Lessons Learned From Starting a Travel Physical Therapy Blog

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

Deciding to Start a Travel Physical Therapy Blog

It has now been well over three years since I first started my travel physical therapy blog, FifthWheelPT in 2016. I was very nervous and hesitant to put my writing out in the world in the beginning, especially since I’d always felt that I was a poor writer. It turns out that I was right about being a poor writer, and even with Whitney’s editing help, it still pains me to go back and read the first dozen or so articles on the website. My writing was bad not because I didn’t have adequate knowledge, but because I had very little practice writing because I had always avoided it. Creating a blog was way outside of my comfort zone. After all of this time, I can confidently say that starting to write was a really great decision for me, and I don’t think that I’d be in nearly the situation I am now both professionally and personally if I’d never taken the leap.

Originally I had only two goals with the blog: first, to chronicle our adventures as travel physical therapists, and second to educate others on how to become a traveling physical therapist like Whitney and I had both chosen to do as new grads. When starting a travel physical therapy blog (or any travel therapy discipline), it’s impossible to know what the future may hold for you, and it’s important to understand that the blog will likely change as you do. Everyone’s path is different, and it’s inevitable that our interests and passions change over time. Some jump into a travel therapy career and only take a couple of travel assignments before settling down at a permanent job. Others, like Whitney and I, fall in love with the adventure, freedom, and flexibility of travel therapy; and now, we have no plans to settle down anytime soon. I’d be lying if I didn’t also mention that the higher travel physical therapy salary didn’t have something to do with our decision as well!

Over the years my goals with the travel therapy blog changed and evolved just like my interests. I soon decided that the blog could be a place to not only talk about travel physical therapy, but also a great medium to educate others on financial literacy. I quickly began writing educational content regarding finances with information that I had aggregated over hundreds of hours of research, as well as tracking my own journey to financial independence as a traveling physical therapist. Over time that became the main focus of the website, despite it not even originally being on my radar when starting out. With such a variety of content we wanted to put out on the blog, from our personal travels, to financial information, to education on the ins and outs of travel therapy itself, the blog felt a little all over the place. That opened the door to create a separate website (this one) and put more of the travel therapy related educational content here at TravelTherapyMentor.com, while reserving the original site for finances and our domestic and international travels!

The Benefits of Starting a Travel Physical Therapy Blog

Starting the blog not only pushed me outside my comfort zone but also forced me to further my knowledge on a variety of topics. I would often come up with an idea for an article and then subsequently spend many hours researching that topic to make sure that I was as knowledgeable as possible on the subject. My first deep foray into taxes was a result of an article that I wrote on travel therapy salary and stipends. That sparked an interest in taxes that led to many future articles as well as saved me thousands of dollars by optimizing my own tax situation. Taxes are a subject that I doubt I would have ever seriously delved into if it wasn’t for researching for that article. Besides taxes, there have been many other areas that I have become much more competent in while doing research for articles. Some of those include: learning about the best travel therapy companies, learning about the array of health insurance options available and which ones may be the best choices for travel therapists, learning whether pursuing travel therapy as an independent contractor is a viable option, and learning about travel therapy bill rates in depth. All of these things not only made the articles I was writing more informative but also directly benefited me as a travel physical therapist as well.

Another big advantage to starting a travel physical therapy blog is being able to reflect on our past adventures. Whitney and I have written about every one of our travel assignments, weekend trips, changes in our lives, and our international travels on the blog. Going back now and rereading those old articles brings back incredible memories that we’ll cherish forever!

In addition to all this, networking with others in the travel therapy and personal finance world as a result of having the travel physical therapy blog has changed my life significantly. I’ve made connections and formed friendships with other bloggers and creators that I would have never had the opportunity to interact with otherwise. After well over a dozen guest posts and podcast interviews over the last couple of years, I’ve learned that networking is important for both the success of my website and for creating new friendships online that lead into the real world.

The Downside of Starting a Travel Physical Therapy Blog

With the good, there is always some bad as well, and starting a website is no different. The biggest disadvantage for me has been related to the time required to not only create content but also to market it. Social media marketing and networking became a significant portion of my life, to a nearly unhealthy degree at times and is still something that I struggle with today. I naively thought that since writing an article generally only takes me a couple hours that a blog would be a relatively small time commitment. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

In the beginning I had absolutely no idea how to start a blog or website. I Googled, “how to start a blog” and that’s where the work began. Creating and designing the website, researching articles, creating content, marketing, answering questions, and responding to comments and emails all take time. And in some cases, A LOT of time. As the blog, and this website, grow- so does the time required to keep up with all of the above.

