Reaching Semi-Retirement in Three Years as a Travel Therapist: Jared’s Story

Written by: Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

The Past

Education

I spent a total of 8 years in college (3 of which were in community college trying to decide my direction in life) which culminated in a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, earned in May of 2015. Even though I was very proud of this accomplishment and the incredible amount of work it took to achieve it, I knew that physical therapy was not something that I would spend the next 20-30 years of my life doing full time. I’ve had various interests throughout my life and knew myself well enough to know that eventually I would likely become bored with physical therapy like so many of my passions in the past.

My Personality

You see, I get consumed with an area of interest for a period of time, before eventually becoming mostly disinterested once I feel that I’ve achieved a certain level of proficiency in the area. I seem to find something I like and throw myself into being the best that I can be in that area, which ultimately leads to me burning out with the pursuit. In my 30 years, this has happened with basketball, chess, video games, diet/nutrition, powerlifting/bodybuilding, and now to some degree physical therapy and finance. I still enjoy all of these things, but I no longer feel an intense urge to learn everything or be “the best” at them anymore like I did with all of them at one point or another in my life. At some juncture, the return on invested time and energy in any area of interest leads to a point of diminishing returns, and this is always where I seem to gradually disengage. At 30 years of age, I still don’t know if this is a good or bad thing, but I have accepted it as a part of my personality.

Knowing about this personality trait (flaw?), I was skeptical whether the time and money investment that is synonymous with 3 years of graduate school (after already completing 5 years of undergraduate work) would be worth it when I had no idea how long I would be passionate about the field. I ultimately decided that it was, and I am very happy with where I am now because of the choice. Although, I would be lying if I said I never questioned whether a DPT degree is worth it.

Student Loan Debt

Upon graduation in 2015, I had about $95,000 in student debt from grad school alone, and that included trying my best to be frugal by living at home and commuting to classes. Even though this is a massive sum, it is generally on the low end of the debt range of what many physical therapists graduate with. Terrified by this student debt, I became engrossed by the idea of increasing my income and decreasing my expenses to pay down the loans as quickly as possible.

After hundreds of hours of research and performing my own calculations and projections for the future, I ultimately decided that it would be in my best interest to pay the minimum on my loans while investing heavily in retirement and brokerage accounts. This has turned out to be a very good choice so far, with my student debt growing at an effective rate of about 3.2% per year while on the REPAYE plan, and my investment portfolio growing at a rate of around 9% since I started heavily investing (this was closer to 11% before the big drop in December 2018)… and this isn’t even accounting for the tax savings from utilizing the retirement accounts. This plan isn’t for everyone, of course, but I do think it should be a consideration for those trying to reach financial Independence as soon as possible with a lot of student debt.

Financial Independence

As for financial independence, while researching what to do with my student loans in late 2014, I stumbled upon a couple of blogs talking about saving heavily and retiring early, and I was immediately sold. Once I knew the math behind achieving financial independence and calculated “my FI number,” I knew that was the goal I needed to reach as soon as possible. My main motivation for pursuing financial independence so aggressively was to have as many options as possible for the future in case my interests shifted again and I became passionate about something different and wanted to pursue that.

Traveling Physical Therapy

In my first year of physical therapy school, I researched the options and found that the easiest way to make the most money as a physical therapist, in order to reach my financial independence goal, is by taking travel contracts. In some cases a travel physical therapist can make twice as much or more when compared to a therapist taking a permanent full time job in one location, especially as a new grad.

Whitney, my significant other of over 5 years and also a physical therapist who graduated at the same time as me, also liked the idea of making extra money while going on adventures, moving to and working in new places around the country together. Without a doubt, this was one of the best decisions that either of us have ever made.

Living in a Camper

Finding affordable short term housing at each assignment location can be the biggest difficulty of being a travel therapist, and to combat that we saved our money and paid cash for a fifth wheel camper and truck to haul it after our first 6 months of working and saving aggressively. For the majority of our travel careers, we have lived and traveled in the camper. Whether or not we have come out ahead financially with this decision is still up for debate, but we did enjoy the simplicity of finding somewhere to live while traveling in the fifth wheel and also the consistency of our living arrangement. There have been many pros and cons to traveling in a fifth wheel, but overall we wouldn’t change our decision.

Maximizing My Income and Savings Rate

After having a goal of financial independence in my cross-hairs, I wasn’t content with just making more money as a traveling therapist, so I did everything feasible to minimize my expenses while simultaneously finding ways to make more money along the way. This led to working as many hours as my travel assignments would allow with hundreds of hours of overtime in total over three years, taking part time jobs when available, creating this blog (just as a hobby initially with hopes to eventually generate some income), and going a little overboard with credit card rewards.

In reality, I hustled so much and minimized my expenses to a point that I have been able to save 100% of my income earned from my regular 9-5 travel physical therapy jobs, and even extra on top of that some months. The first two years, I was able to live on just the money earned from credit card/bank account sign up bonus combined with overtime hours and part time work. The last year, to my surprise, the FifthWheelPT blog actually started consistently bringing in enough money to cover all of my living expenses most months.

The Present

After 3 years of living frugally and saving my entire full time paycheck as a travel therapist (each year with a savings rate of between 85-90% of my total income), combined with the investment returns I mentioned above, I officially “semi-retired” in July 2018 at 29 years old. I tracked my progress to financial independence with my monthly “Path to 4%” posts each month for the past 2.5 years along the way, and will continue to do so until I fully reach my “FI number.” Even though I haven’t fully reached that number yet, there were various reasons that I went ahead and transitioned into semi-retirement when I did, with a primary one being our desire to travel internationally.

I refer to what I’m currently doing as “semi-retirement” because I still plan to write on this website, write on the FifthWheelPT blog, andhelp those interested in travel therapy get started, which takes up about 5-10 hours per week, and I will also likely continue to work one travel assignment (3 months) per year to keep my physical therapy skills from getting rusty. I still enjoy the job and helping patients, but I no longer wish to do it full time for the entire year.

