How to Become a Travel Nurse: Requirements and Career Overview

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What is a travel nurse? A travel nurse is a registered nurse who accepts short-term assignments in diverse locations, thereby making a living while traveling. The process of how to become a travel nurse starts with earning a nursing degree. Then, pass the licensure exam and gain clinical experience.

nurse in green scrubs on hospital steps

One of the fantastic aspects of transitioning to nursing as a second career is the opportunity to pursue any number of workplace settings and nursing specialties. You could even accept a succession of short-term nursing assignments in facilities across the country. As a travel nurse, you can immerse yourself in different geographic regions while caring for patients.

What is a travel nurse, and how long does it take to become a travel nurse? You’ll likely have many questions as you consider career options. Here, we’ll cover the details of how to become a travel nurse and what you can expect so you can make an informed decision for your future.

Whether you aim to be a nurse at home or on the road, it’s vital to have a firm educational background when caring for people’s lives. At Felician University, our Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program is designed to help prepare you to pursue a range of meaningful nursing careers.

nurse with manikin

What is an accelerated nursing program? Read more to learn how an accelerated nursing program can help you change your career to nursing.

What Is a Travel Nurse?

Travel nursing is a short-term, contract nursing role where nurses temporarily fill a nursing position at a hospital or healthcare organization. Healthcare facilities may hire travel nurses if they are understaffed, experiencing a natural disaster or receiving a sudden influx of patients.

Travel nurses are not hired directly by the healthcare company, but rather through a travel nursing agency that acts as a liaison for the nurse and the healthcare organization. Travel nursing contracts at each location vary in length but are generally eight or 13 weeks.

What Do Travel Nurses Do?

What do travel nurses do in these temporary positions? They have similar responsibilities as local full-time nurses, working alongside them in the unit while caring for patients. Travel nursing isn’t actually a nursing specialty in itself but rather a type of employment. A travel nurse might specialize in women’s health, pediatrics, critical care, cardiac care or any other specialty.

Because of this, what a travel nurse does during any given shift can vary considerably, depending on their specialty, patient population and individual patient needs. In general, a travel nurse might do any of the following:

  • Make the rounds and assess patients
  • Administer medications and treatments
  • Provide wound care
  • Deliver patient education and update family members on the patient’s status
  • Support the discharge planning process
  • Update medical records and notify physicians about changes in patient health
travel nurse standing on sidewalk

How Much Do Travel Nurses Make?

One of the most common questions about this career pathway is, “How much do travel nurses make?” Before considering how to become a travel nurse, reflect upon whether this career will provide the lifestyle you want.

Of course, there is no way to definitively determine how much you might earn as a travel nurse, as wages vary based on employer, nursing specialty, geographic location (cost of living), years of experience and even the shifts you choose to work. (For example, an overnight shift might pay more than a daytime shift.)

In general, however, travel nurses do tend to earn more than their geographically stationary coworkers. According to the American Nurses Association (ANA), as of 2022, travel RNs were estimated to earn about $100,000 per year, while non-travel RNs earn about $83,000. Note that travel nurses tend to be paid hourly wages, rather than fixed salaries.

One reason for the increase in wages is that travel nurses tend to incur more expenses than stationary RNs. However, they still typically end up earning more because travel RNs also receive benefits that other RNs don’t, such as:

  • Stipends that cover housing, incidentals and food
  • Potential for sign-on bonuses
  • Benefits packages through their travel nurse agency
  • Crisis pay to work in hazardous conditions

How Long Does It Take to Become a Travel Nurse?

If you’ve decided that travel nursing is a compelling career option, it’s time to look at travel nurse requirements. The time it takes to meet all the requirements and become a travel RN depends on multiple factors, including your educational background.

student has laptop in hand smiling at camera

If you have no prior college education, you’ll need to enroll in a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. However, if you have a completed non-nursing degree or at least 60 hours of college credits in a non-nursing field, you may be eligible for an accelerated BSN program.

At Felician, you can choose from our 16-month Hybrid ABSN program based in Parsippany, New Jersey, or our 18-month On-Ground Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program based in Rutherford. In other words, it’s possible to complete your nursing degree in as few as 16 or 18 months, not including the time needed to complete prerequisites.

After earning your BSN, you’ll need to pass the RN licensure exam and obtain your license. Then, you’ll need to gain one to two years of clinical nursing experience before you can start applying to travel nurse agencies.

Because travel nursing allows you to do meaningful work and explore new places — and earn a solid income while doing it — it’s likely that you’ll find the result is worth the journey.

Along with travel nursing, there are plenty of alternative careers. Read about 10 alternative nursing careers to consider.

nurse assisting patient in wheelchair

How to Become a Travel Nurse: 4 Key Steps

Becoming a travel nurse doesn’t need to be complicated. The transition to travel nursing can go smoothly if you understand the main points in the process. Let’s look closer at how to become a travel nurse.

1. Earn a BSN

The first travel nurse requirement you’ll need to meet is a nursing degree. Although it’s possible to become a nurse with an Associate Degree of Nursing (ADN), you’ll find employers generally prefer to hire nurses with a BSN degree.

This is largely because a BSN education better prepares nurses to contribute to more favorable patient outcomes. A BSN is a better choice for your future, as well, because it allows you to pursue graduate nursing education and career advancement.

If you’re ready to jump into travel nursing, you likely don’t want to wait four years to earn a BSN. Entering an accelerated BSN program, like ours at Felician University, can be the ideal option.

