Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC
A common concern when considering pursuing travel therapy is how to set up housing for each travel assignment. Some therapists will choose to have housing set up by their travel company, while some will choose to find short term rentals, but another option that is growing in popularity is choosing to live in an RV.
Jared and I chose to live the RV lifestyle and travel this way during the first 3 years of our Travel PT journey. There is a lot to learn when it comes to going this route, so I’d like to share with you some of the basics of pursuing travel therapy in an RV.
Our Journey to the RV Life
Jared and I first decided we wanted to travel in an RV during our second year of physical therapy school, in 2014. We knew that we were going to begin travel therapy immediately after graduation in May 2015. We started looking into some of the logistics of finding short term housing for travel assignments, and we realized that moving every 13 weeks, including packing all of our stuff and setting up housing, was going to be a real pain. We decided that for us, having our own little home with all of our stuff packed in would make life easier moving from place to place. We figured we could move more quickly between assignments, decreasing down time/unpaid time off. We also figured it would be cheaper in the long run if we purchased a used RV and could resell it later. So, we were sold on the RV life, and started our search.
We ended up waiting until 6 months into our travel physical therapy careers to purchase our rig so that we could buy it outright and not finance. So in the meantime during our first 6 months of work, we rented short term housing that we found on Craigslist. Then for the next 3 years we lived in the camper, before selling it once we stopped working full time. The last couple of contracts we took after selling the camper we went back to short term housing.
Our journey with the camper life wasn’t always smooth sailing, and we’re honestly not sure if we actually came out significantly ahead financially after all was said and done, but overall we are happy with our choice! There is a lot to consider though, so you need to weigh all the options before you pursue it. Let’s go over some of the main considerations.
Most of these considerations are for newbies to the RV life who plan to do it only because of travel therapy. If you’re already an experienced RVer, and already have an RV, then what are you waiting for?! 😉
Considerations for Choosing the RV Travel Life
- Are you going to travel more than 1.5 to 2 years?
- This is important to consider whether or not the financial investment of purchasing an RV is worth it in the long run.
- Can you find a reasonably priced RV and/or truck/trailer combo?
- If you’re paying a high price for an RV, or financing a new RV, the financial investment will likely outweigh the financial benefit of you working travel contracts. That is, if financial gain is a primary motivator for you.
- Are you handy, or willing to learn what it takes for repairs and maintenance?
- Having an RV is like having a home– on wheels. Things break. It does require quite a bit of upkeep and maintenance. You need to know that going in.
- Are you up for an adventure if breakdowns or malfunctions occur?
- These things do happen, and you have to know how you’re going to respond in a situation with a breakdown or major malfunction. You could wind up stranded somewhere for a while, waiting on repairs, making you late for a contract (hopefully not if you plan ahead). You could have to vacate your RV for a little while to have repairs done. Are these things you’re willing to deal with? It sure can be a relationship builder if you are!
- Are you comfortable staying in an RV park/campground setting?
- RV parks and campgrounds are generally very nice. They are not the same as “trailer parks.” But, you do have to be willing to be a little outdoorsy.
- Are you (or your partner) comfortable driving an RV?
- You need to know if you’re comfortable driving, parking, and backing in the RV; unless you plan to pay to have someone move it for you.
- Are you comfortable dealing with emptying waste water and sewage tanks?
- This is something that us girly-girls might not be okay with. I thought it would bother me at first, but it really isn’t a big deal.
Logistics of Buying an RV
- New or Used?
- You can choose to buy new or used, but we recommend used because new ones can be very expensive and depreciate rapidly the first few years! And with our financial independence mindset, financing something like that is not an option. It’s as bad of a financial decision, or worse, than buying a brand new car. The depreciation is significant!
- How old is too old?
- When you buy used, you want to choose one that’s less than 10 years old, because some RV parks don’t allow older rigs for aesthetic reasons. Also, the older ones are likely to have more mechanical problems. So you’ll need to consider your budget, and try to find a fairly nice used rig preferably.
- Motorhome vs. travel trailer?
- For newbies, do your research on the difference. Motorhomes are the kind you drive (like a bus/van) and come in Class A, B, and C. Travel Trailers are the kind you pull with a truck, and there are Pull Behinds, Fifth Wheels, and Toy Haulers. There are a couple other types, but for the purpose of long term living, these are the best options for most people. Unless you want to consider a Pop-Up Trailer, but I feel they’re too small for long term living although we did live beside a couple that was making it work.