We celebrated this semi-retirement with a 5 month trip around the world at the end of 2018, which was a wonderful and eye opening experience. By utilizing credit card points to keep expenses lower while traveling, I was able to spend less than an average of $37/day on the trip, all of which was able to be covered by money brought in from this blog. This meant that I didn’t even have to start withdrawing money from my investment accounts, which was a blessing with the market taking such a hit at the end of 2018! This trip really made us realize that life is short and there is so much that we want to see and do before settling down and having kids. We plan to take several more 3-6 month long trips all over the world for the next few years before deciding what’s next for us. We’re currently planning a 15 week trip to Europe in May, which we are extremely excited about.

The Future

Right now, we still own our fifth wheel and truck, but we are considering selling them between now and May when we leave on our next trip, so that we don’t have to pay personal property taxes, insurance, storage fees, and deal with further depreciation while taking these long trips and not using the truck and camper. I have to admit that this has led to a bit of an identity crisis for me, since many people know me as the “Fifth Wheel PT” now… if we sell it do I have to rename the blog?!

We haven’t worked as physical therapists in 7 months since leaving for our Around the World Trip, but after searching for jobs since we returned to the US in December, Whitney finally found a Travel PT contract about 3 hours from home. She started work this week, however I still don’t have a job lined up as of now. I’m working on trying to set up a short term contract or PRN work in the same area as Whitney. But, if I don’t end up working before leaving on our next trip to Europe in May, then I will most likely find a travel contract in September when we get back from the trip. Although that will mean I will have a 15 month gap in my work history, which I’m a little concerned about.

We plan to go to a few physical therapy conferences each year to network with other therapists and students and talk about travel therapy as well as finances and how these things have so positively impacted our lives. I may not be as ravenous with learning new things about personal finance and investing as I once was, but I still enjoy writing and talking about it. I’m also not nearly as involved with travel therapy as I once was, but I have learned a ton and want to spread the knowledge and let others know that an exciting and lucrative adventure is possible.

I’m considering writing a book in the future about personal finance and investing from the perspective of a physical therapist, and possibly even more specifically from the perspective of a travel therapist, but I don’t know that I have the motivation required to do that right now. Nonetheless, I plan to continue to write about whatever interests me on the FifthWheelPT website and to write articles about travel therapy on this website.

Ultimately I’m grappling with the realization that financial independence and retiring early is really just the beginning, not the end of the journey. With time and brain power freed up to a large extent, I’m not sure where I’ll go from here, but I’m okay with that uncertainty.

Conclusion

It has been a wild ride for both Whitney and me since graduation in 2015. I would have never anticipated doing what I am now back then, but I’m very grateful that things have turned out the way that they have.

I undoubtedly sacrificed on some things to reach semi-retirement so quickly, but by no means was I a “miser,” living an unfulfilling life in those 3 years of saving aggressively. We took dozens of weekend trips all over the east coast (Whitney has written all about those trips here); spent a few days in Canada; stayed at an all-inclusive resort in Jamaica for a week; I took my brother to Aruba for his high school graduation; Whitney and I went on a cruise to the Bahamas; and we bought plenty of stuff that we really didn’t need (you know, the American way).

I really didn’t do anything special to get in the position I’m in besides looking for ways to maximize my income and minimize my spending while still having a good time. This combined with a cultivated urge to learn as much as possible in my areas of interest have paid dividends. No two paths are the same, but I feel that just about everyone has room to make headway on these fronts.

Thank you for reading this. If you’re a regular reader, then I hope that you have a little better insight into who I am, and if you’re a new reader, then this should be a good introduction to me and my life. Feel free to reach out to me with questions or comments!

 

This article was originally published on our personal blog. You can learn more about Jared’s story by visiting our blog at FifthWheelPT.com.

Factors to Consider when Comparing Pay Rates to Other Travel Therapists

Written by: Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

Background

One of the biggest fears for travel therapists, especially those new to traveling, is getting taken advantage of by recruiters. There is good reason for this fear since there are plenty of recruiters out there that are willing to low-ball those that don’t know what is reasonable in terms of pay and benefits. This is actually one of the main reasons that we created this website and began mentoring those new to travel therapy. Whitney and I  have had such an awesome experience while traveling, and we want to do our best to ensure that other travelers have a positive experience as well.

Since travelers are often so worried about their pay being inadequate, there is often open discussion regarding weekly take home pay between travel therapists. In general, I think this is a great thing and that everyone (not just travel therapists but therapists in general) should be more open to discussing their pay in order to have more transparency in this area.

Alas, as a travel therapist, there are some pitfalls to these discussions and comparisons that should be considered. If another travel therapist is working in the same state and at a similar facility but making significantly more than you, are you being taken advantage of? Sometimes, but not always. Let’s look at some of the factors that can affect discrepancies in pay. (If you’re completely new to travel pay then check out this comprehensive article on how it works for some background information)

Differences Between Travel Companies

Each travel company does things differently in terms of pay. Sometimes these differences are minor and sometimes they are major. The biggest difference affecting pay is your hourly taxable pay rate. For example, getting a pay offer from two different companies offering different taxable hourly pay rates is going to make the total take home pay each week much different even if the bill rate is the exact same. Some companies have a policy of not allowing taxable pay to go below a certain level (this can be as high as the $25-$30/hour range) whereas other companies will allow a much lower hourly rate (we’ve seen as low as $15/hour for PT, OT, and SLP). If your taxable rate is higher, that means your total weekly take home pay will be lower. The reason for that is not only do you have to pay extra money in taxes on that higher hourly rate, but the travel company has to pay a higher amount toward FICA taxes on your behalf as well. The difference between a $15/hour taxable rate and a $25/hour taxable rate can be $100-$200/week or more on your take home pay! If comparing your weekly take home pay to a fellow traveler, make sure to always consider your taxable pay rate compared to theirs.

