House Hacking to Reduce Expenses as a Healthcare Traveler

If you’ve followed this website or our blog Fifth Wheel PT for any length of time, you probably know that I have spent a lot of time learning and writing about personal finance and investing since graduating from physical therapy school in 2015. This focus on maximizing my finances led to me reaching financial independence at age 30 and retiring from full time work as a PT.

Pursuing Travel PT as a new grad to earn significantly more than at a normal permanent job was a huge part of achieving that milestone as such a young age, but even more important than that was keeping my expenses as low as reasonably possible while traveling. As a travel therapist or other travel healthcare provider, you have to look at your savings rate, which takes into account not only your income but also your expenses, to see the big picture on how to come out ahead financially.

As a traditional travel healthcare provider, traveling with a tax home in order to receive tax free stipends, often the biggest monthly expense is housing, and this was no different for me. This is because having to pay for short term housing at the travel assignment location in addition to paying for housing expenses back home can really add up quickly.

There are some ways to reduce the expense of short term housing at your travel assignment location, but for the most part options are usually pretty limited depending on the area of your travel job. On the other hand, there are a variety of ways to reduce the total cost of maintaining your permanent tax home while on assignment by house hacking. Using some of these techniques allowed me to save a lot of money over the years, so I want to share some insights with you to help you better reduce your expenses and make travel healthcare more lucrative.

What is House Hacking?

House hacking is basically utilizing a portion or all of your house to earn income or offset expenses. Chad Carson does a great job of explaining all of the various ways of house hacking in this article. Anyone that has ever lived with a roommate has done a version of house hacking in the past. Having a two bedroom house or apartment split between two people is always going to be cheaper than having a one bedroom house or apartment to yourself, due to not only being able to split the cost of the rent or mortgage, but also utilities and any additional costs/fees.

Personally, I’ve been learning about ways to “hack” my housing costs since high school. I can remember looking at duplexes for sale when I was 18 and doing calculations on how much I could reduce my expenses by buying one, living in one side and renting the other, while also having a roommate in my side. I determined that not only could I reduce my housing costs, but I could actually live for free while simultaneously paying down the mortgage on the property by doing this in my hometown. Although I never ended up doing this after graduating high school due to going away for college, followed by PT school and then travel therapy, it’s something I still think about doing in the future.

House Hacking for Travelers

There are a few different ways that a travel healthcare provider might choose to house hack their tax home to reduce costs.

The first and most simple way is by simply renting a room in a house as their tax home, instead of having an entire house or apartment. Realistically, most travelers spend very little time throughout the year at their tax home due to spending most of the year working travel assignments or traveling for fun domestically or internationally. For my and Whitney’s entire travel careers prior to COVID, we never spent more than 6 weeks at home in any given year. Having a house or apartment sit empty for most of the year seemed wasteful to us, so for the majority of that time we each chose to rent a room in our family’s house as our tax home instead. We still had a place to keep all of our stuff and stay for the short periods while we were home, but it cost much less. We also had someone to collect our mail and keep an eye on things while we were gone.

Another way to house hack as a traveler is to buy or rent a place bigger than you’d need, and rent out rooms or get roommates to help subsidize costs. This is exactly what I had in mind when we were looking at townhouses to buy in our hometown when COVID hit and we realized we would be at home much more. We purposely bought a place with a couple of extra bedrooms so that we could have roommates or short term renters while we were out of town. By buying (or renting) an affordable place and renting out extra rooms for part or all of the year, it’s easy to make a big dent in the monthly cost of your tax home.

The last main way to house hack as a travel healthcare provider is by renting out your entire house or apartment on Airbnb, VRBO, or Furnished Finder while you’re away on assignment. This will undoubtedly offset tax home costs the most, assuming you’re able to keep occupancy relatively high, but will also lead to the most hassle. Managing a short term rental can be very lucrative but hard to manage from a distance while working. But, with a good property manager in your area that you trust, it’s certainly possible to make it work. We considered doing this when we were looking at places to buy, but ultimately decided against it due to the potential headache and issues that could arise. We also didn’t really like the idea of renting out our whole place with other people having access to our stuff. I do know a couple of travelers that have done this in the past and had a good experience along with making a decent profit though.

What About Maintaining Your Tax Home Requirements?

You may be wondering how house hacking impacts your tax home status and eligibility for tax free stipends as a travel therapist/travel healthcare provider. This is an important question to consider, and the answer depends on which of the strategies above that you choose and how you structure it.

**I do want to put the disclaimer here that I am by no means a CPA or tax professional. It’s always worth consulting a tax professional before making any decisions on your personal tax home situation. Below is my current understanding of how this works based on research I’ve done and CPAs I’ve talked to in the past. We interviewed Joe Smith from Travel Tax a couple of years ago and asked him for his advice on this as well which you can find here starting at 1:05:30 in the video.

