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!

Travel Therapy as a PTA or COTA during COVID-19: Why This Is a Bad Time to Pursue Travel Jobs

COVID-19 Impact on Travel Therapy Jobs

Oh, COVID-19. The bane of all of our existences that we didn’t see coming.

At the start of 2020, we probably all thought we were turning over a new leaf. New year, new you! New decade, new opportunities. This was going to be our best year yet! That’s what Jared and I thought for sure. We had so many plans this year for our personal life, our travels, and our online business. But in the blink of an eye that all changed, and now we’re all living a new reality, and wondering what 2020 has in store for us next.

Unfortunately, like everything else in our lives, COVID-19 has also had a huge impact on the travel therapy job market. At the beginning of 2020 before we really knew COVID-19 was going to be a problem, we were already dealing with some setbacks in the job market. But in this Guide to Pursuing Travel Therapy in 2020 from January 1st, we were at least hopeful things would turn around and get better. But unfortunately, they got much, much worse.

We’ve written a couple recent articles about how COVID-19 has affected the travel therapy job market in general, and more specifically the impact for new grads interested in traveling. We’ve also done several videos on this topic, providing updates each week on how the job market is looking.

But today we really want to address how COVID-19 is specifically affecting the job market for physical therapy and occupational therapy assistants (PTA’s & COTA’s).

The Travel PTA & COTA Job Market

Unfortunately, the job market for PTA’s & COTA’s has undoubtedly been impacted the worst. At this time, travel jobs for PTA’s & COTA’s are almost nonexistent.

To better put this in perspective, we need to take a look back at the job market even before COVID. In 2019 and previous years, jobs were always a little harder to come by for PTA’s and COTA’s compared with PT, OT, and SLP. Why? Who knows, probably lots of factors. But one reason could be more competition. Possibly more PTA’s & COTA’s out there due to less years of school required for the degree vs. the 6-7 years for PT, OT, and SLP? It could also have to do with the high cost of staffing a traveler. Maybe facilities might need a PTA or COTA, but they could get by without one, and aren’t willing to pay the high price tag to bring a traveler on. Whereas, they could not get by without an evaluating therapist, so they in some cases are forced to list a travel opening for a PT, OT, SLP. I’m sure there are other factors, but these are some that come to mind.

Then, with jobs already being more scarce in general for Travel PTA’s & COTA’s, next we had the lovely Medicare changes of PDPM & PDGM come along in the fall of 2019 and early 2020. This had a huge impact on all jobs for all disciplines, but with already a low number of travel jobs for assistants, any sort of drop was catastrophic to the job availability. This left many perm and travel PTA’s & COTA’s without work in late 2019 & early 2020. In terms of job numbers, we had been hearing that at any given time, there were less than 10 jobs for PTA and 10 jobs for COTA in the entire country! Talk about low numbers and high competition.

So as you can see, leading up to COVID-19, travel jobs for assistants were already in jeopardy. Many PTA’s & COTA’s who were travelers decided to stop traveling because it was too difficult to find travel jobs and they needed to find more stable income, so they went perm or found a PRN job back home to ride out the storm.

But then, the storm kept on coming. When COVID-19 hit, it again affected the therapy job market for both perm and travel jobs. So an already scarce job market for travel PTA & COTA jobs became basically nonexistent, with 0-5 job openings at any given time nationwide.

So, What Does This Mean for PTA’s & COTA’s Wanting to Travel?

So you might be reading this and thinking, well yeah there aren’t many jobs nationwide, but there also aren’t many jobs in my area, and I’m ready for a change — so I might as well give it a shot!

But, there’s a lot more we need to unfold here to really understand what these odds mean for you if you try to pursue traveling right now.

Already you can imagine, a low number of jobs means high competition for those jobs. Competition means, if you’re a new grad or have limited experience, your profile gets thrown right out the window compared to PTA’s & COTA’s with more years of experience and more variety of experience in different settings and skill sets.