Cost of Living

A huge factor to consider is the cost of living and desirability of the location in the area that you’re working in. In general, areas with higher costs of living (big cities) are able to offer higher stipend amounts for housing, meals, and incidentals. These stipends usually aren’t able to be fully maxed out in those areas though because the bill rate won’t support the full amount. Keep in mind that in general, rural areas are willing to pay more due to a lower demand in the area. As you can probably imagine, most travelers (and permanent therapists) want to go to the desirable areas in the country, which means that the demand for therapists there is lower and the facilities can offer lower bill rates and still know that someone will still take the position. If you’ve looked into a  contract in Hawaii then you’ll know what I mean. Hawaii is an extremely desirable location for travelers, and despite the high cost of living there, pay rates are very low due to the high demand. If you’re taking a job in Hawaii, it’s for the experience of the island life, not the pay.

Be careful comparing your weekly take home pay in lower cost of living states to others taking assignments in higher cost of living states (such as the west coast). Even though someone on the west coast might be making significantly more per week, you have to remember that their living expenses might be significantly higher there as well!

Up-Front Reimbursements

Some companies may offer up-front reimbursements as part of their pay packages, while others don’t and instead add that money into the weekly pay. This isn’t necessarily a good or a bad thing either way, but it can affect weekly take home pay significantly and cause a discrepancy in pay between you and a fellow travel therapist, which is something to be cognizant of.

For example, let’s imagine both you and a fellow traveler recently accepted 13 week travel contracts in California after getting licensed there last month. You’ll both be traveling there from your home state of Tennessee. Your company offers you $500 in reimbursement for your CA license, as well as $400 to travel from Tennessee to California, and another $400 to travel back to Tennessee when your contract is completed. The other therapist’s company does not offer any reimbursements. Their take home pay is quoted to be $1,900/week after taxes, whereas your take home pay will only be $1,800/week. If you met this traveler while in California and discussed your pay, you may very well think that your company is taking advantage of you by paying you $100/week less, but in reality when you factor in the reimbursements, your pay is the exact same!

Be careful comparing weekly pay without considering reimbursements. Some companies and recruiters will purposely not offer reimbursements in order to be able to offer a high weekly pay rate since that’s what most travelers are concerned with. This is just moving the same money around, don’t be fooled!

Travel Company Size

As I talked about in the post I wrote on bill rates, travel companies take a different percentage of the bill rate depending on their overhead. Bigger companies are going to have higher overhead due to more people on payroll, bigger marketing budgets, more buildings, etc. Small companies usually have lower overhead and can get by with taking a lower percentage of the bill rate, although this isn’t always the case as we’ve found over the years. If bigger companies have higher overhead, isn’t it always better to work with a smaller company? Not necessarily. Bigger companies often have more jobs as well as exclusive contracts. They also tend to have better benefits and lower costs for the benefits due to having more employees working for them.

Combining Multiple Factors

When these factors are added together, differences in weekly pay can huge. If you compare weekly pay amounts between a big company that pays a high taxable rate and offers a lot of up-front reimbursements with a job on the east coast to a small company that pays a very low taxable rate with no reimbursements with a job on the west coast, you can see differences of $500/week or more in some cases!

Conclusion

Be careful when comparing weekly pay rates to other travel therapists without also considering all the factors influencing weekly pay rate. Don’t automatically feel bad about your pay the next time you see another travel therapist bragging about their high weekly pay rates when working with small companies on the west coast, when you’re working with a big company with more jobs and better benefits on the east coast.

If you’re in need of a company/recruiter that you can trust, send us a message with some info about yourself and your reason for traveling and we can set you up with a few that match well with you and that we trust!

Do Travel Therapists Work Overtime and Is It Worth It?

Written by: Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

“Travel Therapists Don’t Work Overtime”

When Whitney and I started traveling, we were told by most recruiters and other travel therapists that overtime in the travel therapy world is rare. We heard that facilities don’t want to pay extra to have a traveler working overtime, and they won’t allow them to get overtime. In general, that does seem to be the case for the majority of travelers, but it has definitely not been the case for me. In fact, in almost all of my contracts I’ve worked some overtime and in a couple of them I worked A LOT of overtime. I’m not exactly sure why this has been the case for me, but it is probably the combination of two factors:

  1. I was very eager to work all that I possibly could in order to save as much as possible for my first few years as a traveler. I went out of my way to offer to see extra patients or stay late at each of my contracts if needed. I also always asked about the potential for overtime in my phone interview with the facility, and in some cases their answer would sway my decision of which facility to choose if there was more than one that I liked.
  2. We worked primarily in small rural areas where they didn’t have PRN help. If it got busy, they were fine with me working extra hours in order to make sure all of the patients were seen. Whereas most clinics in more populated areas have PRN therapists they can call for help when things get busy, many rural facilities do not, so that means overtime for the regular staff, even if that happens to be a traveler.

It’s true that most facilities do everything possible to avoid having travelers work overtime. The big reason for that, of course, is money. Bill rates for travelers can be huge, and often the facility is obligated to pay 1.5x the bill rate for any hours worked over 40. That could mean that a facility is paying $100/hour or more for each hour of overtime that we work in some cases! Meanwhile, 1.5x the hourly rate for a permanent employee is likely in the $50-$60/hour range, which is much more palatable for them. Even though this is the case, I’ve found that often the permanent staff isn’t willing to work overtime, so with no PRN help and me being eager to work all the hours I can, they just approve it. Or, in some cases, I’ve been the only PT on staff, with no permanent PTs or PRN PTs. So in that case, if patients need to be seen outside of 40 hours of work, then I’m the only option and thus get asked to work overtime.

My Experience

In my first two years as a new grad travel therapist, I worked a total of over 400 hours of overtime! That’s an average of about 4 hours per week, but that wasn’t distributed evenly. Most weeks I worked only 40 hours (even less in some cases), but then other weeks I worked as many as 65 hours when a facility was really desperate to have patients seen. That meant some really long weeks sometimes, but I was very happy with the extra money!

Facilities/managers will often approve a couple of hours of overtime per week for a traveler, but there are rare cases where they will approve as much overtime as is needed. When those times came around, I took advantage!

Is Working Overtime Worth it as a Travel Therapist?

Whether or not it’s worth it to work overtime as a travel therapist depends on a couple of factors:

  1. How much you’re earning for each hour of overtime that you work based on your contract.
  2. How eager you are to make extra money.

