How Big Should Your Emergency Fund be as a Travel Therapist?

How big should your emergency fund be as a travel therapist?

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

What is an Emergency Fund?

An emergency fund is an important part of the total financial portfolio for all individuals and families. This is money that you have set aside that is easily accessible, usually in a checking, savings, or money market account, that is there for peace of mind for when the unexpected inevitably occurs. This could include things like a big car repair, an unexpected medical bill, or last minute travel to be with a suddenly ill friend or relative. These things usually seem to happen at the worst possible times, and since they are unexpected, they can’t really be budgeted for on a monthly basis. Even though this money is, hopefully, rarely touched, the security of knowing that it’s there if you need it can be priceless.

The Importance of an Emergency Fund as a Travel Therapist

In addition to the events above, travel therapists have many additional and usually more frequent unexpected expenses, which I believe constitutes having a larger emergency fund than is generally recommended for the typical individual. Things such as canceled contracts, difficulty finding jobs that fit your desired start date, and potential issues with short term housing all mean either less income, higher expenses, or perhaps both during any given month. An adequate emergency fund can smooth out these bumps in the road and mean a lot less stress in the long term.

Whitney and I have certainly had our fair share of costly unexpected circumstances arise during our last four years as travel therapists. These have included: extremely costly truck and fifth wheel repairs (sometimes at the same time…); Whitney’s fall and subsequent broken arm (with many weeks of missed work and lower pay once she was able to work finally); delaying starting work due to our desired contracts and dates not lining up; Whitney’s grandmother passing away; and also a canceled contract for Whitney (this ended up only being a couple of days of missed work, but could have easily been several weeks under different circumstances). This events were all unfortunate but would have been made much worse if we had money troubles thrown in there at the same time due to not having a big enough emergency fund.

So, How Much Should You Have Saved?

Most conventional financial planners recommend about 3 months worth of expenses as an emergency fund for the average employee. For travel therapists, I think that 3-6 months worth of expenses is a much safer goal with the added uncertainty that comes along with the travel therapist lifestyle. Considering the higher incomes that we make as travelers compared to permanent therapists, I think that this is definitely attainable within the first 1-2 years of working as a traveler.

If this sounds unrealistic to you, especially as a student or new grad, don’t worry, that wasn’t even close to possible for Whitney and I when we started working as new grad travel PT’s. In fact, we had almost zero money saved when we started our first contracts. This is one reason that we chose to take our first contracts only about an hour and a half from our hometown. We knew we needed to save up a big emergency fund before feeling comfortable venturing far outside our comfort zones, and in hindsight we’re very glad we did.

If you’re planning to start traveling soon and have a small or non existent emergency fund like we did, be sure to be extra cautious to minimize unexpected costs while you save up. Taking your first contract in your home state, making sure to have a 40 hour guarantee, getting a 30 day cancellation clause written into your contract, asking for up-front reimbursements on your contract, decreasing your monthly expenses, and signing up only for month to month leases (instead of locking yourself into a 3 month lease) are all great ways to minimize the frequency and/or impact of those unexpected expenses.

Once you’ve minimized your risk as a travel therapist and start working, do your best to get to that 3-6 months worth of expenses emergency fund saved up as quickly as possible. The last thing you want to do is rack up credit card debt paying for emergencies!

Do you have an emergency fund? And if so, how many months of expenses do you have saved? Let us know in the comments below!


If you need help getting in touch with recruiters that will have your back and help you avoid the unexpected as much as possible, then fill out this form and we’ll help you out! If you have questions about emergency funds or anything else travel therapy related, feel free to send us a message.

Be sure to follow along with our travels on Instagram (with occasional giveaways!) and tune into our weekly Facebook Live videos on the Travel Therapy Mentor Facebook page. For more finance related content, check out our other website, FifthWheelPT.com.

Travel Therapy: The Path to Financial Freedom

Travel PT: The path to financial freedom

Jared wrote an article in 2019 for Covalent Careers (New Grad Physical Therapy) website, which provides resources for PT, OT, and SLP. The title of the article is “Travel PT: The Path to Financial Freedom,” and Jared discusses how he has used Travel PT as a means to improve his financial future.

You can read the full article below to learn more!