By leveraging your prior 60 college credits or non-nursing bachelor’s degree, you can earn your BSN in as few as 16 months if you enroll in the 16-month hybrid program or an 18-month On-Ground program.

two students working on white board

The hybrid ABSN program at Felician combines online coursework with in-person simulation and skills labs, as well as clinical rotations at top regional healthcare facilities to ensure our students get a comprehensive nursing education. Or, you can choose the On-Ground ABSN program and participate in in-person instruction instead of online coursework while also completing labs and clinicals.

2. Pass the NCLEX and Get Licensed

Once you graduate from nursing school, the next step to becoming a travel nurse is passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). This exam is a rigorous, comprehensive test of all you’ve learned in nursing school.

Passing the NCLEX requires intensive study and practice with its unique style of multiple-choice questions. You must choose the most appropriate answer among multiple correct answers. You must also develop strong critical thinking and clinical decision-making skills.

Once you pass the NCLEX, you can get your nursing license in your state through the department of health. After licensure, you’re ready to get to work.

3. Get Nursing Experience in Your Chosen Specialty

The next travel nurse requirement is clinical work experience. Travel nursing agencies generally require one to two years of experience in your desired nursing specialty within the past three years.

When you’re in nursing school, you’ll want to gain exposure to multiple nursing specialties, as this allows you to determine what area to pursue in your career. Once you’ve decided on a specialty, you’ll need to acquire professional nursing experience in that area.

Some specialties (such as intensive care or surgery) require more experience than generalist nursing jobs. However, these more specialized nurses can often pursue higher-paying travel jobs than general floor nurses.

patient video chat with nurse on laptop

Gaining clinical experience may also provide a pathway for pursuing a career in telehealth nursing. Read more to learn about this option.

4. Connect with a Travel Nursing Agency to Apply for Jobs

Once you have gained adequate experience in your specialty of choice, it’s time to reach out to a travel nursing agency.

Research agencies and healthcare organizations that provide positive travel nursing experiences. Talk to the travel nurses where you work and ask about which agency they use. You can also find forums and social media groups dedicated to this topic, helping you gain insight into which agency may be right for you.

student in front of lockers

Look over the job opportunities available at each agency, paying attention to the city, healthcare organization, pay rate and other benefits. Reach out to your top one or two travel nursing agencies, and then the recruiters will do most of the heavy lifting from there. They’ll help you by submitting your applications, managing the paperwork and licensing and helping you transition to each new job.

When you reach out to an agency, you can expect the process to look similar to this:

  • Recruiter responds and asks for your resume with references and skills tests.
  • You tell the recruiter which jobs you’re considering.
  • The recruiter sends you the specs on each job, including pay rate and housing stipend.
  • You finalize which jobs you want the recruiter to apply for.
  • You have a phone interview with the healthcare organization.
  • You work with the recruiter to submit the required documents. They may also need a drug test, physical exam, TB test, immunizations and similar items. Note that this step is generally only needed for the first job you conduct with the agency; afterward, the agency will have all this documentation available for employers.

After this process, the travel nursing contract can begin. Then, as the end of the contract approaches, travel nurses may have the option to extend their contract, or ask the recruiter to apply to other jobs for them. Travel nurses often rotate between multiple agencies for different jobs to gain access to a wide range of open positions.

Advantages of Being a Travel Nurse

There’s a reason so many nurses are leaving home and flocking to travel nursing positions. This career is ripe with benefits, both professionally and personally.

Some of the benefits of travel nursing include:

  • Compensation rates tend to be higher than those for permanent nursing jobs.
  • Valuable, diverse resume-building experiences across various healthcare settings.
  • The ability to travel and visit new places while also making a good living.
  • Great benefits, including paid housing or housing stipends, travel stipends, health insurance and 401(k) matching.
  • Variety in work and life that’s appealing to the free-spirited person.
Doctor standing speaking with nurse

How to Know If Travel Nursing Is Right for You

As you can see, travel nursing offers many enticing advantages worth exploring, but it isn’t necessarily right for everyone. Think carefully about whether your personality is a good fit for travel nursing.

Someone who thrives as a travel nurse may have characteristics such as:

  • Adaptability
  • Outgoing personality
  • Excellent communication
  • Quick learner
  • Passion for new people, places and things

Also, consider the logistics and practical aspects of having a job where you’re away from home. Do you have any ties to your current home that would prevent you from traveling? Perhaps you’re caring for an ill family member or you have children in school.

In some cases, working in your local healthcare facility is the better option. However, if you have a flexible lifestyle and you want to get out and see the world while also experiencing diverse working environments, travel nursing may be the right fit.

Another common option is for nurses to travel for a year or two while still early in their careers for experience and a high salary. Then after a while, they move back home and return to a stable, permanent career. Make it your own. Do what works for your goals and passions.

Take the First Step Toward Your Nursing Goals

If you are passionate about people, traveling and healthcare, travel nursing may be the opportunity you’re seeking. Whether you aim to be a travel nurse or a professional nurse in your own city, earning your BSN is the first key benchmark.

Pursuing an accelerated nursing program can be the ideal way to get a great education without wasting time. When earning your degree at Felician, you can choose between our 18-month On-Ground ABSN program and 16-month Hybrid ABSN program. If you have 60 prior college credits or a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, the accelerated path can help you launch your career sooner.

To learn more about how to start earning your BSN at Felician University, reach out to an admissions counselor today.