Biggest Lessons Learned from My Travel Physical Therapy Blog

  1. Don’t start a website with a primary goal of making money.After some initial success and positive response from some of my articles, I began to consider whether my blog could eventually be profitable. I’ve written about the income that my blog generates a few times in the past, and this always leads to questions from readers regarding if they should create a blog as well to make extra money. My answer is always an emphatic no! Accounting for all of the time put into the tasks mentioned above, my hourly earnings for the first 2+ years of the blog would have been less than $1. Financially, I would be much better off if I had spent my time working PRN jobs as a physical therapist or even driving for Uber. Write because you enjoy it, want to share your story, or because you want to motivate others, and if you end up making some money from it, then wonderful, but if not then you won’t be disappointed!
  2. Expect that it will take a long time for your articles to start getting traction and to build any sort of following.Over the years I’ve watched many other bloggers in the physical therapy, travel therapy, and personal finance world come and go. The reason is usually two fold. First, they underestimate the time involved in creating content and maintaining the blog. Second, they are discouraged by the small number of views and engagement that their articles get. I sincerely understand both of these reasons and have grappled with them many times over the years as well. It can take a disheartening amount of time and effort to ever grow to a level that you feel like you’re actually making a difference. The most important factor to creating a successful blog, whether monetary or impactful, is persistence. Stick with it!
  3. Motivation comes in waves.There are times that I get really fired up and motivated to write, and then there are times where I don’t feel like writing for days or weeks at a time. Initially, I thought this was something I was doing wrong or something wrong with me, but over time I’ve figured out that this is normal. Take advantage of the times when you’re motivated to write to get ahead to make up for the times when your motivation drops off!
  4. Let your blog change with you over time, and don’t feel pressured to only write about one specific area.People usually read and follow a blog because they resonate with the writer and their story. As you change over time, let that be reflected in your writing and the topics you choose. Writing and reading about the same topic for years gets old no matter how interesting that topic is in the beginning.

Conclusion

If you’re considering starting a travel physical therapy blog or any other blog for that matter, go for it! But make sure it’s for the right reasons, and go into it informed about the time it will take. Use the blog as a way to develop your writing ability, thoughts, and to further your knowledge on various topics. Do your best to research topics thoroughly, because not only does that make the articles better, but you can also reap the rewards of that new knowledge. Network with other content creators and find community in the beginning in order to get through the early stages when it can feel like your efforts are wasted due to minimal readers. Let your blog content grow with you over time, and don’t be afraid to write about topics that are not generally the norm for your website if it’s something that interests you. Getting my thoughts down on “paper” has led to many positive benefits in my life, and who knows what it will lead to in the future!

Reaching Semi-Retirement in Three Years as a Travel Therapist: Jared’s Story

Written by: Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

The Past

Education

I spent a total of 8 years in college (3 of which were in community college trying to decide my direction in life) which culminated in a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, earned in May of 2015. Even though I was very proud of this accomplishment and the incredible amount of work it took to achieve it, I knew that physical therapy was not something that I would spend the next 20-30 years of my life doing full time. I’ve had various interests throughout my life and knew myself well enough to know that eventually I would likely become bored with physical therapy like so many of my passions in the past.

My Personality

You see, I get consumed with an area of interest for a period of time, before eventually becoming mostly disinterested once I feel that I’ve achieved a certain level of proficiency in the area. I seem to find something I like and throw myself into being the best that I can be in that area, which ultimately leads to me burning out with the pursuit. In my 30 years, this has happened with basketball, chess, video games, diet/nutrition, powerlifting/bodybuilding, and now to some degree physical therapy and finance. I still enjoy all of these things, but I no longer feel an intense urge to learn everything or be “the best” at them anymore like I did with all of them at one point or another in my life. At some juncture, the return on invested time and energy in any area of interest leads to a point of diminishing returns, and this is always where I seem to gradually disengage. At 30 years of age, I still don’t know if this is a good or bad thing, but I have accepted it as a part of my personality.

