Guest Post by Traveling SLP Pair Courtney & Tim for Travel Therapy Mentor
Many healthcare professionals choose to pursue traveling healthcare early in their careers, perhaps right out of school, or within the first few years of practicing, before they “settle down,” and have a family. However, we get questions from healthcare professionals who are in other stages of their careers, such as during the time they have a young family, when they’re empty nesters, or close to retirement. Fortunately, we do know many healthcare professionals who have pursued traveling opportunities later in their careers, and have made it work in various different ways depending on their personal situation. We are excited to share a guest post from Travel SLP duo Courtney & Tim who started traveling in their 50s once their children were out of the house. Keep reading to learn more about their situation & insights to traveling later in your career!
As the credits rolled for the movie, Nomadland, I looked at my husband (and co-worker) and said “that’s us!” I totally can relate to that feeling of no matter how good a situation/location is, there’s a powerful pull of finding out what else is out there that doesn’t seem to ever release you. As Fern seemed to discover in the movie, there’s almost its own special joy in not getting too attached to one place or knowing that it doesn’t have a complete hold on you. But like the movie and in life, every positive aspect has its negative as well.
While Fern had her nomadic life initially thrust on her, we chose to become modern-day nomads, as traveling speech-language pathologists. We had heard about “travelers,” or therapists that take short term placements all around the country, since grad school (we met at the University of Louisville) but thought that was for young, unattached therapists. But after a trip to Australia for their national speech and language convention (one of the perks of both being in the same field), we learned people of all ages are travelers and even do work abroad!
As we had young kids at the time with special needs and relied on the support system we had in our hometown, we agreed that traveling at that point wasn’t feasible. But the seed had been planted and, as a natural planner, I started mapping out when and how we could pull off this mid-life career change. It took about 12 years, but in 2019, with one son teaching in Spain and the other doing gap year experience(s) during his deferred enrollment in college, we set off for Northern California for our first school-year Travel SLP contracts. Last year was the Maryland/Northern Virginia area. We are now currently in our third contract, in our third school district, in Salem, Oregon for school year 2021-22.
Pros and Cons of Being an Older Travel Therapist
I skipped over a lot that happened in there, but perhaps that is fodder for a future article. What I really wanted to share were some of the unique positives of being older travel therapists. But my brutal honesty means I will also share the negative side of each of those positive elements, as well.
1. Being an older, experienced therapist means you have a LOT of experience doing “the job,” which makes it easier to, well, do the job.
Positive: You know how to get clients/students to make progress; you know how to communicate with families; there is usually an immediate trust/respect given you by co-workers, families, etc. when they realize you have 25+ years’ experience in the field; you have an idea about the paperwork involved; you have a LOT of tools in your therapy tool box and it is usually very easy to get hired for positions. Speech therapists are in high demand anyway, and experienced, skilled ones that prefer in-person work are almost “unicorns,” as one recruiter called us.
Negative: It’s not fun to have to learn how THIS district wants paperwork completed or the acronyms they use or even how they interpret IDEA (I grit my teeth every time I question a procedure or requirement and the answer starts with “well, the LAW says..” I KNOW the law; I need to know how YOU guys interpret it). Don’t get me started on the “fun” of learning new computer systems for paperwork and inevitable, unique-to-every-state Medicaid billing. An older brain is a bit less plastic, and it can be hard to start all over every year (or in the case of shorter placements, every few months) in a brand-new district, learn new administrative structures and even names of those you report to and for what. Additionally, as an older therapist, you know the possible pitfalls in new assignments and are usually very careful and request a LOT of information before signing a contract.
2. You get to spend your free time exploring and learning about an area like a live-in tourist.
Positive: We have landed assignments primarily based on locations chocked full of activities that we couldn’t explore in a week, the usual length of time we had for our annual family vacation. It’s a completely new experience to learn about history again, as an adult, and with all the context of the life you have already lived. It’s so exciting to look up local attractions, sights and landmarks, museums and areas of interest and not be afraid of looking too uncool to check it out (we’re not from here!).
Negative: You must push yourself to research, plan and execute activities (oh, and pay for them) every weekend and long weekend. It can feel like its own job! At our age, we realize we don’t have forever to see or do everything we want to and often feel as though any time not out ‘doing’ is being wasted. You also must “learn” where all the usual daily living stuff is all over again, such as which grocery store carries your favorite brand of natural soft drink or where are the parks with the best walking paths. As an older person, you can get very picky about those items and finding them takes time and energy. Thankfully, coworkers and landlords that are locals are usually very willing to help new folks with a number of those details, including recommending restaurants and hidden attractions.
3. You’re free of the usual commitments you had back home (I felt like I had run away from home!).
Positive: I am an over-committer, I admit it. And it takes a lot for me to quit something. That was why I taught classes weekly at the YMCA back home for 25+ years (started in grad school). Church choir (and weekly practice), family, and community obligations provided lots of structure to our lives; but, after a couple of decades, sometimes it could feel like more of a burden than a blessing. Living across the country kind of resets all that, particularly if you don’t know if you will be returning to that area or not. We also had decades of birthday parties, holiday traditions, etc. with our families and friends, several whom are no longer with us. It feels refreshing and maybe even less painful to find new ways to celebrate those milestones with the family you still have, especially when some of them are out of state, as well.
