Average Travel ICU Nurse Salary: How Much Do Travel Nurses Make? 

Travel nurses are big shots for a reason. They help healthcare providers fill short-term vacancies and keep hospitals running smoothly during staff shortages. Thanks to their expertise, willingness to travel, and ability to jump into medical facilities in need, travel nurses are in high demand right now, especially in the ICU. As a result, hospitals are willing to offer competitive compensation packages to attain top talent, so one of the biggest benefits of working as a travel ICU nurse is the salary.

Sound like a career path you could get on board with? Keep reading to learn more about being a traveling ICU nurse. We’ll share all our intel on what factors can impact your travel ICU nurse salary, the pros and cons of the profession, and what you can expect if you choose to pursue this exciting and rewarding career. So, let’s stop beating around the bush—just how much do ICU travel nurses make

How Much Do Travel ICU Nurses Make?

Healthcare organizations recognize how valuable travel ICU nurses are for their dedication and experience, and often reward them with excellent compensation. Due to the demanding nature of the job and additional required training, travel ICU nurses tend to make more than their counterparts in other departments. As a travel ICU nurse, you’ll often work with patients who need critical care after being in the ER, helping to keep them stable. These skills are incredibly valuable, which is why they come with a lucrative salary to match.

The exact compensation can vary considerably between contracts, but it’s usually higher than what ICU nurses would make working full-time in the same facility. The average travel ICU nurse salary can vary based on current job opportunities. However, some healthcare organizations offer higher rates to attract talented, highly experienced nurses. It’s also worth noting that contracts are available at lower rates, but this is typically the case in places with a lower cost of living, so it usually evens out in the wash. 

When you first start out as a travel nurse, you won’t have much room to negotiate pay rates. However, as you gain more experience, feel free to push for a higher salary that reflects what you feel you have earned. This is most successful when travel nurses extend their contracts or return to places they’ve worked previously.

In addition to weekly pay, travel nurses also receive other financial benefits. These can include overtime rates, bonuses, housing stipends, and a per diem, which covers the cost of food and other essential items. These financial benefits can vary between contracts, but you’ll always have a chance to review and discuss them before committing. Since things can change frequently, check in with our job board at any time for the most up-to-date information on travel ICU nurse salaries. 

Factors Impacting Your Travel Nurse (ICU) Salary

Various factors can affect travel RN ICU pay rates. Here are some to keep in mind that could affect the overall salary: 

  • Location: This plays a big role in your overall pay rate because different cities and states have vastly inconsistent living costs. For example, you would likely make less in a rural area than in a big city like New York or San Francisco, but your housing and food costs would be lower there too. 
  • Experience: Some healthcare facilities require travel ICU nurses to have a certain level of experience. Consequently, these roles come with higher pay rates. 
  • Demand: The current supply and demand levels for ICU nurses will also affect your pay rates. If a medical facility has a severe shortage of nurses, it will likely increase pay rates for travel nurses to fill these openings quickly. However, sought-after hospitals in highly desirable areas might offer lower pay rates because they don’t feel the same urgency to fill vacancies. 
  • Schedule: Roles with difficult schedules sometimes compensate with slightly higher pay rates. This could pertain to positions that demand more than 40 hours per week, highly variable schedules, or night shifts. 

Pros and Cons of ICU Nursing

There are many pros and cons of working as a travel ICU nurse. While it can be very rewarding, it may not be for everyone, so we’re here to tell it to ya straight. Understanding what to expect ahead of time can help you decide if it’s the right fit for you. 

Pros of Being a Travel Nurse (ICU)

There’s lots to love about working as a travel ICU nurse. Here are some of the biggest advantages of working in this role: 

  • High salary: Let’s cut to the chase—working as a travel ICU nurse can be lucrative. There’s nothing better than the feeling of financial stability, especially if you’re still paying off student loans from nursing school. By working as an ICU nurse, you can command a high salary and even increase your pay rate as you gain experience. Save and work toward those financial goals—we’re rooting for ya!
  • Stability: ICU nurses are an essential part of the healthcare system, and they’re always in demand. No matter where you go or what happens with the economy, you can feel confident that ICU roles will always be available.  
  • Career boost: Working in the ICU is fast-paced, and you’ll learn many valuable new skills along the way. As a result, this incredible experience can help you advance quickly in your career. 
  • Fulfilling: While working as a critical care travel nurse, you’ll get to care for patients during some of the most challenging moments of their lives. Many nurses tend to find this work to be incredibly fulfilling and rewarding. 
  • Visit new places: With each new contract, you can satiate your inner travel bug by relocating around the country. As part of your work as a travel nurse, you’ll be able to explore various beautiful and interesting places. It’s also a great way to try out different cities and determine where you’d like to settle down long-term (unless you want to be a nomadic nurse lifer, which we also fully support!).  
  • Network expansion: Along the way, you’ll make new friends and connections in the healthcare industry across the country. Building a strong network can help you at later stages of your career. 
  • Freedom and flexibility: Working as a travel nurse gives you more autonomy than you would get working full-time. You’re in charge of which contracts you take, so you can decide where you want to go and what type of projects make sense for your needs and goals. 

Cons of Being a Travel Nurse (ICU)

As with any job, there are some downsides to working as a travel ICU nurse. Here are some potential cons to be aware of: 

  • Stress factor: Working with patients in critical condition can sometimes be very stressful. If you’re looking for a lower-stress environment, consider working as a travel nurse in a different department, such as labor and delivery or pediatrics. 
  • Inconsistent schedule: Unfortunately, working in the ICU can often come with an inconsistent schedule. Expect to work nights, weekends, and even occasional holidays. If you prefer a more consistent schedule, work with your travel nurse agency (we’re here when you need us!) to find contracts with only day shifts. 
  • Frequent moves: Travel nurses move frequently—sometimes as much as four times per year! While many people find this exciting, others may miss the predictability and structure of being at home. If this resonates with you, consider only working contracts in a specific state or region so you don’t need to move far. 

What to Expect as a Traveling ICU Nurse

Working as a travel nurse differs from working as a full-time staff member. You must be very flexible and adaptable to succeed in this role. When you start a travel nursing job, you’ll typically have a few quick days of training on the facility’s protocols and then jump into work. You’ll check in with the ICU nurse from the previous shift at the beginning of your shift and they’ll provide updates about patient status and action items. 

You’ll work your shift with doctors and other nurses to care for patients, including monitoring each patient closely, administering medication and other treatments, and responding to emergencies. At the end of your shift, you’ll document what happened and check in with the nurse on the next shift. As a travel nurse, your schedule can change frequently. You may work night shifts one week and day shifts the next. You also may be moved to other units periodically to fill in for vacancies. 

Travel nursing jobs come with housing stipends and a per diem, which you can use for food and other personal expenses. We can help you find housing, or you can find short-term living options on your own—it all depends on your preferences. The average contract length for a travel nurse is 13 weeks. However, some contracts offer an extension, bringing the total time to 26 weeks, and some may be shorter than this. Contact us if you have any other lingering questions about travel ICU nurse specifics, we’d love to help!  

Find Your First Assignment with Triage 

If you have ICU nursing experience and want to explore new places, now is the perfect time to become a travel nurse. At Triage, we can help you find ICU RN jobs and other travel nurse jobs nationwide. Apply today to get started—and enjoy that appealing travel ICU nurse salary and lifestyle!