A mistake that I made early on as a travel therapist was not negotiating a higher overtime rate, or even realizing that it was negotiable. As I mentioned above, the travel company can often make $100/hour or more when a traveler works overtime, because the facility pays out 1.5x the full bill rate, but that doesn’t mean that the extra money goes to the traveler automatically. In fact, in most cases the traveler will make only 1.5x their taxable pay rate, which often means overtime pay in the $30-$35/hour range. This means the amount they’re making for overtime hours is actually less than the amount they make during normal hours. How does that work exactly? Because during normal hours, we get paid our hourly taxable pay + our stipend pay. Whereas, if we’re only making 1.5x the hourly taxable rate with no additional stipends for the overtime hours, the overtime pay is actually less than the normal pay. In this case, the extra money is made mostly by the travel company, not the traveler, because the facility is still paying the travel company 1.5x the full bill rate.

This happened to me in the beginning, but I quickly wised up and you should too if you’re planning to work overtime. I recommend that you negotiate at least 2x (ideally 3x or more) your normal taxable pay for working overtime hours. Keep in mind that stipends can’t be increased when working overtime, because there is a max amount of stipends you’re legally allowed to earn each week regardless of working over 40 hours, but a multiple of the hourly rate should be possible. Another option that some companies do instead of writing in a certain hourly rate for the overtime hours is they’ll arrange for you to receive an additional bonus at the end of the contract for any overtime hours worked, which equals out to the extra money you should be receiving on an hourly basis for each hour worked. This has been the case with one company we’ve worked with. However, if a company tells me overtime rates are not negotiable period, then that’s a deal breaker for me in terms of working with that travel company.

Many travel therapists have no desire to work overtime. Since we already make a lot more money than at permanent positions in most cases, these travelers don’t see the need to work extra hours. This is especially the case in desirable areas where working longer hours takes away from time that could be spent exploring! This is completely understandable, and if you value your free time more than you value the extra money that you’d make while working overtime, then feel free to decline the hours. A facility can’t require that you work hours that aren’t in your contract, so you’re in the drivers seat in this situation.

Conclusion

If you look for opportunities to work overtime as a travel therapist, you can usually get some extra hours depending on the facility and location. Whether or not the extra hours are worth it depends on you and your priorities.

If there is at all any potential for you to work overtime based on what you hear during the phone interview, make sure to negotiate a higher rate for those hours than the standard 1.5x hourly taxable rate. Don’t get taken advantage of by the travel company earning a lot of extra money for your overtime hours like I did when starting out! If the travel company/recruiter that you’re working with isn’t willing to work with you to find a fair amount for your overtime work, then there are plenty of other fish in the sea!

If you’d like some recommendations for recruiters/companies that we’ve had success working with, then reach out to us here and tell us about your main priorities as a travel therapist, and we’ll match you with a good fit. If you have any other questions about travel therapy or overtime pay, contact us!

 

Intangible Benefits to Consider When Choosing a Travel Company

Written by: Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

The biggest concerns for most therapists when considering starting out as travelers include pay and benefits. Whitney and I were no exception here. I wanted to make as much as I possibly could while also getting decent health, dental, and vision insurance.

However, over the past several years as travel therapists, we’ve learned that there are other important factors to consider when deciding between travel companies which we call the “intangible benefits” of the companies. The reason these things are intangible is because they don’t show up directly on your weekly paycheck or in your health insurance package, but they can make a big difference in some cases.

Day One Insurance

Depending on your situation, not having to wait 14-30 days before your health insurance benefits take effect can be really important. For Whitney and I, this isn’t necessarily a deal breaker when working with a particular company since we rarely use our health insurance anyway, but it is important to consider. We prefer to work with companies that offer health insurance benefits starting on the very first day of the contract and encourage you to ask this question when interviewing potential recruiters as well.

401k Contributions and 401k Matching

I’m a big proponent of contributing to tax deferred retirement accounts. Not only does contributing to these accounts lower your income taxes, but also your income based student loan payment as well, so working with a company that doesn’t offer a 401k is not something that I’d do very often except in some sort of extenuating circumstance. A 401k match is also a perk that isn’t always offered and may have limited usefulness to travelers in some cases, but should be considered when deciding which travel company to work with.

CEU Reimbursements

Not all companies will offer CEU reimbursement, instead putting that extra money directly into your weekly pay. Depending on your weekly pay and your other reimbursements for a contract, this may or may not be a big deal to you. For us, if we are offered jobs by two different companies with similar pay but one offers a certain amount of CEU reimbursement per contract, that can sway us toward that company. Others may offer access to MedBridge or other online CEUs while on contract with them, at no additional cost to you, which can be a nice perk.

Free Gifts and Trips

Some travel companies will reward their therapists with free gifts such as: shirts, cups, mugs, bags, food, or even all-inclusive trips! These things are always exciting and can be a huge benefit in some cases. Usually we’d prefer to just make more money each week instead of that money going toward gifts and trips, but if two companies offer similar pay, but one offers a free trip each year in addition to the pay, then that company would be hard to pass up! Depending on the traveler’s personality, even small surprise gifts can turn a bad week into a good one, which can make a big impact over the long run.

40 Hour Guarantee

40 hour guarantees (sometimes also called guaranteed work weeks “GWW”) have been huge for me and Whitney! In fact, in almost 4 years of traveling, we’ve never accepted a contract that didn’t have a 40 hour guarantee included. If we take contracts, we want to be sure that we will always be getting full pay even if the facility suddenly starts having fewer patients for some reason and tries to decrease our hours. The security of knowing we’ll be getting paid our full amount no matter what is vital for us.

Most companies offer 40 hour guarantees on some or most contracts, but this varies from company to company. Also, as we’ve found out over the years, all 40 hour guarantees are not created equal. Some companies will only pay you for the full 40 hours if the census is low at the facility, but not if there’s a holiday or inclement weather that causes the facility to be closed. In most situations, we go with companies that pay the full 40 hours no matter what, with all other things being equal. Getting paid even on days when the facility is closed has meant I’ve made thousands of extra dollars over the course of my traveling career. This is one of the biggest intangible benefits for me.

