Financial Wellness

Why Travel Nursing Salary Isn’t All You Should Care About

The Trusted Team
January 22, 2020
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When looking for your next (or first) travel nurse assignment, it can be tempting to hone in on the opportunity with the highest compensation. While this isn’t necessarily the “wrong” approach -- money is a priority, we get it -- focusing too much on travel nurse pay might result in missing out on other aspects of travel nursing, such as location and learning potential.

In an ideal world, you can find a facility focusing on what you’re interested in, that pays a highly competitive salary, and in a city you love. Unfortunately, this is more often than not pretty difficult to achieve.

Still, money is important, so let’s get that out of the way first.

toy pig on white background travel nurse salary compensation pay

Travel Nurse Salary, Pay, & Compensation

Travel nurse salary, pay, and compensation… what’s the difference? 

Salaries are paid weekly, biweekly, and sometimes monthly; they consist of your yearly income from a given contract (for which you receive a W2). 

Pay is a bit more nebulous of a term and relates generally to the financial reward you are provided for a given amount of work, typically on a contractual basis (and can still pertain to an annual salary). 

Compensation is similar to pay in that it applies to full-time, salaried work, yet it also has a strong connotation for ad hoc, contractual work.

Accordingly, in the case of travel nursing jobs, compensation is technically the most accurate term; however, you will hear salary, pay, and compensation all used interchangeably.

Now, browsing potential travel opportunities based solely on compensation can be intriguing and -- depending on where you are in life and what your goals are -- might make the most sense. But remember, money will always be there in such a high-demand profession, so instead, think about other things you might want to prioritize.

Before you sign your next contract solely based on earning potential, consider your ideal location and the experiences as well as learning opportunities you might have there.


One of the best parts about travel nursing is the opportunity to travel across the country to hundreds of cities and dozens of states that you might normally never set foot in. Maybe you want to spend time hiking around the Pacific Northwest, or maybe you’re a die-hard Rockets fan and want to be in Houston for all of their home games. With travel nursing, you can satisfy virtual any interest or need you may have to travel (even if it’s simply to see different parts of the country while limiting travel expenses).

That said, sometimes the highest compensations come with less than ideal locations or are far from where you’d like to be. Again, money is important, but so is indulging your interests (pending cost of living, of course). What’s a few months of marginally less income when you’re able to do all of the exploring, eating, meeting, and learning you want to do in a new city or state.

Again, it comes down to your priorities, but just remember… there’s plenty to see and do out there, much of which doesn’t require a big financial boost. 

Experience & Learning Potential

In addition to location, the actual role and its accompanying experience and learning potential matter, too! If you’re pursuing experience in a particular role or unit, it makes sense to prioritize facilities known for their work in that area. For example, if you want to become an expert or develop deep knowledge in oncology, it wouldn't be strategic to prioritize opportunities in different fields simply because the compensation is higher.

Especially if you’re only a couple years into your nursing career, you definitely want to choose your opportunities based on what you see yourself doing in the future (yes, you can typically shift nursing specialties later on, but it’s not always easy). Moreover, if there’s a particular unit or team of medical professionals that are known for their work in a particular area, you may want to prioritize a working relationship with them for the sake of learning experience and resume building.

Other Factors

We all know life is never as simple as it seems, so it’s also true that there are a ton of other factors that go into selecting a travel nurse assignment. Maybe you miss living near by family or friends, maybe you have a tremendous amount of student debt to pay off, or maybe you just want to spend more time on the coast during the summer. 

There’s no “right” or “wrong” choice, just make sure it’s a thoughtful one. Whatever the reasons, there are plenty to choose from; just make sure you’re following the right one(s) for you given your current situation.

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