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Traveling Nurses: How to Make the Most out of Your Nursing Career by Becoming a Travel RN

Travel nurse

Becoming a Travel Nurse is an exciting and rewarding career path for Registered Nurses. Just consider these things: you're working a job you love, making a real and tangible difference in people's lives, and earning good money. At the same time, you get to travel the country, meet new people and experience new things every day. 

However, as thrilling as it sounds, travel nursing also comes with its own set of challenges. If you're considering becoming a Traveling RN, you need to be prepared for the unique demands of the job, and our goal is to help you every step of the way. 

In this guide, we will explore how to become a Travel Nurse, the benefits and challenges of the job, and why it may be a great career choice for you.

Are you ready to get this journey started? Let's go!

What is a Travel Nurse?

Travel Nurses are Registered Nurses who provide quality care for patients all over the United States by traveling and working at different healthcare facilities around the country. They are temporary employees who fill short-term employment gaps at hospitals or clinics. Typically, a traveling nursing assignment lasts between eight and 13 weeks. Still, many contracts are available for aspiring Travel RNs ranging from four weeks to 26 weeks. 

Traveling nurses come from various clinical backgrounds and are matched with a healthcare institution based on the care area the hospital needs filled. So, Travel RNs' areas of expertise can differ, from intensive care to pediatrics or telemetry to hospice nursing and everything in between. 

The common thread among all traveling healthcare workers is that they are skilled professionals in a specific area of nursing who expertly and compassionately fulfill a temporary need at the "guest" facility. 

Travel Nursing: How Did It Start and Where Are We Headed?

The travel nursing industry emerged in the 1970s, with some accounts accrediting its inception to the 1978 New Orleans Mardi Gras week. During that week of celebration, the hospitals filled up with injured people, leaving the nurses on staff overwhelmed and unable to cope with the number of patients. As a result, New Orleans hospital asked hospitals across the country to extend some nursing support for a few weeks to handle the temporary influx of patients and nursing shortage. 

The idea took off, and in the 1980s, travel nursing became a widely popular solution to an ever-increasing national nursing shortage. Hiring short-term nurses was a cost-effective way to tackle staffing shortages. This practice was prevalent to overcome seasonal staffing problems, especially in areas that thrive on tourism. 

For example, during winter, warmer climates tend to be chased by many people searching for some sunshine. As such, hospitals need to adjust their staffing because of the sudden overload of patients. From a business perspective, it's more convenient for hospitals to keep a "skeleton" crew during the less busy periods and bring in traveling nurses when the demand is higher. 

The travel nursing practice also benefited nurses: it provided them with an excellent way to hone their skills, acquire nursing experience, and enhance their earning potential. All those things still hold today. 

And because the nationwide nursing shortage is a pressing issue, with projections indicating shortages of over half a million RNs by 2030, the need for travel nurses is only growing. Recurring nurse staffing issues are unfortunately not bound to disappear in the near future. Until they do, the traveling RN segment of the nursing workforce will continue to be in demand.

How to Become a Travel Nurse?

how to become a travel nurse

The prospect of being a Travel Nurse is exciting, but how easy and lengthy is the process to become one? Generally, it takes around five or six years to become a Travel Nurse. The minimum education required is a BSN degree. Additionally, you need at least one or two years of clinical experience before signing a contract with the best travel nurse agencies and pursuing your dream.

Let's take a closer look at the step-by-step requirements for securing this sought-after position: 

1. Enroll in a Nursing Program

In order to start working as a Traveling Nurse, you first have to become a Registered Nurse. While technically you can still earn your RN licensure by completing an Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN) program, you need to have completed a baccalaureate program if you want to take your nursing practice "on the road." 

A Bachelor's Degree in Nursing takes around four years to complete. It prepares you meticulously and rigorously for nursing practice, equipping you with the theoretical knowledge and practical skills to become a competent Registered Nurse. 

Nightingale College's BSN Program is a 32-month blended education program combining online didactic instruction and on-ground supervised field experience. It is specifically designed to advance your nursing skills and prepare you for the NCLEX. More importantly, the baccalaureate degree in nursing from Nightingale College will start you off on a great career as a Registered Nurse, proving that the post-NCLEX RN life is more rewarding than you could've possibly imagined. 

If you have a prior ADN degree and would like to advance your education to fit the traveling nurse requirements, an excellent option for you is enrolling in a nursing bridge program. They take less time to complete and are less costly. Plus, fast track programs can usually be completed online, making them very attractive to people who can't take years off work to study.

Nightingale College's RN-to-BSN program is perfect for working professionals who want to take their talents at different health facilities across the country. You can complete it in as few as 12 months fully online and can be sure you'll emerge a more qualified nurse on the other side of it. 