As a quick refresher, according to the IRS, these are the rules for maintaining a tax home:

  1. You must maintain a place of permanent residence and pay expenses there (i.e. rent, own/mortgage, pay bills, pay taxes, etc.) while ALSO paying expenses at your travel location. This is called “duplicating expenses.”
  2. You must not abandon your tax home. Generally speaking, you should return there at least 30 days per year but these days don’t have to be consecutive.
  3. You must still conduct business in the area of your tax home. For example, you have a PRN job there or maintain some type of other business there.

Ideally you’d want to meet all three of these criteria but at the very least 2/3.

If you’re renting a room in a house as your tax home to house hack and save money, there should be absolutely no issue with that from a tax home perspective. Many travelers rent a room in a house or apartment from a friend or family member in their home area, keep records of payment and a lease, return to the area at least 30 days per year, and keep all of their stuff there.

If you’re renting out rooms to short term renters or roommates in a house or apartment that you own/lease, there should be no issue with this either as long as you’re keeping at least one bedroom in the house as your own. Obviously if you’re renting all of the bedrooms out in your house for the full year then this would no longer count as your tax home because you aren’t personally meeting the tax home rules above.

If you’re renting out your entire house or apartment on Airbnb, VRBO, Furnished Finder, or something similar, then that’s fine as long as you aren’t renting it out for the full year. You need to leave open time in the year for you to return home without it being rented. Something like renting out the full place for 9 months of the year while leaving a month between each assignment where you go back home and stay for a while would be ideal. Even renting a place 9 months a year on a short term basis will likely be enough to cover nearly all of the expenses of the tax home depending on your area.

Should You House Hack Your Tax Home?

House hacking your tax home is a great way to reduce your expenses while traveling to improve your financial situation more quickly. This was a key part in my own journey to achieving financial independence. With that being said, there’s undoubtedly more hassle and potential issues that go along with sharing or renting out your tax home. For that reason, it’s definitely not for all travelers. If you’re the type of traveler that gets stressed and overwhelmed easily while on assignment, then adding in extra worry back home may not be worth it. On the other hand, if you’re the type of traveler that handles potential issues well and is looking to minimize your expenses as much as possible, then house hacking could be perfect for you.

Have you ever done some version of house hacking with your tax home as a healthcare traveler? If so let me know what you did and how it went in the comments below or in an email!

As always, if you have questions about your travel healthcare journey, you can send us a message. If you’re new to travel healthcare and want to get connected with travel therapy recruiters and companies we recommend, you can fill out this form as well.

Jared Casazza
Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

Jared has been a traveling physical therapist since 2015 and has helped thousands of current and aspiring travelers along their own journeys. He is also a personal finance enthusiast and has used his career as a Travel PT combined with strategic financial choices to pursue financial independence and semi-retirement early in his career.

Working as a Healthcare Traveler in Hawaii

For many healthcare workers, taking a travel assignment in Hawaii would be a dream come true. Who wouldn’t want to get to live and work in the beautiful Hawaiian Islands for a few months? In fact, many travelers who take an assignment in Hawaii end up extending their contracts, returning for future contracts, or even staying there permanently. Fortunately, taking job in Hawaii is a real possibility for many healthcare travelers, but it doesn’t come without some logistical hurdles.

I had the opportunity to work as a traveling physical therapist (Travel PT) in Hawaii in the summer of 2021, and I want to share with you some of the logistics that you’ll need to know if you also want to take a travel healthcare job in Hawaii!

Competition

As you can imagine, getting a travel contract in Hawaii can be pretty competitive. It’s a highly desirable area to live and work, particularly in the more popular areas like Honolulu.

On the other hand, sometimes there can be a lack of healthcare workers in the more rural areas of Hawaii, so you’re more likely to be able to find a travel contract if you’re open to any island and any town in Hawaii. Trust me from having visited all four of the major islands: you’ll still get to experience so much no matter which island and which town your contract is in. Even on the largest of the islands, you can get from one side to the other in 2 hours or less. So your weekends can be filled with adventure in any corner of the island (or you can hop a quick flight over to another island) no matter if your contract itself is right in the middle of the action or not.

Since jobs are generally more competitive, it also helps if you have more experience on your resume before applying to travel jobs in Hawaii, including years of experience and sometimes variety of settings. You’re less likely to be able to beat out the competition and get a job there if you’re a new grad.

In general, it’s best to be as flexible as possible when looking for a job in Hawaii in order to increase your chances of being chosen for a job. If you’re open to all settings and any location, and you have some experience, you’re much more likely to get a contract than if you’re being too selective on both setting and location.