Number of Available Jobs

I’ve talked in the past about smaller companies being able to pay higher weekly amounts with a given bill rate due to lower overhead, but this doesn’t always mean that smaller companies are the optimal choice. Bigger companies often have more available jobs, including exclusive contracts, which means more options for the traveler and potentially less down time between contracts. An extra $100/week can easily be offset by a few weeks of unintended time off due to not finding a contract that fits the traveler well, which could sometimes happen with smaller companies with less job options.

Job availability is even more important when traveling as a pair like Whitney and I, or Travis and his wife, Julia. Having one person in the pair accept a job while hoping to find something for the other person before the job starts can lead to a lot of unpaid time off. Whitney and I have had very good luck with finding two jobs that started exactly when we needed them to over the years (except a couple cases), and we attribute most of that to working with several different companies (most of them bigger) that have the most job options.

Conclusion

Having a high weekly pay rate is certainly important as a travel therapist and the most important thing to me, but it’s important not to forget about the intangible benefits that can directly or indirectly lead to more or less money in your pocket over the course of your traveling career. Make sure that you’re informed and consider all of the variables when deciding which travel companies to work with and which travel assignments to take to ensure that your travel career is a success!

If you would like some suggestions for companies/recruiters that we’ve found to have the best offerings in terms of pay and intangible benefits over the years, then reach out to us here! If you have any questions about travel therapy or these intangible benefits then feel free to contact us!

Questions to Ask a Travel Therapy Company and Recruiter

Written by: Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC


So if you’re looking into travel therapy, by now you may have figured out that you need to contact travel companies and decide who you want to work with. In general, we recommend therapists work with at least two to three companies, in order to give themselves the most job options. It’s a great idea to talk to a few different ones at first to get an idea of which recruiters you like and which companies you like. Once you’ve found a few good ones, you’ll have them as your main contacts when it’s time to look for jobs.

Just to clarify, having two to three you’re working with doesn’t mean you’re an employee or locked in yet! You’re only locked in once you take a job with one company, and then you’re just locked in for that assignment. After that, you’re back to being a free agent and can mix and mingle with all your recruiters for the next job search.

But what should you be looking for in these companies and recruiters? What questions do you need to ask them to find out if they’re any good? Are there red flags to watch out for with recruiters? These are questions we hear from many therapists who are just getting started looking into the travel world. So let’s dive in and cover some of the things you should consider and some questions you should ask!

Recruiters

*Ok some of these aren’t actually “questions to ask” more just things to consider!

  • Do you like them?
    • Yep, this is important, you should like them and get along well, because you’ll be talking to them a lot and depending on them to help you.
  • Are they responsive?
    • Getting back to you quickly via calls, texts, and/or emails is important, especially when it’s crunch time and you’re searching for a job!
  • Can you reach them after hours/on weekends?
    • We have to respect the recruiters’ personal lives and encourage them to have a work-life balance, but sometimes things come up outside of business hours (since, of course, we work during business hours too) and on weekends. It’s nice to know whether you can reach them by cell phone in case of an urgent situation.
  • Are they trustworthy?
    • You have to feel this one out a little over time, gauge whether they’re being open and honest with you, or whether they’re holding back information and being shady.
  • How much experience do they have?
    • Ask how long they’ve been a recruiter and how long they’ve been with that company. This may or may not be a huge deal breaker, because they’ve all got to start somewhere. But gauge how long they’ve been in the business, and if they’re newer, how much training they got and who trained them.
  • How many travelers do they work with at one time?
    • This can vary from 15 to 50 or more. Ask them how many they usually work with, and what happens if they feel like their desk is getting too busy and they have too many travelers.
  • Do they work with a team?
    • Some companies work as a team of recruiters, but most work independently. But figuring out who else is in the office and who covers for your recruiter if he/she is out is a good thing to know. Also building a relationship with the recruiter’s manager might not be a bad idea in case your recruiter is ever out.

Companies

  • What states/areas do they cover?
    • Find out what states and areas they staff, and if there are certain areas where they tend to have more jobs. Most agencies staff nationwide, but sometimes they’ll have more connections in a particular area.
  • Do they work with only therapists or other healthcare professionals too?
    • Some companies do only therapy, while others staff everything from nursing to imaging technicians. Typically, they will have different departments for different professions, such as have a separate nursing division that isn’t involved with the therapy division. Just something good to know and understand who your company and especially your recruiter specializes in working with.
  • Are they considered a “small,” “medium,” or “large” company?
    • This just helps you understand what their overhead is like and how that might affect pay, as well as how their company runs and their job availability. For example, a bigger company may have more jobs but lower pay; a smaller company may have less jobs but higher pay. But it varies greatly!
  • What are their benefits like?
    • You’ll want to compare the benefits packages for each company. Here are some key things to look for:
      • Insurance: When does it start? Does it carry over between contracts? What company is it with? Do they have different tiers of coverage? How much is taken out weekly from your paycheck?
      • 401k: Do they offer it? Do they offer a match? When can you start contributing? When does the match start? When is the match “fully vested”? (meaning, if you leave the company after 1 or 2 contracts, do you keep the match, or do they take it back?)
      • PTO: Is there any opportunity to build PTO?
      • Others: Do they offer any additional perks, such as life insurance, disability, etc.
  • Do they offer reimbursements?
    • Some companies offer reimbursements for things like state licensing, CEUs, and travel to/from facilities. However, some companies have this just come directly out of your pay package for that particular contract, so you really end up with the exact same amount of money, just divided up differently. Whereas some companies have a different department and budget allocated for these reimbursements, so while it probably affects the company’s overall pay to all travelers, it does not directly affect your paycheck on an individual assignment. So if they say yes they will reimburse, ask where it’s coming from.
  • Do they offer CEU access?
    • Some companies instead of reimbursing you for CEU’s will give you online access to CEUs via a website where they have a subscription, so you can earn CEUs online for free while on contract with them.
  • What does an average pay package look like?
    • It’s important to find out what a normal range is that they see for your discipline. For example, they might say anywhere from $1500-1800/week. You might want to see how they break this pay down as well, including what numbers they use for hourly taxable pay (Ex: $20/hr) and how they break down your stipend/per diem money (Ex: hourly, or weekly). This is all a little more advanced, but you’ll learn as you go along and work with a few different recruiters and see how they break things down.
  • Do they offer a 40 hour guarantee?
    • This may depend on the company itself or the client they’re working with (the facility). Find out if they can secure a 40 hour guarantee for your contract, and if so, what does it cover? Does it include only if census is low, or does it also cover holidays and clinic closures due to inclement weather?
  • Where do their jobs come from?
    • Do they have a lot of direct clients, or do they mostly rely on Vendor Management Systems (VMS)? This is also a little advanced, but it’s good to understand where their jobs are coming from. All companies will have access to the jobs on the VMS systems usually, so companies that rely heavily on that will tend to have most of the same jobs.
  • Do they “cold call” if they’re having trouble finding jobs for you?
    • This is an important thing for them to be willing to do for you if they’re unable to find jobs in the particular area you’re looking for. “Cold calling” means they’re willing to call around to facilities in the area or ones they’ve worked with in the past, regardless of whether they have any job openings listed at that time. This puts them, and you, ahead of the game and can dig up some good job options that may not be posted yet.

