Should You Pursue Travel Therapy as an Independent Contractor?

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT


“Couldn’t I just cut out the middle man and negotiate my own contracts?”

Have you ever thought about this before? Have you considered trying to set up your own travel therapy contracts instead of working through a travel agency? If so, you’re not alone.

Whether to take travel therapy contracts through a travel company or to work as an independent contractor through a business entity as a 1099 employee is a question we’ve received quite often. This is a very valid question, considering we all know that travel companies keep a percentage (sometimes a significant amount) of the bill rate that the facility pays the travel company.

If you’re completely unfamiliar with bill rates, then this article should give you baseline knowledge to better understand the calculations that I’ll go through to compare taking jobs through a travel company or as an independent contractor.

Financially, on the surface the answer seems obvious, but upon investigation it gets much more complex as to which choice is more lucrative. Since I’m a finance nerd and all for optimizing income, I initially planned to eventually go this route myself, cutting out the middle man so to speak in order to keep more of the hard earned travel pay. I dug deep into the tax laws and ran calculations to see just how much more I would actually be able to make as an independent contractor instead of taking jobs though a travel company.

What I found surprised me and made me decide it wasn’t worth the hassle, and since then Whitney and I have continued to take travel contracts through travel companies. Let’s explore how I came to this decision and help give you some food for thought as to whether this is a possible option for you, complete with plenty of math! 🙂

Pros and Cons of working as an Independent Contractor on Travel Assignments

The main benefit of working as an independent contractor, and the reason that just about everyone that goes this route decides to do it, is to keep the entire bill rate like I mentioned above and make more money! Instead of the travel company keeping 20-25% of the bill rate, you get to keep it all! What’s not to like about that?

The downsides will vary from person to person, but generally include: establishing a business entity (most people seem to prefer an LLC for this to reduce potential personal liability), more hassle finding assignments (you have to do this all on your own of course), writing your own contracts or being able to understand the ins and outs of contracts written by the facility, being responsible for getting your own health insurance, being responsible for getting your own liability insurance, having to pay self-employment tax on income, and having no one to advocate for you. Let’s explore each of these downsides individually.

  • Establishing a business entity: For this, it is best to consult a professional for advice on which business entity would be best for your situation. As much as I hate spending extra money, if I was going to go the independent contracting route this is an area where I wouldn’t cut corners. Being sure that you’re doing everything by the book is not only the best way to avoid future issues, but will also help you sleep better at night.
  • More hassle finding assignments: When working with a recruiter, you will be presented with potential jobs options from their clients (facilities) with current therapist needs. As an independent contractor, you have to do all of this on your own which usually involves “cold calling” clinics in the area that you’re looking for a job, or looking at permanent position job openings in the area and reaching out to them to see if they would consider a traveler. This is going to be more time consuming than having the jobs presented to you by a recruiter. In addition, some facilities that need travelers often choose to work with only one specific travel company to help streamline the process, which means those jobs might not be available to you even if you contact them directly and are a good fit.
  • Writing your own contracts: When you find a facility that is willing to hire you as a traveler, you’ll either need to write your own contract to have them sign or possibly sign a contract that the facility has. This is an area where you want to be careful since legal contracts can have very specific wording, and it’s easy to miss something if you don’t pay attention. As an upside, this would probably only be an issue for the first couple of contracts as an independent contractor since you’ll almost certainly become more proficient with writing and reading contracts over time.
  • Being responsible for your own health, dental, and vision insurance: This is a big one. As an independent contractor your yearly pay will almost certainly be high enough to disqualify you for ACA tax credits, which means you’ll be responsible for the full premium amount if you get health insurance through the marketplace. The travel company pays for a portion of the usual premium for us, which is why the company sponsored plans are so much cheaper than plans through the marketplace.
  • Being responsible for your own liability insurance: This is a relatively minor cost but not something to overlook. Travel companies provide liability insurance for their travelers, but if you are working as an independent contractor then you’ll have to get this on your own. In general this shouldn’t cost more than a few hundred dollars per year.
  • Paying self-employment tax on income: This is another big one! Self-employment tax is the money paid toward Medicare and Social Security on your behalf. This amounts to 15.3% of your income right off the top, and you can’t avoid it even with retirement account contributions! When working as an employee through a travel company, they would pay for half of this tax on your behalf with you only paying 7.65% (denoted as FICA taxes on your pay stub), but when working as an independent contractor you’re responsible for the whole shebang. For more detail on this tax, check out this link.
  • Having no advocate: Your recruiter (as long as they are good) is a lifeline for you while on assignment. If you have issues with a facility, then they can be the one to have the tough talks with the facility regarding fixing things if you aren’t comfortable doing that. If a contract goes exactly according to plan, then this may not be important at all, but if you end up at a facility where things aren’t ideal then this could prove to be very valuable and significantly reduce your headache.