Pay

Unfortunately, pay tends to be lower for healthcare jobs in Hawaii. This goes for both travel and permanent jobs. One major reason for this is that insurance reimbursement is lower (particularly for therapy). In addition to that, higher competition for jobs (since it’s a desirable area) means that employers can also usually get away with paying lower and they’ll still have plenty of applicants. This is an unfortunate truth when looking at jobs in Hawaii, even though the cost of living is fairly high.

So you’ll have to go into your search for jobs in Hawaii knowing that you’re not necessarily going to make (and save) a ton of money compared to other travel healthcare opportunities on the “mainland.” You’ll have to look at it as more of a “working vacation.” This is another reason that we generally don’t think it’s best for new grads or new travelers to try to seek out jobs in Hawaii right away. It’s best to get some experience as a traveler on the mainland first, which will both help build your resume and your savings account! Having some savings going into working in Hawaii is always a good plan.

For travel therapy jobs (PT, OT, SLP), we typically see pay around $1400-1700/wk after taxes. This is on the lower end for what we usually recommend for travel therapists. Typically we look for jobs on the mainland paying more in the $1600-1900+ range. But, for Hawaii, $1500 seems to be pretty typical. For nursing and other disciplines, pay in Hawaii also tends to be on the lower end compared to mainland jobs, unless it’s a crisis job for a specialty such as ICU. You may get lucky and find higher paying jobs in Hawaii sometimes, but don’t be surprised if you see what looks like lower pay for a travel contract.

You may also be wondering about reimbursements you can receive as part of your pay package for a job in Hawaii, for things like traveling to Hawaii for the job (plane ticket), licensing, renting a car, etc. Keep in mind that almost always, reimbursements for these things have to come out of the bill rate for the job. So, if the recruiter adds in reimbursements for you, then it will likely affect your weekly take home pay. But you should definitely ask if it’s possible to get reimbursed for these additional costs and how it will affect your total weekly pay if they do reimburse you.

As always, we recommend working with 3-4 different recruiters to assist you in your travel job search. If you’re looking for a job in a very competitive location like Hawaii, working with multiple recruiters is particularly important to see more job options!

If you’re a therapist, you can contact us to get connected with recruiters who we know tend to have more jobs in Hawaii. When I was searching for my travel job, I knew specifically from our connections which companies were more likely to have outpatient physical therapy jobs in Hawaii, which was my first choice for setting. I was flexible and willing to consider a hospital position if it was some inpatient and some outpatient, but I was fortunate to be able to find a contract that was strictly outpatient (private practice) that worked really well for me.

Traveling as a Pair

Since Jared and I travel together, we originally considered trying to find two Travel PT jobs together in Hawaii. However, knowing that the jobs are more competitive there, and since we are now “semi-retired” and don’t work full time, we figured it would just be easier if only one of us took a contract rather than trying to find two jobs.

But, to our surprise, when it came time for our job search, there were actually quite a few places looking for two PT’s. So we could’ve both worked there in reality, but at that point Jared hadn’t even started the process to get a Hawaii license (more on this below) and I had mine, so we just stuck with going for one job.

With that said, it is always going to be more challenging as a pair to find two travel jobs together in the same location. So if you’re trying to do that in an already competitive location like Hawaii, being flexible on setting, location, pay, start date, etc. is of the utmost importance.

Licensing

Licensing can be a hassle for any travel healthcare job, but I’d say that the license process for Hawaii is one of the worst. They’re well known for being “on island time,” and processing new licenses is definitely a slow and tedious ordeal there.

I started working on getting my license during a particularly poor time, during the height of COVID in 2020. Unfortunately due to many hassles and delays, my physical therapy state license for Hawaii actually took nine months to receive! I will say that this seems to be an unusually long time, and most therapists have told me that theirs only took 1-3 months. But, needless to say, it can take a while, so you’ll have to be on top of getting your license early!

All licensing for all professions in Hawaii goes through the Hawaii Professional & Vocational Licensing Division. It’s really hard to get anyone on the phone to get the answers you need, and their website is not user friendly, so I suggest emailing them instead to follow up (the appropriate email addresses are not easily found on their website, so I’ve included them below for therapists & nurses):

  • For Physical Therapy: phys_therapy@dcca.hawaii.gov
  • For Occupational Therapy: occ_therapist@dcca.hawaii.gov
  • For Speech Language Pathology: speech@dcca.hawaii.gov
  • For Nursing: nursing@dcca.hawaii.gov

When it comes to your job search in Hawaii, you pretty much have to already have the license, or be very close to receiving it (all documents submitted & you’ve called to check on the status) before you start applying to jobs. There are certain states where you could potentially find and sign a contract, and then get the license. Unfortunately Hawaii is not one of them. Most employers will not hire you unless you already have the license in hand.

Housing

Finding affordable short term housing in Hawaii can sometimes be a challenge. The cost of living is very high there, so you can expect to pay a lot for short term furnished housing, especially if you want your own unit. It’ll be important to get housing that includes all furnishings and housewares, as you won’t be able to bring much with you when flying to the island from the mainland.

