How Far Do Travel Nurses Travel?
Maybe you’re curious about trying travel nursing, or maybe you’re a travel nurse looking to expand your horizons. Either way, it’s hard to resist the temptation of always exploring new places as a travel nurse.
It’s clear from their job title that travel nurses travel for work, but how far do travel nurses travel for work, really? The short answer is that travel nurses can travel anywhere from 50 miles to 1,000 miles or more from their home.
Ready to get out there? Before you can line up your next contract and book your flight, it helps to know where you’ll most likely find far-off destinations for travel nursing assignments and which ones are available to you — both domestic and international!
Where Is the Highest Demand?
It’s no secret there’s an ongoing nursing shortage, combined with recent high demand for travel nurses due to the burden of COVID-19 on hospitals everywhere. This has led to an overabundance of travel nursing assignments across the country and the world. The streamlining of licensing through such programs as the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) have also made it easier than ever for travel nurses to work in multiple states without requiring additional nursing licenses for each state.
While the urgent demand due to the pandemic is expected to slowly start declining in the later months of 2021, the nursing shortage itself isn’t expected to fully go away. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 7% growth in employment for registered nurses from 2019 to 2029, with about 175,900 new job openings projected every year during this period. Travel nurses are included in this estimate!
As for U.S. states U.S. with the highest travel nursing demand, Drs. Haddad and Annamaraju and RN Toney-Butler forecast the greatest need to arise in the West and Mountain regions in the coming years, while the Northeast and Midwest will likely see slower growth.
To get an idea for cities and states with the greatest demand for travel nurses, we turned to Indeed — one of the world’s largest job boards and a place where even we post our openings in addition to our website. We searched for both “travel nurse” and “travel RN” jobs and took a look at the location results.
Here’s what we found…
For both “travel nurse” and “travel RN” Indeed searches, the top listed job locations yielded similar results. U.S. states and regions in the highest present demand for travel nurses include:
- Northeast: New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania
- Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan
- South Atlantic: Maryland, Washington D.C., Virginia, Georgia, Florida
- East & West South Central: Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma
- West: California, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, Washington
By comparison, our current Loyal Source travel nursing jobs (as of May, 2021) are in the following states and regions:
- Northeast: Pennsylvania, Vermont
- Midwest: Missouri
- South Atlantic: Virginia, North Carolina, Florida
- West South Central: Texas, Louisiana
- West: Colorado, Arizona, Nevada
The search we’ve conducted is simply the tip of the iceberg. And just because a place you want to go isn’t in the highest demand, it doesn’t mean that you can’t find a travel nursing position nearly anywhere right now! This is just to give you a picture of both present and future demand for travel nurses as you consider your next assignment opportunities.
So, let’s get to the heart of the matter. Now that we know where the greatest needs are for travel nurses, where are the best, most exciting, and furthest places you can travel for work in the U.S.?
From Sea to Shining Sea
If you’ve lived in one state or even one city for your entire life, you might be ready for a change of scenery — likely somewhere with a completely different climate or completely different pace of life. Even the most experienced travelers and traveling nurses simply want to get away somewhere new and exciting for different seasons.
Luckily, the U.S. spans from sea to shining sea, with a variety of geography, climates, and cultures to experience. As a travel nurse, you have the opportunity to explore new environments every time you take on a new assignment. It doesn’t matter where your permanent residence is!
So, just how far can you go as a travel nurse in the U.S., and where are the top U.S. travel nursing destinations?
Far Away States
Let’s start with the two furthest states you can work in — Alaska and Hawaii, to no surprise. Travel nursing in these non-contiguous states is more than just an extended vacation. You’ll really get to live and work as a travel nurse in some of the most beautiful locations in the U.S., each with climates that couldn’t be more opposite of each other.
If you’re not afraid of the cold and love to be adventurous, Alaska could be the next stop on your travel nursing plans. You can enjoy seasons with long days and long nights due to being in proximity to the Arctic Circle, and there’s no shortage of hobbies to enjoy like camping, hiking, or fishing. Not to mention all the breathtaking national parks to visit!
If you don’t want to be too isolated living in an already densely populated state, consider looking for travel nurse openings in Anchorage, the state’s most populated city.
Hawaii, on the other hand, is a dream come true for every tropical paradise-loving travel nurse. You’ll be a stone’s throw away from gorgeous beaches and towering green-covered mountains, while also being surrounded by authentic Hawaiian culture.
Naturally, travel nursing jobs in Hawaii are more competitive than other states. That doesn’t mean all hope is lost! Hawaii currently has 28 hospitals (two more than Alaska), so just keep trying if you really want to spend your winter far off in the warm Pacific instead of in the cold and snow.
The Contiguous 48
If Alaska and Hawaii sound a bit too far for your liking, you can still work as a travel nurse anywhere from coast to coast in the contiguous 48. There are over 3 million square miles spanning four time zones out there for you to explore. It doesn’t take leaving the continent to travel somewhere far-off and completely new!
West Coast and East Coast residents might each like to trade places for a few months, living and working in each other’s big cities like New York or L.A. Small-town nurses are more than welcome to get a taste of big city living, and worn-out nurses from the metropolises of cities like Chicago or Seattle can always find small-town assignments in Middle America.
On the other hand, travel nursing residents from northern states like Maine, Wisconsin, or North Dakota might be hankering to trade in their snow boots for flip flops in states like Florida, Texas, or Arizona. Southern travel nurses might want to go work somewhere they can experience snow for the first time like Michigan or Minnesota! And mountaineers from states like Colorado have every opportunity to lay low by the beaches of California or the Carolinas, and vice versa.