- Our biggest consideration between a Motorhome vs. a Travel Trailer was that we needed to have two vehicles for work. So we figured if we got a truck and travel trailer combo, the truck would serve as one vehicle, while I would drive my car separately. We figured if we had a motorhome, we’d still need two cars, so then we would have three vehicles with engines that could potentially have issues! And we figured that if there was engine or other trouble with the drive train of the motorhome, we’d have to take our whole home in for repairs. So we chose the truck and fifth wheel trailer combo!
- Do Your Research.
- Read up on pros and cons of different brands, layouts, model years, etc. This is especially true for trucks and motorhomes, as different model years could have had recalls, known problems, or certain parts that didn’t operate as well, such as the engine!
- Choosing the Best One.
- The best thing to do is go to a couple dealerships or RV shows and go inside a whole bunch! This will help you narrow down what you are looking for as far as size, layout, and amenities. We chose a fifth wheel vs. a standard pull behind travel trailer because it seemed to be more spacious. We also found that with Jared being 6’4″, he had trouble standing in a lot of the showers, so check the showers and ceilings, tall guys!
- Getting it Inspected.
- If you’re buying used, and you’re not familiar with RVs, it’s a good idea to pay someone who is familiar with RVs to come and check it out for you. We didn’t do this, and we wound up with one that had some water damage we later had to repair, because we didn’t know what to look for.
- Where to buy?
- We scoured RVTrader.com, Craigslist, and local dealerships. We ended up finding one listed on RVTrader.com, then went to see it where it was located 3 hours away. We bought through Camping World, which we felt comfortable with because we also bought an extended warranty plan. We found our truck on Craigslist.
- Again, we’re not fans of financing, so we chose to work hard for 6 months in order to save up and buy with cash. We realize this may not be an option for everyone. So do what suits you. But generally speaking, it’s along the same lines of the process of buying a car as far as loans go.
Finding Where to Stay
Now, the big consideration with using your RV to take travel assignments around the country, is figuring out where to stay! Sometimes, it can be slightly limiting on your job search, because there are not places to park your RV just anywhere, especially in big cities. Generally, your contracts will need to be more on the outskirts at places they are more likely to have campgrounds. We personally never accept a contract before we have found out for certain that we will have a place to park our RV nearby.
- Campgrounds/RV Parks:
- Search Google, use the Good Sam website/app, and call around!
- You need to make sure that when you do your search, you check to see if it’s just a “campground” or an actual “RV Park.” Some campgrounds are just for tent and weekend camping, not to park RVs, and not for long term.
- You want to find out if the RV park has “full hookups” (this includes water, sewer, and electric at your site).
- You want to find out if the campground is open year round because some of them close for the season during the winter, especially up north!
- You need to call and see if they do monthly stays. Some of them only allow a few days up to two weeks, and will not allow you to stay month to month for your full 13 week contract.
- Find out if they actually have availability/open sites when you’re going to need to be there for your contract. Places like Arizona and Florida when the snowbirds/retirees come down in Winter to live might be full months in advance!
- Find out about the amenities they offer, like wifi and cable, and if it’s included in the monthly price or it’s extra. Find out of the electric is included in a set price or if it’s metered based on how much you use.
- Find out if they have any other amenities like a pool, a store, laundry facilities, or a bathhouse in case you just need a real shower (or in case your water freezes in the camper)!
- Other Options:
- Sometimes you can find places on Craigslist that are not exactly campgrounds, but have hook ups for campers. This might be someone’s house or property, maybe a farm or a field that they’ve equipped with hook up sites.
- Depending what type of RV you have and how easy it is to move around, you could potentially get away with staying somewhere that just had a water source and electric source, then you could go occasionally to a separate dump site for your sewage.
- Another option if you didn’t have direct sewage hookup at your site is having a Septic Service come out periodically to pump your sewage for a fee, so you don’t have to move your rig.
- There are some people out there that choose to “boondock” or “dry camp.” This involves staying in a parking lot somewhere or at someone’s house where you didn’t have hookups, just a place to park. You can generally get by on this for a few days or possibly a couple weeks by filling your water storage tanks, having some source of electricity such as a generator or solar panels, using other sources of energy such as a gas stove or battery power, going to a dump station as needed (or as mentioned above utilizing a septic service), or just finding alternative bathroom solutions instead of using your actual bathroom facilities in the RV (think: shower at the gym? I’m not saying it’s the greatest, but sometimes people do what they gotta do)! —-But personally I would not recommend this long term!
There is a ton more I could discuss regarding the RV Travel Therapy Life, but I hope I’ve covered at least the basics for now!
Are you considering pursuing travel therapy in an RV? Do you have questions? We have mentored many people on their journeys to living the RV travel life. Please feel free to reach out to us with your questions, or leave us a comment below!
Author: Whitney Eakin