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Tips for How to Maximize Your Travel Nurse Pay

Charmaine Robinson, MSN-Ed, BSN, RN
Updated March 28, 2024
    As a travel nurse, you can make a considerable amount of money, more than you would as a staff nurse. Explore tips from travel nurses on ways to bring home even more pay while on and off assignments.
    Credit: MoMo Productions / Getty Images
    • In the United States, travel registered nurses (RNs) make on average $43,020 more per year than staff RNs.
    • Travel RN pay is affected by many factors including location, specialty, living arrangements, and contract negotiations.
    • Boosting your travel RN pay is a matter of knowing how to leverage your travel nursing career.

    As a travel nurse, you can make a considerable amount of money, more than you would as a staff nurse. Explore tips from travel nurses on ways to bring home even more pay while on and off assignments.

    Salary Comparison: Travel Nurses vs. Staff Nurses

    When comparing the salaries of both travel and staff RNs in the U.S., travel nursing could be an option if you want to boost your nursing pay overall. According to ZipRecruiter, as of March 2023 the average travel RN salary is $118,400 in comparison to $75,380 for staff RNs. That’s a $43,020 pay differential.

    Travel Registered Nurses

    Staff Registered Nurses

    *Average Salary in the United States (2023)
    Sources: ZipRecruiter.com; ZipRecruiter.com

    Alaina Ross, BSN, RN, a postanesthesia care unit travel RN, typically makes between 30-50% more as a travel nurse (includes housing stipend) than as a staff nurse. She says, “You have much more leverage in negotiating pay as a traveler, and as such, it generally pays better.”

    Lack of benefits is also a factor. You get a higher salary as a travel nurse because you typically do not receive the hospital or facility benefits that a staff RN would (for instance,. health insurance, retirement matching, bonuses, raises, and union benefits).

    While travel RNs are reportedly paid a higher salary than that of staff RNs, there are specific factors that can have a direct impact on pay.

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    Factors That Affect Travel Nurse Pay


    Where you work can have a significant effect on your pay. Ross mentions that her California contracts have paid twice as much as her Texas contracts. Due to staffing shortages and higher cost of living, some states and cities simply pay more. It’s also important to take into account how you will be taxed for working in a state.

    According to ZipRecruiter as of March 2023, New York, New Hampshire, and Arizona are the highest-paying states for travel nursing.

    These are the top five highest-paying U.S. cities for travel nurses as of March 2023.

    U.S. CityAverage Annual Salary
    Santa Clara, CA$145,890
    San Francisco, CA$140,740
    Fremont, CA$137,450
    Marysville, WA$137,360
    San Jose, CA$133,000

    Nursing Specialty

    Travel nursing pay may be affected by your nursing specialty. ZipRecruiter reported that as of March 2023, travel RNs working in nursing speciality positions are paid between $50,630- $63,060 more than the average RN travel nurse salary of $118,400.

    These are the top five highest-paying travel nursing specialties as of March 2023.

    Job TitleAverage Annual Salary
    Operating Room Travel Nurse$181,460
    Telemetry Travel Nurse$173,940
    Medical-Surgical Travel Nurse$169,480
    Operating Room Travel$166,900
    Clinic Travel Nurse$152,360

    Source: ZipRecruiter

    Living Arrangements

    Your decision to take a housing stipend or the company-provided housing can affect your travel nurse pay. A housing stipend is the extra money that a travel nursing agency pays you to find a place to live while on assignment. Choosing the housing stipend option can significantly increase your overall pay, especially if you manage to find a very affordable living arrangement.

    4 Tips to Boost Your Travel Nurse Pay/Find High-Paying Assignments

    Boosting your travel nurse pay places extra cash in your pockets for exploring the new city on your days off, advancing your career, saving for retirement, or paying off debt. Here are four tips to help boost your pay.

    1 | Find a good recruiter.

    A good recruiter goes above and beyond to find assignments that fit your specific needs. Tell your recruiter exactly how much you want to be paid. Ross advises, “Tell them your desired locations, contract lengths, minimum pay thresholds, and see what they can round up.”

    A great way to locate good recruiters is to join online travel nursing communities (e.g., The Gypsy Nurse) and social networking groups (e.g., LinkedIn or Facebook) to connect with other travel nurses for recommendations.

    2 | Choose assignments that are in high demand.

    You can receive a higher salary if you choose assignments in states that have a high nursing shortage. You can also work in geographically remote or unpopular locations.

    Ross says, “I cannot tell you how many texts I get from travel nurse recruiters who offer ungodly amounts of money to go work in undesirable locations.”

    High-demand crisis assignments are another way to increase your travel nurse pay. According to March 2023 Ziprecruiter data, crisis travel RNs make an average of $150,560 per year.

    3 | Be selective with the assignments you take.

    You have a right to decline an assignment if it does not meet your pay expectations. Ross says, “Travel nurses today have a lot of power and you can afford to be choosy.”

    Work with several recruiters and choose from a variety of assignments offered to you. Remember that recruiters are working for you. Ross notes, “I just sit back and review text messages when they find contracts that might fit.”

    4 | Take the housing stipend and find cheaper housing.

    Ross recommends taking the housing stipend if given the choice. She states, “Stipends can make a big difference in net pay as you can usually find housing for cheaper.” For half of her assignments, she lived in an RV with her husband to save on housing costs.

    While you may not own an RV, you can rent a room in someone’s home or stay in extended-stay hotels. You can also work with a short-term housing rental company like Airbnb or Vrbo to save on housing costs.

    How to Make Extra Money as a Travel Nurse

    A great way to make extra money as a travel nurse is to work a part-time or freelance nursing job on the side or in between assignments. You can find these positions on job boards (e.g., Indeed, LinkedIn, ZipRecruiter, and Glassdoor). Here are five ways to make some extra cash.

    • Telenursing

      As a telehealth nurse, you can work remotely as a telephonic triage nurse, virtual nurse coach, or telephonic case manager. Telehealth nurses make an average of $36 an hour, according to March 2023 ZipRecruiter data.

    • Private Duty Nursing

      As a private duty nurse, you can work flexible shifts one-on-one with patients in their homes. According to ZipRecruiter, as of March 2023 private duty nurses make an average of $36 an hour.

    • Health Writing

      Use your knowledge of the healthcare field to write health-related articles for blog sites, publications, and even pharmaceutical companies. You can get paid a flat rate per word or per article.

    • National Council Licensing Exam Prep Writing

      Create practice test questions and other valuable learning materials for the nursing licensing exam that can be used by education companies like Test Prep Insight.

    • Nursing Tutoring

      Give back by supporting student nurses on their road to success. Education companies like Kaplan and Smarthinking by Pearson hire nursing tutors.

    Overall, maximizing your pay as a travel nurse can have excellent personal and professional benefits. Choose your path, weigh your options, and enjoy your assignment.

    Meet Our Contributor

    Portrait of Alaina Ross, RN, BSN

    Alaina Ross, RN, BSN

    Alaina Ross has 10 years of experience as a pre-op and PACU nurse. Ross is also an expert contributor for Test Prep Insight, a test prep company that helps nursing students prepare for exams like the TEAS and NCLEX.