Traveler Tips//August 21, 2020

Travel Nurse Salary: How to Make Top Pay as a Travel Nurse


If you’re here it’s because you probably already know the average travel nurse salary is way higher than your average staff nurse salary. But how do you make “top pay” as a travel nurse and get way above that “average salary”?

Top 5 Ways to Make the Most Money as a Travel Nurse

From the factors that affect travel nursing pay to the highest paying travel assignments to how to find those top paying gigs, we’ll walk you through some general principles you can follow to maximize your travel nurse salary.

If you’ve been a nurse for a while you may have heard the sentiment: “Travel nursing isn’t worth it anymore.” Usually grumbled by folks who’ve entered the industry with unrealistic expectations and the misconception that travel nurses all drive around in brand new BMWs, flaunting their Hermès bags.

The reality is while travel nurses do make much more than staff nurses, it’s not realistic to assume they’ll make enough to drop $40,000 on a purse.

Pay rates do fluctuate, last-minute contract cancellations do happen, and unplanned expenses do come up. We’re not here to tell you a story that isn’t true. We’re here to tell you how it really is. But it’s not bad news, not by a long shot.

At Next Move our travel nurses earn anywhere from $1,800 to $5,500 per week, gross. For a 13-week contract that can range anywhere from $23,400 to $71,500 take home in just 3 short months.

In addition, some of those contracts come with thousand-dollar sign-on and completion bonuses.

On average our nurses earn over $100,000 a year and a nurse with only 2-years of experience can easily earn as much per hour as a staff nurse with 15-years’ experience.

While it’s not a brand-new BMW or a $40,000 handbag, it’s a realistic and concrete way to make a bunch of money, in a short time. Not to mention the endless adventure, the unique people you’ll meet on each of your assignments and the complete and absolute freedom you’ll feel staying clear of hospital politics.

Here, we’d like to walk you through some general principles you can follow to maximize your travel nurse pay.

What are the top factors that influence your travel nurse salary?

Where is the travel contract located?

It should come as no surprise that areas with a high cost of living come with a higher pay rate, and those areas with a lower cost of living, a lower pay rate.

So which states pay the most but also have a higher cost of living? California, Massachusetts, New York, and Texas.

States in the Midwest and the South tend to pay a little less but are also offset by the lower cost of living expenses like rent, food, gas and entertainment.

For example: The Bureau of Labor Statistics has stated that for one of our more popular travel locations, Arkansas, every $100 earned is really more like $114 because of how far those dollars go in Arkansas.

What speciality is the contract for?

Your chosen nursing specialty will also affect your rate of pay. Non-specialty nurses are generally paid at a lower rate of pay than specialized nurses. And specialized nurses with in-demand skills and credentials, will earn even more.

Did You Know? Next Move offers educational opportunities and payment for licensing and certification renewals (ACLS, BLS, PALS, etc.). Connect with us to learn more about how to take advantage of these opportunities.

What shift is the contract for?

It should come as no surprise that night shift and weekend assignments pay more and are more prevalent in the world of travel nursing. Along with that, some of the highest paying assignments pay more because of non-ideal conditions, such as an undesirable location. (This can include areas with a high-crime rate, or areas that are extremely rural).

If your number one goal is to earn as much money as possible, request these types of assignments. It’s important to note here that quality of life is what’s most important.

If night shifts, weekends or living in a sketchy part of town aren’t your thing – skip them. Being miserable is no way to live and not a great experience to put your patients through.

How many hours per week? 


The number of hours you work each week will of course affect your earning potential as well. And there are a variety of contracts to choose from:

36 hours per week (three 12-hour shifts)
36/48 hours per week (weekly rotation of 3 and 4 shifts a week)
40 hours per week (four 10-hour shifts or five 8-hour shifts)
48 hours per week (four 12-hour shifts)

If your personal goal is to work as many hours per week during your contract ask your recruiter to look for the contracts that have the most hours.

What are the highest paying assignments? 

Before we get into how to make the most money as a travel nurse, we should name a few sure-fire ways to boost your income potential.

Rapid Response and “Crisis” Assignments

Can you be ready to rock n’ roll on a brand-new assignment in less than 2-weeks? Then you’ll also be ready to earn the highest rates in the travel nursing industry.

Rapid response and “crisis” assignments, which usually last less than 13 weeks, aren’t always (but can be) tied to actual real-life, man-made disasters, like a hurricane. In general, these assignments come up due to an unexpected census spike, unit openings, emergency responses, EMR upgrades, or short -term staff shortages.

If you’re interested in this type of opportunity, let one of our specialists know, and we’ll make sure you have all your credentials, tests, licenses and other documents in order.

These types of assignments usually range from 36-48 hours of week, and of course become more lucrative past the 40-hour mark given overtime pay rates.


It’s not unusual to find an assignment offering a sign-on, completion, retention or referral bonus to go along with a lucrative hourly rate.

At Next Move, sign-on and completion bonuses are given by the hospital at the beginning of a contract and at the end of an assignment. A typical bonus will be $500 for sign-on, and an additional $1500 for completion of the contract.

Next Move also offers a $500 referral bonus for referring another nurse to us and has a lucrative “Ambassador Program” for nurses that work consecutive contracts. We reward our nurses with everything from large cash bonuses, free vacations, nurse attire and an assortment of gift cards.


