Why Do Travel Nurses Make So Much? A Breakdown of Salary and Benefits 987839088534212 [9:30 AM] Katie Iglewski

Making the switch from a staff nurse to a travel nurse seems exciting — you get to travel the world and gain experience in nursing from many different facilities all while making a bit more money.

The financial benefits of travel nursing are a big plus to starting a travel nursing contract, but why do travel nurses get paid more?

Learn everything that ties into a travel nurse’s salary and why there’s a difference between a travel nurse salary vs. a staff nurse salary.


Table of Contents



Do Travel Nurses Make More Money Than Staff Nurses?

The short answer is yes, travel nurses almost always make more money than regular staff nurses.

As with most things, the exact salary amount depends on a variety of factors such as experience level, specialty area, and where you’re working. 

If you’ve worked as a travel nurse before, you probably feel that your higher pay is well-deserved! As a travel nurse working with a trusted nurse staffing agency, you should have access to a recruiter who can help you negotiate your contract and receive the highest pay possible for your work.

Utilize Pronto to search for available travel nursing contracts and take advantage of Trusted Nurse Staffing’s excellent pay, benefits, and round-the-clock support to earn the money you deserve.


travel nurse salary vs regular nurse


Travel Nurse vs. Staff Nurse: What’s the Difference?

The standout difference between a travel nurse is that one travels the world, working contracts in various locations and facilities while the other is employed by a single facility.

If you’re a nurse looking to satisfy your wanderlust, travel nursing might be the job for you.


Travel Nurse

To become a travel nurse, you must be a registered nurse (RN) with a valid license and at least two years of nursing experience.

You can:

  • Work short-term assignments at a variety of healthcare facilities.
  • Fill gaps where there are nursing shortages.
  • Receive pay packages that are previously negotiated and agreed upon.
  • Work in almost any state.
  • Change locations with every travel nursing contract.
  • Receive stipends for housing, meals, and incidentals.
  • Take time off between assignments, if desired.
  • Receive a regular income.
  • Be employed by an independent nurse staffing agency.


Staff Nurse

Staff nurses are registered nurses (RN) who hold one permanent job position at a single facility. 

As a staff nurse, you can:

  • Receive paid time off (PTO).
  • Be paid a yearly salary dependent on education and experience.
  • Receive pay raises.
  • Earn seniority.
  • Receive a regular income.


how much more do travel nurses make than staff nurses


Why Are Travel Nurses Paid More Than Regular Nurses? Learn How Travel Nursing Salaries Are Determined

The main reasons travel nurses make so much include:

  • High demand
  • Ability to work during a crisis or natural disaster
  • Higher location wages
  • Experience in different specialties
  • Willingness to work undesirable shifts
  • Earned bonuses; and
  • Opportunities to work with top agencies

Let’s look at each of these areas in detail to help you understand why travel nurses get paid more than staff nurses overall.


The Breakdown: 7 Reasons Why Travel Nurses Make More and How Their Salaries Are Determined


#1: Travel Nurses Are in High Demand

Travel nursing was birthed out of the need to help hospitals and other healthcare facilities combat nursing shortages. 

Because nurses make up the largest section of the health profession, they are a critical part of healthcare — facilities can’t operate as smoothly without them. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that more than 200,000 additional nurses will be needed before 2030, creating many employment opportunities for registered nurses.

Why is there such a high demand for nurses, specifically travel nurses?

  • The aging population is in an increased need for health services. Currently, the United States has the highest population of Americans 65 years old and older than at any other time in history. This number is projected to continue growing.
  • The nursing workforce is also aging. With more than one million registered nurses over the age of 65, one-third of the RN workforce will be at retirement age within ten years, creating a great need for more nurses.
  • Nurses are facing burnout. Between the long and grueling work days, busy schedules, work-life balance, processing what they see and do at work, and so much more, nursing turnover rates sit between 8.8% and 37%.
  • Work-life balance is difficult. Because the majority of nurses are female, when they begin families, they either cut back on work or leave the nursing profession altogether.
  • Some regions are struggling. Depending on the specialty of nursing, some regions of the country are in a nursing surplus while others are in a severe shortage — like labor and delivery or critical care nursing.


#2: Crisis Management Provides a Unique Opportunity for Travel Nurses

Due to the nature of crisis management positions — a sudden, urgent need for patient care — travel nurses are typically offered the highest rates in travel nursing because they’re already qualified to fill the position. 

The urgency to arrive on the job quickly (usually within two weeks or less) and the potential to stay at the assignment for longer than a typical travel nursing contract (sometimes up to one year) is reflected in the wages.

