Kathleen Gaines, MSN, RN, BA, CBC
Kathleen Gaines, MSN, RN, BA, CBC
January 9, 2023 - 5 min read

Best Cities for Travel Nurses in 2023

Becoming a travel nurse is an exciting adventure, but determining where to take an assignment can be overwhelming. Salary, housing options, location amenities, and staffing ratios all factor into the decision. The location itself — its desirability and relative location to a nurse’s current assignment or hometown — can be a major consideration.

Most travel nursing assignments are only 13 weeks, so travel nurses can move on after an assignment if they are no longer needed or are unhappy with the placement. This flexibility appeals to many nurses and continues to make travel nursing one of the most desirable careers in the nursing industry.

Looking for open travel nurse assignments? Speak with a recruiter today!

Top Paying Cities for Travel Nurses

Salary tends to be the number one driving factor for nurses comparing travel nurse jobs. What’s often overlooked is the cost of living and housing affordability in those destinations. States that have a higher hourly wage generally have a higher cost of living, which means less affordable housing and higher taxes.

For example, a travel nurse in California will likely make more money per hour than a nurse in Texas. However, the nurse in Texas will likely end up bringing home a bigger paycheck because of the lower cost of living expenses and taxes. Assignments in states such as Oklahoma or Kansas may look undesirable, but with a low cost of living, nurses have the ability to make more money.

It is important to factor in the cost of living when determining where to take your next travel assignment. Hawaii, one of the most desirable locations for travel nurses, may have extremely high hourly wages, but the cost of living is among the highest in the country.

Furthermore, take into consideration the housing stipend and rent costs in the area. If the housing stipend is lower than current rentals – then this will make an impact on your overall net salary.

A U.S. News & World Report recently looked at the most affordable states in the country. Topping the list was Alabama, Iowa, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Kansas. Currently, Mississippi is ranked #1 in the most affordable state. Hawaii currently ranks the lowest in affordability with the highest cost of living and the least affordable housing in the country.

Interestingly, Hawaii is one of the most desirable states for travel nurses, though it has a very low hourly pay compared to what is needed for living expenses. In cases like this where the location is a travel or vacation destination, travel nurses may forgo pay for the experience of living in a vacation destination like Hawaii or San Diego for 13 weeks.

Other states recognized as the least affordable include California, New York, Alaska, and Massachusetts — also popular travel nurse destinations.

According to ZipRecruiter.com, travel nurses in 2023 will earn the highest average salary in California with an average hourly wage of $70.15 and an annual salary of $145,914. It’s important to note wages can increase between travel nurse companies and will also vary depending on certifications and unit placement. ICU nurses tend to earn more than medical-surgical nurses, for example.

Find available, high-paying travel nurse opportunities.

Here’s a list of the top 10 highest-paying cities for travel nurses.

The Top 10 Highest-Paying Cities for Travel Nurses in 2023

Location Annual Salary Hourly Wage
Santa Clara, CA $145,914 $70.15
San Francisco, CA $140,854 $67.72
Fremont, CA $137,691 $66.20
Marysville, WA $136,989 $65.86
San Jose, CA $133,184 $64.03
Jackson, WY $132,198 $63.56
Oakland, CA $131,914 $63.42
Diamond Ridge, AK $131,643 $63.29
Alexandria, VA $131,021 $62.99
Sunnyvale, CA $130,096 $62.55

Source: ZipRecruiter.com

Travel nurse companies and recruiters work with travel nurses to find the best placement at the highest possible salary. Some companies have specific contracts and are able to offer higher pay than others. In fact, two travel nurses working in the same unit at the same hospital may make two different salaries. It’s important to pick a company you feel comfortable will and advocate on your behalf to get higher wages.

At times, the recruiter will be more important than the company. The recruiter is your direct liaison with the hospital administration and will be your go-to for all contract negotiations, extensions, cancellations, and any issue that may arise during the assignment.

Top States in Need of Travel Nurses

A 2017 Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) study looked at specific projected job growth and demand of nurses in each state through 2030.

Based on the study, there are four states that will continue to have a deficit of nurses through 2030. Travel nurses are desperately needed in these states, and employers often give incentives to entice nurses. These states are:

  1. California
  2. Texas
  3. New Jersey
  4. South Carolina

As the country continues to see a mass exodus of nurses at the bedside since the COVID-19 pandemic, every state is desperately looking for nurses to fill the voids. Aya travel nursing company advertises over 14,000 travel nurse positions available on the website. Most other major travel nursing companies have countless unfilled nursing positions.

Additionally, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) says 55% of today’s nursing workforce is 50 years or older. The number of nurses retiring is also contributing to the ongoing nursing shortage.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment for RNs to grow 6 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Roughly 203,200 openings for registered nurses are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Unfortunately, the BLS does not differentiate between staff nurses and travel nurses, but it can be assumed that if there is a need for nurses in general, this will also include travel nurses.

California consistently has the highest demand for travel nurses throughout the year. Due to a powerful statewide union and specific laws regarding safe nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, there will always be a large need.

The time of year also has an effect on which states need nursing resources. States such as Alaska, Maine, and Vermont have higher needs for travel nurses during the winter months but lower needs in the summer months – mostly because those are less desirable times to live in those locations. Conversely, Louisiana, Alabama, and Arkansas have higher needs during the summer and lower needs during the winter. Consider traveling to desirable locations during “off-peak” months for better assignments and pay.

Other considerations for deciding your next assignment

Strictly choosing a travel nursing job and location based on pay and affordability can be a limiting decision. Travel nurses generally work three days a week which leads to a lot of time off to explore each new location. Thirteen weeks in a location that doesn’t fit can be exhausting and depressing.

When choosing a location, remember what you like to do in your free time.

  • Do you like snow or sun?
  • Do you want a major city or a small town?
  • Do you want to be near the mountains or the ocean?

These questions are important when looking at job opportunities. It can be exciting to see the country and try new things, but if you know you hate the snow — don’t choose a snowy location in the winter.

Travel nursing isn’t strictly about seeing the country while earning a higher wage. It’s also about working at some of the top hospitals in the country.

Consider assignments at hospitals that will look good on your resume and help with your career advancement. Having worked at hospitals such as John’s Hopkins Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Mayo Clinic, Massachusetts General Hospital, UCLA Medical Center, and UCSF Medical Center will help travel nurses for future career endeavors. Assignments at these hospitals will open many doors for travel nurses both professionally and academically.

Deciding which city to take an assignment can be daunting for new travel nurses, but with guidance from a seasoned recruiter, the task will become more manageable. Remember to look at locations during off-peak months, consider house affordability and overall cost of living, and location amenities when choosing a contract.

Ready to begin travel nursing? Get started today!

Join the many nurses already traveling.

Don't miss out on your adventure.

Become a Travel Nurse!