Finding Short Term Housing vs. Living in an RV as a Traveling Healthcare Provider

*This is a Guest Post that Whitney wrote for Furnished Finder where she discusses the differences in housing options for travel therapists, including some of the pros and cons of each! This post should be helpful to those of you trying to decide what’s the best housing choice for you as a travel healthcare provider!


Finding Short Term Housing vs. Living in an RV as a Traveling Healthcare Provider

One of the major concerns for many healthcare providers looking to pursue travel careers is how they will set up housing. There are many housing options out there for those of us who travel for work, from using sites like Furnished Finder to secure short-term furnished housing, to having the travel agency set you up at an extended stay hotel, to choosing some form of tiny living on wheels like an RV!

During my 5 years as a traveling physical therapist, I have utilized a few of these housing options and have had the opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of each. (And let me tell you, any option is going to have pros and cons!)

So let’s dive in to some of those pros and cons to considering these different options for housing, and maybe some of my insight will help you along your own travel healthcare journey!

Logistics and Considerations

When you’re considering what option to choose for housing, you will first need to take into account your own personal situation. Are you traveling solo, with a significant other, with children, or with a pet? Do you feel comfortable sharing accommodations or would you rather have your own place? If you’re thinking about tiny living/RVing, do you feel comfortable with the maintenance and upkeep involved with owning a home on wheels, plus towing it around the country?

In addition, you need to consider the location of your potential travel contract(s). Are you interested in traveling to big cities or more rural places? Some quick internet searches can reveal a lot for you as to how easy or difficult it’s going to be to secure short term housing on your own vs. having the travel company assist you with the process. It will also give you an idea of whether finding campgrounds/RV parks in the vicinity of where you might travel will be feasible.

For me, I am a traveling physical therapist and travel with my significant other who is also a traveling physical therapist, so after weighing lots of options, we decided to buy a camper and lived in it for about 3 years! This worked well for us overall as a pair, rather than finding short term housing for the both of us; however, we did end up renting a short term furnished place on a couple of assignments. More on our journey below and how we chose between short term housing and the RV life!

Company Provided Housing

This is actually the only housing option I have not utilized. Generally speaking, it seems that most travel healthcare providers choose to accept the housing stipend from the travel agency and then set up their own housing, rather than letting the company handle housing. There are some travelers who choose to let the company set up housing for them though.

I think generally the best time to let the travel company set up housing for you is if in the area where you’re traveling, you are having a lot of difficulty finding housing on your own, or you are short on time to be able to set this up yourself. Also, some travelers may just find it easier to have this weight lifted off their shoulders and let the company handle it.

The pros of letting the company set up housing for you would be that you have less worry and headache in getting the housing set up. You also probably won’t be on the hook for any rent/lease issues, in case your contract gets cancelled early. However, the cons are that, you may have less control over your accommodations, and you may end up losing money on your weekly pay because they take out a lot for housing instead of giving you the housing stipend!

Finding Short Term Housing On Your Own

I would say this is the option that the majority of travel healthcare providers choose! In your pay package, you will have the company allocate part of your pay as a housing stipend (hopefully tax free if you qualify by maintaining your tax home– hooray!). Then you will utilize different websites, like Furnished Finder; ask around in online forums and groups; call realtors and apartment complexes; and so forth until you can identify some good short term housing options!

The pros here are that you can usually find housing that’s cheaper than what the travel therapy company would take out of your paycheck, so after you pay your rent, you should come out ahead by keeping the extra money! (Who doesn’t like extra money?!) You also have more control over choosing your accommodations, such as proximity to work/attractions, as well as how many bedrooms/bathrooms, and other amenities at the accommodation!

Cons are that it is sometimes difficult to find places that offer short term rentals near where you’re going to be working. I’ve definitely run into this in the times that I had to search for short term housing. A lot of apartment complexes and personal ads for housing do not allow any shorter than 12 month leases. Also, lots of the places you find won’t be furnished or have utilities included, which leaves you with another problem to solve.

