A travel nurse is a registered nurse (RN) who takes jobs in high-demand locations. These nurses can go from working the floor in a hospital ward to serving in a clinic or healthcare facility.

Nurses are always there when you need them, and that need became even more pressing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some heroic nurses even came out of retirement to reenter the workforce and help save lives. 

The Travel urse, which was once a relatively unknown career path, became one of the most in-demand positions in the United States. 

Travel Nurses respond to the call for help, wherever it may come from. Rather than set down roots, they pick up at a moment’s notice to provide care and compassion wherever it’s needed the most.

They are self-sacrificing individuals who put their own lives on pause for long periods to care for patients in need.

Healthcare needs more nurses willing to travel as the shifting demands of the American population change. From an expanding Baby Boomer population to ongoing rises in COVID cases, the travel nurse has never been a more relevant and important career in medicine. 

Are Travel Nurses The Same As Registered Nurses?

A Travel Nurse is a registered nurse (RN) who takes jobs in high-demand locations. For example, these nurses can go from working the floor in a hospital ward to serving in a clinic or healthcare facility. 

They are skillfully agile, unwaveringly dedicated, and tirelessly committed to providing the best care to anyone, anywhere, whenever needed. 

After the COVID-19 crisis in 2020, nationwide staffing shortages created a strong demand for qualified Travel Nurses. There was no time to wait for students to earn their licenses, so hospitals and other healthcare facilities had to hire nurses willing to relocate to help patients. 

What Is The Difference Between A Travel Nurse And A Registered Nurse (Rn)?

A Travel Nurse is also a registered nurse, but they have at least two years of experience. They apply for a license in their state or hold a compact license that grants them practicing privileges to operate in other compact states.

Under the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC), compact states allow nurses to practice between them without applying for separate licensure. Non-compact states require a nurse to apply for a state license before offering any healthcare services. 

A Travel Nurse, unlike an RN, takes short-term work positions wherever they are needed. While an RN tends to work in a set work environment and field, Travel Nurses’ careers tend to be more flexible. 

They may offer services in a hospital for a few months, then transition to a community health clinic. Their work integrates multiple medical disciplines, which requires a diverse skillset and continued commitment to learning about their patients and their needs. 

What Qualifications Does A Travel Nurse Need?

For someone to start working as a Travel Nurse, they need to:

  • Hold an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or bachelor’s in nursing (BSN)

  • Pass the NCLEX-RN exam

  • Have a valid nursing license in their state 

  • Have at least two years of work experience as an RN

Travel Nurse requirements may slightly vary from agency to agency, but all must have a valid license and be an operating RN.

Most employers require at least two years of experience, but as the need for Travel Nurses increases, some are willing to hire nurses with one year of experience. 

What Work Does A Travel Nurse Do Day To Day?

The daily responsibilities of a Travel Nurse will vary depending on where they are currently working. Generally, they fulfill all the regular duties of a registered nurse. The duties include: 

  • Assessing, observing, and communicating with patients

  • Measuring and monitoring patients’ vitals, including blood sugar levels

  • Prepping patients for examinations and medical treatments 

  • Administering oral and IV medications

  • Updating and maintaining accurate patient health records

  • Creating and adhering to patient care plans with their health team

  • Drawing blood and collecting bodily fluids for lab work 

  • Supervising LPNs, CNAs, or nursing students

  • Answering questions, providing support, and continually collaborating with patients and their family members/caregivers

Whether they’re working the floor in the hospital or situated at a health clinic, a Travel Nurse will perform standard nursing duties each day. They start each job with orientation. This introduces them to the facility’s procedures and provides an overview of the work they will complete during their contract. 

The nurse manager will introduce the Travel Nurse to any systems they need to use and provide an overview of the patients they’ll be treating.

Most Travel Nurses work the same daily schedule as a permanent nurse, which is 3 to 4 days “on” a 12-hour shift, followed by 3 or 4 days off. But being a Travel Nurse, you have a more significant opportunity to choose a work schedule that you enjoy. 

Where Do Travel Nurses Work?

A traveling nurse often works in a hospital that has a staffing shortage. However, some Travel Nurses take positions in underserved communities, working in health clinics, nursing homes, and other long-term care facilities.

Ultimately, their work can take them anywhere there are patients in need. A Travel Nurse can find work wherever there is a shortage of qualified nurses. 

What Is It Like To Be A Travel Nurse? 

Travel Nurses can stay in one location for a few months or several years. Some will only work in a healthcare facility for a few weeks. It all depends on the jobs they decide to take or what opportunities their Travel Nurse agency provides them.

Being a Travel Nurse can be a rewarding experience. It takes the selflessness of nursing to the next level, and it allows you to meet and support a large number of patients across the United States. 

At times, it can be stressful, especially when you are working in an environment that does not have enough staff on hand. Travel Nurses often pick up a tremendous amount of work, and they may serve during crises, such as in an area with an outbreak of COVID-19.

The risk of nurse burnout can be higher for a Travel Nurse, who may work in hospitals or healthcare clinics that have limited resources and a high patient volume. 

Compassion fatigue, depression, and anxiety are all common, so it’s important to be always in touch with your mental health if this career path interests you. 