Increasing Student Debt

With tuition prices continuing to increase each year, it’s no surprise that the amount of student debt that therapists are graduating with continues to rise as well. I talk to students and new grads every day through my site that are upset about the logistics involved with paying off six-figure student loan debt, while also doing their best to build a life after grad school. Some services, such as Fitbux, offer assistance with determining a plan to handle this debt as a new grad. Fitbux is a wonderful resource for developing the most optimal plan for getting to the zero debt finish line, and having a plan is a vital part of the process. But besides having a sound financial plan, another vital aspect is optimizing income. There are many ways to increase your income when coming out of school, including working multiple jobs or opening your own cash-based practice, but in my opinion, the easiest (and most fun) path to financial freedom is pursuing travel therapy contracts.

Financial Power of Travel PT

I began my travel therapy career directly out of school as a new grad three years ago, and this decision has provided me an immense amount of financial flexibility as well as an exciting lifestyle! As a new grad travel therapist, I was able to make twice as much starting out as some of my classmates taking permanent positions. The extra money earned from travel contracts, combined with keeping my expenses low while traveling around the country, led to me being able to save over $100,000 in 1.5 years after graduation. With this amount of savings, my student loans could have been completely eliminated during that time. Keep reading to find out what I did instead.

Flexibility in Student Loan Repayment

In addition to earning extra income, an often overlooked benefit of travel therapy is that it gives you more flexibility with the inevitable student loan payments. Many travelers choose to aggressively pay off their loans in the first couple of years out of school, like I could have done, which puts them in a great financial position. Others choose to go on the standard 10-year repayment plan while saving the additional money earned for other endeavors such as a downpayment on a home or for personal and family expenses. More may take a completely different route, like I’ve done, which is to choose an income-driven repayment option. With this option, I pay the minimum required each month on my income-driven repayment plan, while investing all leftover money each month into more profitable assets. I believe this is the best option since a big benefit of being a traveler is the tax-free stipend involved with maintaining a tax home and taking travel assignments. The stipends, in essence, increase your total yearly compensation while not increasing your taxable income, and therefore increasing your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI), which is what is used to determine your monthly income driven payment.

This already low payment can be reduced even further if the traveler is taking advantage of investing money in their traditional retirement account options, which also reduce your AGI. I have talked to fellow travelers who have been able to achieve a $0 monthly student loan payment this way. Currently under the REPAYE plan (one of the income-driven repayment options) half of each month’s accrued interest is forgiven, and this is a very powerful thing for someone with a high student loan balance and a very low (or $0) monthly payment. With this plan, the “effective interest rate” is basically cut in half, meaning that if your average interest rate is 6%, interest is now only accruing at around 3% each month. Therefore, if you are investing the extra money that you’re saving in retirement and taxable accounts with smart allocation, your returns from the stock market will almost certainly exceed the student loan interest rate over the long term.

Financial Freedom Equals Lifestyle Freedom

Having a low monthly student loan payment, combined with invested money earning consistent returns in the form of dividends and appreciation, is a recipe for financial and lifestyle freedom. In my first three years out of school working hard as a traveling therapist and investing heavily, I now have the financial stability and security to pursue other interests in addition to working as a PT. For me, this is expressed as working only three months per year for the foreseeable future, while spending the other nine months traveling both internationally and domestically. Travel therapy and generally managing my personal finances have certainly been the keystone in achieving this “semi-retirement” so early in my career. You can check out CovalentCareers Resources’s Ultimate Guide to Personal Finance for some extra tips! However, for others, it could be expressed in a variety of ways, whether that’s having more time to spend with their family by working part-time or PRN, being able to take more vacation time intermittently, or being able to retire earlier than traditional “retirement age.”

Travel PT: The Path to Financial Freedom

Travel therapy is a powerful way for new grad physical therapists to make significant progress toward paying down debt and getting on the path to financial freedom in a short amount of time. This independence can be used to reduce stress and potential burnout by working fewer hours per week or fewer weeks per year, which I have been able to take advantage of while going this route. Having a lower taxable income as a travel therapist also allows for flexibility with how you choose to pay off your student debt, which can lead to further financial freedom early in your career. This can be infinitely valuable depending on your situation. Traveling as a new grad physical therapist isn’t for everyone, but I believe that for the majority it can be a viable option with proper planning and professional growth prior to graduation.

You can check out the original published article at:  https://covalentcareers.com/resources/travel-pt-path-financial-freedom/

A big thanks to Covalent Careers for featuring Jared on their site!

If you have questions about getting started on your career in travel therapy, please send us a message and we will be happy to help you along the way!