How to Become a Travel Nurse

Updated on February 2, 2024


Travel nursing has been growing in popularity over the last decade, and for good reason. As a travel nurse, you can enjoy a flexible schedule, higher pay, and opportunities to explore new places while getting paid to practice nursing in healthcare facilities nationwide. Travel nurses work temporary contract assignments, usually 8-26 weeks, filling important roles caring for patients nationwide. With the current nursing shortage, healthcare organizations depend on the support of travel nurses to help ensure facilities are properly staffed. If you’re a nurse seeking professional independence, adventure, and higher wages, a career as a travel nurse may be the right fit. This guide will walk through successfully transitioning into this rewarding nursing specialty.

Understanding Travel Nursing

A travel nurse is a registered nurse who takes temporary assignments around the United States to fill pressing national healthcare facility vacancies.

To give you some sense of scope, over 35,000 travel nurses are contracted in the U.S. today, according to Staffing Industry Analysts’ research. Travel nursing has become a billion-dollar industry with no signs of slowing due to ongoing labor shortages. Approximately 25% of all working nurses take on travel assignments at some point rather than opting for traditional staff nursing roles.

As a travel nurse, you’ll be able to explore new destinations across America while getting paid generous wages to practice nursing wherever help is needed most. However, the life of a travel nurse also comes with challenges like licensing complexity in new states, contract uncertainty between assignments, and continually adapting to unfamiliar hospitals. Still, for many nurses, the ability to broaden experiences and skills while enjoying independence far outweighs the demands.

Educational Requirements and Pathways

Becoming a Registered Nurse (RN) is the essential first step to qualifying for travel nursing roles. The two main educational paths to RN licensure are:

Once obtaining initial RN work experience (1-2+ years recommended), nurses can then specialize expertise through:

Beyond formal education, collecting specialty travel nurse training and certifications in clinical areas like critical care, labor and delivery, trauma nursing, etc., can maximize job prospects and travel nurse salary packages.

Specialized Training and Certification Requirements

While RN licensure is the basic requirement, travel nurses can be more competitive for specialized positions by earning certifications related to a specific clinical focus area. Critical care experience and coronary care unit experience are in especially high demand. Travel nurses may also need to meet minimum work experience requirements (often 1-2 years in specialty) and additional on-the-job training will be provided by each facility. Some examples of valuable related training or certifications include:

Licensing and Certification

Travel nursing opportunities span healthcare facilities across the U.S., from busy East Coast hospitals to rapidly growing regions of the Southeast. However, understanding the complex state-by-state licensing requirements is critical no matter which regions you set your sights on.

Each state Board of Nursing grants and oversees registered nursing licenses required to practice nursing responsibilities legally. So, to work assignments as a travel nurse in different states, you must secure a state-specific license in every location on your list. This sounds daunting, but keeping some key pointers in mind simplifies matters:

Temporary Licenses Rather than full licensing, many states have temporary permits or licenses accessible for limited-term nursing contract work between 6-12 months. Having this option means sidestepping some costs and paperwork burdens upfront. Indiana’s 90-day temporary permits are an illustration.

Nurse Licensure Compacts Rather than apply separately, compact states use a multi-state licensing agreement that allows nurses to practice across state lines with a single license. The Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) covers over 30 states, simplifying cross-border travel.

Applicant Tracking Systems ATS software offers a unified platform to manage license applications and renewals across multiple states simultaneously. Leveraging an ATS as your assignment map widens substantially reduces license management workload over a career

The most frequent licensing challenges faced include delays in finalizing applications, steep application fees, and tracking renewal/CE deadlines across states. However, utilizing the right tools and understanding the rules governing each assignment locale sets travel nurses up for success.

Skills and Competencies

Succeeding as a travel nurse requires clinical competence paired with soft skills that allow one to adapt quickly. Here are some of the top skills and personality traits shared among great travel nurses:

Career Opportunities and Employment Settings

Some of the most common healthcare settings travel nurses can expect to find job openings include:

Salary Expectations

Years of RN Experience Average Annual Travel Nurse Salary
< 1 year $70,000
1-3 years $80,000
3-5 years $90,000
5-10 years $100,000
10-20 years $115,000

Continuing Professional Development

Given the constantly shifting nature of their roles, continual learning is paramount for travel nurses to remain up-to-date with industry best practices and employer-specific protocols. Professional development options available include:

Challenges and Rewards

If weighing whether the travel nurse lifestyle is a good personal fit, consider balancing the unique benefits and challenges:


How much experience is required?

Most facilities look for a minimum of 24 months of recent nursing experience in the desired specialty. However, some accept less experience if showing strong capabilities.

What does the contracting process entail?

Travel nurse agencies coordinate with hospital employers needing support to identify openings that align with your skills/interests to formalize then customized short-term contracts outlining responsibilities, wages, stipends, etc.

What costs are covered during contracts?

Beyond high base wages, contracts include tax-free stipends towards reimbursing meals, housing, travel, licensure/cert renewal fees, and more. The specific stipend amounts can vary greatly so this is important to clarify upfront during contract negotiations.


Becoming a travel nurse can be an incredibly rewarding path, allowing you to broaden your skills while exploring the country. First, start by earning RN licensure before considering any specialty certifications that may help qualify for more opportunities. Then connect with one or more travel nursing agencies to access their job databases and start the contracting process. Once placed in an assignment, focus on proactively acclimating to hit the ground running. Leverage every new contract as a focused opportunity for professional development. While travel nursing can be demanding, with the right alignment of drive and flexibility, you’ll thrive as a key care team contributor, providing excellent patient outcomes while gaining unique life experiences as you journey across America’s healthcare landscape.

Additional Resources