An NP’s Guide to Becoming a Travel Nurse

During the Covid-19 pandemic, travel nursing became more popular than ever. It was talked about all over the news, and everyone knew at least one person who transitioned from floor nursing to travel nurse. At that time, travel nurses were getting paid $10,000+ per week, working seven days a week. Now that Covid-19 is more under control, travel nursing rates have adjusted back to normal.

A travel nurse is a registered nurse with a clinical background in temporary nursing. Travel nursing normally occurs in a hospital setting with critical nursing shortages and high-demand specialties. There has been a nursing shortage for decades, in which travel nurses have helped fill the void. There can occasionally be needs in community health facilities and clinics as well. A travel nursing assignment allows nurses to build their skills and explore the country while  increasing pay.

Agency and Recruiters

Travel nurses are employed by a nursing staffing agency instead of a single facility. The first step in becoming a travel nurse is establishing a relationship with an agency and recruiter. These agencies partner with healthcare facilities to fill staffing shortages. Nurses often work with multiple agencies to find the best assignment for them. There are no hard feelings about working with multiple agencies, it is usually expected.

The nurse can fill out a profile online. Once the nurse chooses a job they are interested in, their recruiter will present them to the site. Then a brief phone or video interview takes place. If the site and the nurse want to move forward with the position, the agency draws up a travel nursing contract.  The contract outlines the start and end dates for the assignment, the total compensation for the duration of the assignment, and work expectations.

The nurse should keep in contact with the recruiter throughout the assignment. They can help resolve issues such as canceling shifts or being overworked. The recruiter serves as the liaison between the nurse and the hospital.

Pay Package

Travel nursing pay is competitive. Travel nurses are paid more than permanent nurses. The hourly pay rate is typically negotiable. Travel nurses are guaranteed minimum hours for every assignment. They are also paid overtime and possible sign-on bonuses. The pay can vary depending on the location, setting, and specialty. For example, California is known to pay nurses more than southern states such as Georgia. ICU nurses are paid more compared to telemetry nurses. Additionally, hospital nurses are paid more than clinic nurses.

They qualify for tax-free stipends if their travel nursing contract is more than 50 miles from their home. The stipends are tax-free because the nurse is already paying for living expenses at their residence. The nurse can choose to be provided with a furnished apartment or a housing stipend for housing benefits. Both options are tax-free. The nurse can even bring their pet with them.

If the nurse decides to take the housing stipend, they will need to look for furnished housing independently. Popular websites for them include FurnishedFinder and Airbnb. Since travel nurses work a lot, they often choose to rent just a room instead of an entire apartment. This allows them to pocket extra money from the stipend.

Some agencies may provide a meal and incidental stipend as well. This is a daily allowance for meals and gas. Many travel nurses prefer receiving stipends because they are not taxed on the income from the travel stipend. Thus, some recruiters will play around with the numbers to offer the travel nurse lower hourly pay but with a higher weekly stipend. Some agencies will provide health and a 401k retirement plan.

Another benefit that travel nursing provides is the flexibility to choose when and where they want to work. They can take one month off in between assignments if they would like or can find a local travel assignment close to home if they do not want to be far from their family. They can work day or night shifts and avoid working the holidays.


Fortunately, many states are now part of the nursing licensure compact (NLC). This means if the nurse’s residential state is part of the NLC, they can use that license to practice in other states that are also part of the NLC. So far there are 38 states that are part of the NLC. For instance, if a nurse from Florida wants to travel and work in Virginia, they can practice in Virginia without applying for a new license. This legislation opens nurses to a plethora of nursing jobs.

In states not part of the NLC, such as California, the nurse would have to apply for an RN license and complete the required fingerprinting. It can take weeks to months for a new RN application to be approved. Thus, using a multistate RN license is beneficial and can speed up starting a new assignment in another state.

The staffing agencies can assist with license applications. They will typically pay for the license upfront or reimburse the nurse once they work an assignment with them. To keep the state license active, the nurse must stay current on their continuing education hours.

Assignment and Experience

To work as a travel nurse, the nurse would need at least one year of experience in their specialty in acute care. Some agencies may only consider applicants with two years or more of clinical experience. Travel nurses must have skills and qualifications to jump into an assignment without training. They are expected to seamlessly adjust to new environments, staff, and procedures.

A travel nurse can only work in their chosen specialty. So, an RN with experience only working in dialysis would be unable to work as a travel nurse in the intensive care unit (ICU). Although not required, a nurse can obtain certifications in their specialty to make them more competitive. Nurses certified in operating room techniques or dialysis can easily find jobs in these areas wherever they go.

The most common nursing specialties for travel nurses are:

  • Med-Surg
  • Intensive Care Units (ICU)
  • Emergency Room
  • Operating Room
  • Telemetry
  • Progressive Care Unit (PCU)
  • Medical Surgery

Travel nursing assignments are usually 13 weeks long. There is frequently an option to extend. Nurses can travel and work in all 50 states of the U.S., Puerto Rico, and U.S. territories such as Guam and the Virgin Islands.

Documents and Orientation

Before starting an assignment, the nurse will have to submit the necessary documentation. They must provide copies of their licenses, certifications, immunizations and titers, tuberculosis screening, background checks, and urine drug testing. Travel nurses may be mandated to complete onboarding for each new contract they begin which can be bothersome and time-consuming.

The first day of an assignment is usually a generic hospital orientation. The nurse will complete HIPAA and OSHA training. The orientation on the floor is more limited. Nursing care is mostly the same everywhere, so it is expected the travel nurse is already competent inpatient care.

The hospital may not provide orientation or training. Travel nurses are considered experts in their field. There may be a brief introduction to the facility’s procedures and policies. If the nurse is lucky, they may be pairedwith a nurse for the first few days of training.


Besides being competent in their nursing field, travel nurses need several skills to succeed. They need to have critical thinking skills. They should be able to solve complex problems and be creative in finding solutions. They should be flexible. Travel nurses are expected to be flexible with their work schedule and adapt quickly. They should adapt to their new circumstances and the clinical setting effectively.

Travel nurses should be emotionally intelligent. They need to get along with their peers and be empathetic to patients. They also need strong communication skills. They should be able to communicate well with patients and their team. It takes a strong and competent nurse to be lucrative in travel nursing.

Specific nursing skills travel nurses should have include completing clinical documentation, offering patient and family education, and perform treatments such as tube feedings and wound care. They should be able to manage medical equipment, administer medications and fluids, and assist with activities of daily living. These are the same basic duties of any nurse, just in a different setting.


For further information regarding travel nursing, check out the following resources below:

  • Travel Nursing Central: This website has plenty of resources for travel nurses from finding a recruiter to finding housing.
  • Travel Nurse Across America: A great resource for finding travel nursing jobs and other learning platforms about travel nursing.
Sophia Khawly, MSN

Sophia Khawly, MSN


Sophia Khawly is a traveling nurse practitioner from Miami, Florida. She has been a nurse for 14 years and has worked in nine different states. She likes to travel in her spare time and has visited over 40 countries. Being a traveling nurse practitioner allows her to combine her love of learning, travel, and serving others. Learn more about Sophia at