Being a Solo Travel Therapist

While we have always traveled as a pair, most travel therapists actually travel solo! We are excited to share a guest post from Traveling Occupational Therapist Morgan Lauchnor, who travels on her own. We hope her insights will help give you the confidence to pursue this path on your own as well if you think it’s right for you!


When looking into travel therapy, the ability to travel with a spouse, significant other, or with friends sounds like the ideal situation, but often times this isn’t an option for some people. That shouldn’t prevent you from still deciding to try out travel therapy though! In fact, a good majority of travel therapists are solo travelers. Some people, like myself, even wanted to travel solo. Venturing into it on your own might seem daunting and scary, but it can also be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. The world is way too big and life is too short to wait around for someone to go with you on this opportunity of a lifetime!

Benefits of Traveling Solo

Enhances Independence & Empowerment

Any time you follow your dreams, go after what you want, and face your fears, it’s going to be the most empowering feeling. Solo travel is the definition of freedom, independence, and living life on your own terms.

Builds Self-Confidence

Taking the leap to go into the unknown on your own is brave. There is so much growth that comes from pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and there’s nothing that pushes you outside your perceived limits quite like traveling solo, because you really have no choice but to handle whatever challenges get thrown your way. You develop a ‘can-do’ attitude and become more relaxed and comfortable figuring things out on your own. And not just in the cities you travel, but any new job assignments you take on.

Gives You Total Freedom

On your own, you have the freedom to choose the states/cities where you want to take assignments. You also get to decide how you spend your weekdays, weekends, and everything in between, without worrying about disappointing or negotiating with other people. In traveler pairs, it often limits options because you have to find places that will accommodate both of you, and they might not want to go/explore the same places that you do.

Boosts Your Problem-Solving Creativity

Traveling rarely goes smoothly or according to plan: cars get flat tires, assignments get cancelled, you get lost (a lot in my case). It’s all a part of the solo adventure and the stories you’ll share of how you got through. The best stories never come from the things that went smoothly, right? And as healthcare professionals, we are creative problem solvers for our patients, so this skill can be carried with us into our practice as well.

Fosters Self-Discovery

Traveling solo is the best way to get to know yourself. Exploring new places and new cultures, outside your comfort zone, figuring things out on your own, you discover just how much you’re capable of.

Challenges of Traveling Solo & How to Overcome Them:

Being Alone/Lonely

One of my first assumptions as a solo traveler was that I would be on my own most of the time, especially since my first assignment was all the way across the country in a state where I knew no one. But once I was out there, I realized there are SO many opportunities to meet people. I ended up being surrounded by friends and mentors, some becoming lifelong friends. I also always try to take advantage of visiting any family/friends nearby who I might not ever get the chance to see otherwise.  

Ways to meet people:

  • Doing things with co-workers outside of work: There might be other travelers at your assignment that will go on adventures with you, or you might get to know the perm workers who are typically great assets to show you around your new city/give you tips on the best spots!
  • Connect through apps and social media: Travel therapy/nursing Facebook groups, following other travelers and travel therapy companies on Instagram, and apps like MedVenture, designed specifically for connecting with other traveling healthcare professionals, are all great ways to find people in your area and also to just have a supportive community to lean on.
  • Get involved with local organizations and community groups.
  • Just get out and explore the area! (This was a lot easier to do before the pandemic, but hopefully now that there’s a vaccine and more things are opening, this will be more of an option again)  

Another thing to consider if you’re worried about feeling lonely is bringing a pet with you on your travels! I got a puppy while on assignment in CA, and she’s now traveled with me to TX and NC as well. It definitely makes things a little more challenging, but I can’t imagine the travel life without her anymore!

Safety

This has never been an issue for me personally, but it’s always something to keep in mind traveling by yourself, especially for female solo travelers. Before committing to a new assignment, research the area to see if it is somewhere you’d feel comfortable living, look into the housing options available to make sure you’d feel safe, and always trust your gut if something feels off. When you’re on assignment, tell people where you’re going, bring mace with you on hikes and while out exploring, and ask the locals of places to go and if there are areas to avoid.

