how to make 6 figures as a travel nurse
Money and Taxes

How to Make 6 Figures as a Travel Nurse

Aspiring healthcare professionals (HCPs) choose nursing for various reasons: access to plentiful and steady work, intellectually stimulating tasks and fulfilling careers with a demonstrable impact on patients’ lives among them. Meanwhile, travel nursing offers the added benefit of seeing the country. Even better, we have some tips to help you learn how to make 6 figures as a travel nurse! If this sounds appealing, then this post is for you. We’ll cover what travel nursing is and the steps you can take to potentially earn at least $100,000 a year and rank among the highest-paid registered nurses (RNs) in the travel field.

Why HCPs Pursue Travel Nursing

There are many great reasons to become a nurse and even more reasons to be a travel nurse. Among them, travel nurses benefit from the ability to change work settings at their leisure while working in jobs that tend to offer above-average pay. Part of a travel nurse’s pay, the travel stipend, may be tax-free, which can increase your take-home pay further compared to working a similar staff role.

Travel nurses help fill staffing shortages at healthcare facilities nationwide. Travel nurse contracts typically last 13 weeks, though they can be longer or shorter. The facility may ask the nurse to renew their contract if it has ongoing staffing needs, or the travel nurse may ask if they can renew it if they particularly like the job or location. Travel nursing jobs are typically full-time but may involve various types of weekly shift schedules, such as five 8-hour shifts or three 12-hour shifts.

After fulfilling their travel nurse contracts, nurses might move to another job at another facility, potentially in another state or region. By stringing together one contract after another, it’s possible to work in travel nursing as an ongoing, year-round pursuit. 

RNs, licensed practical/vocational nurses (LPNs/LVNs) and advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) can all work as travel nurses, typically once they have at least one year of acute care experience in their specialty. However, some high-acuity roles may require travel nurses to have two years of experience before applying. Even certified nursing assistants (CNAs) can sometimes work in travel roles. However, a six-figure income is typically out of reach for these HCPs without leveling up into higher-tier nursing roles. 

Travel Nurse Pay Components and Earning Six Figures

Vivian Travel Nurse - Tips for new travel nurses

Travel nurses are typically paid in one of two ways a blended rate of taxed wages and untaxed stipends to arrive at a total hourly rate or an hourly rate containing fully taxed wages. The benefit of being paid partially with an untaxed stipend that includes housing, meals and other incidentals is that they boost your take-home pay. Travel nurses may qualify for these tax-free perks if they live away from their permanent tax home

When assessing pathways to earning six figures, we consider all the components of travel nurse pay packages, including base pay, stipends and bonuses. Staffing agencies that work with healthcare facilities explain how they distribute travel nursing pay, but we offer a breakdown of what to look for when reviewing your travel healthcare contract from your agency.

RELATED: Everything Travel Nurses Want to Know About Bill Rates

Your total combined weekly pay must be at least $2,084 per week while working 48 weeks of the year, leaving four weeks for unpaid vacation, to make at least $100,000 annually as a travel nurse. Unlike year-round staff positions, travel nurses typically don’t get paid vacation in their contracts and must budget for and schedule their time off between travel jobs. Of course, you can also have more vacation time and still earn six figures with a higher weekly pay rate. 

Choosing Travel Nursing Can Be the Key to Six Figures 

The biggest decision a nurse can make to break the $100,000 barrier is simply choosing to work full-time as a travel nurse. The average travel nursing salary nationally was above $2,084 per week and higher than the average pay for staff roles on May 7, 2024. Consider that the average wage for a staff RN was $45.19 per hour on this same date, about $94,000 per year if working full-time, 40 hours per week before any overtime. 

On the other hand, the average travel nurse wage was $2,112 a week during this period or nearly $101,400 when working a 48-week year without overtime. In Vivian Health’s most recent quarterly recap of travel nurse pay rates, the average travel nurse job paid above $2,083 per week in every state but Mississippi and Alabama.

Of course, the wages quoted above are just averages. Some jobs pay substantially more or less. However, there are opportunities for nurses to earn significantly more than the average and land well above the six-figure barrier. Methods to pursue the highest-paid travel nurse jobs include pursuing a career in the highest-paying specialties, choosing jobs in high-paying areas and shopping around for the best-paying jobs with the best-paying agencies.

3 Tips to Earn 6 Figures as a Travel Nurse

1. Choose a Top Paying Region

Money from State Loan Forgiveness Programs

One way to earn more is to travel to a high-paying region. In certain states like California and New York, jobs typically pay travel nurse wages above $2,500 a week. Generally, Northeast and West Coast states pay more because the cost of living tends to be higher in these areas. 

Thrifty travel nurses willing to economize on housing, or those who travel in a mobile home with relatively fixed living costs, may find that the higher pay of such regions is a great incentive to take jobs there and still pocket extra savings. A bit of sleuthing to find the highest-paying areas can help a travel nurse earn potentially over $150,000 a year. 

2. Pursue a High-Paying Specialty

Choosing certain nursing specialties and obtaining professional certifications in these specialties may enable travel nurses to earn above-average salaries that help them break into a six-figure annual income. Above-average paying specialties for travel nurses include:

Based on these average salaries, a travel wound care nurse could opt to work as few as 42 weeks a year while still making six figures. 

3. Get the Best Pay Rate for the Job

Aspiring travel nurses should also be aware that multiple travel nurse agencies may sometimes advertise the same travel job, each offering different rates for the identical job. Healthcare facilities typically pay agencies a flat bill rate, and then the agency takes a cut of that rate before paying the travel nurse filling the role. 

Each agency may opt to take different cuts, so the amount you’re ultimately paid could differ from agency to agency. This concept is similar to how you might find a different price for the same hotel room on various travel websites because each takes a different cut of the room rate. 

Therefore, it pays to shop around and check out the full, final amount each agency offers for the advertised job. In addition to money, you may want to choose an agency based on its size, reputation or market reach.

Another potential pay boost is signing up with agencies for rapid response staffing, which healthcare facilities may initiate in certain situations, like a regional health emergency or a strike. Nurses may receive time and a half or double time to fill travel positions for these rapid response shortages.

What Salaries Are Realistic for LPNs and APRNs?

Earn more money

Since LPNs/LVNs tend to earn a lower wage than RNs, it can be more difficult for nurses at this level to earn at least $100,000 annually. However, it’s possible for those in the right specialty or region of the country. 

For instance, travel LPNs/LVNs in emergency medicine typically earn $2,146, which sets them up for just over $103,000 in a typical 48-week year. Nurses at this level must pursue the best-paying specialties and work in the largest metropolitan regions to pursue a six-figure income.

On the other hand, advanced practice registered nurses may want to set their sights higher not on $100k but rather on what multiple of that they can earn as travel nurses. The average nurse practitioner job can easily break $150,000 when working full-time, and a certified nurse anesthetist may earn well over $200,000 yearly. On May 7, 2024, the average weekly travel salary for nurse practitioners was $3,152. 

If you’re currently an RN and interested in regularly receiving income in the six-figure range, consider whether you can go back to school for a master’s in nursing and then take the nurse practitioner certification in your desired field. ARPNs working full-time can almost always earn paychecks in excess of $100,000, whether in a staff role or as a travel nurse.

Another Approach: A Hybrid Career as a Travel Nurse Entrepreneur

Becoming a nurse entrepreneur is another way to make six figures as a travel nurse. Many travel nurses enjoy the inherent flexibility and self-directed schedule setting of travel nursing because it allows them to work a “side hustle” for part of the year, such as seasonal work or running a self-owned small business. 

We’ve heard from nurses whose side hustles include financial management, running a family farm, operating a family restaurant and opening an online retail business. A successful enough side hustle can potentially earn a travel nurse even more than they make per hour in nursing.

Pursue Your Six-Figure Travel Nurse Career with Vivian

We offer the information and transparent jobs marketplace you need to pursue a six-figure income as a travel nurse. Browse our travel nurse jobs board and begin your rewarding and high-paying stint in travel nursing today.

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Michael Hines

Michael Hines is a freelance researcher and writer based in Brooklyn, New York. For 20 years, he's written on various healthcare topics, including healthcare employment, telemedicine, healthcare legislation, obesity, immunotherapy and genomics. He also writes about technology and AI, public policy, finance and investing, consumer products and corporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices.

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