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2. Become a Licensed Registered Nurse

Once you complete an accredited baccalaureate nursing program, RN licensure is one final stride away. All that's left is passing the NCLEX-RN and then you'll be a fully licensed Registered nurse, ready to take on the nursing profession. The NCLEX-RN is a comprehensive five-hour exam that tests a prospective RN's readiness to become a nurse. All the hard work you put in nursing school and the countless hours spent studying will all be worth it when you ace this final test!

3. Gain Experience in the Specialty of Your Choice

Healthcare employers prefer hiring nurses with some practical experience to fill temporary roles. That's why you can't work as a traveling nurse right off the school benches but instead have to spend some time applying and developing your nursing skills in real-life situations. While nursing school experience is vital, you won't fully understand the depths of this profession until experience the nitty gritty yourself.

Most travel nurse companies ask for at least one or, more often, two years of hands-on clinical experience. A lengthier work experience track will give you higher chances of scoring the best temporary travel assignment within your specialty. 

4. Get Certified

Although certification is optional for Registered Nurses, having a credential in your specific nursing area can set you apart from the competition. Also, getting certified is a great way to prove to yourself, employers, and fellows that you reached the highest standards of care in your specialty. 

Discover more reasons why getting certified is an excellent decision for your nursing career. 

Some of the basic yet essential certifications for Travel Nurses include:

  • Basic Life Support (BLS)
  • Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) 
  • Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS)
  • Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN)

You can obtain these certifications through various organizations, including the American Heart Association (AHA), the National Council for State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), and the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN)

Discover more top nursing certifications that you can benefit from as a Travel Nurse.

5. Find a travel nursing staffing agency that meets your needs.

Once you feel you have enough training and experience to fully embrace the challenges of travel nursing, you can look into travel nurse jobs and companies.

Start by researching agencies and reading reviews from other nurses who have worked with those travel nurse companies. Ask for referrals and recommendations if you know any experienced travel nurses and colleagues who've tried it before. Once you have a list of the best travel nurse organizations, narrow your search to the ones that fit your needs and interests. 

Contact the finalists directly and make sure you get a clear picture of what types of assignments they offer, pay rates, and other benefits, such as housing assistance. Finally, when you do find a company and position you're excited about, make sure that you read the contract carefully and understand the terms and conditions of the agreement before signing

6. Reap the rewards of your hard work

Congratulations! Your contract of temporary employment is signed and you are ready to start your assignment as a traveling nurse. You worked hard to get here, so make sure you enjoy all the fantastic things that RN traveling has to offer. 

What Does a Travel Nurse Do?

what does a travel nurse do

There's no clear cut answer to "What do Travel Nurses Do?" because the duties of Travel Nurses can vary significantly depending on specialty, assignment, temporary employer, level of expertise, etc. For the most part, Travel Nurses and permanent staff nurses will share similar duties and responsibilities in line with their specialty. 

So, the job responsibilities of a Neonatal Travel Nurse will differ from those of a Travel Nurse Practitioner, but what they do share in common is the overarching goal of the job: to provide the best care possible to the patients in their charge. 

While the specifics will differ, these are some of the general duties and responsibilities Travel Nurses encounter during their assignments:

  • They use the nursing process to identify and treat patient problems in a holistic, patient-centric way. This requires carefully walking through all the stages of the process: assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation, and evaluation. Check out our comprehensive nursing assessment checklist and guide to nursing diagnoses, both valuable tools to assist you in your practice as a traveling RN. 
  • Travel RNs collaborate with doctors, physicians, social workers, and other healthcare team members to develop and implement care plans for their patients. 
  • Travel nurses will administer medications and fluids as prescribed by doctors. 
  • They will review diagnostic tests and lab results and adjust the course of care accordingly.
  • They will keep accurate and detailed records of the care they provide, patient symptoms, changes in a patient's state, and so on. 
  • They provide education to patients and their families regarding their condition/injury/disease and how to best care for it in and out of the hospital.
  • Traveling nurses educate people about healthcare maintenance and disease prevention techniques. 
  • They provide referrals and resources for patients when the medical situation requires it.

What Is the Salary of a Travel Nurse?

Travel nursing has a higher earning potential than other nursing specialties, which is why it's a popular choice among RNs looking for ways to boost their income. 

According to ZipRecruiter, the national average for Travel Nurses' salary is $103,695 per year. 

Depending on the specialty, you can expect to earn even more. For example, ICU Travel Nurses bring in wages of around $112,228 annually. PACU Nurses who choose to take their nursing skills on the road can cash in as much as $124,195, while Nurses working in the operating room can expect to make, on average, $113,610 per year. 

Find out what are the highest-paid travel nursing specialties in our article. 

What Are the Advantages of Travel Nursing?

There are numerous reasons why travel nursing is so popular among Registered Nurses. Some of the many advantages of working in this niche include the following:

Competitive pay

It's no surprise that Travel Nurses receive better compensation than traditional stationary nurses, sometimes even double or triple the amount. Often, they can make a substantial salary in a relatively short period of time, which is always a high selling point for the job.