These are some of the key things we feel it’s important to consider and ask when looking into travel companies and recruiters. Many companies will be similar in terms of jobs they offer and benefits, so sometimes your recruiter will make a big difference for you. You want to find a couple of recruiters you really like and trust, and build a good relationship with them. This will help you to have a great travel experience!

If you’d like to know the companies and recruiters we recommend, please reach out to us and we’d be happy to help you!


Whitney

Author: Whitney Eakin, Doctor of Physical Therapy, Certified Athletic Trainer, and Travel Physical Therapist since 2015

Can You Make a Career Out of Travel Therapy?

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Written by: Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

Different Types of Travel Therapists

The majority of therapists choose to pursue travel therapy for somewhere between 1-2 years. There are a variety of reasons for why this is the case, but for many it is due to either (1) wanting to break up the monotony that is usually a part of permanent positions, or (2) to make extra money to pay down debt more quickly. It’s also sometimes a combination of both of these things that causes a therapist to become interested in traveling.

There are some exceptions to this though. Some therapists choose to be “career travelers,” and never truly “settle down” into a permanent job. It’s possible to make a full time, or part time, career out of only working travel jobs. That could mean traveling continuously around the country to various locations, year round, taking about four 13-week contracts per year with minimal time off between contracts, or taking a more laid back approach with 2-3 contracts per year and more time off.

We here at Travel Therapy Mentor definitely consider ourselves Career Travelers. Let me tell you a little more about my and Whitney’s career path as travelers.

Our Plan

We were originally interested in travel therapy for both of the reasons mentioned above (higher pay to pay down student loans, and avoiding the monotony of a permanent job). We initially planned to travel for 4-5 years to not only pay off debt, but to save enough money to have a decent nest egg of investments. After the 4-5 years, we planned to settle down and work a permanent job in either our favorite travel location or possibly back in our hometown.

Right before graduation and beginning to travel is when I developed a strong interest in personal finance and investing, and I discovered that investing instead of paying down our student debt (opting for income driven repayment of student loans) was actually the better choice for me, and Whitney agreed with my analysis. Since our student loan payments are extremely low while traveling and on the REPAYE income based repayment plan, we had a lot of extra money to put toward investment and retirement accounts.

After a couple years of saving and getting good investment returns, it became clear that if we just traveled full time for a few years, we could then easily live off of 1-2 travel assignments per year combined with investment returns, rather than settling down to a permanent, full time job after we “finished” traveling. So, that became our new plan, at least for the forseeable future! In later years, we may still choose to “settle down” somewhere, and take part time/PRN jobs in one location. But for now, we’re loving the 1-2 travel contracts per year!

Our “Semi-Retirement”

Only working 1-2 travel assignments per year (which we are now currently doing) allows us a ton of flexibility to travel internationally and also enjoy more time with family, which were two things at the top of our list of priorities. We consider this a “semi-retirement” since we have 6-9 months per year free to do whatever we want each year!

As a traveler, it is actually possible in many cases to make about the same amount as a full time permanent therapist when only working two contracts per year due to the higher pay and lower taxable pay. So even with all of the free time, we are still able to make plenty of money to support ourselves, and our adventures!

With this in mind, I think making a career out of being a travel therapist is a great lifestyle choice that would work for many adventurous people that aren’t excited about settling down somewhere ‘permanently.’

Career Travelers

Another advantage of working only a couple of travel contracts per year is that we are able to be more picky with the assignments that we do take. When we were working back to back contracts for the first three years while saving and investing heavily, we did our best to minimize the amount of down time we had between contracts. This was great for us financially, but got exhausting after a few years and led to us settling on a couple of assignments that didn’t really fit us very well during that time.

Now that we’re settling in to a much slower travel pace as “career travelers,” we don’t feel the need to rush and accept sub-par jobs, because we know that we’ll make plenty of money in the couple of contracts that we work each year to cover the downtime, and we also have our investments growing in the background.

Most travel therapists choose a more laid back approach to traveling from the beginning, choosing to take time off between each assignment to relax and unwind. This is a great idea and more balanced overall than how we started out. But, even so, working 45-48 weeks per year is common for many career travelers who do it this way, and when considering that some of that time off between contracts is looking for new jobs and moving, it doesn’t leave much time to relax or take long trips for leisure. After a few years of working at that pace while paying down debt or saving/investing, as long as you’re in a good place financially, is a great time to transition into a slower paced schedule focused on working less and relaxing more.

“Not Everyone Can Travel Forever”

Of course, we know that the travel lifestyle isn’t for everyone, and it may not be feasible for everyone to do this their entire careers.

What about having a family?” –you’re thinking.

Travel therapists have families. Babies and young kids; cats and dogs; aging parents and grandparents; nieces, nephews, and other family and friends they want to be near!