It doesn’t matter where you live — travel nurse staffing companies can get you to wherever you want to go, near or far!
In addition to the fifty-nifty, the U.S. territories are also available for travel nursing assignments. No passport needed! If you’re longing to get a travel nurse job in a tropical location but are worn out by the competition for Hawaii, U.S. territories are another great option to explore.
All located in tropical island climates, the territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Atlantic and Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific all accept U.S. citizens to live and work, although each territory does have its own regional government.
Do keep in mind, however, that you won’t be able to travel to other nearby countries on your days off while working in a U.S. territory unless you have a valid passport.
Top Paying Cities
We know much more goes into choosing where to work as a travel nurse beyond just where you would like to travel. How much you earn is just as important. When it comes to traveling far for work, what states and cities should be added to your list of considerations?
Try California and Alaska, for starters. Of the 10 top paying cities in the U.S. for travel nurses in 2021 according to ZipRecruiter, cities in California and Alaska not only take the top four spots, but they are also the only states with cities to make the top ten list more than once.
The full top 10 list includes:
- San Jose, CA
- Oakland, CA
- Tuanaina, AK
- Wasilla, AK
- Summersville, WV
- Hayward, CA
- Jackson, WY
- Norwalk, CT
- Seattle, WA
- Vallejo, CA
For California, San Jose and Oakland take the top two spots at an average of more than $57 per hour and average annual salaries above $118.9K. Hayward and Vallejo, CA also make the top ten list. Alaska comes in at a close second with an average $56.96 hourly rate and $118.4K average annual salaries in both the cities of Tanaina and Wasilla.
This certainly doesn’t mean you can’t earn more in other places than these cities, however. These are just some of the top averages.
General consensus leans towards states out West like California, Oregon, and Nevada along with other states and places like Alaska, Washington D.C., Massachusetts, and Texas are also top-paying on average for travel nurses.
If how much you earn doesn’t matter quite as much to you right now, then you’re free to travel as far as you would like for work! For travel nurses whose income matters more, then be sure to factor that in when planning your next great travel nursing adventure.
International Travel Nursing Opportunities
Can you work as a travel nurse outside the U.S.? The answer is yes, you can! International travel nursing opportunities aren’t as hard to come by as you might imagine.
The demand for well-trained and educated nurses is extremely high on a global scale. The World Health Organization reported an international need of 5.9 million additional nurses in their State of the world’s nursing 2020 report. Developing countries are the most desperate for a sufficient number of experienced nurses.
International travel nursing opportunities generally require more than what is required for domestic travel nurses. As a travel nurse, you’ll have better chances securing international nursing jobs if you are simultaneously both bilingual/multilingual and are very proficient in English, are able to obtain required work visas, have a valid passport, and have experience working in multicultural healthcare settings.
You’ll also likely need to obtain additional nursing certifications in order to qualify you for work in certain countries. Some countries do not have a standardized nursing license. In this case, your nursing registration within the U.S. must be up-to-date.
As Layla Giray Alyanak from Women on the Road additionally highlights about required experience for international travel nurses,
“Most hospitals and travel nurse recruiters want you to have at least one year of nursing in your specialty. They want you to be comfortable, not only with being a nurse but with the equipment, terminology and care as well.”
International travel nursing opportunities can be found typically by going through an international travel nursing agency, although there are also many changes to be a volunteer travel nurse abroad with international health organizations. Just be sure to consider your salary needs when debating which countries you would like to work in, as travel nurse salaries can vary greatly from country to country.
So, where can you go to be an international travel nurse? All over the world! Developed and developing countries are all in need of additional nurses. English-speaking travel nurses can look to countries such as Canada, the UK, and Australia for travel nursing jobs.
Obtaining a visa to the EU can open up many doors to travel nursing in European countries like France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Greece, and more. Many developing countries in South America, the Caribbean, Africa, Easter Europe, and Asia are also great opportunities for travel nurses with a humanitarian spirit.
Before You Think About Working Close to Home
On the flip side of the question “How far can travel nurses go for work?” is the question “How far do travel nurses have to travel for work?” Some travel nurses are content to be far from home on the other side of the country or the world most of the time, while others might want to only take one far-away assignment a year.
Before you think about working close to home as a travel nurse as a way to save on gas and rental costs, you might want to dig a little deeper.
Have you ever heard of the supposed “50-mile rule” for travel nurses? The general idea of the “rule” is that living closer than 50 miles to your assignment can actually have some adverse effects on your pay and taxes.
However, this 50-mile rule isn’t actually set in stone anywhere. Hospital facilities may have a 50 to 100-mile rule in place to keep their travel positions open to actual travel nurses instead of being taken up by local nurses already staffed there.
The radius “rule” is also related to the IRS and duplicated expenses while on travel nursing contracts. If you’re a nurse on a travel nursing assignment, your housing stipend is tax-free only if you are duplicating your housing costs during the time of the contract. This means that if you are living at your permanent residence while working a travel nursing contract, you likely won’t qualify for a tax-free housing stipend.
You can still work close to home as long as you have somewhere else to stay, or if you’re willing to miss out on the stipend benefits!
Taxes aren’t what we’re here to discuss today, but you can learn more about how to file taxes and how to prepare for tax season as a travel nurse from TravelTax.
One of the largest benefits of travel nursing is that you have the freedom to work almost anywhere in the world, both in the U.S. and abroad. For exciting nationwide travel nursing opportunities, Loyal Source is here for you!