I will say that Furnished Finder has solved a lot of these problems for us. They only list places that offer short term leases (or even better, month to month!) for us as healthcare travelers. And all of their listings are already furnished. I can’t stress how much hassle this removes in terms of setting up leases, getting stuck in leases if your contract is cancelled, setting up utilities, and furnishing a place for only a couple months!

But, unfortunately there is never a guarantee that a property on Furnished Finder will be available for the location and dates that you need, so alas we must sometimes use the other options like Craigslist, Airbnb, VRBO, apartment complexes, extended stay motels, realtors, etc!

In my experience, I’ve rented two different places I found off Craigslist for two different assignments. Both were semi-private, meaning that they were part of someone’s home, but we had our own “suite” if you will. One was an over-the-garage studio apartment, but we had to share the kitchen and laundry in the main house. The other was a fully furnished basement with our own kitchen, but we had to enter through the main door and share the laundry upstairs. Overall these were good experiences, and we were very lucky to find furnished, short term rentals, with utilities included in the price, on Craigslist! Because Craigslist can definitely be hit or miss, and sometimes sketchy!

But unfortunately during our searches, we did find that there were extremely limited options for short term housing in the areas that we needed, with the criteria we wanted in an accommodation. When searching for short term housing as a traveler, you are definitely at the mercy of what’s available. So sometimes you’re either going to have to skimp on your ideal setup, or raise your budget, or possibly both.

Another consideration when choosing to set up short term housing as a traveler (whether on your own or with the company’s help), versus choosing an RV, is packing and moving often. This was a big thing we were trying to avoid by buying an RV. In an RV, you always have all your stuff with you, so you don’t have to constantly pack and move in and out of places. But, those travelers who do choose short term housing (again- the majority of travelers) do end up becoming pretty good at packing their cars and being minimalistic! And although it can be a headache sometimes, it’s just part of the traveler lifestyle and you get used to it!

Tiny Living or RV Life

Tiny living, van living, and RVing are definitely becoming more popular options for traveling healthcare providers. There is certainly some appeal to having your own home on wheels with you all the time, and traveling from place to place. To be honest, a lot of RVs now are just like little apartments, and you are by no means “camping outdoors” when living in an RV! However, tiny living is very much a lifestyle choice and not to be pursued by just anyone! It’s difficult to even compare it side by side with the alternative short term housing options, because it’s so different! I recommend not looking at this like option number 3, but like taking a left turn and pursuing a completely different path!

We chose to buy a camper pretty early in our travel PT careers, and there were several reasons why we thought this would work out better for us.

  • First, we thought it would make life easier to leave all of our stuff in the camper and just move it from place to place, without having to always pack, move in, and move out of places every 3 months or so!
  • Second, we thought finding campgrounds/RV parks would make the housing location search a lot easier than finding short term housing accommodations.
  • Third, we thought we would save a lot of money by buying the camper, staying cheaply at campgrounds, and then selling the camper when we were done.
  • Fourth, we thought it would be a cool adventure!

All of those were true, to some extent. However I don’t think it was exactly the all-around-perfect life choice that we envisioned when all was said and done.

Not having to pack and move all the time, and having all of our stuff in the camper with us all the time, was for sure a huge perk! We only had to do minimal “packing up” each time to make sure things didn’t fall down inside the camper. We could usually easily load up and move to a new place (if it was within driving distance) on a weekend, then get set up within an hour or so at the new place, and be back to work on Monday if we wanted!

The campground/RV Park finding process was easier than short term housing to an extent. However, it does sometimes limit the locations you can travel to. For example, it’s not as common to see RV Parks that allow long term (month to month) stays near bigger cities. We had pretty good luck finding them in suburban and rural areas, but it did limit us from going some places. The way we maneuvered this was, when presented with a potential contract to apply for, we instantly did a quick Google search to see if there were even any RV parks nearby before we submitted our applications for the job. That part made it a little more feasible. Because as compared with short term housing, you can’t always do a quick search to know whether there are places to rent readily available for the dates you need, before submitting for the job.

