Pursuing Travel Healthcare Later in Your Career

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!


Background

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:

  1. We are a married couple in the same discipline
  2. We do school-based therapy contracts for the full 10 month school year (at least for now)
  3. We are completely debt free, including our house/condo/home base (thank you Financial Peace University)
  4. We are in very good health, in part to good genes, good luck and a lot of hard work
  5. 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.


Guest post written by Courtney Richardson-Young, MS. CCC-SLP & Tim Young, MS. CCC-SLP

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 dynamic_speech_duo@hotmail.com.

Travel Therapy With a Spouse Who’s Not a Healthcare Professional

Guest Post by Ryan Eldridge for Travel Therapy Mentor

We often get questions from healthcare professionals who want to travel, but they are unsure if it’s feasible for them due to having a spouse or significant other who isn’t a healthcare professional. Fortunately, we know many travelers who have made it work traveling with their partner or family. Everyone’s situation will be different, but there are many options to explore to allow your partner to join you on your travel healthcare journey. Some travelers are in situations where their partner may not need to work and can come along for the journey, but many are interested in learning how their partner can still work and earn income while on the road. We asked our friends Kayla and Ryan to share their story on how they have been able to make remote work possible for Ryan, a software developer, while Kayla, a Physical Therapist, takes travel contracts around the country! Check it out below to see what Ryan has to share!


Traveling for work is such a rewarding lifestyle. Life can’t get much better than being able to see the world and having amazing adventures while still earning a living. Whether you’re a solo healthcare traveler, or traveling with a friend, a significant other or a family, you get the opportunity to have these incredible, unforgettable experiences. In our case, we are a married couple that travels together, and we feel very fortunate to be able to share these experiences together.

What We Do for Work

I am a software developer and my wife, Kayla, is a traveling Physical Therapist. We started traveling about a year and a half ago in late 2020. It was a fairly easy transition for me as I fortunately have a job that allows me to work remotely, so that I was able to travel with her without having to figure out an alternative solution.

After working for my company for a few years, more and more people started to leave and work from home, so I took advantage of this and did the same. Initially, it was just to save on time and money from the commute, but it worked greatly in our favor since we decided to start traveling.

Suggestions for Finding Remote Work

Try going remote at your current job

The easiest solution to finding remote work is to try to work your current job remotely. This doesn’t apply to every job, but if you think your job can be done as well remotely as in the office, then I have a couple of suggestions.

Before asking your boss, get prepared. Have concrete examples and actual numbers. 

Try researching the topic. I particularly enjoyed the book “Remote: Office Not Required” by Jason Fried. This can help you come up with good examples of the benefits of remote work that you can share with your boss.

Develop a communication plan

Lack of communication is oftentimes the reason why bosses may not want their employees to work remotely. Propose a solution ahead of time, such as daily updates in emails, or short meetings, or maybe a weekly catch up meeting to go over goals and how things are going. Having suggestions ahead of time shows you’re serious and are willing and able to make it work.

Leverage time or status at company

If you’ve been at the company for a long time, or have an important job that is tough to fill, make sure to leverage that. Let them know you’re serious, and if they don’t let you work remotely they could lose a valuable employee. However, be prepared to walk away from the job if they disagree.

Look for a new job

Even if you’re trying to keep your current job, it may be beneficial to look for new jobs in the same position that hires remote workers. You can use them as leverage and show that other companies are doing it, and you can get a head start on finding a new job if modifying your current job doesn’t pan out.

Can’t Work Remotely?

If you’re looking for new work opportunities, there are many options out there. Keep an open mind and maybe try a few different ones to find what works for you.

Work Camping

Some campsites, National Parks, and RV parks offer Work Camps where you can do seasonal work for them. This can be a great option for those that travel in an RV. Oftentimes this means you can work for a few months right at the park where you are staying. This could include cleaning and maintaining the park, or being a full camp host that stays on site to help out guests and manage reservations. Keep in mind that if they offer you to stay on site at no cost, you are still required to pay duplicate expenses to meet tax home requirements if your significant other (travel healthcare worker) is receiving non-taxable stipends, so be sure to factor that thought into your plans.

Seasonal Work

Seasonal work options could include painting houses, landscaping, shoveling/plowing snow, theme parks, and Amazon or other shipping warehouses especially around the holidays.

Apps

Driving jobs through Uber, Lyft, Doordash, etc are another option. These work better if you have a fuel efficient vehicle. There are also some lesser known apps out there for things such as Pet Sitting, Dog Walking, or random tasks like putting together furniture from TaskRabbit.

Freelance Work

If you have a skill that you can monetize, you can try freelancing. You can start a career in freelance web development, graphic design, UX design, writing, and much more by building a couple solid pieces of work and networking. You could try doing your freelancing through sites such as Upwork, but I’d suggest only using it to start building a portfolio and networking, as it’s infamous for people taking reduced pay from cheaper cost of living countries. You could also create and sell products on Ebay or Etsy.

Other options

There are many other options out there you could explore for either remote work or temporary work at your travel locations. Do your research and see if there is an option out there that could work for you!

