how much a travel nurse makes
Travel Nursing

How Much Do Travel Nurses Make?

Registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical/vocational nurses (LPN/LVN) who desire the freedom to work anywhere in the nation or practice where they’re needed most may find travel nursing an appealing option. Travel nurses typically earn more than staff nurses while enjoying other perks. This guide breaks down how much travel nurses made in general and within various specialties and locations during late November 2022. It also covers some of the other benefits travel nursing offers to the experienced RN or LPN and explains why they earn more.

Average Travel Nurse Salary

The average weekly salary of all travel RNs combined was $2,632. During the same period, staff RNs earned an average of $37.24 per hour. Assuming a 40-hour work week, travel RNs earned $65.80 per hour. However, some travel RN jobs were paying up to $8,400, depending on the specialty and location.

In comparison, travel LPNs averaged $1,530 per week or $38.25 per hour in a 40-hour week. Staff LPNs were earning about $23.32 per hour. Some travel LPN jobs were paying up to $3,000, primarily based on location.

Travel Nurse Salary by Specialty

Travel RNs working within certain specialties can expect to earn more than others. Nursing specialties requiring greater education and responsibility typically pay more than lower-level positions. However, supply and demand and location also play a role. Some of the highest-paid RN specialties in the travel field included the following:

Specialty Average Weekly Salary Max Weekly Salary
Assistant Nurse Manager $5,694 $5,694
Ophthalmology $4,556 $4,556
Risk Manager $4,399 $4,958
Lactation RN $4,176 $4,600
Flight Nurse $3,981 $4,300
Pediatrics CVICU $3,976 $6,320
Pediatric Progressive Care Unit $3,741 $6,795
Pediatric Cardiac Cath Lab $3,697 $3,706
CVPICU $3,578 $9,439

LPNs typically assist RNs and doctors, working under their supervision. They have fewer specialties than RNs, primarily because they have less training and education. However, certain LPN specialties pay slightly more than others for those nurses looking for a larger paycheck. High-paying specialties for LPNs during this period included the following:

Specialty Average Weekly Salary Max Weekly Salary
Home Health $1,748 $2,435
Utilization Review $1,708 $1,708
Float $1,651 $1,752
Clinic $1,606 $2,400
Long Term Care $1,560 $2,522
Hospice $1,552 $2,066
Telemetry $1,541 $2,010
General LPN / LVN $1,526 $3,100
Case Management Home Health $1,519 $2,000

Travel Nurse Salary Based on Location

Location often plays a key role in nursing salaries, both for travel and staff nurses. Certain areas of the country traditionally pay higher than others, often hinging on the cost of living in a given state and/or city. Thus, states like California often have some of the highest-paying staff nursing roles by location since it’s one of the most expensive states to live in nationwide. The higher pay generally translates into lucrative travel contracts, as well.

Some of the best-paying travel RN contracts were found in these states and the District of Columbia:

State Average Weekly Salary Max Weekly Salary
New Jersey $3,194 $7,605
California $3,164 $8,030
Minnesota $2,965 $7,611
North Dakota $2,952 $4,912
Wyoming $2,907 $4,700
District of Columbia $2,868 $6,140
New York $2,840 $6,812
Nevada $2,837 $5,275
Oregon $2,834 $6,143
Maine $2,806 $5,259

Surprisingly, the states with the highest-paying travel LPN contracts during this same period varied, with only California, the District of Columbia, Oregon and Wyoming appearing on both lists. The best LPN/LVN jobs for travelers were paying the most in the following states:

State Average Weekly Salary Max Weekly Salary
District of Columbia $1,940 $2,063
Hawaii $1,806 $2,198
South Dakota $1,802 $2,529
Wisconsin $1,742 $2,454
Oregon $1,723 $2,422
Maryland $1,717 $2,370
California $1,711 $3,000
Wyoming $1,710 $2,217
North Dakota $1,702 $2,300
Iowa $1,698 $2,352

However, supply and demand can also play a role in the highest-paying locations, especially when it comes to crisis contracts. When browsing jobs on Vivian Health, look under Urgent Needs to find jobs involving an emergency response or other crisis, such as COVID-19, with contracts offering higher-than-average pay.

Why Travel Nurses Earn More

How much do travel nurses make

Healthcare facilities expect travel nurses to have the knowledge and skills to jump into any role with minimal orientation and training. They must also have the flexibility and wiliness to move quickly after receiving a job offer, as many facilities have positions they need travelers to fill as soon as possible.