Yeah, Yeah… But More Money!

I hear you! Despite all the “cons” mentioned above, I was ready to accept all of that and still work as an independent contractor if it meant an extra few hundred dollars per week, and this may be what you’re thinking as well.

However, I was very disappointed to find out that for my and Whitney’s situation, the financial benefit was actually very little or even nonexistent in some cases!

How can that be if the travel company isn’t keeping 20-25% of the bill rate? That’s where the math comes in.

Before we jump into the calculations though, let me explain how that 20-25% extra can quickly evaporate.

  • Stipends (Per Diems): First I want to make it clear here that I’m not a tax professional. The information below is just my understanding of the tax laws as I’ve read them and from what I’ve learned from consulting with tax professionals. Always consult with a professional before making a decision based on what is written here! TravelTax is a wonderful resource for more information. With that being said. The big thing that makes being a travel therapist so lucrative are the stipends for those travelers who meet the requirements for maintaining a proper tax home (the vast majority). The biggest portion of those stipends is almost always for housing. On average our housing stipend has been in the $600-$700/week range while traveling depending on the location. When working through a travel company, this amount can be received even if your actual travel housing doesn’t cost doesn’t equal the full amount. While working as an independent contractor, even though you can write off your housing expense, it can only be for the actual cost of the housing incurred. What that means is that if you find low cost housing at your travel assignment, you’ll only be able to deduct the actual cost of the housing instead of being able to receive the much larger housing stipend that you would when working through a travel company. This is the single biggest reason why working as an independent contractor doesn’t make sense for Whitney and me. The most expensive housing that we’ve had to date on an assignment was $900/month, with the average being closer to $650/month. Divided between the two of us, we’d only be able to write off an average of $325/month each for those housing costs if we worked as independent contractors versus the $600-$700/week ($2,500-$3,000/month) that we each get when working through a travel company. Luckily, the full meal and incidental stipends would still apply to independent contractors just like they do for travelers working through a travel company, so no difference there. But, depending on your average cost of housing on assignment, missing that full housing stipend can be huge as we’ll see in the calculations later.
  • Self-Employment tax: As mentioned above, this amounts to an additional 7.65% of income paid off the top in taxes when working as an independent contractor compared to when working through a travel company. This becomes even more significant than it appears at first glance due to the higher taxable pay as an independent contractor.
  • Health insurance: Paying the full marketplace premium for insurance is going to be much more expensive than the insurance offered through a travel company in almost all cases. For example, on my last contract my health, dental, and vision insurance premiums through the travel company we used cost me $24/week. For comparable coverage purchased through the marketplace, I would have to pay about $120/week. That’s over $400/month more for insurance when working as an independent contractor!

Onto the Numbers

Now that we see some of the reasons why the pay actually received as an independent contractor may not be as high we initially anticipated, let’s do some calculations to see if the actual difference would be worth the other “cons” mentioned above.

I’m going to use my situation on my most recent contract as an example, but keep in mind that this will differ for everyone depending on your own variables. I don’t know what the actual bill rate for that contract was since this is usually not disclosed by the travel company, but I’ll go through two examples using a $60/hour and a $65/hour bill rate which seem to be pretty typical on the east coast in our experience. I’ll also use 25% as the travel company margin, which would typically be on the high end but it depends on the specific company and contract.