Financially, having the camper usually saved us on our monthly rent costs, with most campgrounds we stayed at costing between $300-900 per month. Whereas depending on the area, short term rentals could run you anywhere from $500-2500 per month! But, with an RV, you still have to account for the upfront cost of buying an RV, the costs for maintenance and repairs, and the depreciation on the vehicle if you plan to sell it afterwards. When all was said and done after factoring in these costs once we sold it, we probably about broke even over the course of 3 years. If you planned to keep it for shorter than 3 years, you’d most likely come out behind financially based on our calculations.

As far as adventure goes, it was certainly a fun experience and something we will be able to talk about for the rest of our lives! But it’s not for everyone. The part we didn’t really take into account were the maintenance and repairs. It’s like owning a house, but one that’s on wheels, with little parts that can break, and you can’t always easily find the part to replace or a repair person who knows how to fix it like at a normal house!

All in all, we are glad we chose to do the RV life for 3 years. But it did not come without its hassles and headaches. In the end, we were glad to sell it and not have the responsibility anymore! So this is a huge thing you need to take into consideration for yourself. Are you going to be the type of person who wants to maintain and upkeep your home on wheels? Or would you rather just rent short term housing and not have a place to worry about all the time?

What Type of Housing Is Best for You?

So what’s the best choice for housing as a traveling healthcare provider? I don’t think there’s one answer to this question. You really have to consider what type of person you are, and what you’re comfortable with. As I mentioned, most travelers will choose to go with short term housing and set up their own accommodations. But there’s always the option of letting the company set up housing for you for an assignment and seeing how that goes. Or if you’re feeling really adventurous, or already know you like the camper lifestyle, maybe you decide to jump into RVing/Tiny Living, but just make sure to do your research before making any big purchases!

I hope this information has been helpful to you in terms of deciding what types of housing will be best for you as a traveling healthcare provider! Happy Travels, and enjoy the journey!

 


Written by, Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

Whitney has been a traveling physical therapist since 2015 and travels with her significant other and fellow Travel PT, Jared Casazza. Together they have a personal blog titled “Fifth Wheel PT,” which got its name from their 3 years traveling and living full time in a fifth wheel camper! Whitney and Jared have traveled for PT work up and down the east coast, and in their time off between contracts have traveled all over the world! Together with Jared, Whitney also mentors current and future travel therapists at their website TravelTherapyMentor.com. You can follow their travel journey on Instagram or Facebook @TravelTherapyMentor.

Is #VanLife Feasible as a Travel Therapist?

With Whitney and I being well known throughout the travel therapy community for traveling in our fifth wheel camper for several years, we often get questions from current and prospective travelers about whether or not they should embrace some form of tiny living while on the road.

When we started out as new grad travel PTs in 2015, tiny living was a relatively new concept, but it seemed to explode in popularity soon thereafter. In addition to tiny houses and campers, living in renovated vans to save money and easily move from place to place became much more common. This naturally led to people considering the van life (#VanLife) as travel therapists as a way to reduce costs and bypass having to find short term housing while on assignments.

At first glance, this seems like an awesome idea and might be great for some, but let’s discuss some considerations that may make it less appealing to many.

Cost Considerations

Around the time we bought our fifth wheel travel trailer (camper), I did some research on vans to see if buying one could work for Whitney and I. My primary motivation, like many others, was to reduce our expenses while traveling. After all, if we could get a van and renovate it for less than the cost of a camper and then have drastically reduced monthly costs, that seemed perfect. To my surprise, vans big enough to renovate and live in can be pretty expensive, even when buying used with higher mileage. Used Sprinter vans (the most popular type) that are in decent shape with around 100,000 miles sell for around $20,000, but can be even more expensive than that. Newer vans can cost $50,000 or more, and that’s not including the cost of renovation!