Logistics of Remote Work

RV vs. Short Term Housing: Workspace & Internet Access

After determining the job situation, you have to decide how you want to travel. We decided to buy an RV, and one consideration with this decision was that it needed a good workspace. We found an RV with a mid-bunk room that I was able to modify and turn into my office.

The bunk room did not have enough space for a normal desk because the slides come in during travel, so I designed and built a desk that swivels out when we are on location, or swivels in over the built-in cabinets during travel. 

Another option is removing furniture in the living room or dining room to build a workspace. If you don’t need the extra monitors, keyboard, etc. many people just bring their laptop to the kitchen table. But personally, I wanted a separate work space from my living space to improve my work-life balance.

One of our challenges was figuring out what to do for internet. Getting consistent internet is a big can of worms coming from an RV perspective. RV parks have spotty internet and are rarely reliable enough for full time work. We’ve found that using mobile hotspot data works the best. Having multiple plans with multiple carriers ensures we always have a connection no matter our location. You can put those plans in phones, hotspot devices, or what we use is a mobile connected router that can take multiple SIM cards and creates a WiFi connection you can use just like you would in a home connection. Plus it gives the ability to connect a robust antenna to get more range than you would from just a hotspot or phone.

If you need to have video conference meetings frequently, another great option would be a tablet plan. Most carriers have plans for unlimited data on tablets that may require digging to find but are actually quite affordable. Then you can use your tablet for video conferencing without worrying about data limits. The downside is that it is harder to boost the connection as you can’t attach an antenna, but you can use a signal booster.

Signal boosters are different from a mobile router and an antenna as they can boost the signal of your phone or tablet wirelessly. It also boosts the signal of your phone allowing better reception for calls and hotspot data. The downside is they are less reliable and will often show no benefit. 

If you’d like to read more in-depth about how we set up our internet on the road, check out our blog post on mobile internet strategies here!

The cost of set-up depends on your needs. It all depends on how much data you need, where you plan on going, and how reliably you need to stay connected.

If you choose the short-term housing route, this could be simpler. Make sure your short term residence has a comfortable workspace for you. The internet may already be set up and included in the cost of renting. Sometimes it is not and you have to set it up yourself, but don’t forget to cancel it when you leave. If you don’t use much data, a simple data/hotspot plan and tablet plan could be a good option since short-term housing will likely be in areas where you won’t need advanced antennas and boosters to pick up a signal. This means you won’t have to get it set up again every time you move.

Transportation

If you travel with two vehicles, transportation won’t be a problem. We only have one vehicle, which is our truck that we tow our fifth wheel with, which Kayla usually drives to work, so I am usually without a vehicle during the day. We try to stay within walking or biking distance to her work so we can share the truck more easily. When we cannot stay close to her work, and I need the truck for the day, I will drop her off and then find a place to work from close-by. I usually work from a library, a coffee shop, or sometimes her workplace has a room they are willing to let me use for the day. I have also used the bus systems in town for transportation when needed.

Time Off Between Contracts

Kayla will usually take time off between Travel PT contracts before starting her next contract. So far she has only taken 1-2 weeks off, but this summer she will be taking 4-5 months off so we can go on a road trip!

If she was traveling alone, she would have to figure out a plan for her health insurance between contracts, but since she is on my employee plan, she is covered during this time, which makes things easier for her.

One downside of her taking this much time off is that I am not able to take the same amount of time off with my job. Since I am not able to take that much time off, I try to utilize my work time as efficiently as possible so that we can still have most of the day to go out for adventures.

When we’re traveling from one location to another, Kayla does most of the driving while I sit in the passenger seat working. This works well for us because Kayla enjoys driving and has no issues with towing our fifth wheel, plus it allows me the time I need to do my work.

We have run into some issues though, mostly towards the beginning of our travels when we were getting accustomed to this lifestyle. Kayla prefers to take the scenic routes whenever possible, but this often means losing signal en route and I am unable to work. We have a signal booster to help with these instances, but when driving through the mountains we still don’t get enough reception, so we have to stick to interstate driving to avoid this issue.

I always inform my job ahead of time that we are moving locations just in case the signal cuts out. We try to plan our travel days/times around when I have meetings so that I don’t accidentally miss something important at work. We also try to visit places and get some hikes in while traveling between contracts. Oftentimes this means working at odd hours either at night or on weekends so that we can explore during the day.

Is Traveling Feasible for You?

Traveling for work can be tricky, but if you’re creative anything is possible. This experience has been so worthwhile. The number of places we’ve been and the experiences we’ve had in just over a year of traveling is far more than what either of us had anticipated. We initially thought we would only travel for 1-3 years, but after experiencing how incredible the lifestyle has been, we don’t see ever staying in one place again!

We definitely encourage you to look more into this way of life to see if it’s right for you!

If you would like to hear more about our specific experience including how we made the decision to travel, buying our truck and RV, and the places we have been, visit our website eldridgeexpedition.com or follow us on Instagram or Facebook @eldridgeexpedition.

Written by Ryan Eldridge
Guest post for Travel Therapy Mentor