The Scenario: 30 year old male, working 40 hours per week, for 48 weeks per year, with both the contract state and the home state being Virginia, working in Fredericksburg. Housing cost of $800/month, split with Whitney ($400/month each).

Working through a travel company taking 25% margin from $60/hour bill rate

$60/hour bill rate – 25% margin = $45/hour total compensation to traveler

  • $20/hour taxable ($800/week gross)
  • $25/hour nontaxable ($1,000/week broken down into $385/week for meals and incidentals stipend and $615/week for housing stipend)

Total yearly taxable pay based on 48 weeks per year worked: $38,500

Total yearly taxes (determined using this calculator): $7,665

Total yearly (taxable hourly pay only) after taxes: $30,835

$30,835/48 weeks = $642 taxable per week after taxes

+ $1,000 per week stipends (untaxed)

=$1,642/week take home after taxes

– $24/week health, dental, vision insurance premium

=$1,618/week take home pay after insurance premiums

Working as an independent contractor making $60/hour bill rate

$60/hour bill rate (all taxable) * 40 hours  per week * 48 weeks per year = $115,200 total pay received (before taxes)

Meals and incidentals: $385/week tax deduction

Housing: $400/month rent tax deduction (actual expense incurred)

$115,200 – ($385 * 48 weeks) – ($400 * 11 months) – ($5,760 insurance premiums for 11 months) = $86,560 after deductions

Total yearly taxes (determined using this calculator): $30,080 (of which $13,244 is self-employment tax)

Total yearly after taxes: $115,200 – $30,080 = $85,120

$85,120 / 48 weeks = $1,773/week take home after taxes

– $120/week health, dental, vision insurance premium

=$1,653/week take home after insurance premiums

As you can see here, as an independent contractor in the situation, weekly take home pay would only be about $35 more per week when everything is said and done!

 

Now let’s look at the same exact scenario, but with a maxed out 401k each year in both cases since that will help reduce the taxable income (on everything except self-employment taxes) which is very beneficial with such a high income as an independent contractor.

Working through a travel company taking 25% margin from $60/hour bill rate with maxed out 401k contribution ($19,000)

$60/hour bill rate – 25% margin = $45/hour total compensation to traveler

  • $20/hour taxable ($800/week gross)
  • $25/hour nontaxable ($1,000/week broken down into $385/week for meals and incidentals stipend and $615/week for housing stipend)

Total yearly taxable based on 48 weeks per year worked: $38,500

401k Contribution: $19,000 (reduces taxable income)

Total yearly taxes (determined using this calculator): $4,344

Total yearly after taxes: $34,156

$712 taxable per week after taxes

+ $1,000 per week stipends

=$1,712/week take home after taxes

– $24/week health, dental, vision insurance premium

=$1,688/week take home pay after insurance premiums

Working as an independent contractor making $60/hour bill rate with maxed out 401k contribution ($19,000)

$60/hour bill rate * 40 hours  per week * 48 weeks per year = $115,200 total pay received (before taxes)

Meals and incidentals: $385/week deduction

Housing: $400/month rent deduction (actual expense incurred)

$115,200 – ($385 * 48 weeks) – ($400 * 11 months) – ($5,760 insurance premiums for 11 months) = $86,560 after deductions

401k Contribution: $19,000 (reduces taxable income)

Total yearly taxes (determined using this calculator): $24,808 (of which $13,244 is self-employment tax)

Total yearly after taxes: $115,200 – $24,808 = $90,392

$90,392 / 48 weeks = $1,883/week take home after taxes

– $120/week health, dental, vision insurance premium

=$1,763/week take home after insurance premiums

As we can see here, maxing out a 401k account helps to reduce taxes on the income, which benefits the independent contractor more than the traveler working through a travel company.

So in this scenario after the 401k contributions, the independent contractor would come out $75/week ahead of the traveler working through a travel company.

If I did ever change my mind a pursue traveling as an independent contractor, I would definitely take advantage of the tax deferred savings associated with a 401k to reduce the tax burden on the higher taxable pay. An extra $75/week would amount to only about $300 more per month or $3,600 more per year. That’s still not worth the “cons” mentioned earlier in my opinion.

