Whitney and I began our careers as Traveling Physical Therapists in 2015 when we were new grads. Since then, we’ve taken over a dozen travel contracts each and mentored thousands of current and prospective travel therapists. We’ve also talked to and interviewed nearly 100 recruiters at over 15 different travel companies while in search for the best travel therapy companies and recruiters.
Over the last 6 years we’ve learned a lot about the travel therapy industry, from both the perspective of the travel therapist and the travel therapy company. In this article I hope to share some of the biggest lessons we’ve learned in order to help you become a more informed travel therapist.
1. It’s Not What You Make, But What You’re Able to Save
The vast majority of new travelers who contact us have decided to travel in order to improve their financial situations. This was also my main motivation for wanting to pursue Travel PT as a new grad. Many therapists assume that I was able to reach financial independence in such a short period of time as a traveler by taking only the highest paying contracts, but this actually isn’t true. Often, the highest paying contracts in the country are also in the highest cost of living areas. Unfortunately, traveling to high cost of living areas, even when the pay is higher, often doesn’t lead to the best outcome financially. I learned early on in my travel therapy career that taking moderately paying contracts in lower cost of living areas where housing and other expenses are more affordable was the way to make the most of my travel contracts to get ahead financially.
If reaching financial independence or improving your financial position is your primary goal with travel therapy, then keep in mind that the amount you’re able to save on each contract after taking into account your expenses is more important than just looking at the weekly take home pay alone.
2. The Recruiter You Choose is More Important than The Travel Company
New travelers are often in search of the best or highest paying travel therapy company, and I was no different. But Whitney and I quickly realized, after talking to recruiters from a few different companies, that each travel company has its pros and cons; but what will impact your experience as a traveler the most are the recruiters you choose to work with, not as much the travel companies themselves. This has only become more clear as we’ve mentored more and more travelers over the years.
For example, a travel company could have great job options, high pay, and great benefits; but if your recruiter there is not on top of communication, you may be late in getting submitted to jobs and never have the opportunity to get the contract you wanted. Since the recruiter is the main, and sometimes only, point of contact with the travel company, a traveler’s perception of a travel company is shaped almost entirely by the recruiter they choose.
Finding the best recruiters for you isn’t always easy though and can require some trial and error. In the past, Whitney and I have occasionally had awful experiences with recruiters that were highly recommended by others, and had great experiences with recruiters who we’d never heard anyone talk about or had heard less favorable things about. Recruiters aren’t one size fits all, and sometimes the personality and communication style of a recruiter that are great for another traveler, won’t fit you at all. Ideally you’ll find a recruiter and company that are both perfect for your wants and needs, but keep in mind that if you find yourself choosing between a great recruiter at a less desirable company and a bad recruiter at a more desirable company, your experience as traveler will almost certainly be more enjoyable working with a recruiter that you mesh well with and that has your best interest in mind.
3. It’s Important to be Very Selective on Which Contracts You Take
When I started traveling, I was focused on working and savings as much as possible early on to reach a point of financial security quickly. This meant trying to take back to back contracts as often as possible and occasionally settling on the facilities that I went to in order to make that happen. While this undoubtedly allowed me to reach my financial goals more quickly, it also caused me more stress and hassle than it was worth. Some travel contracts are absolutely amazing, while others are terrible. The more selective you are on which contracts you take, the better your experience will be as a traveler, and that is often more important than working as much as possible or only taking the highest paying jobs. Knowing what I know now, I’d much rather take a travel job paying $1,600/week take home at a great facility where I’ll enjoy my time, than one paying $2,000/week take home with a stressful work environment with unrealistic productivity expectations.
4. Arranging Short Term Housing Can Be a Hassle
Finding affordable short term housing can be very difficult, especially recently with rent prices seemingly increasing all over the country. Mistakes with housing are also the most common way that travelers lose money. As a traveler it’s very important to avoid locking yourself into a lease any longer than month to month if at all possible, because if your contract happens to get cancelled then you’re in a bad position. It’s also important to watch out for scams where you’re asked to send money prior to ever seeing the property. These scams are becoming increasingly common, and the scammers often prey specifically travel healthcare workers. For therapists who travel with a family or with pets, which further limits housing options, sometimes buying an RV is a very good choice. When looking for housing, make sure to consider all options, and spend some time choosing the best fit for you.
5. You’ll Always Be Nervous When Starting a New Contract
When I started traveling, I can remember being very nervous about my first day at a new facility. I thought that after I did a few contracts and increased my confidence that I’d no longer be nervous. But now, 6 years later, I realize that was naïve. In this regard, my experience taking travel contracts has been similar to public speaking. The more I do it, the easier it becomes, but I still get nervous each time. This is only natural because each contract is brand new and no matter how good you are at asking the right questions in the interview, there’s always going to be some uncertainty prior to starting the job. It’s important to not let that nervousness deter you though! Realize that this is a normal part of the process.
6. Your First Week Likely Won’t be Perfect
No matter how experienced you are as a traveler, the first week at a new job is almost always pretty tough. Even at the best contracts, you’ll have to get used to all new patients, new coworkers, a new clinic setup, and a new documentation system. On top of that you’ll be familiarizing yourself with a brand new area of the country. We often hear from new travelers that they’re overwhelmed after their first few days at their first contract and worried that they made the wrong choice. Whitney and I have had this experience many times ourselves, and almost every time, once we give it some time and get comfortable at the clinic, we end up really enjoying it. So don’t worry if your first week doesn’t go as well as you hoped. Things should get much easier after the first week.
7. Thirteen Weeks Goes By Really Fast
When starting a new contract, 13 weeks can seem like a long time, but inevitably before you know it, you’re looking for your next contract and this contract is almost over. When we started traveling, we’d often get toward the end of a contract only to realize that there was going to be no way to fit in all the things we wanted to do and see in before we left.
To avoid this, in the first week at a new travel assignment, it’s a good idea to get some recommendations from coworkers and patients for things to do and see around the area. Then make a list of the things you really want to do before you leave and a rough plan on which weekends you’ll do each thing. If you don’t plan things out, it’s very easy to get to the end of the contract and have regrets about not doing everything you wanted to because the time goes by faster than you think it will.
8. Travel Therapy Can Really Improve Your Clinical Skills
Many new grads considering travel are worried that they won’t improve their clinical skills as a traveler. In my experience, this has not been the case at all. In my first couple of years as a traveler, I worked with dozens of PTs in many different clinics and made a point to ask questions and learn from each of them. I picked up wisdom, manual techniques, and exercises from a large variety of therapists with different treatment philosophies each place that I went. This was very valuable to me in my practice as I learned not only how I wanted to structure my own evaluations and treatments from great therapists, but also things I wanted to avoid doing as well. If you go into travel therapy with curiosity and a hunger to learn, you can significantly improve your clinical practice from all the therapists you meet along the way.
When starting out as a new travel therapist, there is a lot to learn. Over the years Whitney and I have learned a ton, and we do our best to share these lessons and experiences with you all in order to improve your travel therapy journey. The more time you can spend becoming educated on all the ins and outs of travel therapy prior to starting, the better your experience will be. If you’re brand new to travel therapy and looking for somewhere to start, our free Travel Therapy 101 Series is a great place to begin!
- Is Travel Therapy Right for You as a New Grad?
- The Best Way to Search for Travel Therapy Jobs
- Why and How to Work with Multiple Travel Therapy Companies and Recruiters
Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT – Jared has been a Travel PT since 2015 and has mentored thousands of current and aspiring travel therapists.