How to Become a Travel Therapist

One of the most frequent questions we receive from students and prospective travel therapists who find our website or Instagram account is, “How do I become a travel therapist?”

They usually see all of the amazing adventures we’ve had and the financial independence we’ve been able to achieve since we decided to become new grad travel PTs in 2015 and want to go down a similar path. Becoming a Travel PT, OT, SLP, PTA, or COTA is something that just about all therapists consider at some point during their schooling or upon graduation. Traveling around the country meeting new people, trying out different states and practice settings, all while earning 1.5-2 times as much as at a permanent therapy job on average, makes travel therapy a pretty compelling option, especially for a new grad.

We love getting these questions and helping others get started with becoming successful travel therapists now, especially since we made lots of mistakes when we first started due to no resources being available at that time. How to become a travel therapist is not a straightforward question to answer due to everyone starting at different places and having different wants/needs with travel therapy jobs, but I’ll do my best to give some insight applicable to everyone!

Do Your Research Before Becoming a Travel Therapist!

When considering becoming a travel therapist, doing your research before starting and understanding the process is essential. After mentoring many thousands of new and current travel therapists, the one theme that consistently emerges is that the therapists who jump into travel without understanding the ins and outs first are the ones who are much more likely to have a bad experience early on, causing them to stop traveling. The horror stories about travel therapy are almost always coming from therapists who didn’t understand what they were doing and allowed themselves to be put in a bad position, or made avoidable beginner mistakes.

Naïve new travelers are very easy for bad travel companies and recruiters to take advantage of by either paying much too low or by sending them to terrible facilities. There are certainly pros and cons to travel therapy, but the best way to minimize many of the cons is to be well informed.

We created Travel Therapy Mentor in 2018 to make becoming a travel therapist and doing your research as easy as possible by providing a plethora of resources. Now we have over 100 articles as well as over 100 live videos (audio versions of most of them here on our podcast) on just about every possible travel therapy topic. We also have our step by step course that will walk you through becoming a financially successful travel therapist.

Another great option for learning and connecting with other travelers is our Facebook groups, Travel Therapy Mentor Community Group and Healthcare Travelers on FIRE, where thousands of travel therapists ask questions and learn from each other. If you’re completely overwhelmed with content, then the single best place to start is our Travel Therapy 101 series which covers all of the basics, with links to more in depth content. However you choose to learn, just make sure to do your research and start your travel therapy career informed!

Find Trustworthy Recruiters at Good Travel Therapy Companies!

With hundreds of travel therapy companies out there placing travel therapists, and many of those companies having dozens of recruiters, finding the best travel companies and recruiters is undoubtedly daunting. Finding great companies and recruiters is the most sure fire way to have a good experience when becoming a travel therapist. Every travel company will say they’re the best, and most recruiters are great at selling themselves since their livelihood depends on it. There are lots of great companies and recruiters out there, but unfortunately there are also a lot of not so great companies and recruiters.

Working with multiple different companies and recruiters is very important so that you have as many job options as possible, increasing the odds of finding a great fitting contract. Every therapist wants to find the best travel companies or the highest paying companies, but the truth is that the best and highest paying companies will vary depending on your specific needs in terms of discipline, setting, location, and benefits. Finding the best recruiters for you is also difficult because every traveler has their own communication style and expectations which will mesh well with some recruiters more than others. This means that the best travel companies and recruiters for you will often be different than for your classmates or coworkers.

Let Us Help!

Since finding amazing companies and recruiters is difficult, one of the most important services we offer at Travel Therapy Mentor is helping travel therapists get connected with good companies and recruiters that should work well for their specific situation. We’ve spent thousands of hours interviewing companies and recruiters to find their strengths and weaknesses to know which travelers they would work best for. We also continuously reassess which recruiters we work with and recommend based on their performance, communication, and feedback we receive from travelers. We have over 50 recruiters at over a dozen different companies that we send therapists to according to their wants and needs. If you’d like us to help you get connected with companies and recruiters that should work well for your situation, then fill out our recruiter recommendation form!