 

The pay difference between working as an independent contractor compared to working through a travel company only narrows further as the bill rate increases. This is because as the bill rate increases, the housing stipend can also be increased. This is of course as long as the GSA allows room for additional money applied to the housing stipend without going over the limits for the area that you’re traveling in. In the case of the independent contractor, their housing price doesn’t change just because the bill rate is higher, so the deduction for housing stays the same.

To illustrate this, let’s run the same calculations using the same scenario with a $65/hour bill rate.

Working through a travel company taking 25% margin from $65/hour bill rate

$65/hour bill rate – 25% margin = $48.75/hour total compensation to traveler

  • $20/hour taxable ($800/week gross)
  • $28.75/hour nontaxable ($1,150/week broken down into $385/week for meals and incidentals stipend and $765/week for housing stipend)

Total yearly taxable based on 48 weeks per year worked: $38,500

Total yearly taxes (determined using this calculator): $7,665

Total yearly after taxes: $30,835

$642 taxable per week after taxes

+ $1,150 per week stipends

= $1,792/week take home after taxes

– $24/week health, dental, vision insurance premium

=$1,768/week take home pay after insurance premiums

Working as an independent contractor making $65/hour bill rate

$65/hour bill rate * 40 hours  per week * 48 weeks per year = $124,800 total pay received

Meals and incidentals: $385/week deduction

Housing: $400/month rent deduction (actual expense incurred)

$124,800 – ($385 * 48 weeks) – ($400 * 11 months) – ($5,760 insurance premiums for 11 months)= $96,160 after deductions

Total yearly taxes (determined using this calculator): $34,246 (of which $14,712 is self-employment tax)

Total yearly after taxes: $124,800 – $34,246 = $90,554

$90,554 / 48 weeks = $1,887/week take home after taxes

– $120/week health, dental, vision insurance premium

=$1,766/week take home after insurance premiums

With a $65/hour bill rate and no 401k contributions to reduce the taxable income, the independent contractor would actually come out with $2/week LESS after taxes in this situation!

 

Now let’s see how that would change by maxing out a 401k account.

Working through a travel company taking 25% margin from $65/hour bill rate with maxed out 401k contribution ($19,000)

$65/hour bill rate – 25% margin = $48.75/hour total compensation to traveler

  • $20/hour taxable ($800/week gross)
  • $28.75/hour nontaxable ($1,150/week broken down into $385/week for meals and incidentals stipend and $765/week for housing stipend)

Total yearly taxable based on 48 weeks per year worked: $38,500

401k Contribution: $19,000 (reduces taxable income)

Total yearly taxes (determined using this calculator): $4,344

Total yearly after taxes: $34,156

$712 taxable per week after taxes

+ $1,150 per week stipends

= $1,862/week take home after taxes

– $24/week health, dental, vision insurance premium

=$1,838/week take home pay after insurance premiums

Working as an independent contractor making $65/hour bill rate with maxed out 401k contribution ($19,000)

$65/hour bill rate * 40 hours  per week * 48 weeks per year = $124,800 total pay received

Meals and incidentals: $385/week deduction

Housing: $400/month rent deduction (actual expense incurred)

$124,800 – ($385 * 48 weeks) – ($400 * 11 months) – ($5,760 insurance premiums for 11 months)= $96,160 after deductions

401k Contribution: $19,000 (reduces taxable income)

Total yearly taxes (determined using this calculator): $28,940 (of which $14,712 is self-employment tax)

Total yearly after taxes: $124,800 – $28,940 = $95,860

$95,860 / 48 weeks = $1,997/week take home after taxes

– $120/week health, dental, vision insurance premium

=$1,877/week take home after insurance premiums

After the reduction in taxable income through the 401k contributions in this final example, the independent contractor would come out ahead by a whopping $39!