Flexibility in scheduling

Travel nurses enjoy a lot of freedom to choose the length and type of nursing assignments they want to pursue. Thus, they can schedule travel assignments however they see fit, from deciding to work when they want to taking weeks off between jobs.

Travel and license reimbursements

As a general rule, travel nurse agencies will reimburse you for licensure costs if your assignment is in a state that doesn't accept your current license. Additionally, they will cover other travel-related expenses, like flight tickets or gas stipends. 

Free Private Housing 

Travel nurse housing is another appealing benefit. Typically, traveling RNs can receive free or (at least) reduced-price housing from the agency they signed up with for the duration of their assignment. Not only does this help save money on housing costs, but it also provides you with a comfortable living situation. Plus, without worrying about high housing costs, you can work in locations you might otherwise find too expensive as a resident, like California or New York City.

The Chance to Travel

One of the best things about travel nursing is the actual traveling! It gives you the opportunity to travel around the country, experience new places, meet new people, and try new things that would otherwise be less accessible. 

Variety of work settings

There are a wide array of clinical settings that require travel nurses. Whether you want to expand your experience in a specific area of nursing or enhance your subspecialty skills, chances are you will find an assignment that fits your needs and interests

Boosting your resume

Travel nursing offers many growth opportunities for nurses, being a valuable addition to their resumes. It allows you to expand your knowledge base, fine-tune your nursing skills, and gain exposure to environments, procedures, and techniques that you may not have encountered otherwise. 

Job Security

Travel nurses are in high demand. So generally, they have excellent job security and don't have to worry about finding lucrative work assignments. 

Making an impact where you're most needed

One of the most important perks of travel nursing is the opportunity to help organizations and people when they need it most. Your care can - and will - save lives, and there's no perk to travel nursing stronger or more rewarding than this. 

What Are the Challenges of Being a Travel Nurse?

what are the challenges to being a travel nurse

There are many benefits to choosing traveling over a fixed-location job, but the profession is not always sunshine and rainbows. These are some of the challenges that you may have to overcome:

Being away from home, family, and friends

Because they move around for work frequently, Travel RNs may find it difficult to keep in touch with important people from their social networks. Feeling of isolation or missing their loved ones can creep in while on assignment. 

Limited job protection

Travel Nurses may have less job protection than their permanent colleagues in the case of job loss or injury. Because their contracts are short-term, they might not account for these things. That's why it's crucial to clearly understand what you are entitled to in your contract before signing it. 

Long hours

It's common for traveling RNs to work long hours in stressful environments. Even with short assignments, the demands of nursing jobs and the RN lifestyle are undeniable, and Travel Nurses must keep up. 

What Skills Do You Need to be a Travel Nurse?

Are you wondering what makes a good travel nurse? Of course, you must possess strong nursing skills, vast nursing knowledge, and experience. But let's take a glance at some other qualities that are essential to RNs who want to try their hand at traveling assignments:


Being adaptable is of utmost importance when you move from facility to facility. The management styles, nursing processes, and access to resources may differ from one institution to another. In addition to that, you may have to adapt to different workplace dynamics, varying local cultures, and even languages

Regardless if the changes are minimal or dramatic, your next team counts on your professionalism and capacity to adapt to new environments quickly and efficiently. 

Willingness to Learn

You'll be exposed to many new things during every assignment, so an innate desire to learn and improve will serve you well. As a travel nurse, every day will bring new challenges to overcome, new habits to adopt, and new lessons to learn. Thus, willingness to upskill is a tremendously valued quality in travel nurses. 


Travel nurses bring invaluable skills and talents to the job. The staffing agency and the hiring institution know it, but it's essential for the RN to know and show it. Even though as a travel nurse you are a "guest" employee, you should always be confident in your abilities and what you bring to the table. 

Excellent Communication Skills

Life as a traveling nurse would be pretty hard if you lack great communication skills. During every new job placement, you need to connect with colleagues, administration, and patients and earn these people's trust in your nursing skills. Being a good communicator is vital in that endeavor. 

Also, in caring for patients, you should use therapeutic communication techniques. This communication style helps patients get through emotional and/or psychological distress, making whoever masters it a valuable addition to any nursing team. 

You don't have to be the most extroverted person to communicate effectively. It's more important to feel comfortable asking questions and being empathetic toward everyone you meet. 

Are You Ready to Get Your Travel Nursing Career Off the Ground?


Travel nursing can be a wonderful way to combine a nursing career with an adventurous lifestyle. Passionate and courageous RNs can provide life-saving care to patients from anywhere in the United States, or the world, for that matter. 

If you think that being a traveling nurse is the path for you, we would love to be part of your journey! 

Enroll in Nightingale College's BSN program and get the baccalaureate degree that'll make it possible to pursue travel nursing! With our RN-to-BSN degree, you can also advance your education to a BSN level and switch to travel nursing in as little as a year!

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to get in touch!

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