Travel Nursing: Is It Right for You?

Share on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInDigg this

American Traveler estimates that between 4.4% and 13.7% of nurses working today are employed outside of their home states. As the demand for RNs continues to grow across the country, travel nursing has gained momentum as a popular approach for companies looking to fill staffing gaps and nurses searching for a wider variety of employment opportunities.

What is Travel Nursing?

Essentially contract workers, travel nurses can be either self-employed or employed through nursing agencies. These nurses fulfill short-term assignments at hospitals, clinics and private practices all across the United States (and even abroad) for varying timeframes.

Many travel nurses work with agencies in order to acquire their job assignments, which can last anywhere from eight to 26 weeks. Nurses can even accept longer job placements overseas with one- to two-year contracts.

As a travel nurse, you’ll have the freedom to accept or refuse any contract for any reason, although frequent refusals may directly affect how many assignments you receive in the future.

If you happen to fall in love with a specific location, you can always discuss the possibility of an extension offer or an assignment renewal with your preferred facility. What begins as a short-term placement has the potential to evolve into a permanent full-time position, which is especially nice when you’re a new nurse who’s searching for the right place to lay down some roots.

Travel nursing is perfect for individuals who love the idea of surrounding themselves with new faces and new places. This specific field lets nurses move from one job assignment to the next in various cities, so they never feel stuck in a rut.

What Do Travel Nurses Do?

Travel nurses perform the same basic job duties as RNs, from measuring vital signs and performing standard checkups to working closely with patients by diagnosing conditions, reviewing treatment options and administering drugs.

Although contracts typically range from eight to 16 weeks in length, the most common duration is 13 weeks. Most travel nursing assignments include fairly standard hours, as well (i.e., five 8-hour shifts, four 10-hour shifts or three 12-hour shifts).

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to completely uproot your life to find work as a travel nurse. Research via the National Student Nurses Association showed that a whopping 80% of first-time traveling nurses chose to stay within their home state or a neighboring state so that they could remain close to family and friends.

As a general rule, most facilities and agencies don’t allow travel nurses to accept an assignment within a 50-100 mile radius from their current home. Otherwise, local RNs with permanent job placements would routinely seek out travel nursing contracts with more competitive benefits.

Once your contract is up, you can accept a new offer through your current agency or seek out a different agency as you please.

How Much Are Travel Nurses Paid?

A life of wanderlust sounds phenomenal — but how much do these nomadic nurses get paid? Quite a lot, as it turns out. Travel nurses can make more money than their locally-based counterparts, and they earn an average annual salary of $79,000.

That being said, figuring out a travel nurse’s salary isn’t as easy as looking at dollars and cents. Each and every contract has its own set of factors that can affect a nurse’s final take-home pay, from paid housing and travel reimbursements to medical benefits and tax breaks.
Some assignments may offer higher hourly wages while skimping on additional benefits and allowances, while others may offset lower wages with high housing stipends and overtime pay. Always compare several different contracts to see what each facility is offering — and what it’s not.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Travel Nursing?

If you’re on the fence about whether or not travel nursing is for you, it may help to consider the following pros and cons:


  • Freedom to routinely switch jobs and locales
  • Ability to work with a larger range of healthcare workers
  • Exposure to different nursing procedures and specialties
  • Standard hours allow for trips back home to see family and friends
  • Paid housing
  • Traveling with your family (in most cases, that includes pets!)
  • Competitive wages
  • High demand
  • Potential bonuses
  • Retirement, medical and dental benefits


  • Inconsistency
  • Lower co-worker rapport
  • Potential for unexpectedly shortened contracts due to low patient counts
  • Lack of job security
  • Constantly having to learn the ropes at new facilities
  • Potential distance from family and friends
  • Vulnerability to layoffs and job cuts

What is the Job Outlook for Travel Nursing?

According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the healthcare industry will likely experience a shortage of one million nurses by the year 2020 as more and more workers approach retirement age, which means that travel nurses will definitely be in high demand.

Several areas throughout the Unites States are currently short on RNs, and travel nurses are a quick fix for these underserved regions.

How Do You Become a Travel Nurse?

RNs and surgical technologists with at least one year of clinical experience in a hospital setting are eligible to work as travel nurses, although most facilities and agencies require at least 18 months to two years worth of experience depending on the specialty. No additional education is needed for these nursing assignments, and no specific certification is required to transition into the field.

That being said, each state has its own licensing guidelines for contract workers — but most travel nursing agencies are more than willing to help you obtain any necessary licenses before your proposed start date.

If you’re working with a placement agency, it’s best to develop a relationship with your assigned recruiter so that your job placements reflect your personal preferences and address your specific needs.

Are you a travel nurse, or have you worked as one before? Let us know your thoughts on travel nursing assignments in the comments section below, and be sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!