Boredom

Sometimes you might live and work in areas that are rural or with limited things to do. In cases like this, I focus a lot on hobbies and things I wish I had more time for—like CEUs, reading, cooking, planning future travels, blogging, etc. But ultimately, you’re choosing where you want to work, so if you’re someone who needs to be doing things and wants to be around people, consider choosing assignments that are in busier locations.

Costs

Traveling alone can definitely be more costly than traveling as a pair, since you are the sole provider. Housing is usually one of the biggest costs that you incur as a solo traveler. One way you can cut down on housing costs would be to consider living with roommates. Traveling therapist/nursing pages are a great way to reach out to people in the area to see if anyone is interested in splitting housing costs, or ask your supervisor if any of your coworkers have a room for rent or are looking for a roommate. This can also be another great way to meet people and have people to do things with!

Summary

Ultimately, I truly believe that the pros of traveling solo far outweigh the cons. If it’s in your heart to do travel therapy, don’t be afraid to take the leap. There’s a whole community of other travelers out there who are here to support you and help you along the way!

Even if you go for it and it doesn’t work out, you still win. You still had the guts enough to head straight into something that frightened you. That type of bravery will take you places.


About Morgan

I’m a traveling occupational therapist who started right out of school as a new grad. Originally from eastern PA, I got my Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science from the University of Pittsburgh and went on to get my Masters in Occupational Therapy degree from the University of St. Augustine in St. Augustine, FL in 2019. I was introduced to travel therapy at a job fair there and knew right then that’s what I wanted to do. I completed my fieldwork rotations in Greenville, SC and St. Louis, MO, so I already felt like I was traveling before taking the leap. But once I did start my official travel therapy journey, I road tripped cross-country from PA to OR to begin my first travel assignment in Ashland, OR and have been traveling ever since! I’ve now been on five assignments in OR, CA, TX, and currently NC, and my pup Zoey has traveled with me since CA. We love exploring new cities, getting outside any chance we can, visiting breweries and wineries, and meeting the best people along the way!

If you’d like to connect, the best way to contact me is through social media: Instagram: @zoandmo_onthego or through email at mlauchnor@gmail.com. I am also currently in the process of starting a blog, The ChrOnic WanderlusTer, so keep your eye out for that soon!

Is Travel Therapy a Good Option for New Grads During COVID-19?

Over the last few weeks, we’ve had dozens of new grad and soon-to-be new grad therapists reach out to us asking if now is a good time to start traveling as a new grad. This happens every year during May when the bulk of therapists graduate, but with all the uncertainty currently and full time therapy work being difficult to come by in some locations, there’s been much more interest in travel therapy than normal this year. Unfortunately, when there is uncertainty in healthcare, it is rarely a good thing for the travel therapy market, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no different.

While travel therapy has historically been a good career choice over the last decade for many therapists, including new grad therapists, things have really been shaken up recently. Let’s dive in to why travel therapy has been affected and whether or not it’s a good time for new grads to be trying travel therapy.

Travel Therapy During the Pandemic

As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a widespread impact on our world, including US healthcare jobs. “Uncertainty” is the buzz word as we all wait and see what will happen as the situation continues to evolve worldwide.

A big reason why uncertainty impacts the travel therapy job market to such a large degree has to do with the cost of hiring travel therapists incurred by facilities. Travel therapists can be significantly more expensive than full time and PRN staff, so in a situation where caseloads could suddenly decrease, many facilities don’t want to risk spending money on a traveler that they may end up not needing. Instead, they’ll make do with current staff while supplementing with PRN or offering overtime to full time therapists if needed, and wait out the uncertainty.

In the past two months we’ve seen hundreds of travel contracts ended early or cancelled before they even started due to fluctuations in caseloads in all settings. There has been a significant decrease in the number of new travel job openings due to facilities not hiring. With that being said, settings have certainly not all been affected evenly. Outpatient and school contracts have been the hardest hit by contract cancellations and job cuts, with home health, acute care, and SNF jobs impacted to a lesser degree. Even in the lesser impacted settings, COVID has still caused problems. This is primarily due to the fact that elective surgeries have been limited or cancelled altogether for almost two months now. Fewer elective surgeries means fewer patients across the board.

Flooding the Market

Less patients means less demand for therapists and subsequent layoffs across the board, not only in the form of travel therapy job cancellations but also for permanent full time staff. Some of the laid off permanent therapists are unable to find work in their area right now and are turning to travel therapy for some respite during tremulous times. This is bad news for current and prospective new grad travel therapists.