In many cases, you can make travel therapy suit your lifestyle. Some choose to travel and bring their kids and spouse along. Some choose to leave home for one or two assignments, leaving family behind, then have a PRN job at home for the times they’re at home (or just not work during the time at home). Some choose to take travel assignments in different parts of the country where they do have family they can visit.

There are lots of options. And again, we know it’s not for everyone. But it is a great lifestyle for a lot of us!

Is Being a Career Traveler Right for You?

Travel therapy offers the unique benefit of being able to choose how long you want to take off of work after a contract as long as you can afford to do so, and the higher pay while working the contract makes that possible. This is why I think being a career traveler is a great option. Being a travel therapist doesn’t have to just be a 1-2 year thing to adventure and save money, it can be a permanent thing with great pay, more time off, and a life full of adventure!

Are you interested in just traveling for a couple of years or is this something that you would consider doing long term? Let us know in the comments! Contact us if we can help you get started on the journey!

jared doctor of physical therapy 

Written by Jared Casazza, Doctor of Physical Therapy and Traveling Physical Therapist of 3 years. Jared travels with his girlfriend, fellow travel PT and fellow Travel Therapy Mentor, Whitney.

How Much Money Do Travel Therapists Make? The Comprehensive Guide to Travel Therapy Pay

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

Often the reason that people choose to pursue a career as a travel therapist, or even just decide to work a few travel therapy contracts, is to make more money. For people coming out of school with massive student loan debt, finding a way to deal with that debt is a primary concern, and travel therapy is a great way to make more money especially when starting out as a new grad. This leads to the most common question people have when first researching the pros and cons of travel therapy: How much money do travel therapists make?

Understanding Pay Differences for Travelers

Travel therapist pay is a little different from that of permanent full time positions, and therefore it commonly leads to some confusion for those first looking into pay differences between travel and permanent positions. Travel therapists’ compensation is made up of a combination of taxable pay and untaxed money (stipends for housing, meals, and incidentals) assuming that you meet the requirements for receiving the untaxed stipends. Since part of the money is untaxed, this leads to significantly higher net pay for a travel therapist. This is best illustrated through examples of each scenario.

Permanent Job Pay

First, let’s break down what a traditional pay package would look like at a permanent physical therapist job. This scenario would be comparable for an OT or SLP job as well. For PTA and COTA, the values would be lower, but the principle is the same.

Many new grads PTs accept a job with hourly pay in the $30-$35/hour range, but of course this can vary depending on the setting and the area of the country as well as your negotiating skills. I’ve talked to physical therapists that have taken a permanent job as a new grad making as low as $20/hour and others that have negotiated $40/hour, so the true range is massive, but around $30-$35 seems to be the average. We’ll take the top of that average range and find the gross yearly pay for someone working a permanent full time job making $35/hour:

  • $35/hour X 40 hours per week X 52 weeks per year = $72,800 annual salary

Gross pay is pretty straight forward and simple to understand, but determining how much of that gross pay you actually get to keep (i.e. net pay) is harder to understand and often overlooked when therapists talk about their hourly compensation or salary. Let’s look at how much of that money is yours after Uncle Sam takes his cut. The total percentage will depend on where you live, but on average across the country, a person making $75k is going to have about 25% taken out for taxes.  Click here for more information on tax rates in major cities across the country.  Here’s a look at the permanent physical therapist’s net pay after taxes based on the average 25% tax rate:

  • $72,800 X .75= $54,600 annual salary
  • $54,600/52= $1,050/week (if divided out into weekly pay in order to better compare to travel jobs )

This is an approximate bring home pay per week based on a $35 per hour job working 40 hours per week.  If you have offers for higher salary positions than that, feel free to use the calculations above to estimate your pay.  Note that all 401k (traditional), HSA contributions as well as all medical, dental, life, disability costs will come out of the gross salary.

For a more specific example we’ll use Virginia’s state tax rate. Not only is this where Whitney and I live and maintain our tax home, but it’s also near the middle of the range as far as state income taxes go, which makes it closer to the average for everyone. Pay Check City has a great tool to use for your specific scenario and is the site I’ll use to calculate the take home pay below.

paycheckcity example.png

$1,024/week would be the weekly take home pay for a permanent physical therapist in the above scenario who lives in Virginia, which is pretty close to the $1,050/week using the 25% rule of thumb above. For quick calculations, multiplying your salary or hourly rate by .75 is a good way to get an estimate of how much of your gross pay you actually keep.

Travel Job Pay

Now let’s take a look at how travel therapist pay differs. Travel pay consists of a few different parts:

  1. Hourly Rate (taxable)
  2. Housing allowance (not taxed)
  3. Meal and incidental allowance (not taxed)

Travel pay will generally be presented in a total gross or net weekly amount. If a gross weekly pay number is presented, then that would include the hourly taxable rate x 40 hours, then adding in the housing, meals, and incidentals stipends. If the net pay number is given, then that is usually calculated using the 25% tax rule of thumb above, which as we saw with the specific example isn’t always accurate, but it’s a good estimate of what the traveler’s tax rate might be. This would be gross pay x .75 then adding in the housing, meals, and incidentals stipends. If you know that your tax rate is different, for example if you have a family, then when a recruiter presents you with a gross and/or net weekly pay number, you need to be sure to run the numbers based on your tax rate.

Here are examples of two potential travel PT pay packages that Travis recently received to further help illustrate how travel therapist pay actually works:

Position 1:

  • Hourly rate: $20/hour (taxed)
  • Housing allowance: $630/week (not taxed)
  • Meals and Incidentals allowance: $230/week (not taxed)

Total take home pay (net pay using 25% rule of thumb above for the hourly wage) per week before deductions for benefits: $1,460 per week

Position 2:

  • Hourly rate: $20/hour (taxed)
  • Housing allowance: $730/week (not taxed)
  • Meals and Incidentals allowance: $330/week (not taxed)

Total take home pay (net pay using 25% rule of thumb above for the hourly wage) per week before deductions for benefits: $1,660 per week

How are Hourly Rates and Stipend Amounts Determined?