Additional Considerations

  • In the example above, I did not account for the cost of liability insurance in the independent contractor example, because this cost is negligible in most situations and just adds further complexity to the calculations.
  • In addition, I did not factor in reimbursements for travel expenses that most travel companies will give in addition to the weekly pay. The reason for this was that an independent contractor would be able to deduct that expense as well, and those are likely to cancel each other out, especially in the scenario I laid out above where travel to and from the assignment location from my tax home was only a few hours each way. If this had been a move across the country, and the travel company didn’t reimburse those full expenses, the independent contractor would at least be able to deduct those beginning and ending travel expenses, whereas the traveler working through a company wouldn’t be able to due to the tax law changes last year in The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). That would skew things more in favor of the independent contractor, but by how much would depend on the actual beginning and ending travel expenses incurred.
  • I did not include the 20% pass through deduction that was also part of the TCJA last year due to uncertainty whether that would apply to all travelers in this situation. If this does indeed apply to your business entity as an independent contractor, then that extra 20% deduction would significantly improve the financial aspects of traveling as an independent contractor. Be sure to consult with a CPA on this deduction if you do decide to work as an independent contractor through your own business entity.
  • Single travelers that will be working in higher cost of living areas where housing costs are likely to be much more expensive will have a much higher deduction than in the above example for housing expenses incurred while working as an independent contractor. A much higher housing cost will tilt things more in favor of traveling as an independent contractor and is something that should be considered if this applies to you.
  • The higher taxable pay associated with working as an independent contractor will lead to much higher monthly student loan payments for anyone that has chosen to go with an income driven repayment plan. If you plan to pay your loans off as quickly as possible while traveling by making much larger payments, then this won’t affect you at all. If you plan to pay the minimum, save/invest the difference, and potentially go for 20-25 year student loan forgiveness, then this could be a big potential downside in going the independent contractor route, especially while on REPAYE and having half of the accumulated interest subsidized each month which is the case for me.

Conclusion

Cutting out the middle man and taking travel jobs as an independent contractor to make more money is certainly enticing, but upon investigation it proves to be more hassle and less lucrative than it appears at first glance.

The actual financial benefit of going this route can very drastically depending on the individual and his/her situation, but for Whitney and I, it does not seem to be worth it. This is only a path that I would personally consider if it meant an increase in at least $200/week after taxes, otherwise I don’t think that it’s worth the extra work involved. For us, it’s clear in the above scenarios that it would not be.

If you do decide to go the independent contractor route, maxing out pre-tax accounts (401k, traditional IRA, and HSA) all become ever more attractive options as a means to reduce taxable income and therefore significantly reduce taxes.

If you’ve worked as an independent contractor as a traveler in the past, we’d love to hear about your experience and if it differs from the cases I’ve laid out here. Let us know in the comments or send us a message.

If after all of this, you’ve decided that working as an independent contractor isn’t for you and would like recommendations for recruiters/companies that pay well and that we trust, then reach out to us here! Thanks for reading and I hope that this was helpful to you in deciding the best travel therapy path for you.

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.

40 Hour Guarantees: An Underrated Perk of Travel Therapy

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

If you’ve read some of our prior articles or watched any of our weekly Facebook live videos, you’ve undoubtedly heard us mention how we’ve always made sure to have a 40 hour guarantee in all of our contracts. We also recommend 40 hour guarantees to every current or prospective traveler that contacts us. To us, it’s not worth the uncertainty with pay to not have that guarantee in place before taking a travel contract, especially now that we are only working a couple of contracts each year. We need to be certain we will be getting our full pay every week! Even with the clear benefits of having a 40 hour guarantee in your contract, I still think this perk of travel therapy is underrated.

What is a 40 Hour Guarantee?

In travel therapy contracts, therapists are hourly employees. This means they usually only get paid for the hours they work, unlike a typical salaried employee. A 40 hour guarantee, otherwise known as a “Guaranteed Work Week,” is a clause in the contract that states the therapist will be paid for a full 40 hours each week, regardless of how many hours they actually work. The guarantee typically covers things that are out of the therapist’s control, such as being called off work or leaving early for the day due to a low facility census or low caseload, or sometimes missing work due to the facility being closed for a holiday or inclement weather. It does not cover if the therapist asks off for work, for example to take a long weekend trip or for a doctor’s appointment.