Determine Your Priorities as a Traveler

Every traveler chooses travel therapy for different reasons. When I started traveling as a new grad physical therapist, my main reason was to make and save as much money as possible. I had a lot of student loan debt and was determined to improve my financial position quickly, which made Travel PT extremely appealing. While traveling, I could earn a lot of money while also making very minimal student loan payments, meaning I could invest a ton of money each year to get myself in a better financial position early in my career. As time went on though, my priority shifted from saving as much as possible each year to having more free time which is when I decide to “semi-retire.”

Some travelers choose to travel because they want to explore the country and find where they want to eventually settle down. Sure, making a lot of money is great, but for them that’s secondary to checking out cool locations across the country where they may end up staying long term. Other therapists choose to travel because they aren’t sure which setting they want to work in long term, and with travel they’re able to try out different settings for a few months at a time before choosing and settling into a permanent position. Still other therapists choose to travel for the flexibility of being able to take long periods of time off between contracts to do long road trips and travel internationally. Whitney and I have used that flexibility to take multiple 2-5 month international trips including our five month around the world trip in 2018.

Every Travel Therapist is Unique

Since all travelers have their own priorities, it’s important when becoming a travel therapist to sit down and think through yours and decide what’s most important for you. Ideally you get all of your contracts in the exact location you want, in the setting you desire, and with extremely high pay. Realistically though, this is unlikely. Most of the time you’ll get one or two of those, but not all three. For that reason, ranking setting, location, and pay in order of what is most important to you is necessary before becoming a traveler, and this may evolve through your travel career as well.

For me when starting, finding outpatient PT jobs in low cost of living areas was most important. I was willing to work just about anywhere on the east coast as long as it was an outpatient job in a low cost area where I’d be able to save a lot of money. Another traveler might want the absolute highest paying contracts and care much less about the setting and location, so even though they’d prefer to work in outpatient on the east coast, they end up working home health in California where contracts pay much higher. Think about these factors as you prepare to begin your journey as a travel therapist, as it can help guide you with your job search and career choices.

Is Being a Travel Therapist Really for You?

Becoming a travel therapist isn’t a decision you should take lightly. While just about everyone considers it, it’s certainly not for everyone, especially not for all new grads. While we started traveling as new grads and have helped many hundreds of other new grads get started with travel, we occasionally advise against it for some therapists. If you’re a therapist that isn’t comfortable yet with your evaluation and treatment skills, or have a difficult time with change, or get overwhelmed easily, then travel might not be right for you.

Additionally, if you’re a therapist who’s already planted some roots, maybe you own a home with a mortgage, or you have a family or a spouse to consider, you will have various factors to take into account to determine if traveling is the right move for you. You may also have a lot of financial factors to consider in order to decide if travel therapy is really worth it for you financially.

Weigh the Pros and Cons

Adapting to new clinics, job searching and interviewing for jobs every few months, packing and moving often, and being away from family and friends for long periods are all things you need to consider before deciding to become a travel therapist. Also while most facilities we’ve worked at over the years have been very good, not every contract is going to be perfect, and some can be downright difficult.

Before deciding to become a travel therapist, make sure that you consider all of the pros and cons, and that the pros outweigh the cons for you. If they do, then travel therapy can be the adventure of a lifetime for you! We have had an amazing experience ourselves as travelers and wouldn’t change anything about choice we made to travel, despite occasional headaches along the way. The financial freedom, adventure, and flexibility it has given us would have been impossible by any other means as therapists.

What are You Waiting for?

If becoming a travel therapist sounds like a good fit for you, then use the tips above, and jump in! Utilize the resources on our site and in our groups to set yourself up for success. If you have questions that aren’t covered in our content, then feel free to contact us. Best of luck on your journey to becoming a travel therapist!

Additional Resources:

Jared Casazza
Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT – Jared has been a traveling physical therapist since 2015 and has mentored thousands of current and aspiring travel therapists.

Pros and Cons of Travel Therapy

After over seven years of being travel physical therapists, starting as new grad Travel PTs in 2015, we’ve learned just about everything there is to know about the ins and outs of the travel therapy world, with lots of lessons learned the hard way. In the past few years we’ve also mentored many thousands of aspiring and current travel therapists, which has helped us to get a great perspective on all of the pros and cons of travel therapy for different therapists’ situations.