If an area is declared to be in a state of emergency, normal nurse licensure requirements may be waived.

Be aware that when the call goes out for crisis management travel nursing assignments, the need is urgent and the jobs fill quickly. 

If you think you might be interested in crisis management positions when they become available, be sure to have your license, credentials, test results, and necessary documents on hand and ready to submit to your travel nursing agency.


travel nurse salary vs regular nurse


#3: Some Locations Pay More

Just like it matters in real estate and vacation destinations, location is a huge determinant when it comes to travel nursing pay.

In 2023, the top ten paying states for travel nursing are:

  1. New York – $134,663 per year
  2. New Jersey – $120,721 per year
  3. California – $120,228 per year
  4. North Dakota – $115,289 per year
  5. Delaware – $113,119 per year
  6. Massachusetts – $111,864 per year
  7. Alaska – $107,319 per year
  8. Nevada – $106,110 per year
  9. Rhode Island – $97,009 per year
  10. Connecticut – $102,919 per year

Some locations also pay less, but they have a lower cost of living. Choosing a lower pay plus lower cost of living location can still allow you to live comfortably and explore a new place while also tucking away additional income for the future.


#4: Your Specialty Matters

When it comes to travel nursing, some nursing specialties are in higher demand and therefore receive higher pay.

The projected highest-paid nursing specialties for 2024 currently include:

  • Anesthesiology
  • Neonatal Intensive Care
  • Pain Management
  • General Nurse Practitioner
  • Certified Nurse Midwife
  • Health Policy
  • Psychiatry
  • Administration
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Gerontological Nurse Practitioner
  • Intensive Care Unit
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist
  • Informatics
  • Nurse Education


#5: Working the Undesirable Shifts Often Mean More Money

As a nurse, you know that some shifts are more desirable than others.

Choosing to work the more unpopular shifts is a great way of earning extra income.

Consider the shifts that most people don’t want to work:

  • Holidays
  • Weekends
  • Overnights; or
  • Off-shifts

These shifts typically offer higher pay, which is something to keep in mind when you’re considering travel nursing gigs.


#6: The Opportunity to Earn Bonuses

Another fun perk to travel nursing is the opportunity to earn bonuses, especially when working with Trusted Nurse Staffing.

Travel nurses can score big on: 

  • Completion bonuses, such as the Loyalty Rewards Program through Trusted Nurse Staffing, allow nurses to accumulate points upon the completion of each successful travel nursing assignment.
  • Referral bonuses, such as the “Refer-a-Friend” Program where you can earn $500 for each referral who completes their first assignment.
  • Sign-on bonuses. 
  • Extension bonuses for extending a contract past the agreed-upon end date. 
  • Bonuses for working on specific days or certain shifts (like those undesirable shifts mentioned above) that fall within your travel nursing assignment. 


#7: The Ability to Work With Top Travel Nursing Agencies

All travel nursing agencies are not the same! Agencies may offer a variety of pay and benefits packages, so it’s vital that you do your research and compare before signing with one.

Trusted Nurse Staffing offers some of the highest pay rates in the industry with generous benefits, stipends, and incentive packages. With our Pronto job search, it’s easier than ever to find a great position in the perfect location for you.


do travel nurses make more than staff nurses


How Much More Do Travel Nurses Make Than Staff Nurses? 


Average Salary for a Travel Nurse

As of September 2023, the average yearly travel nurse salary is reported at $94,498. This may vary depending on the location of the contract, your nursing specialty, and who you use to help find and negotiate your contracts.

But, it’s important to note that travel nursing pay works differently than traditional nursing pay.

As a travel nurse, part of your pay is taxed, while the other part is received in the form of tax-free stipends — food allowance, housing allowance, travel expenses, and more.

Travel nurse pay is also relative as it’s completely dependent on each travel nurse:

  • What is your experience like?
  • What is your specialty?
  • How many contracts are you interested in working throughout the year?
  • Are you willing to work undesirable shifts?
  • Are you willing to work on crisis management assignments?
  • What locations are your assignments in?
  • How long are your contracts?

Because travel nurses can choose to work unlimited contracts and have the option of negotiating and selecting higher-paying positions, travel nurses often have more control over their income than staff nurses might.


Average Salary for a Staff Nurse

In 2022, the average salary of a regular staff nurse was $89,010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This salary varies by:

  • State
  • Specialty
  • Experience
  • Certifications
  • Degrees; and
  • Facility 

The top five paying states for registered nurses include:

  1. California – $133,340 per year
  2. Hawaii – $113,220 per year
  3. Oregon – $106,610 per year
  4. Massachusetts – $104,150 per year
  5. Alaska – $103,310 per year 


3 Non-Taxable Stipends That Can Increase Your Take Home Pay Amount as a Travel Nurse

Why do travel nurses get paid more than staff nurses?