In the unfortunate event a hospital and a union can’t agree on the specification of a labor contract or bargaining agreement, the union of nurses will often go on strike.

When this happens, hospitals will often bring in a bunch of travel nurses to care for the patients until the strike ends. Due to the added stress and urgency of these situations, travel nurses who work during strikes often earn much more money than typical travel assignments.

How to Find the Highest Paying Assignments 

Now that we’ve laid out what types of assignments pay the most, and how you can even earn a little on top of all that – how do you go about finding these great assignments? The secret is – there’s no secret at all.

You can ask one of our recruiters directly about which assignments pay the most. Simply state that you’re looking to for top dollar and are only interested in the highest paying assignments. You can even be specific about what that dollar amount is.

 At Next Move we don’t believe in bargaining – we simply give you the highest pay rates possible. That’s why instead of giving a set stipend amount, we give you the maximum allowable IRS travel stipend plus a healthy meals and expenditure stipend.

5 Ways to Earn the Most Money as a Travel Nurse 

1. Find Your Own Housing

Many of the larger travel nurse agencies will sign corporate leases and offer them to their nurse travelers. But those leases come with corporate price tags. Other large agencies will offer you free housing to stay in one of their preferred hotels.

If hefty housing costs and staying in hotels is not your thing, you’ll want to consider finding your own housing, and saving a bit of that housing stipend for something a bit more fun than housing. This way you can choose exactly what part of town you’d like to live, how much you’d like to pay, what sorts of accommodations you’d like to have, all while saving a little money.

We know what you’re thinking: finding housing can be extraordinarily difficult, especially in an area you’re not familiar with. The good news is, your recruiter will have some resources and leads to help you find the exact right accommodations for you.

2. Work with a Transparent Travel Nurse Agency 

All travel nurse agencies are different and offer different compensation packages. You’ll want to work with one that you feel you can trust, has integrity, is available to you when you need and is always transparent.

What are one of the first signs of full transparency? Agencies that publicly post their job offerings with full disclosure on compensation packages and pay rates. “Call for more information” is the opposite of transparent.

At Next Move we always post as much detail as possible about each of our open positions, including pay rate. We don’t spend your valuable time on negotiations – we simply offer the highest rate possible. Take a look at this week’s top jobs to see just what we mean! 

Pro-Tip The only thing between you and the highest paying rate available is your recruiter – so make sure (don’t be shy!) to communicate exactly what it is you’re looking for. Simply looking for the highest paying assignments out there? Ask them. Won’t be happy without a sign-on or completion bonus? Tell them. Can’t work for anything less than $XYZ? Make sure they know that!

3. Get Organized 

The key to getting those top assignments is to have all your paperwork in order. That includes making sure your recruiter has an up-to-date resume, skills checklist, references and current nursing license(s).

A back-door view into how we operate at Next Move is that we can’t submit nurses to travel assignments without all the proper paperwork and often many of the assignment’s healthcare organizations come to us with are hired on a first come first serve basis.

We’ve developed strong and trustworthy relationships with our healthcare organizations, so they know no vetting of our nurses is necessary, because we make sure to always provide top quality candidates. The more organized you are the easier it is for us to get you those top paying assignments.

Pro-Tip Keep all your paperwork up-to-date and store it online using iCloud, Dropbox or Google Drive. That way, you’ll only have one place to go to send all your documents in a flash. And these days, you don’t even need a scanner to upload your documents – you can easily download a scanner app which will give you the same end result.

4. Work with Multiple Agencies

It’s true that no agency will have assignments at every location within the United States. So, there’s absolutely no harm in working with more than one agency.

The truth is Next Move specializes in Midwest locations such as Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma. We give our nurses a ton of information about the hospitals in these locations because we’ve staffed them for so long.

They’re not just another hospital to us, they’re in our backyard, we network with them, and they email us directly for candidates rather than sending out a mass posting to lots of agencies.

It’s impossible for every agency to have an airtight relationship with every hospital in the country. Simply put, the local agencies will have the stronger relationships and be offering the better assignments.

Bottom line? Work with multiple agencies as it will increase your opportunities, but don’t forget the point above about transparency. Whoever you work with – make sure it’s a good solid, comfortable relationship, because you may be working with them for years to come.

5. Multiple Licenses 

Once again, it should come as no surprise that each state has its own nursing license requirements and as a travel nurse you will need to make sure you have a license in the state where you’re looking to get your next assignment.

There are some states where you can get your license in as little as 48-hours and other states, like California, where the same process can take up to 6-months.

Many states, however, offer a Nursing Licensure Compact (NLC) which is an agreement between states that allows nurses to hold one valid nursing license that works in numerous states. Many states throughout the Midwest have an NLC. If you’re looking to work in non-NLC state, it’s best to obtain multiple licenses to broaden your job prospects.

At Next Move, we’ll walk you through the process to make sure you’re licensed in the state(s) in which you’d like to work, and often cover the costs associated with licensure.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help with your licensure(s). So, there you have it! All our tips and tricks for finding the highest paying assignments and making the most of your hard-earned money.

Interested in learning what high paying nursing jobs we have available today? Check out our hot jobs here.

Next Move Inc
Nurse First.
Nurse Powered.

(816) 601 -3800

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