The best we were able to find when we were there was $1800/mo for a private “Ohana” unit (like an in-law suite, attached to someone’s home) which was furnished and included all utilities. We found our housing on Furnished Finder. We had previously heard of friends paying $1500 for a similar unit (pre-COVID). But we also saw listings for $3000+/month for similar units on Airbnb.

When searching for housing, we recommend checking multiple sources just as you would for any contract. Furnished Finder is usually our first choice if there’s anything available, but also check Airbnb, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, VRBO, and Facebook housing groups (search “travel nursing” and “travel therapy” housing keywords). You should also ask around with travelers who have worked in Hawaii before and ask the facility to see if they have any connections.

As a last resort, you can have your company book housing for you. But keep in mind this will likely cut into your pay a lot because you won’t receive the housing stipend.

Transportation

Something else you’ll have to figure out while living and working in Hawaii is transportation. For the most part, you’re going to need a car, with very few exceptions. The only case when you might be able to get by without a car would be if you work in Honolulu and could be walking distance to work, get just a bike/moped, or rely on Uber/public transportation. But even then, you’ll probably want to have your own vehicle to explore the island when you’re not working.

For any other locations outside of Honolulu, you’re going to need to have a car. Most travelers will rent a car, but some will choose to buy a used car (“island car”) then resell it when they leave. Buying a car would probably only make sense if you plan to be there 6+ months. For shorter stays, renting is likely your best bet.

At the time of writing this (early 2022), there is a shortage of rental cars and used cars due to COVID/supply chain issues, making finding a car in Hawaii an even bigger challenge. This was definitely the case for us in the summer of 2021 when we were there. We ended up finding out through word of mouth about a local who rents his own used cars out to traveling healthcare workers. We were lucky and got our car for $600/mo from this person (yes that’s actually cheap compared to alternative options we had!). We’ve since found out about other locals who do the same on different islands. So it’s a good idea to ask around to other travelers who have been there before and see who you can get in contact with for car rentals (we only have info for the Big Island, so you can ask us for contact info there- we don’t have contact info for the other islands so you’ll have to ask other travelers).

Besides renting from a local, your other rental options would be checking Turo (like Airbnb for cars) or car rental agencies, but this is likely going to be more costly than going through an individual. Another option could be shipping your car from the mainland, but this can be an expensive and timely endeavor. So it’s probably not worth it to do if you’ll only be there a few months.

As a last resort, you could have your travel company try to arrange a car for you, but keep in mind they’ll be searching the same methods as above, and this will likely cut into your pay a lot if they book a car for you.

Packing, Flying & Moving

Figuring out what to pack for an assignment where you have to fly can be tricky. As a traveler, you have to learn to become somewhat of a minimalist and pack only the essentials. For Hawaii, you shouldn’t need to bring much besides your clothing, shoes, and essential personal items. You should plan to have all the housewares you need at your furnished place. And any odds and ends you can get on the islands at Walmart or Costco! Think of only packing for about a 10 day vacation, then plan to wash, rewear, and interchange all your outfits. You’ll need a few work outfits, your bathing suit, hiking/workout clothes, and some summery outfits. Plan to only bring a few pairs of shoes (work shoes, sneakers, sandals). Luckily the weather is pretty much the same year-round and you only have to pack for one type of weather. The only time you’ll really need a jacket is if you plan to go to the top of one of the volcanoes!

As far as flying to Hawaii in the age of COVID, be sure to check any current regulations. The state of Hawaii was originally being fairly strict on their COVID entry/exit requirements, but it looks like they’re going to be lifting a lot of these requirements, so make sure to check their website for the most up to date information. Visit this site for up to date information on travel requirements.

The Fun Stuff

While all of this may sound daunting, trust me it’s worth it! You’ll have some hurdles to get through before you can make it there, but once you do, you’re going to be living in Hawaii for a few months! Talk about living the dream!

Living and working in Hawaii is a very culturally enriching experience. You’re in the United States… but not really. The culture there is very different, so taking a travel healthcare assignment there will be like no other assignment in the US.

In Hawaii, there are endless new things to experience: from volcanoes, to gorgeous beaches, to traditional Hawaiian music and dance, to unique foods, to epic hikes, and so much more. Once you get there, you’ll surely want to stay longer, or come back for more!

If you want to learn more about our experiences in Hawaii, check out the articles and podcasts below! Feel free to message us if you have any questions, or want to get connected with some recruiters who can help you land your dream job in Hawaii!

Additional Hawaii Content:

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC – Whitney has been a traveling physical therapist since 2015 and has mentored and educated thousands of current and aspiring healthcare travelers.

Whitney Eakin headshot
Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC