How to Make More Money as a Travel Nurse

How to Make More Money as a Travel Nurse

As a travel nurse, if you’re fresh to the system, it’s pertinent that you identify some behind-the-scenes factors that can influence your pay — let’s have a look at how to maximize your income to make the most money as a travel nurse.


The difference between a travel nurse and staff nurse pay


Travel nurse pay is not the same as staff nurse pay because travel nurses are paid with a general compensation package that cuts across a base wage and non-taxable stipends, for things like housing, bonuses, and living expenses. Because this money isn’t taxed, travel nurses can derive more overall. A staff nurse’s salary by comparison earns a base salary that is taxed.


Travel nurses are employed through agencies to work at healthcare facilities that have an exact need. The higher the need or demand, the more pay travel nurses can expect to make. 


Travel nurses also can make additional compensation like referrals and sign-on bonuses. Some even hide some stipends (like they find cheaper housing than the housing stipend amount). All of these can make travel nurses’ overall compensation bigger than staff nurses.


While there are some notable differences in the pay for travel and staff nurses, there are some parts of their pay packages that stay similar. 


Top factors that influence travel nurse pay


Although you can look forward to making more money as a travel nurse, not all travel nursing positions are paid the same way Pay among travel nursing positions can depend on the levels, depending on things like what shift you work, or even where you work. Some of the major factors that will influence how much you can realize as a travel nurse cut across; 




Finding yourself in a location that is in greater need of nurses to staff facilities could tally with higher pay for you as a travel nurse. For instance, if you’re ready to work in a cold climate during the winter (such as Alaska in December) or a location that boasts of a significant nursing shortage (like California and Texas).


Cost of living


Selecting a travel nurse location where the need is on the increase, but the cost of living is low could mean more dollars in your pocket. In particular, if you take the housing stipend, but can get affordable housing, especially in a lower-cost area, you save the extra funds non-taxed. You could also cut on other costs of living expenses like food and utilities.


Nursing specialty


Anytime you can major as a nurse, you have the benefit to command a higher pay or bargain more since you have a special skill that hospitals need. You can derive more certification in a high-demand area, such as women’s health, emergency room, critical care, and OR. Or, communicate with your agency for their recent list of in-demand specialties. Some agencies may even be ready to offer tuition assistance or reimbursement for you to elevate your skills in a clinical specialty.


Shift timing


There’s no way around this one — if you’re ready to work the night shifts, holiday shifts, swing shifts, on-call shifts, and any other shift that isn’t straight daytime hours, you can earn more money.


Other factors that influence travel nurse pay


You can maximize the amount of money you earn as a travel nurse by also taking the opportunity of special circumstances and opportunities, such as:


Quick response assignments


Are you ready to come in and work at a moment’s notice? Able to lay aside time to be on call and work on a flexible basis? If yes, then, you’re more valuable as a travel nurse, as agency needs may gear up and change on a sometimes frequently. Nurses who can work quick response tasks usually can get more money, so if that’s up to your alley, snatch those tasks up — and be certain to let your recruiter identify that you’re open for more.




Strikes invariably aren’t a normal situation, but for a travel nurse ready to elevate their income, a facility on strike = a facility in need = higher wages. If you feel guilty for working in the middle of the strike, note that patients still need quality care during a strike. Most nurses who are striking will likely be grateful someone is taking over for their patients while they divert on getting a better contract.




Don’t overlook the bonuses, because they can sum up instantly. Before you accept any work, discover with the agency if any sign-on bonuses are present. And, if you’ve stayed with one agency for a while, or embark on a long-term position, you may be opportune for a retention bonus.


You could also work with many agencies to receive new sign-on bonuses for short-term contract work. Oh, and don’t forget to recommend your friends and family or Facebook friends to get those referral bonuses as well. If every person you went to high school with can demand from you to purchase their new skincare or lip gloss, you can invariably post a referral link too.


10 Tips to Make the Most as a Travel Nurse


You can follow all the “rules” for your income, but if you’d like to earn the most money, you can as a travel nurse, here are some extra tips:


Make yourself available for new experiences. Especially at the starting of your career, it can be advantageous to be open to more situations and experiences. Does your agency need someone ready to learn to rotate in OR? Need a nurse to jump into a float position? Make yourself your agency’s go-to nurse and before you know it, they might be calling on you for the better-paying jobs, because you’ve proven that you’re ready to jump in.


Search for transition jobs. Many times, if a facility is embarking on a new electronic medical record system or similar software hospital-wide, they’ll need travel nurses to staff the floor while the regular staff gets trained. Look for these positions to get the experience so you can have an excellent track record of succeeding in transition roles.


Shop around. Look, in the end, a nurse staffing agency works for you, not the other way around, so don’t be ashamed to shop around. Ask vast travel nurses for opinions and get “quotes” from many agencies — then use the offers you get to bargain the position you want.


Be ready to always take the housing stipend. Your travel agency may try to talk you into reimbursing for your housing, but if you can, push to take the housing stipend instead. Your stipend will be non-taxable and leaves you open to getting housing that costs less than the stipend, so you can keep the rest.


Maintain your tax home. You aren’t opportune for those non-taxable stipends that make travel nursing so effective unless you keep your tax home, so be certain you’re following all the rules — and if you’re in doubt, get the services of a tax expert.


Get licensed in multiple states. The more areas you are licensed to work in, the more chance you have to take higher-paying positions. Discover what states your license covers — many states accept the nurse compact license and if they don’t, you can get a license to make sure you are covered.


Make sure you ask. Want more shifts? Have some free time in your schedule around the holidays? Note that you’re a night owl who could easily work the night shift forever? Think you deserve a bonus for taking that shift no one else would? Let your recruiter be aware! 


Place a  specific goal. Just making “more” money as a travel nurse might sound good, but studies have revealed that the more exact your goal is, the more likely you are to embark on real steps to achieve it. So set a very real goal, such as paying down $10K in debt, or saving enough to take a month off to travel.


Make sure you’re strict about your budget. With travel nursing especially, it can fall out of a routine easily — it’s like when you’re on holiday and you consume food you wouldn’t normally or buy things you wouldn’t either because you’re out of normal routine. 


But don’t use a strange location or short-term task as an excuse to spend money needlessly; place a strict budget and stick to it, even when you’re out of your comfort zone so you aren’t consuming your hard-earned money on things like overpriced snacks and meals out.

Work with a financial expert. The easiest means to earn more money as a nurse? Manage the money you’re already making well. Get in touch with an accountant who dwells in travel nursing so you can follow all the right financial guides, from filing taxes to identifying your exemptions, to manage and utilize your income.

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