Knowing about this personality trait (flaw?), I was skeptical whether the time and money investment that is synonymous with 3 years of graduate school (after already completing 5 years of undergraduate work) would be worth it when I had no idea how long I would be passionate about the field. I ultimately decided that it was, and I am very happy with where I am now because of the choice. Although, I would be lying if I said I never questioned whether a DPT degree is worth it.

Student Loan Debt

Upon graduation in 2015, I had about $95,000 in student debt from grad school alone, and that included trying my best to be frugal by living at home and commuting to classes. Even though this is a massive sum, it is generally on the low end of the debt range of what many physical therapists graduate with. Terrified by this student debt, I became engrossed by the idea of increasing my income and decreasing my expenses to pay down the loans as quickly as possible.

After hundreds of hours of research and performing my own calculations and projections for the future, I ultimately decided that it would be in my best interest to pay the minimum on my loans while investing heavily in retirement and brokerage accounts. This has turned out to be a very good choice so far, with my student debt growing at an effective rate of about 3.2% per year while on the REPAYE plan, and my investment portfolio growing at a rate of around 9% since I started heavily investing (this was closer to 11% before the big drop in December 2018)… and this isn’t even accounting for the tax savings from utilizing the retirement accounts. This plan isn’t for everyone, of course, but I do think it should be a consideration for those trying to reach financial Independence as soon as possible with a lot of student debt.

Financial Independence

As for financial independence, while researching what to do with my student loans in late 2014, I stumbled upon a couple of blogs talking about saving heavily and retiring early, and I was immediately sold. Once I knew the math behind achieving financial independence and calculated “my FI number,” I knew that was the goal I needed to reach as soon as possible. My main motivation for pursuing financial independence so aggressively was to have as many options as possible for the future in case my interests shifted again and I became passionate about something different and wanted to pursue that.

Traveling Physical Therapy

In my first year of physical therapy school, I researched the options and found that the easiest way to make the most money as a physical therapist, in order to reach my financial independence goal, is by taking travel contracts. In some cases a travel physical therapist can make twice as much or more when compared to a therapist taking a permanent full time job in one location, especially as a new grad.

Whitney, my significant other of over 5 years and also a physical therapist who graduated at the same time as me, also liked the idea of making extra money while going on adventures, moving to and working in new places around the country together. Without a doubt, this was one of the best decisions that either of us have ever made.

Living in a Camper

Finding affordable short term housing at each assignment location can be the biggest difficulty of being a travel therapist, and to combat that we saved our money and paid cash for a fifth wheel camper and truck to haul it after our first 6 months of working and saving aggressively. For the majority of our travel careers, we have lived and traveled in the camper. Whether or not we have come out ahead financially with this decision is still up for debate, but we did enjoy the simplicity of finding somewhere to live while traveling in the fifth wheel and also the consistency of our living arrangement. There have been many pros and cons to traveling in a fifth wheel, but overall we wouldn’t change our decision.

Maximizing My Income and Savings Rate

After having a goal of financial independence in my cross-hairs, I wasn’t content with just making more money as a traveling therapist, so I did everything feasible to minimize my expenses while simultaneously finding ways to make more money along the way. This led to working as many hours as my travel assignments would allow with hundreds of hours of overtime in total over three years, taking part time jobs when available, creating this blog (just as a hobby initially with hopes to eventually generate some income), and going a little overboard with credit card rewards.

In reality, I hustled so much and minimized my expenses to a point that I have been able to save 100% of my income earned from my regular 9-5 travel physical therapy jobs, and even extra on top of that some months. The first two years, I was able to live on just the money earned from credit card/bank account sign up bonus combined with overtime hours and part time work. The last year, to my surprise, the FifthWheelPT blog actually started consistently bringing in enough money to cover all of my living expenses most months.

The Present

After 3 years of living frugally and saving my entire full time paycheck as a travel therapist (each year with a savings rate of between 85-90% of my total income), combined with the investment returns I mentioned above, I officially “semi-retired” in July 2018 at 29 years old. I tracked my progress to financial independence with my monthly “Path to 4%” posts each month for the past 2.5 years along the way, and will continue to do so until I fully reach my “FI number.” Even though I haven’t fully reached that number yet, there were various reasons that I went ahead and transitioned into semi-retirement when I did, with a primary one being our desire to travel internationally.