Usually travel therapists talk about and focus on all of the positives of choosing to take short term contracts around the country, but there are certainly downsides as well which shouldn’t be overlooked. Although the pros and have significantly outweighed the cons for us, which is why we’ve continued to travel for so long, that won’t be the case for all therapists. In this article, I’ll lay out all of the pros and cons of travel therapy so that you can weight them and decide whether being a travel therapist is the right choice for your situation.

Benefits of Travel Therapy

Since most therapists considering travel therapy are looking for reasons why travel would be a good choice for them, I’ll start with the benefits side of the ledger.

1. Higher Pay

Of all of the travel therapists that we’ve talked to and mentored over the years, by far the most commonly cited reason for choosing to, and continuing to, travel is the higher pay that goes along with taking short term contracts. This is also the reason that Whitney and I chose to start traveling right away as new grad PTs. The mechanics of how travel therapy pay is structured can be a little complicated when first starting out, so if you’re unfamiliar or need a refresher, you can learn more about it here and here.

How much a travel therapist makes on each contract can vary greatly depending on the setting, location of the contract, and the travel companies they work with (some companies pay better than others), but in general most travelers can expect earn between 1.5-2 times as much as they’d make at a permanent position. In some cases, we’ve seen therapists make nearly 3 times more than they were earning in a permanent position when transitioning into travel therapy! That is a major incentive, especially for a therapist with tons of student loan debt.

2. Flexibility

The longer we’ve traveled, the more we’ve appreciated the flexibility that comes along with being a travel therapist. In fact, after a few years, we chose to continue traveling not because of the higher pay anymore but because of the flexibility that it afforded us. You see, when taking travel contracts, you can take as much or as little time as you want off before taking your next job. Travelers use this benefit in a variety of ways, but for us we used it to semi-retire and take several-month-long trips around the country and around the world between our travel therapy contracts. We’ve now visited all 50 US states and nearly 40 countries internationally since graduation, which wouldn’t have been at all possible at a permanent job with just a few weeks of vacation time each year. Some version of semi-retirement is something that we now recommend to all travelers!

3. Trying Out Different Settings

When we first started traveling, I was pretty sure that I wanted to work as an Outpatient PT, but I wasn’t positive that this was the only route for me, because I had minimal experience in other settings. Many other new grad therapists are in a similar situation. We’ve also talked to lots of experienced therapists that have been working in the same setting for many years but are burnt out on it and want to try out other settings without a long term commitment. Travel therapy is perfect for this!

Within my first three years as a Travel PT, I was able to get experience in outpatient, acute care, skilled nursing, home health, and even wound care, all while getting paid very well to try these different settings. Ultimately, I decided to stick with outpatient for the majority of my contracts, but getting to try other settings made me much more confident that outpatient was the right setting for me. We often talk to therapists that want to try working in home health but aren’t sure if they’ll like it, so don’t want to commit to a permanent job. Taking a 3 month home health contract is a great option to try out this setting, and we’ve actually known many therapists that fall in love with it after giving it a shot.

4. Deciding Where to Settle Down

Prior to starting my career as a travel therapist, I’d never lived more than an hour away from my home town. I really had no idea what it would be like to live outside of my home state of Virginia. Because of that, I was very unsure if I really wanted to settle down near my home town or if there would be somewhere else in the country that would fit me much better. I’d taken vacations to areas all over the country, but it’s very difficult to get a realistic feel of a location in only a week or two on vacation.

Although not my top reason for choosing to travel, getting to try out different areas of the country that I might want to stay permanently for a few months at a time has been amazing. Many travelers will take a contract in a location and then end up liking it so much that they take a permanent job and stay there!

5. Exploration and Adventure

Another major factor for choosing travel therapy for us was to be able to explore more of the country. Whitney and I set goals to visit all 50 US states and to visit all of the US National Parks. While working toward these goal during and between contracts, we’ve gotten to explore the majority of the country and have had countless amazing adventures along the way. Most travel therapists are pretty adventurous people, and traveling back and forth across the country for travel therapy jobs gives the perfect opportunity to explore areas they never would have been able to otherwise.