Sometimes, a “Guaranteed Work Week” will only cover 32 or 36 hours, or another specified amount. Whatever amount is stated in the contract is how much the therapist will be covered for in regards to pay for that week, regardless of how many hours they actually worked. But, we always recommend trying to get the full 40 hours covered in the contract when possible. The amount of hours guaranteed can vary by facility and by travel company, as can what actually qualifies (for example, some cover low census, but not facility closure for holidays).

Hourly vs. Salary Pay

I often see debates between therapists looking for permanent jobs about whether they should try to get a position that pays a salary, or go with hourly income instead. There are pros and cons on both sides of this argument, which means there’s no one answer for everyone. With hourly pay, the biggest advantage is that if you work over 40 hours per week then you’re legally obligated to receive overtime for those hours. On the other hand, as an hourly employee you’re only paid for the hours you work, so if you work less than 40 hours then you won’t get your full pay for the week. For salaried employees, they’re always guaranteed to get their full paycheck each week, but they often end up working over 40 hours with no additional compensation.

I’ve considered both sides, and if I was looking for a permanent PT job, I’d prefer an hourly pay situation as an employee to ensure that I’m being compensated for every hour that I work. I can appreciate the security that comes with a salaried position; but, who wants to work 50 hours per week, but only be paid for 40 hours?!

Luckily for us, in the travel therapy world, at least with 40 hour guaranteed positions, it’s possible to get the pros of both an hourly and a salary position without the downsides! I’ll have my cake and eat it too, thank you very much!

The Best of Both Worlds

A 40 hour guarantee means that you get the security of a salaried position (always getting your full paycheck even if there’s a low census or a lot of cancellations) with the benefit of getting paid overtime if you have to work more than 40 hours in a week. That’s something that just doesn’t exist in the permanent therapy job world and is one of my favorite parts of being a traveler.

Let’s look at some real examples of how much this benefits us as travelers. Below are the hours I worked during a 5 weeks span at one of my outpatient contracts. The caseload was really sporadic at that contract, with some very busy weeks (especially when other therapists there were out sick or on vacation) and some really light weeks with lots of cancellations.

  • Week 1: 44 hours
  • Week 2: 37 hours
  • Week 3: 36 hours
  • Week 4: 36 hours
  • Week 5: 45 hours

Now let’s look at how many hours I got paid for here compared to how many hours I would have gotten paid for as both an hourly and salaried employee in this same situation.

hourly vs salary vs 40 hour comparison

As you can see, as a traveler with a 40 hour guarantee I got paid for 209 hours of work, about 10 hours more than an hourly (198 hours) or salaried permanent employee (200 hours) would have in this 5 week span. Multiply this extra pay out over the course of a year, and it can mean being paid for many more hours than the permanent staff at these same  facilities on top of the already much higher pay that we make each week as travelers! That’s a huge benefit that shouldn’t be overlooked or discounted.

Over the years, I’ve been paid for hundreds of hours that I didn’t actually work due to the 40 hour guarantees in my contracts, which wouldn’t have happened with a strictly hourly position, while also getting paid for hundreds of hours of overtime at various facilities, which wouldn’t have happened with a salaried position. Ultimately, that means thousands of extra dollars in my bank account each year, which is one of many factors contributing to me being able to reach financial independence so quickly!


Do you always ensure that you have a 40 hour guarantee in your contracts? Let us know in the comments!

If you need help getting in touch with recruiters that will have your back, then fill out this form and we’ll help you out! If you have questions about 40 hour guarantees or anything else travel therapy related, feel free to send us a message.

You can also follow along with our travels on Instagram @TravelTherapyMentor (with occasional giveaways!) and tune into our weekly Facebook Live videos on the Travel Therapy Mentor Facebook page to learn more about travel therapy!