Negative: You have to a) work to make new friendships and connections in your assignment city, and b) you must work at maintaining your relationships back home. That means phone calls and emails and video chats and FB posts to keep the folks back home connected to what you’re doing instead of just vegging out when you get home from work. You can feel somewhat unmoored, when the social network you spent decades building is no longer close by and available. And you must be willing to kind of put yourself out there and ask coworkers to possibly hang out with you after hours in order to foster those new friendships. That can be awkward!
4. You are more financially stable, so you have technically the financial freedom to spend money on adventures.
Positive: The years of putting kids through school, paying for extracurricular activities and making mortgage payments on our family home are behind us. Living a more portable lifestyle also means spending a lot less on ‘stuff’ and freeing up more income for ‘doing’. Everyone must make their own choices, but after having to empty two parents’ homes of decades of ‘stuff,’ we feel resolute about choosing adventures over things. That, along with careful budgeting and the living stipend part of travel pay, has allowed us to be off together a total of almost three months every calendar year.
Negative: You never get to stop watching your pennies. I am the household CFO and must watch our payroll deposits very closely, as there is not a lot of room for mistakes. Our pay is a bit complicated, as well, with unpaid holidays, taxes paid in three different states in one year and, of course, no workdays for the summer. And, as linguists by trade, numbers aren’t our thing. So, I have to use a combination of software and budgeting app and a go-to guy back at our bank to help us troubleshoot issues that come up. We also find that we are often unwilling to give up or compromise on some amenities in our living situation(s), which can cost more. We have hand-washed dishes and used a laundromat for our clothes; we just don’t want to do it anymore.
5. You are old enough to appreciate the uniqueness of your situation
Positive: While we joke about being “weird,” we realize we are living most people’s fantasy: to run away to a new city or area you have always heard of/dreamed about going to visit, and then LIVE there for 10 months! Checking out museums and wineries, beaches and waterfalls, driving by national monuments every day (ok, that just happened in Northern VA). Essentially, getting the opportunity to be a tourist for 9-10 months. Well, a tourist with a 40-hour work week. But having spent 20+ years in the same city, we really do realize how unique and interesting a way this is to spend your work life and really experience so much beauty in this country.
Negative: We had a fellow therapist we met remind us that we are indeed in the sweet spot of life: old enough to not have people depending on us, but not so old that we have grandkids to hold us in place. We realize that this lifestyle will need to come to end once our sons hopefully bless us with grandkids, or, less hopefully, a family member needs our daily assistance. We were so fortunate to have our parents available to be involved in our sons’ lives, not only helping us but interweaving themselves with our sons’ earliest memories. We are committed to being there to fulfill those roles for our own grown children, wherever that may be. So, there is something of a clock ticking loudly in the back of our minds, pushing us to try new assignments in new locations so we can see and do as much as possible before the buzzer goes off!
Our Unique Situation
A little asterisk for all the “weird” or unique things about our situation, in particular:
- We are a married couple in the same discipline
- We do school-based therapy contracts for the full 10 month school year (at least for now)
- We are completely debt free, including our house/condo/home base (thank you Financial Peace University)
- We are in very good health, in part to good genes, good luck and a lot of hard work
- We were friends before we dated so we genuinely enjoy spending time together and have a lot of similar interests.
These may not seem important, but I feel like they all come together to help us make this traveling therapy life a successful one. Again, these are just my thoughts after being at this travel therapy gig for almost three years now and doing it as a part of the over-50 set!
Is Traveling Right For You?
While we certainly don’t think we have the whole traveling therapy thing “nailed down,” we really do enjoy the life it has afforded us. We also hope that our experiences open the eyes of other therapists considering the travel therapy life, particularly those with more “experience” that thought it was only for young people. Everyone must look closely at their own life, their long-term (and short-term) goals and decide what will work for them. But we hope our experience(s) may give others some food for thought as they contemplate the next phase of their careers.
Courtney Richardson-Young is a pediatric speech-language pathologist from Louisville, KY with 25 years of experience in settings from in-home early intervention, private practice to school-based services. When not working, she likes to complete half and full marathons around the country, as well as participate in yoga, aqua fitness and any activity that gets the heart rate up!
Tim Young, also from Louisville, KY spent most of his 26 years of practicing speech-language pathology in medical settings, including home health, rehab centers, hospitals and nursing home settings. He currently provides school-based services to students from ages 5 to 21 yrs. He enjoys classic cars, outdoor activities and reading every placard in every museum he can!
Tim and Courtney, also known as the Dynamic_Speech_ Duo, are traveling SLPs who met in grad school, fell in love, got married, raised a family and are now traveling the country. They have two grown sons, both with disabilities, that taught them a lot about advocacy, ableism and what life is like outside of the therapy room. They are enjoying “flying” their empty nest, since both sons graduated in 2019, and exploring as many wineries, cideries, museums, parks, festivals and historic sites as possible!
Courtney & Tim can be followed on Instagram @dynamic_speech_duo and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.