Downsides of Travel Therapy

Now that we’ve taken a thorough look at all of the benefits of travel therapy, let’s dive into some of the parts that aren’t so great and can make this career choice a challenge.

1. Finding Short Term Housing

Depending on the location of your travel assignment, and the time of year, finding short term housing can be a major hassle. It can also be very expensive with recent housing and rent price inflation. In most places in the country, finding reasonably priced short term housing isn’t too difficult, but for travel assignments around sought after cities like San Diego or Austin; in Hawaii; or in rural Alaska, it can be very tough. Whitney and I chose to buy our fifth wheel camper to live in for our first few years of Travel PT to avoid some of the headache, but campers come with their own pros and cons. Overall, arranging housing can be one of the biggest downsides for travel tehrapists.

Check out this article for all of the tips and resources we’ve utilized over the years to minimize frustration when finding short term housing.

2. Packing and Moving

No one likes to pack and move, and if you’re a traveler taking a new assignment every 3 months, you’ll almost certainly be doing a lot of it. This was by far our least favorite part of travel therapy when starting out, but we gradually got better and more efficient with it. Over time we realized that we could get by with significantly less stuff than we originally thought we’d need on a contract.

We discuss how we’ve refined the packing and moving process over the years and what we bring with us to each new contract in this video.

3. Licensing

The licensing process varies drastically depending on the state and your discipline. We’ve gotten a new license in as short as two weeks with minimal cost and effort, and as long as nine months with a lot of cost and effort. Whether the process is short or long for the state you’re applying for, it’s never fun. Some states require a jurisprudence exam at a testing center as well as a background check and fingerprinting before they’ll issue a license, which means time spent studying and making appointments, in addition to all of the paperwork and application fees. Each discipline is now in various stages of approving a compact licensure which helps significantly, but it will be a while before the majority of states are participating for each discipline.

To learn all about the ins and outs of the licensing process for therapists, this article is a great place to start.

4. Higher Costs

Part of the reason that travel therapists are able to make so much more than permanent therapists are the tax free stipends that are often included in our pay packages. In order to qualify for these tax free stipends, travel therapists need to maintain a tax home and meet certain tax home rules. It’s possible to travel without a tax home as either an itinerant worker or when taking local contracts, but this means taking home less money each week. Part of maintaining a tax home is duplicating living expenses, which means paying for housing in both your assignment location and back home.

Depending on how much it costs you to maintain your living situation back home, this can be a major expense for some travelers. We’ve used various strategies to reduce this cost over the years, including renting a room in a house and house hacking, but these are possible for all travelers.

In addition to higher housing costs, travel therapists will also have additional costs from driving to and from assignment locations including gas and wear and tear on their vehicles. These are big considerations when looking at your bottom line as a travel therapist and determining if travel therapy is actually more lucrative for you.

5. Loneliness & Being Away From Friends/Family

There’s no doubt that being many hours away from friends and family for extended periods of time can be tough for some travel therapists. When we first started traveling, we took the majority of our contracts within a few hours of home, partially in order to be close by for weddings and holidays. Missing events back home can make travelers feel more disconnected from their support systems. While some therapists have no issue with this at all, others can run into feeling lonely and homesick, which seems to apply more so to solo travelers. In terms of loneliness, we often find that therapists who travel in a pair or with pets have less difficulty.

Weighing the Pros and Cons of Travel Therapy

Each of the pros and cons of travel therapy above will apply in various degrees to you depending on your situation, but all are important to consider. The vast majority of travel therapists that we mentor find the pros to outweigh the cons when everything is considered, but there is a small percentage that don’t feel that way and stop traveling after a contract or two.

One thing that we consistently find is that the travelers who spend more time doing their research on what to expect and start their travel therapy careers more informed do better overall. Whether you plan to make a career out of travel therapy or just plan to travel for a year as a new grad to help pay down debt, you’ll benefit from doing your research in advance. One of the biggest things you can do to improve your odds of success is to find great companies and recruiters for your specific situation. If you’d like us to help you find a few based on your needs, fill out our recruiter recommendation form!

Reach out to us with any questions as you get started on your own travel therapy journey!

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Jared Casazza
Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT – Jared has been a traveling physical therapist since 2015 and has mentored thousands of current and aspiring travel therapists over the years