license in a different state. While most states are part of a compact, some of the highest-paying states aren’t. So if you want to work in Hawaii, for example, you’ll need to get a license for that state.

Then, you’ll be eligible for contracts there, and you can earn more from those contracts. Even if you haven’t received an offer to work in Hawaii, getting your license now could prepare you. If a rapid response assignment comes in, you’ll have what you need to accept that contract.

After you get your license, make sure to maintain it each year. You may need to take continuing education or fulfill other requirements. Either way, be sure to stay on top of those things with all of your nursing licenses.

That way, you’ll have more options when it comes to contracts. And if you don’t currently have a license from a state that participates in the NLC, get one as soon as you can. You’ll open yourself up to a lot of potential assignments.

Consider Higher-Paying Locations

Once you have a license in multiple states, you may want to look for contracts in higher-paying cities. Some cities to consider working in include:

  • San Jose ($64.48, $134,110)
  • San Francisco ($62.39, $129,780)
  • Los Angeles ($46.83, $97,410)
  • Boston (46.02, $95,730)
  • New York ($44.63, 92,840)

Many of these cities line up with cities with a high cost of living, so make sure the higher rent and food prices don’t outweigh the higher pay. Still, if you can afford to work there, taking assignments in bigger cities can usually lead to a higher income.

And if your agency offers a housing stipend or free housing, you may not have to worry about the cost of living. You might need to pay for food and transportation. However, when you don’t have to pay rent, you’ll be able to use more of your money for other expenses.

Accept Less-Desirable Shifts

This method isn’t for everyone, especially people with kids or other family obligations. But if you have the freedom to, you may want to accept contracts that aren’t as desirable. The agency and hospital may understand that nurses won’t want to work the shift, so they might pay more.

For example, there may be a hospital that needs help with overnight shifts. If they’re having difficulty finding someone to fill the shift, they might offer better pay. The same is true of a contract that overlaps a major holiday and requires you to work it.

If you don’t need to work during the day or if you can be away from home on a holiday, give this type of contract a try. Doing so can be an excellent way to push yourself to be a better nurse. And you may realize that you enjoy these contracts.

In that case, you can take more of these types of shifts and make more money. And if you like the work, you won’t have to sacrifice the work just for the pay.

Be Flexible

In general, you should be as flexible as you can if you want to increase your travel nurse salary. The more flexible you are with the contracts you accept, the easier it will be for you to get higher-paying jobs.

For example, if you only want to take jobs in one state that are during the day, you may get some jobs that pay well. However, you will limit yourself significantly. The fewer personal requirements you have for accepting a job, the more jobs you’ll have access to.

Now, you don’t have to accept every job that comes your way. Everyone needs time off, and there may be a time when you don’t want to respond quickly to a contract. That’s okay, and that’s a benefit of being a travel nurse.

However, if you want to increase your pay, you will need to work different jobs than what you might want to work. Then, you can find jobs that offer bigger contracts. Soon enough, you’ll be able to make plenty of money to support yourself.

Travel Nurse Job Growth

The outlook for travel nurses is amazing, with the field growing 44% from 2018 to 2019. Four critical care specialties grew by 60% in that same period. The same survey looked at 22 travel nurse specialties in total.

Demand for endoscopy travel nurses stayed the same. However, the 21 other specialties all saw growth. So whether you want to work in an ER, labor and delivery, or another specialty, there is room for you.

Both new and experienced travel nurses have plenty of job opportunities. The pandemic has also helped increase demand for travel nurses to help cover hospitals with staffing issues.

Over the long term, the need for travel nurses should continue to grow. If you want a flexible, well-paying career as a nurse, travel nursing is an excellent choice.

Not only are there plenty of jobs available, but most specialties offer high earning potential. And as you gain experience, you can switch to a higher-paying specialty. Then, you can earn even more from your work.

Travel Nurse Salary in Review

Understanding the average travel nurse’s salary and salary potential is vital. The field of travel nursing isn’t for everyone, but it does offer many benefits, including high pay.

You can choose from a variety of specialties and work in various cities and states. Then, you’ll have more control over your earnings than if you only worked at one hospital. If you love to travel and meet people, give this career a try.

That way, you can earn a living doing what you love. And you won’t have to feel like you’re stuck doing the same thing every day.