Cost of renovation will vary drastically depending on wants and needs, as well as how much of the work can be done DIY. For a travel therapist planning to live in a van full time for 13 week assignments, it probably makes sense to make sure it’s comfortable and not skimp too much on amenities. Renovation costs can range anywhere between $30-$25,000, but realistically the actual cost will likely be at minimum $5,000-$10,000. There are companies that will do all of the renovations for you, but even the basics can be over $20,000!

So when you take into account the cost of the van itself, then the renovations, you could be looking at total costs of $25,000 to $75,000 or much more in some cases!

Duplicating Expenses

Now you might be looking at the cost of purchasing and renovating a van as replacing all your housing costs, so maybe the upfront cost is worth it in the long run, right? However, this still doesn’t take into account the housing requirements that many travelers have in order to maintain a proper “tax home.”

The majority of travel therapists need to “duplicate expenses” in order to maintain their tax home. Maintaining a tax home and meeting these requirements allows the travel therapist to qualify for tax-free stipends on their contracts, which is a major part of what makes travel therapist pay so lucrative. Unfortunately, having to maintain the tax home rules makes living off the grid while on assignment to save on housing costs very difficult. This is because one of the major tax home requirements is that you “duplicate living expenses” at home and at your travel location.

According to Joseph Smith at TravelTax, one of the three factors that determines whether or not you are maintaining a tax home is, “You have living expenses at your main home that you duplicate because your business requires you to be away from that home.” Therefore, even if you have a tax home at your permanent residence, you’d still have to duplicate expenses at the travel assignment location for it to be legit. Just living in the van that you’ve already paid for doesn’t qualify as duplicating expenses. You have to pay for a place to live, or in this case, a place to park the van, and keep evidence of your housing expenses. This likely means having to pay for a site at a campground or RV park.

Since many travel therapists consider living in a van to save money, having to duplicate expenses means that the monthly costs in the van won’t be much lower than the monthly costs in a RV or camper.

 Comfort and Hygiene

While tiny living has its perks and is definitely in vogue, there are still certain basic facilities and comforts that we all need. Van life is very popular right now and seems cool on the surface, but when you really start digging deeper to understand what’s inside the van and how you’ll have to live, you might think twice.

Even the most awesome van modifications don’t alwasy have running water, electricity hookups, and a bathroom inside. It’s definitely possible to get some of these additions, at a price, but most often they do not have a fully functioning bathroom with a shower, and even if there is a kitchen, space and amenities are going to be limited. This makes some vital tasks much more difficult, including getting ready for work and cooking. Most people that live in a van full time have to rely on the amenities at an RV park or gym for things like showering and toileting. They also may have to choose to cook less often due to limited space available to cook and store food, and limitations in running water and electricity.

In addition, space is very limited in general inside a van. Depending on the type of van, you may not even be able to stand all the way up. Some vans you have to crawl around, and you have to spend your time standing outside at the back to use any cooking features. Of course, the really souped up Sprinter vans with actual kitchens will allow standing room, but you’re still going to be crammed in with limited room for living space and storage.

These comforts are things to consider before you make the leap to van living as a full time solution to housing as a travel therapist, vs. someone who just wants to have a cool van for camping and road trips.

Parking, Driving & Getting to Work

As we discussed above, you will have to consider where you’ll park the van to live in it if you plan to use it on travel assignments. While vans are easier to park in places like parking lots or on the street, if you plan to receive the tax free stipends you will have to pay for a place to park it and keep your records of living expenses, rather than just planning to park for free somewhere, like in the parking lot of your facility for example!

This brings up the issue of how you’ll get to work and get around places. Will you live in the van and use it as your vehicle you drive? Will you drive it to work everyday, the store to get groceries, the gym, to bars and restaurants, and on weekend trips? Will you take it on the road in cities, through mountains, in parks, and everywhere? Or, will you haul another vehicle with you, like a car, bike, moped, or motorcycle to be your daily driver, while you leave the van parked as your “house”?