The combination of previously permanent therapists, new grads, and current travelers whose contracts have come to an end or were ended prematurely all looking for travel contracts at the same time, has caused the travel therapy market to get flooded with therapists searching for jobs. This flood of job seekers, combined with a reduction in overall jobs, has led to significant over-saturation of the travel therapy job market.

The impact is evident in the number of open travel contracts available and the declining pay rates offered on those contracts. The recruiters and companies that we work closely with are all reporting about 10 times less travel therapy jobs currently for PTs and OTs when compared to earlier this year before the pandemic. When comparing to the travel market at this time last year, the numbers look even more grim.

The travel jobs that are available are getting many more applicants submitted than normal and are closing very quickly. In some cases jobs will get to the maximum number of applicant submissions in a matter of a couple hours. With facilities getting so many submissions for their available travel contracts, a natural consequence is reductions in the bill rates offered, meaning lower pay for travel therapists. In nominal terms, this manifests as a reduction of about $100-$200/week on average for many of the open jobs.

What Does This Mean for New Grads?

Due to a minimal number of travel therapy jobs open at any given time currently, higher competition for those few jobs, along with lower pay, we can definitely say that now certainly isn’t the best time for new grads to begin travel therapy careers.

If at all possible, our recommendation right now would be for new grads to consider finding a full time or PRN position for a few months to a year to save some money and get some experience until things improve.

It certainly doesn’t hurt to consider travel jobs as an option and be on the lookout for travel job opportunities, but we encourage you to keep your options open and consider all job opportunities available to you, including perm and PRN locally.

Actions to Take for Those Dedicated to Pursuing Travel Therapy as a New Grad Currently

If you’re set on starting out as a new grad travel therapist despite the current environment, there are a few things you can do to have the best chance of finding a contract.

  1. Be willing to accept lower pay now than during normal times.
    • We’re always advocates of being informed and understanding how travel therapy pay works prior to jumping in, in order to avoid inadvertently taking low ball offers from non-reputable companies and recruiters. However, in this situation, you should expect for pay to be lower due to the declining bill rates mentioned above. Unfortunately, even though we normally recommend avoiding any pay rates less than $1,500/wk after taxes, there are some contracts paying travel PTs in the $1,300/week range right now that are still getting tons of submissions.
  2. Work with at least a few different good companies and recruiters.
    • This is more vital than ever right now. Having a few recruiters from different companies helping you search for jobs leads to more options and a better chance of finding a travel contract that will work for you. If you need help finding reputable companies and recruiters, fill out our recruiter request form, and we’ll match you with some that should work well for you.
  3. Be more flexible on travel assignment setting and location.
    • In the past, Whitney and I have been able to find consistent contracts close to each other in the states and settings that we prefer. Currently that just isn’t possible. To have a chance of finding a travel contract in the coming weeks (possibly months) as a new grad, it is important to be lenient on location and setting as much as possible. In the future when the travel therapy market picks up again, you can go back to being more selective with regards to setting and location. And even better, by that time you will have experience under your belt and will be more competitive when applying to the setting and location of your choice.

The Future of Travel Therapy

With states beginning to open back up and elective surgeries beginning to commence again across the country, the need for therapists will undoubtedly pick back up, and with that, we anticipate the travel therapy job market will improve. In addition to patients undergoing elective surgeries, patients that have become deconditioned due to COVID will require skilled therapy to a larger degree than before in SNFs, home health, outpatient, and inpatient rehab facilities. It’s hard to say exactly how long it will be before the travel therapy job market gets back to normal completely, but in the last couple of weeks we’ve seen things starting to trend upward, which is a good sign. Once demand picks back up and travel jobs are more prevalent, increases in travel pay back to normal levels should follow.

We are optimistic that demand will increase in the coming months and travel therapy will once again be a great option for new grads, like it was for us back when we started traveling as PTs after graduation in 2015!

If you have any questions or need help getting started, feel free to contact us. We’ve helped well over 1,000 new and current travel therapists to be better informed over the past few years! Best of luck & stay safe!

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

Jared has been a traveling physical therapist since 2015 and travels with his girlfriend and fellow travel PT, Whitney. Together they mentor other current and aspiring travel therapists.