Leveraging Travel Therapy for Long Term International Travel

Whitney and I have recently started to take full advantage of our travel physical therapy careers to be able to explore the world. Last year we traveled around the world for five months, and this year we’re currently on week two of a 15 week trip all over Europe. We aren’t sure about our plans for the rest of the year once this trip is over, but it’s entirely possible that we will spend another couple of months out of the country (or road tripping around the US), and we will certainly be planning another long international trip next year! It’s a big world out there, and there’s a lot we want to see in the next few years before potentially settling down somewhere.

We feel very fortunate to be able to take these long trips each year, and they are made 100% possible by our choice to start working as Travel PTs immediately after graduation in 2015. How, you ask? The flexibility offered by travel therapy is certainly a big part of the equation. Being able to take unlimited time off of work between contracts, along with making nearly a full time permanent PT salary working just 6 months per year is a winning combination for taking months off to travel the world!

Why Long International Trips?

People with all manner of jobs choose to travel internationally, so that’s nothing unique to travel healthcare. The problem with most permanent jobs, however, is that most won’t allow more than a maximum of two weeks of vacation time to be used at once. This is especially true in the permanent therapy world, where finding short term coverage for 3-4 weeks of continuous PTO would be difficult not only for the clinic but also for the patients on caseload. You can certainly see the world in shorter 1-2 week trips each year going to new places, but there are many disadvantages to doing it that way. During our travels, we’ve met many people in both Europe and Asia traveling from the United States that are taking short trips overseas, and without exception they’re either only seeing a couple of cities or are extremely rushed trying to pack in more cities in a short time. Rushing from place to place while on an international vacation is a sure way to come back home even more tired than when you left, especially when factoring in jet lag!

More Than Just Tourist Attractions

Another big downside to short trips is less time to really interact and learn about the country from the locals in the area. With only a few days in a city, those days are almost always filled with primarily the tourist attractions, which means plenty of interaction with other tourists and store owners, but very little real interaction with locals! We’ve really enjoyed having extra days (to weeks!) on top of the few required to see the tourist sights to just walk and wander around the area, and this has led to some of our best experiences while overseas. The tourist attractions are great, but there is a lot to be missed with a rushed trip from one attraction to the next with no spontaneity involved!

Lower Cost of International Trips

The last and biggest disadvantage of short international trips in my book is the higher cost on a per day basis. The biggest costs on almost any international trip are the plane tickets to and from the country. Flights are almost never cheap, and leaving the country is generally more pricey, especially to places like Asia and Australia. Even with using credit card points, the value of the points used has to be taken into account since there’s an opportunity cost associated with using those points going to one location instead of somewhere else on a future trip. In addition to the plane tickets, booking longer stays in a location can significantly reduce accommodation costs.

These cost factors, combined with hopping from one overpriced tourist attraction to the next without the lower cost days mixed in just wandering around the city and taking in the sights, will almost always make short term international trips much more expensive on a per day basis than long term international trips. Last year on our 5 month trip, I was able to keep my total expenses to less than $37/day! There is no way that would have been possible on a 1-2 week trip to similar locations. 

The Importance of Patience

While it’s certainly possible for therapists to graduate and immediately start taking travel contracts half the year, and travel internationally the other half of the year, I wouldn’t recommend it. Even with the lower costs of longer term international travel, expenses can add up quickly, especially with no income at all coming in for half of the year. For the financial peace of mind, I always encourage other therapists with similar international travel aspirations as us to work 3-4 travel contracts per year for at least a year or two and save heavily to make some headway toward financial independence, before jumping into long stints adventuring around the world like we are currently doing! This is the path we took. We worked continuously for the first three years, working back to back travel PT contracts, then started taking off half the year (or more) after year three.

Conclusion

Travel therapy (really travel healthcare of any sort) offers the unique advantages of higher pay and unlimited time off, which form the perfect recipe for long stints of international travel. There are clear advantages to long term international travel over short term travel, which is generally impossible with full time permanent employment as a therapist. It’s always a good idea to save up a cushion of cash and investments for financial peace of mind before moving into a “semi-retirement” type lifestyle with long trips each year. We are extremely fortunate to be able to leverage our travel therapy careers to be able to spend long periods of time out of the country, experiencing the totality of what the world has to offer!