You may be looking at the travel pay package examples above and thinking, “If the stipends aren’t taxed, then why not make them as high as possible with a lower hourly wage to maximize net pay?” That’s a great question and something that I wondered when first starting out, which led to me doing a lot of research on the topic. There are a couple of reasons why this is illegal based on IRS tax laws.

The taxable hourly rate should be a reasonable amount for the job position in order to avoid “wage recharacterization.” To read the IRS definition of wage recharacterization, check out this link, but basically it means avoiding taxes by changing compensation from a taxable hourly wage to a nontaxed stipend. There is debate about what a reasonable wage is for various therapist positions, and it’s always best to consult a tax expert if you’re in doubt, but us here at Travel Therapy Mentor (all of whom are travel physical therapists) choose to keep our taxable wages at $20/hour or above to be safe and not take any risks as far as wage recharacterization is concerned for a physical therapist. This number may be different based on your profession and comfort level with the IRS law interpretation.

The other reason it isn’t possible to have massive stipends and a very low taxable wage is due to the GSA guidelines. The GSA determines the maximum allowable stipends for housing, meals, and incidentals in different areas throughout the country, and it applies to anyone traveling for work, including travel therapists. These numbers vary drastically depending on the area of the country you’ll be working in due to variance in the cost of living in each location. Keep in mind that these are the maximum amounts and not necessarily how much you will receive in stipends for that area. Depending on how much the facility that you’ll be working at as a traveler is able to pay for the position, you may receive significantly less than the maximum amounts. We always consult the GSA website before accepting a job offer to make sure that the stipends we will be receiving are not above the maximum amounts for that particular area.

These guidelines exist to keep people honest and not allow people to take advantage of the tax code, which is a good thing even though it’s a bummer that we can’t increase our pay more by paying even less in taxes as travel therapists. This leads to the next topic: what offers can you expect to receive as far as pay is concerned as a travel therapist?

Average Pay for Travel Therapists

Just as with permanent positions, travel pay can vary significantly depending on setting and location. I’ve talked to other physical therapists that make as low as $1,200/week take home pay and others that make as much as $2,200/week take home. That’s quite the range! And again, this will vary based on your specialty (PT, OT, SLP, PTA, COTA).

In general, the highest paying contracts are seen with home health and lowest paying are skilled nursing facilities, in our experience. Also in general, jobs on the west coast pay more than the east coast, and jobs in rural areas pay more than cities and urban areas. These observations were a surprise to us when starting out, since this is often different than the factors affecting pay in permanent positions. Taking the above into account, it’s easy to see why someone working a home health job in a rural location in California would make a lot more than someone working a skilled nursing job in Richmond, VA. Another factor that affects pay significantly is how desperate the facility is to fill the position quickly. Whitney and I once found contracts on the east coast at a wonderful outpatient facility in a great location that paid us very well because they needed the positions filled very quickly and we were ready to go!

With the above factors in mind, an average pay range for a traveling physical therapist is between $1,600-$1,800/week after taxes in our experience based on the US as a whole and all settings considered. Whitney and I have personally averaged around $1,650/week after taxes over the past three years while taking contracts exclusively on the east coast and almost always in outpatient facilities. The range has been between $1,500/week to $1,900/week.

We don’t recommend any traveling PT’s, OT’s and SLP’s, even new grads, take pay packages less than $1,500/week after taxes in any area. Some companies and recruiters will do their best to take advantage of new travelers, new grads especially, by offering them very low pay, knowing that they don’t really have a baseline of what pay should be yet as a traveler. This is why having a mentor in your corner as a new traveler is vital to keep from getting taken advantage of when starting out! Reach out to us with questions and for recruiter/company recommendations and we will be happy to help you!

How to Accurately Compare Pay for Travel Jobs to Permanent Positions

When comparing pay from a travel job to a permanent job, I often find that people get confused by the weekly take home amounts quoted for travel contracts. An individual that has never taken a travel contract will see $1,650/week take home, multiply that by 52 (weeks in a year) and then compare that to their permanent job gross salary and determine that travel isn’t worth it.

As we figured out above, that is no where near an accurate comparison. You have to either convert the gross permanent pay into a weekly take home amount (using the 25% rule of thumb above or the PayCheckCity site) as we did above, or convert the weekly take home pay of a travel therapist into an equivalent amount if it was a permanent position. The second is a more difficult calculation with no easy rule of thumb since tax rates increase significantly as pay gets higher, but luckily PayCheckCity makes it much easier using their “Gross Up” calculator. Let’s see what gross pay you’d have to make at a permanent job to equal the $1,650/week after taxes that Whitney and I have averaged while traveling.

Paycheckcity example2

We would have to make a staggering gross pay of $2,390/week at a permanent job to bring home the same $1,650/week take home pay that we have while traveling! That’s the equivalent of $60/hour or a salary of well over $120,000/year at a permanent job! When expressed in these terms, it’s easy to see how much more lucrative travel therapy is over a permanent job and how I was able to save over $100,000 in 1.5 years as a new grad travel therapist.

Based on our experiences and the hundreds of others travel therapists that we have talked to and mentored, it’s not unrealistic for a new grad travel therapist to make 1.5-2 times as much as they would if they took a full time permanent job right out of school.

The Bottom Line on Perm vs. Travel Jobs

It is important to remember that despite the significantly higher pay, there are some trade offs to traveling, which Whitney did a great job of outlining in her pros and cons article mentioned above. The big downsides to remember in terms of pay are that travel therapists don’t get paid time off for vacations like permanent therapists do, and it can be difficult to move from place to place in only a weekend, meaning that sometimes unwanted time off between contracts is inevitable. These factors eat into the pay of travelers, but even so, it is still significantly higher with all things considered.

I hope this helps clarify the differences in pay for permanent vs travel jobs. Please contact us or ask questions in the comments below if we can help you further understand pay, or if you have suggestions for travel topics for us to cover in the future.

What has your experience been as far as pay for permanent jobs or travel jobs? Do the numbers in the article match what you’ve seen? Let us know in the comments!