What this really means is, if you try to persist and apply anyway, you’re going to be wasting a lot of your time trying anxiously to apply for jobs, putting in a lot of energy, effort, and worry, only to likely be denied. Believe us when we say, sitting around getting your hopes up about a job opening, waiting for a call, hoping for an interview, and being let down, takes a huge toll on you mentally and emotionally. It also can greatly add up in the long run if you wait weeks and weeks hoping for a travel job, when during those weeks and weeks you could’ve been getting a paycheck at a PRN or perm job locally. Even if the paycheck pales in comparison to that of the travel job, you’ve got to take into account the opportunity cost of missing out on weeks of pay while waiting for something better.

Okay but maybe you’ve got experience and you’re thinking to yourself: “well I’ve got a lot of experience and maybe I’ll be one of the top 5 candidates who applies for the 0-5 jobs available, so I’ll for sure get it.” But, herein lies another hurdle with travel jobs. Those 0-5 jobs could pop up randomly in any of the 50 states. Lately, there is no rhyme or reason to states that tend to have more jobs than others. Historically, California was the only state you could truly bet on to have a consistent number of jobs for assistants. But lately that isn’t even the case. And with the way the travel job market is, with such high competition, you have to have the license already, or you won’t get the job. They won’t wait on you to get the license, they’ll just give the job offer to someone who already does. So unless you plan to get licensed in 10-20+ states to increase your odds, it’s going to be very unlikely to see the job pop up in a state in which you’re already licensed, much less in a particular area you want to go, in a particular setting where you want to practice, and at a particular facility that sounds good to you.

To put the dreadful icing on the poisonous cake, things are so up in the air right now in our country, that facilities are really uncertain of their staffing needs. Nobody knows right now if things will continue to get better, and therefore facilities will go back to normal caseloads and normal staffing needs, or if they’ll stay how they are now, or if they’ll decline even further if states have to resume lockdowns. So, in terms of places trying to decide if they need to staff a travel therapist, they could post a job opening for a travel PTA or COTA, but within a couple weeks change their mind and cancel the contract. (Or, they might suddenly get an applicant to take the job permanently, due to high competition for jobs nationwide, and cancel the traveler’s contract). There’s nothing worse than getting your hopes up about a job, accepting the job, uprooting your life to move there and set up housing, only to have the job cancelled and have wasted all your precious time, energy, and money!

So What Do We Recommend?

I know this is disappointing and this post is full of doom and gloom. But when it comes to people’s lives and career choices, we want to be honest and lay out the facts.

As you can tell from everything we’ve discussed above, this is a truly terrible time to try to pursue travel jobs as a PTA or COTA. Because of all the challenges, we recommend that PTA’s and COTA’s stay put locally for now. Either stay at your current job, or try to find a perm or PRN job nearby.

Even if the job options are slim in your area, you’re honestly not going to be better off trying to go to a new area. Trust us when we say, the job options for PTA’s and COTA’s are slim there too. And, you’re going to spend a lot of time and money to likely be let down.

If you’re not seeing many job listings posted in your area, try cold calling, meaning just pick up the phone and call around to see if any facilities need help. Sell yourself and your skill set, and offer flexibility. These facilities are scrambling right now and don’t know what to do in terms of staffing. Be willing to work flexible hours in the hopes that it’ll turn into something more as things pick up. Be willing to take a little bit of a pay cut, because it’s better than making no money at all.

If you’re unable to find PTA or COTA jobs locally, you might consider finding work in another capacity for a little while. Unfortunately we know a lot of therapists (this includes PT’s, SLP’s, OT’s, COTA’s and PTA’s) who are working in different capacities right now to ride out the storm.

And if you’re really finding yourself unable to find work at all right now, see if you’re eligible to file for unemployment to at least get you through a few weeks or few months without work.

The world is a crazy place right now, and none of us know when things will start to get better. But, in the meantime, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do to get yourself and your family by.

Again, we’re sorry that this post is not more uplifting and hopeful. But based on watching the trends for months and talking to dozens of people in the travel therapy world, we feel it’s important to lay out the facts and let you know what you’re faced with, so you can make informed decisions about your career. We wish you the best of luck during these trying times, and we hope to be able to deliver better news in the coming months!

 


 

Written by Traveling Physical Therapist – Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

Whitney Eakin headshot