If you do plan to drive the van as your daily vehicle, it might be convenient to park some places, but not all places, like in a busy city or narrow lots. In addition, if you have to drive it daily, it will be challenging to have to always have your belongings put away so they don’t fall and slide around in the vehicle. Plus, you wouldn’t be able to maintain a daily outdoor “camp” setup like many people enjoy, with outdoor rugs, lights, chairs, etc. Since the van is a small space, many van lifers utilize their outdoor space a lot. We know from experience that it can be tough to get your “camp” set up and then take it all down again especially on a daily basis.

Van Life vs. RV Life

Taking into consideration all of the above, it brings us to our main point. Is van life really the best option for travel therapists? Or would RV life be a better choice? This is ultimately the conclusion we came to… to choose RV life instead.

While Van Life and van conversions are definitely popular and seem cool, we feel there are so many limitations. We think that for a longer term solution for living and replacing your short term housing as a travel therapist, RVing is the way to go. Vans might be cool and convenient for short term road trips and camping, but we don’t think they’re the answer for housing for the vast majority of travel therapists.

If you’re really into tiny living and don’t want to go with a bigger RV such as a Class A motorhome, fifth wheel or pull behind travel trailer, a good option for you might be the Class B Motorhome. Class B’s are basically a larger van, already set up for you the way you’d need in order to live. They have many of the same perks as a van conversion, but with lots of amenities built in that are going to make daily living much easier.

Class B or Class C motorhomes are still relatively compact, ranging from the size of a larger van to the size of a school bus, but they are built inside the way that other RVs are, usually with a decent size kitchen, bathroom, living space and bedroom space. The big kicker is that they have running water, full bathroom facilities, a fully functional kitchen, and the hidden gems underneath- water, sewer, and electric hookups!

Plus, they’re already built for you. They’re made by the manufacturer to be a living space on wheels, so you don’t have to put in so much work to convert a vehicle (van) that’s supposed to be a car, not a house, into both. Of course a big draw for many people wanting to pursue a van conversion is the customization, but in our opinion putting in all the work (and the headache) at what can often be double the cost, is not worth it! The cost of a decent used Class B or Class C Motorhome can range from $20,000-$60,000. Plus, it’s already fully equipped with light weight materials made for moving around and withstanding driving down the road. If you end up finding a Class B or C used and at a good price, you can make some small DIY modifications and tweaks to make the space your own, while the structure and amenities are already there for you.

Our Conclusions

Saving money on monthly costs while pursuing travel therapy contracts is a common reason to go with a tiny living lifestyle. In fact, this was the primary reason we purchased our fifth wheel about 5 years ago. While van conversions seem awesome at first glance, there are some major downsides and limitations when compared to an RV. Living off the grid in a van to completely eliminate monthly housing costs isn’t feasible for most due to having to duplicate expenses to maintain a tax home which means monthly costs similar to that of a camper/RV. For about the same cost as a van and the conversion to make it livable, a Class B or C motorhome can be bought and it is already made for living in with electric hookups, water tanks, larger kitchens, and bathrooms. Having some extra space, even when living alone, can definitely be needed at times, especially when the weather isn’t ideal outside.

Caveats

It’s important to note that this is just our opinion and analysis based on the factors we’ve discussed above. We know there are a lot of van-lifers out there who disagree with us. And there certainly are travel healthcare professionals living full time in a van and traveling around the country, loving life! We’ve mainly laid out some of the cons and challenges to consider in this article– while a quick search on Google, YouTube, or Instagram will show you tons of the pros/benefits of van living, laid out by those who’ve done it!

Ultimately, choosing to pursue tiny living by whatever means is a personal choice, and we’re continually inspired by seeing the amazing things other travelers do! This is just some insight for you to consider based on our journey and conclusions!

Happy Traveling!

 

Jared Casazza

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT