As a travel nurse, you have endless options when it comes to taking an assignment across the US. So what are the best places to be a travel nurse? The truth is, I’ve liked everywhere I’ve gone for different reasons. And when picking what you want, first you need to decide what you’re looking for. If you want to get paid the big bucks, your biggest shot is to land an assignment in Northern California (or a very small town desperate for help). If you’re looking for outdoor adventures then you’d focus on the PNW, Colorado, Montana, or even Wyoming. If you want warm weather – the west coast; and if you want to leaf peep in the fall – the east coast. The best city to travel nurse in is the city that you’ve intentionally sought out for whatever reason. So before reading further, take a pen, and jot down what you’re looking for, what bucket list items you want to cross off, and go from there!
The Best Places to Be a Travel Nurse
Working as a travel nurse in Austin, Texas has its pros and cons. On one hand, you’re living in a fun city, with tons to do. Texas is a compact state so if you hold a compact license you don’t need to apply for licensure. There are also fun nearby towns to visit and wine regions just a day trip away. However, on the other hand, housing is hard to come by and the traveler rates aren’t the highest in Texas. Overall working in Austin is a blast and if you’re looking to be in a FUN city, add Austin to the list!
THINGS TO DO
- Bar hop on Rainey Street
- Rent paddleboards/kayaks on Lady Bird Lake
- Visit Zilker Park
- Shop on South Congress
- Eat breakfast from a food truck (preferably Biscuits and Groovy)
- Day trip to Fredericksburg for wine
- Day trip to Magnolia Market in Waco
The pay in Austin is mediocre – not too high, but not too low. However, with the cost of living being high I would’ve expected rates to be higher than what was being offered at the time. Austin is also a place where you’ll be working for your money; expect decent patient ratios.
Read more about Austin:
Why should you be a travel nurse in Phoenix? Aside from the affordable cost of living, Arizona is a playground for those who love the outdoors. And the best part about it is that it’s the perfect place to chase summer and escape those winter blues. Spend your week in the city and your weekends hiking in Sedona, visiting the Grand Canyon or Horseshoe Bend, and squirming your way through narrow slots at Antelope Canyon.
THINGS TO DO
- Day trip to the ghost town of Jerome
- Spend a weekend in Sedona
- Visit Old Town Scottsdale
- Have a spa day at one of the many resorts around
- Hike Camelback Mountain
The pay in Arizona is mediocre, but the cost of living is affordable. Also, be prepared to work for your money in Arizona with decent-heavy patient ratios.
San Francisco, California
WHY SAN FRANCISCO?
If you’re chasing high-paying contracts then San Francisco is definitely where you want to be. The nurses in the Bay Area get paid more compared to nurses everywhere else in the US, so it only makes sense that the travel contracts here are also high-paying. While the cost of living is equally high, you can still find a decent place in the city and save money. Not only that but with most of the hospitals being unionized, the ratios are low and breaks are always respected.
Aside from the pay, if you’re looking to explore a city for 13-weeks San Francisco is a great choice. There’s so much to do, incredible food to eat, and it’s a great place to come in the winter for warm(ish) weather.
THINGS TO DO
- Bike across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito
- Walkthrough Golden Gate Park
- Visit Alcatraz
- Have a picnic at Dolores Park, Alamo Square, or Palace of the Fine Arts
- Visit wine country
As mentioned earlier, the pay and nurse to patient ratio is the best in the US. If you’re looking for a job where breaks are prioritized, patient safety is first on the agenda, units are appropriately staffed, and the pay is incredible – San Francisco (or the Bay Area) should be the first place on your list.
Read more about San Francisco:
Santa Barbara, California
WHY SANTA BARBARA?
Santa Barbara is hands down one of the most beautiful places in the US. If you’re looking to spend 13-weeks in an epic beach location, Santa Barbara would be it. There are so many things to do including water activities, hiking, and even options if you love wine.
THINGS TO DO
- Day trip to Solvang
- Visit Los Olivos wine country
- Shop on State Street
- Visit the Funk Zone
- Walk to Montecito
Read more about Santa Barbara:
Because it’s California, you don’t need to worry about ratios. Like my experience in San Francisco, nursing in Santa Barbara is safe and has pretty great nurse-to-patient ratios. I will say, however, that for such an expensive beach town – the pay doesn’t quite match. If you want to live in the city of Santa Barbara, you more than likely won’t be saving a ton of money. However, you could also choose to live outside of the city and commute in to save money.
The better question is… why not Seattle? Seattle is an epic destination for travel nurses for numerous reasons. First off, the travel nurse community is huge in Seattle so if you’re traveling alone and looking to make friends you have pretty good odds. Second, the pay is good and hospitals in the area are constantly looking to hire travel nurses. And life outside of work is pretty great too. Summers in Seattle are beautiful and there are so many outdoor activities to keep your days nice and busy. Plus the food scene in Seattle is truly top-notch.
THINGS TO DO
- Stroll through Pike Place Market
- Day trip to Leavenworth
- Take the ferry to Bainbridge Island
- Day Trip to Deception Pass and hike Oyster Dome
- Day Trip to Lena Lake and Eat at Hama Hama Oyster
- Take the Clipper to Victoria, British Columbia
- Wine taste in Woodinville
Both the pay in Seattle and patient ratios are decent. Of course, some hospitals in the area pay more than others, but overall pay feels fair. The ratios in Seattle are also decent. The hospitals are constantly hiring travel nurses when things get busy.
Read more about Seattle:
With so many places to check out in the United States, I’m interested to hear places that you’ve enjoyed. Travelers, let me know in the comments below which cities hold a special place in your heart and where you think the best places to travel nurse are!