Leveraging Travel Therapy for Long Term International Travel

Whitney and I have recently started to take full advantage of our travel physical therapy careers to be able to explore the world. Last year we traveled around the world for five months, and this year we’re currently on week two of a 15 week trip all over Europe. We aren’t sure about our plans for the rest of the year once this trip is over, but it’s entirely possible that we will spend another couple of months out of the country (or road tripping around the US), and we will certainly be planning another long international trip next year! It’s a big world out there, and there’s a lot we want to see in the next few years before potentially settling down somewhere.

We feel very fortunate to be able to take these long trips each year, and they are made 100% possible by our choice to start working as Travel PTs immediately after graduation in 2015. How, you ask? The flexibility offered by travel therapy is certainly a big part of the equation. Being able to take unlimited time off of work between contracts, along with making nearly a full time permanent PT salary working just 6 months per year is a winning combination for taking months off to travel the world!

Why Long International Trips?

People with all manner of jobs choose to travel internationally, so that’s nothing unique to travel healthcare. The problem with most permanent jobs, however, is that most won’t allow more than a maximum of two weeks of vacation time to be used at once. This is especially true in the permanent therapy world, where finding short term coverage for 3-4 weeks of continuous PTO would be difficult not only for the clinic but also for the patients on caseload. You can certainly see the world in shorter 1-2 week trips each year going to new places, but there are many disadvantages to doing it that way. During our travels, we’ve met many people in both Europe and Asia traveling from the United States that are taking short trips overseas, and without exception they’re either only seeing a couple of cities or are extremely rushed trying to pack in more cities in a short time. Rushing from place to place while on an international vacation is a sure way to come back home even more tired than when you left, especially when factoring in jet lag!

More Than Just Tourist Attractions

Another big downside to short trips is less time to really interact and learn about the country from the locals in the area. With only a few days in a city, those days are almost always filled with primarily the tourist attractions, which means plenty of interaction with other tourists and store owners, but very little real interaction with locals! We’ve really enjoyed having extra days (to weeks!) on top of the few required to see the tourist sights to just walk and wander around the area, and this has led to some of our best experiences while overseas. The tourist attractions are great, but there is a lot to be missed with a rushed trip from one attraction to the next with no spontaneity involved!

Lower Cost of International Trips

The last and biggest disadvantage of short international trips in my book is the higher cost on a per day basis. The biggest costs on almost any international trip are the plane tickets to and from the country. Flights are almost never cheap, and leaving the country is generally more pricey, especially to places like Asia and Australia. Even with using credit card points, the value of the points used has to be taken into account since there’s an opportunity cost associated with using those points going to one location instead of somewhere else on a future trip. In addition to the plane tickets, booking longer stays in a location can significantly reduce accommodation costs.

These cost factors, combined with hopping from one overpriced tourist attraction to the next without the lower cost days mixed in just wandering around the city and taking in the sights, will almost always make short term international trips much more expensive on a per day basis than long term international trips. Last year on our 5 month trip, I was able to keep my total expenses to less than $37/day! There is no way that would have been possible on a 1-2 week trip to similar locations. 

The Importance of Patience

While it’s certainly possible for therapists to graduate and immediately start taking travel contracts half the year, and travel internationally the other half of the year, I wouldn’t recommend it. Even with the lower costs of longer term international travel, expenses can add up quickly, especially with no income at all coming in for half of the year. For the financial peace of mind, I always encourage other therapists with similar international travel aspirations as us to work 3-4 travel contracts per year for at least a year or two and save heavily to make some headway toward financial independence, before jumping into long stints adventuring around the world like we are currently doing! This is the path we took. We worked continuously for the first three years, working back to back travel PT contracts, then started taking off half the year (or more) after year three.

Conclusion

Travel therapy (really travel healthcare of any sort) offers the unique advantages of higher pay and unlimited time off, which form the perfect recipe for long stints of international travel. There are clear advantages to long term international travel over short term travel, which is generally impossible with full time permanent employment as a therapist. It’s always a good idea to save up a cushion of cash and investments for financial peace of mind before moving into a “semi-retirement” type lifestyle with long trips each year. We are extremely fortunate to be able to leverage our travel therapy careers to be able to spend long periods of time out of the country, experiencing the totality of what the world has to offer!

Have you taken long international trips in the past or do you plan to in the future? Let us know in the comments!

Written by: Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

jared doctor of physical therapy