Travel nurses must be willing to fulfill the contract, whether for the standard 13 weeks or longer or shorter, depending on the facility’s needs. Although travel nurses can leave a position without finishing their contracts, it’s ill-advised except for extenuating circumstances. However, travelers do take the chance that their contract may be canceled before their arrival or shortly thereafter. That’s right; there’s a risk in travel nursing that you’ll move to a new location, have your contract canceled early and must scramble to find another position much sooner than expected.

Canceled contracts are just one of the cons of a travel nursing career. Other downsides include the numerous logistics involved in constantly traveling from one location to another, multiple licensure requirements when not working in compact states and various pay rates between contracts that make it difficult to make and stick to a budget.

However, one of the biggest drawbacks for those travelers with family who can’t travel with them is being away from loved ones for extended periods. Traveling alone can be lonely, and trying to make friends at each new location, when you may only be there a few weeks, can be extremely challenging. These and many other reasons are why travel nurses often earn higher salaries than their staff counterparts.

Travel Salaries Are Different

Besides being offered higher rates, the structure of travel nurse salaries can also translate into more take-home pay. Travel nurses who have a permanent tax home qualify for tax-free stipends to cover housing, meals and other incidentals. Their rate is a blended rate because they receive a taxed salary, which is generally low, and untaxed compensations that combine into an hourly rate. Since a bulk of their pay isn’t subject to income taxes, they have lower tax bills.

Overtime hours and extra hours, which aren’t the same thing, can also enhance an already hefty salary. Overtime hours may be 1.5 times a travel nurse’s regular rate, but a contract may blend OT hours with regular hours, and the nurse may only receive a flat rate for all hours worked. OT hours may kick in after 40 hours, or a contract may stipulate that they don’t start until the nurse has worked 48 hours. Understanding how OT rates work on each contract is vital to ensure you’re making as much as you should.

Extra hours work differently, and travel nurses often overlook them as a potential way to increase a pay package. Typically, a contract mandates the number of hours per week a travel nurse must work to fulfill her obligation. However, they may work more than the hours stipulated and/or lump extra hours into OT hours. If a contract requires you to work three 12-hour shifts weekly, but you work four, the additional 12 hours are extra hours. While some of these hours may also qualify as overtime, make sure your contract outlines what you get paid for any hours worked over the mandatory.

Travel nurse salaries can get very complicated. You must understand your travel contract to fully know how much you’re making as a travel nurse. Lean on your travel nurse agency and ask your recruiter as many questions as necessary to ensure you have a solid handle on the financial aspects of traveling.

Additional Benefits of Travel Nursing

Besides earning an above-average salary, travel nurses enjoy many other benefits that outweigh the cons if they have the flexibility and desire to travel. One of the top perks for those wanting to explore the country but don’t have the time or money to do so is travel nursing pays you to do just that. Choose travel contracts in locations you’ve always wanted to visit and explore to your heart’s content on your days off.

While some travel nurses spend extended periods at the same facility and/or location, up to the allowable amount, others travel to new places for every contract. Constantly moving between facilities means working with medical professionals with different skills than you and potentially using the latest equipment and procedures. Each of these situations offers you the chance to learn something new to take with you. Building your knowledge and skills helps enhance your career opportunities.

Another thing you take with you is the contacts you make at each facility. Whether you become friends or just work colleagues, the more people in your professional circle, the better your network.

Having a network that reaches across the country offers numerous outlets when you need information or favor when the need arises. Stay in touch with previous co-workers, supervisors and recruiters to stay in the loop, and you may learn of lucrative gigs before a facility even posts them.

Travel nursing isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve considered trying it, you could earn a hefty salary. Get started quickly by completing a Vivian Universal Profile, which gives you access to 1,000s of travel jobs from 100s of agencies with transparent pay rates posted and all with a single application.

Disclaimer: This article contains general advice. Salaries and benefits vary by employer and travel nurse contract. Please consult an accountant or other tax professional about tax-related questions and talk to your recruiter to ensure you fully understand your pay package.

Moira K. McGhee

Moira K. McGhee is Vivian’s Senior Editor & All-Around Wordsmith. As part of the Vivian Health team, she strives to help support the empowerment of nurses and other healthcare professionals in their pursuits to find top-notch travel, staff, local contract and per diem positions faster and easier than ever.

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