This component plays a huge factor in making a travel nurse’s take-home pay considerably higher than that of their stationary counterparts. 

Stipends are tax-free as long as it can be shown they are being used to cover duplicate expenses, meaning they are going towards the payment of “typical” living expenses such as food, housing, and incidentals.

Since stipends are classified as reimbursement rather than income, they are considered non-taxable.

As a travel nurse, you can bring home higher pay when compared to a staff nurse who is required to pay taxes on all of their income. 

Travel nursing taxes will look quite different from those of a staff nurse, so you’ll want to be sure to consult with your tax professional. 


why do travel nurses make more than staff nurses


#1: Travel Stipends

Travel stipends can be provided in several different ways. 

Some travel nursing agencies choose to pay out half of the travel stipend in the nurse’s first check and the other half in the last check of the nursing assignment.

Alternatively, some travel nurse staffing agencies choose to pay all the travel costs upfront.


#2: Housing Stipends

A travel nurse’s housing stipend is a sum of money offered by the agency to cover the cost of housing while on a travel nursing assignment. 

The stipend for housing can be a fun benefit for travel nurses because, rather than relying on preselected housing, you can choose where you want to live.

Some of the most common housing choices for travel nurses are:

  • Apartments
  • Condos
  • Airbnb, VRBO, or similar extended-stay options
  • Extended stay hotels
  • RVs
  • Staying with friends or family

Housing stipends are usually paid in a prorated amount on each weekly paycheck.


#3: Meal Stipends

Meal stipends are another huge piece of the travel nursing pie.

Typically, traveling nurses have a generous weekly allowance for meals, so whether you are a drive-thru Sue or gourmet cook, you’ll be able to satisfy your palate.


Why Do Travel Nurses Make So Much? Other Benefits That Add Up

Not only are travel nurse salaries and benefits usually higher than those of staff nurses, but there are other rewards that come with being a Trusted Nurse Staffing contractor.


A Generous 401(k)

Trusted Nurse Staffing helps you plan for your future by providing a 401(k) plan with a 4% match after 1,000 hours/one year of employment.


Access to a Healthcare Reimbursement Account Card

Along with our spectacular health, vision, and dental insurance plans, we’ll also provide you with an HRA card to help cover healthcare deductibles, so you won’t have to pay out of pocket for routine costs.


A Fun Loyalty Program

Trusted Nurse Staffing offers a loyalty program through Awardco that allows you to earn points with each job and spend them on whatever you want, including:

  • Housewares
  • Groceries
  • Clothing
  • Electronics
  • And more

After your first assignment is complete, you’ll gain access to an easy-to-use portal that allows you to use your points. And with each consecutive job you take, you’ll earn even more!


Travel Nursing Is More Than Just the Money: Top Non-Monetary Benefits of Travel Nursing

It’s easy to see that travel nurses make great money, but there are plenty of other benefits that make travel nursing a great option:

  • As a traveling nurse, you can stay out of hospital politics — this alone may be all the incentive you need.
  • When you’re a travel nurse, you can take time off for your high school reunion or for that long-anticipated vacation — flexibility in your schedule could otherwise be hard to come by.
  • You’ll gain experience in multiple facets of the nursing profession by working in a variety of departments and meeting physicians and nurses who do things in different ways than what you’re accustomed to — the valuable, diversified experience will look great on your resume.
  • You’ll get the chance to visit new places and meet new people — who knows, you may make a lifelong friend or find the perfect place to retire. 


Looking To Get the Most Out of Your Travel Nursing Career? Trusted Nurse Staffing Can Help

Are you ready to pack your bags and start your travel nursing career?

Or maybe you’re already on the road and considering switching agencies.

If you’re looking to start earning more money as a travel nurse, Trusted Nurse Staffing can help. We have the support and resources you’ll need to make the very most out of your travel nursing career.

With access to Pronto to search for available travel nursing assignments and full access to a recruiter, Trusted Nurse Staffing can help you find your dream travel nurse contracts and negotiate the best wages.

Once your assignment is accepted, we help you sort through all of your travel and housing. Our team is available for you throughout your entire contract, no matter what you might need. And when it’s over, we’ll help you find another one.

Find your dream job on Pronto today and let Trusted Nurse Staffing help you navigate your contract.


travel nurse salary vs regular nurse