I refer to what I’m currently doing as “semi-retirement” because I still plan to write on this website, write on the FifthWheelPT blog, andhelp those interested in travel therapy get started, which takes up about 5-10 hours per week, and I will also likely continue to work one travel assignment (3 months) per year to keep my physical therapy skills from getting rusty. I still enjoy the job and helping patients, but I no longer wish to do it full time for the entire year.

We celebrated this semi-retirement with a 5 month trip around the world at the end of 2018, which was a wonderful and eye opening experience. By utilizing credit card points to keep expenses lower while traveling, I was able to spend less than an average of $37/day on the trip, all of which was able to be covered by money brought in from this blog. This meant that I didn’t even have to start withdrawing money from my investment accounts, which was a blessing with the market taking such a hit at the end of 2018! This trip really made us realize that life is short and there is so much that we want to see and do before settling down and having kids. We plan to take several more 3-6 month long trips all over the world for the next few years before deciding what’s next for us. We’re currently planning a 15 week trip to Europe in May, which we are extremely excited about.

The Future

Right now, we still own our fifth wheel and truck, but we are considering selling them between now and May when we leave on our next trip, so that we don’t have to pay personal property taxes, insurance, storage fees, and deal with further depreciation while taking these long trips and not using the truck and camper. I have to admit that this has led to a bit of an identity crisis for me, since many people know me as the “Fifth Wheel PT” now… if we sell it do I have to rename the blog?!

We haven’t worked as physical therapists in 7 months since leaving for our Around the World Trip, but after searching for jobs since we returned to the US in December, Whitney finally found a Travel PT contract about 3 hours from home. She started work this week, however I still don’t have a job lined up as of now. I’m working on trying to set up a short term contract or PRN work in the same area as Whitney. But, if I don’t end up working before leaving on our next trip to Europe in May, then I will most likely find a travel contract in September when we get back from the trip. Although that will mean I will have a 15 month gap in my work history, which I’m a little concerned about.

We plan to go to a few physical therapy conferences each year to network with other therapists and students and talk about travel therapy as well as finances and how these things have so positively impacted our lives. I may not be as ravenous with learning new things about personal finance and investing as I once was, but I still enjoy writing and talking about it. I’m also not nearly as involved with travel therapy as I once was, but I have learned a ton and want to spread the knowledge and let others know that an exciting and lucrative adventure is possible.

I’m considering writing a book in the future about personal finance and investing from the perspective of a physical therapist, and possibly even more specifically from the perspective of a travel therapist, but I don’t know that I have the motivation required to do that right now. Nonetheless, I plan to continue to write about whatever interests me on the FifthWheelPT website and to write articles about travel therapy on this website.

Ultimately I’m grappling with the realization that financial independence and retiring early is really just the beginning, not the end of the journey. With time and brain power freed up to a large extent, I’m not sure where I’ll go from here, but I’m okay with that uncertainty.

Conclusion

It has been a wild ride for both Whitney and me since graduation in 2015. I would have never anticipated doing what I am now back then, but I’m very grateful that things have turned out the way that they have.

I undoubtedly sacrificed on some things to reach semi-retirement so quickly, but by no means was I a “miser,” living an unfulfilling life in those 3 years of saving aggressively. We took dozens of weekend trips all over the east coast (Whitney has written all about those trips here); spent a few days in Canada; stayed at an all-inclusive resort in Jamaica for a week; I took my brother to Aruba for his high school graduation; Whitney and I went on a cruise to the Bahamas; and we bought plenty of stuff that we really didn’t need (you know, the American way).

I really didn’t do anything special to get in the position I’m in besides looking for ways to maximize my income and minimize my spending while still having a good time. This combined with a cultivated urge to learn as much as possible in my areas of interest have paid dividends. No two paths are the same, but I feel that just about everyone has room to make headway on these fronts.

Thank you for reading this. If you’re a regular reader, then I hope that you have a little better insight into who I am, and if you’re a new reader, then this should be a good introduction to me and my life. Feel free to reach out to me with questions or comments!

 

This article was originally published on our personal blog. You can learn more about Jared’s story by visiting our blog at FifthWheelPT.com.