A Travel Nurse does get to experience new parts of the country regularly, but this may also come at a downside. If you continually have to leave friends, family, and possibly pets behind, you may be prone to feeling lonely or struggling with depression in your new location. 

While it has the potential to be incredibly rewarding knowing you’re making a real difference, travel nursing does have its downsides, too. 

Being mindful of the risks to your mental health and everyday struggles it presents are important — don’t overlook the effects of being a Travel Nurse solely for the higher pay. 

How Much Do Travel Nurses Make?

The average Travel Nurse makes more than a permanent RN with an average salary of $87,958 a year. During high demand, some Travel Nurses can earn as much as $8,000 per week or more.

With the average pay in mind, a traveling nurse could earn between $33,000 to over $63,000 for a 13-week job, and they may also have health benefits and a retirement plan through their agency. 

By the way, 13 weeks is the average duration of a travel nursing job, but some extend to 26 weeks and beyond. 

The exact amount of money a nurse makes varies by location, their experience level, any specializations they have, and the duration of their job. Nursing specialists, such as ICU or cardiac nurses, qualify for even higher compensation. 

Recommended Reading - How Much Do Travel Nurses Make?

How Does Travel Nurse Pay Differ From Staff Nurse Pay?

Travel Nurses get paid more than staff nurses on average due to the need for their skills and the often highly demanding nature of their work.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, the average salary for an RN is $76,945 per year. 

A Travel Nurse can earn that much in 6 months, quickly earning over six figures annually. However, many choose to take prolonged breaks between jobs. This allows them to have a more rewarding work-life balance without losing pay. 

Are There Different Specialties Of Travel Nurses?

Yes! Traveling nurses have a wide range of specialties, just like traditional staff nurses do. Depending on your passion, you can specialize in several medical disciplines and apply your skills to help people in need across the country.

Travel Nurse specializations include: 

  • Cardiac nurse

  • Clinical nurse specialist (CNS)

  • Critical care nurse

  • Emergency room nurse (CEN)

  • Family nurse practitioner

  • Geriatric nurse 

  • Neonatal nurse

  • NICU nurse 

  • Pediatric nurse 

  • Perioperative nurse 

These are just a few examples of the types of nurses you can find working for a Travel Nurse agency. While most jobs may not call for any advanced specializations, nurses who hold higher credentials can often find the highest paying positions. 

Can Travel Nurses Work In Their Own State?

Yes, a Travel Nurse can work in any state where they have a valid license. If you live in a compact state, you can work in your state and other compact states.

On the other hand, you can only work in non-compact states if you hold a valid state license through that state’s nurse licensing board. 

An interesting fact to note is that some Travel Nurses take Travel Nurse jobs without ever leaving their state! As a result, you can find employment in hospitals, rural healthcare facilities, and underserved communities that all need qualified nurses to lend a hand.

For many nurses with families or who do not want to relocate far, working as a traveling nurse in their state is the perfect compromise. 

Advantages And Disadvantages Of A Career As A Travel Nurse

Being a Travel Nurse can be amazing, but it may not be for everyone. You might find that working as a staff nurse is more suited to your mental health, personal life, and work needs. 

Let’s take a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of travel nursing. 

Advantages Of Choosing A Career As A Travel Nurse

  • Experience different parts of the country

  • Meet people from all sorts of different backgrounds and cultures

  • Earn a high pay for short-term work

  • Create a greater work-life balance

  • Apply your skills and knowledge where they are needed the most 

Disadvantages Of Choosing A Career As A Travel Nurse

  • Work can be stressful in underfunded or understaffed facilities 

  • Not having a fixed salary or other benefits, like paid-time off or vacation days

  • Missing family and friends due to frequent relocating 

  • Not having a chance to form long-term relationships with coworkers 

  • Possibly needing to apply for multiple licenses to practice across states 

How To Become A Travel Nurse

You can become a Travel Nurse by first completing an associate’s in nursing (ADN) or bachelor’s in nursing (BSN) program. 

Some nursing programs are offered at community colleges, but you may also attend a nursing school. 

After completing your training, you can pass the NCLEX-RN exam, earn your license and start gaining experience.

With enough experience, you can apply to a reputable Travel Nurse agency and begin receiving job offers. 

Recommended Reading - How to Become a Travel Nurse in The USA

How Long Does It Take To Become A Travel Nurse?

Most Travel Nurse agencies require a minimum of two years of experience. Earning an associate’s in nursing takes approximately two years, while earning a bachelor’s takes four years. If you decide to pursue any specializations, you could spend an additional two to four years in training. 

Between education and work experience requirements, becoming a Travel Nurse takes between 4 to 6 years. 

Recommended Reading - How Long Is Nursing School in The USA?

Some History About Travel Nurses

The rapid increase in demand for Travel Nurses kickstarted in 2020. During the COVID-19 outbreak, hospitals were massively understaffed as patients flooded their floors and many permanent nurses fell ill.

The history of Travel Nurses dates back to the first World War, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that the first travel nurse agency formed. 

Today, travel nursing is a booming career that creates opportunities for personal growth, career development, and exciting work experiences. If you are interested in becoming a Travel Nurse, starting your education is the first step toward reaching your goal.

Nurses who meet the qualifying criteria can find a Travel Nurse agency and apply.