How to Become a Travel Nurse

Brandi Glass
8 min read
Man Vaccinating a Woman

As a travel nurse, you help people live healthier, more fulfilling lives. What’s more, you do so while earning an above-average nurse salary, traveling, and taking as much time off between contracts as you wish.

Keep reading to discover how to become a travel nurse, the typical travel nurse salary, and how to get travel nurse contracts.

What is a Travel Nurse?

A travel nurse is a registered nurse who takes on temporary assignments in various healthcare facilities, typically to fill staffing shortages or cover seasonable demand. They work for a limited time, usually 2–26 weeks, and often travel across the country or internationally.

What Does a Travel Nurse Do?

A travel nurse performs the same duties as a regular staff nurse but on a temporary basis.

They provide patient care, administer medications, monitor vital signs, collaborate with healthcare teams, and educate patients and families.

Their day-to-day activities will vary based on their specialization and the healthcare facility they are working in. However, common daily tasks include:

  • Assessing patients' conditions, medical histories, and vital signs to create or update care plans
  • Giving prescribed medications, injections, or treatments to patients and monitoring their response
  • Continuously observing and tracking patients' progress, adjusting care plans as needed, and documenting updates
  • Accurately documenting patient information, treatment plans, and interventions in electronic medical records
  • Explaining treatment plans, medications, and self-care strategies to patients and their families to help them manage their health effectively
  • Ensuring a clean and safe care environment, adhering to infection control protocols, and following facility guidelines

Additionally, travel nurses must adapt to different workplace cultures, learn facility-specific policies, and navigate new electronic medical record systems while maintaining high-quality patient care.

How to Become a Travel Nurse

Let's break down how to become a travel nurse step by step. First, you'll need to achieve your registered nurse degree. There are two main pathways for this: obtaining an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Both degrees will enable you to work as a registered nurse, but a BSN can open up more opportunities for career advancement and specialization.

Once you have your nursing degree, it's time to sit the NCLEX-RN exam and achieve your state nursing license. If you’re in a Nursing Licensure Compact (NLC) state, you’re in luck. A multi-state NLC allows you to practice in any of the participating NLC states without needing to apply for a separate license in each state. This can save you time and money, and it will make it much easier to accept travel nursing assignments across the US.

Keep in mind that some states still require individual licensure, so be prepared to navigate those requirements as needed. You’ll have to check the travel nurse requirements for each individual state before accepting the assignment.

You’re unlikely to be able to get any travel nurse contracts just yet. You’ll probably have to build up your experience first. Most travel nurse resumes include a year or two of work as a standard nurse in one healthcare setting. Use that time to hone your skills, develop expertise, and learn from mentors — it will come in useful when you arrive in a new location and don’t know who to ask for support.

Finally, once you’ve built up your experience as a registered nurse and achieved the appropriate licensing, you’re ready to sign on with an agency and begin looking for travel nurse contracts.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Travel Nurse?

It takes most nurses a minimum of two to six years to become a travel nurse. You’ll have to complete your travel nurse schooling and then develop experience as a registered nurse before you can switch to working as a travel nurse.

How Long is Travel Nurse Training?

Travel nurse schooling takes one to four years, depending on the degree you opt for.

An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) typically takes two years of full-time study, while most nurses require four years for their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

That said, if you already have a bachelor’s degree, you may be able to study for an accelerated BSN, which only takes one to two years. You can also choose to sit your ADN now and then do an ADN to BSN conversion course later on.

A Day in the Life of a Travel Nurse

Woman Looking at a X-ray Film

One of the wonderful things about being a travel nurse is that every healthcare facility is different. You’ll work with varying patient populations with distinct healthcare needs.

However, some things will remain constant. You’ll start your days with a handoff from the previous shift, before seeing patients, monitoring vital signs, administering medicines, educating patients and their families, and updating patient records.

At the end of your shift, you'll hand off to the incoming nurse and head home, ready to explore your new city or unwind before another day in your fulfilling, fast-paced role as a travel nurse.

Travel Nurse Salary: How Much Does a Travel Nurse Make?

The average travel nurse salary is $125,432 a year, according to anonymous self-reported data from jobs site Indeed.

However, calculating travel nurse pay can be challenging. Although some states have introduced a travel nurse pay cap, rates vary greatly depending on local supply and demand. In fact, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, some travel nurses earned as much as $10,000 a week.

Plus, many travel nurses have gaps between their contracts. This means that their annual travel nurse salary could be significantly lower than anticipated.

Other factors that can affect a travel nurse’s pay include their specialism, their qualifications and experience level, and their location. A well-written travel nurse resume might be useful in negotiating a higher rate, or at least better travel nurse benefits.

Travel Nurse Salary Ranges

Most travel nurses in the US earn between $87,760 and $179,273.

How Much Does a Travel Nurse Make an Hour?

Travel nurses earn $53.76 an hour on average in the US.

Is Becoming a Travel Nurse a Good Fit for Me?

The switch from being a registered nurse to a travel nurse comes with plenty of benefits, including greater pay and more flexibility. However, it can also be challenging.

Like all nurses, you’ll need strong clinical abilities, adaptability, and clear communication skills. Problem-solving and critical thinking will serve you well, especially when you’re working in an unfamiliar setting with different resources and team members than you’re used to.

Travel nurses need to handle change well. You’ll have to be comfortable working in a variety of healthcare settings, often with limited orientation time. Flexibility will be crucial.

You’ll also benefit from self-confidence and independence. It can be hard to put down roots or make work friends as a travel nurse, while your home will constantly change. You’ll need to embrace the instability and advocate for yourself.

Sensitivity to cultural differences will help, as patient populations and team cultures can vary greatly from one location to another. Curiosity and a love for travel will also make your work more fulfilling.

Where Can a Travel Nurse Work?

Travel nurses can work in hospitals, outpatient clinics, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, schools, government facilities, and even with private clients. Assignments may also be available in remote locations, such as rural communities or on cruise ships. Travel nurses can also participate in humanitarian and disaster relief efforts, providing essential medical care to affected populations.

How to Apply for Travel Nurse Jobs

Woman in Blue Scrub Suit Smiling

Your first step in starting a career as a travel nurse should be signing up to an agency. Look for a travel nurse agency that will give you access to a large variety and volume of contracts, in addition to competitive pay rates, generous benefits (including housing and per-diem allowances), and a solid support system throughout the contract. Make sure to check the agency’s travel nurse requirements, as some will want a minimum amount of experience as a registered nurse.

You’ll need to send the agency your resume in order to sign on. Take the time to create a strong resume that highlights your qualifications, skills, and experience. A well-written resume is crucial for making a good first impression on agencies and potential employers. Our travel nurse resume templates will help you craft an eye-catching resume in minutes.

Once accepted by an agency, you can start applying for open positions listed on the agency's platform. In most cases, you’ll have to provide your travel nurse resume and attend an interview in order to get the contract.

Make sure to prepare for your interview by reviewing travel nurse interview questions. In preparing answers to the most common travel nurse interview questions, you’ll boost your chances of impressing the interviewers and winning the contract.

Once you’ve been offered a contract, it’s time to prepare for your trip. You’ll have to organize your accommodation, either through your agency, the healthcare facility, or independently. And, you’ll have to make plans for the journey.

To begin with, packing and traveling might seem stressful. But once you’ve got a bit more experience as a travel nurse, you’ll find preparing for a trip is easy.

Rocket Resume Travel Nurse Template

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

These questions frequently come up Among readers wondering how to become a travel nurse. Keep reading to discover if your question is answered here.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Travel Nurse?

Depending on your choice of studies, it will take you anywhere between two to five years to become a travel nurse. First, you need to qualify as a registered nurse by achieving your two-year ADN or four-year BSN and achieving your license. Most agencies will also require a year of experience as an RN before they’ll consider you as a travel nurse.

What States are Trying to Cap Travel Nurse Pay?

A travel nurse pay cap is already in place in Massachusetts and Minnesota, while Pennsylvania is currently trying to introduce maximum pay rates.

How Many Years of College to be a Travel Nurse?

Aspiring travel nurses will need to spend two to four years in college to achieve an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN). An ADN only takes two years, while a BSN typically takes four.

How Much Experience to be a Travel Nurse?

Most travel nurse agencies will expect at least one year of experience as a registered nurse, in addition to the clinical hours you accumulated in your college studies. However, some travel nurses are successfully able to find work straight out of nursing school.

What Do You Need to be a Travel Nurse?

To start working as a travel nurse, you need either an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s of science in nursing and a license that’s accepted by the state you want to work in. Fortunately, 39 states accept the multistate license from the Nurse Licensure Compact.

What Degree Do You Need to be a Travel Nurse?

You’ll need an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) to become a travel nurse. If you’ve already got a bachelor’s degree, you might be able to study for an accelerated BSN instead.

What is the Best Travel Nurse Agency?

The best travel nurse agency will offer an extensive job network, competitive pay, comprehensive benefits, and exceptional support. You could also choose to prioritize agencies with varied contract lengths, company-secured housing, or a generous per-diem.

What are the Benefits of Being a Travel Nurse?

Travel nurse benefits include flexible scheduling and competitive pay. You’ll also get to work in diverse healthcare settings and travel across the US. And, with generous housing stipends, you may be able to live rent-free.

Get started on your path to becoming a travel nurse by creating a resume with Rocket Resume!