Have you taken long international trips in the past or do you plan to in the future? Let us know in the comments!

Written by: Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

jared doctor of physical therapy

Why and How to Work with Multiple Travel Therapy Companies and Recruiters

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

Understanding The Process

When therapists are looking at getting into traveling therapy, it can be challenging to learn the ins and outs and understand how it all works. If you’re new to travel therapy, you’ve hopefully already learned that you need to find a great recruiter and company to help you navigate the process of finding contracts and landing your dream jobs. However, did you know that you should be working with multiple companies and recruiters? We, as well as most other travel therapists you’ll talk to, recommend this. But why? And how does that even work? How can you work with more than one company? If you want to learn more, keep reading!

Why Do I Need Multiple Companies/Recruiters?

The answer: options! Not every travel company has access to the same jobs, so if you are working with only one company, you’re limiting your job options. This is especially true if you have a specific location or setting in mind, or if the market is particularly slow for your discipline, such as for PTAs and COTAs (and somewhat for OT’s) currently.

Why do different travel companies have different jobs? Facilities can choose who they advertise job openings to. Some staffing agencies (travel companies) have exclusive or direct contracts with certain facilities, that other agencies don’t have. Whereas, the majority of jobs are listed on a type of database called a Vendor Management System (VMS). All companies will have access to jobs listed on VMS’s. This is where you will see a lot of overlap in the job availability among different companies, but the outliers will be the exclusive or direct contracts each one has.

Besides job availability, another reason to work with multiple companies is that each company may be able to offer you different pay and benefits. Every company operates differently; depending on the size of the company and how they manage their budgets, some may be able to offer higher pay for the same job. Also their benefits can differ, including health insurance options (and start dates), retirement accounts (and when you can contribute), and additional benefits such as reimbursements for CEUs, licensing, and relocation. If you don’t work with multiple companies, you won’t ever know the differences and what benefits could be available to you with different companies. This is important to learn in the beginning when you’re first researching and talking to companies, but it’s also important during each and every new job search. Even if you tend to like the pay and benefits better with Company A, sometimes Company B might have a job that Company A doesn’t have. So it’s important to maintain communication with them both.

In addition to the differences in companies, there are differences in recruiters. It’s important, especially in the beginning, to work with multiple recruiters so you can find out which ones you like the best, as well as learn from them. Different recruiters may divulge more or less information about the process of finding travel jobs, the contracts, the pay, the benefits, etc. This is helpful for you from a business perspective. The more you can learn about the industry, the better off you’re going to be in your own career as a travel therapist. By working with only one recruiter, you’ll only ever know what that person tells you. You have no basis for comparison for whether this information is accurate or whether this is the best recruiter. You can also learn from the way that one recruiter/company does things and presents things to you, and compare that with the way another one works so you can ask better questions and grow professionally. All of these things can help you to find the best jobs, get the highest pay, and have overall the best experience as a travel therapist.

But, How Does it Work?

Okay so now you understand WHY you need to work with multiple recruiters/companies. But how?

So when we say “work with,” this just means maintain communication with them. You’re not technically working for them or an employee of theirs until you take a contract. So, the whole period where you’re searching for jobs, you are a “free agent.” You can be in communication with several different recruiters and have all of them searching for jobs for you.

We recommend initially you talk to 3-5 different recruiters and “interview them” to find out who you like. Here are some questions you may consider asking them to figure out who’s the best. Then narrow it down to about 2-3 that you like and would be happy working with/taking jobs with if the right opportunity arises. Then, you’ll need to fill out the necessary paperwork for each company, so that they are able to submit you for potential job offers. They’ll need some basic demographic information, your resume, usually a couple references, and sometimes even your CPR card and SSN in order to set up a profile for you that they can submit to potential employers. It’s important to understand that giving this information to 2-3 companies does NOT mean you are employed by them! They just need to have this information on file so that they can submit you to POTENTIAL job offers for interviews. So once you decide on your top 2-3 recruiters, don’t be hesitant to give them this information and fill out the necessary paperwork. Otherwise, they can’t submit you for potential interviews, which is the next step to getting you to your dream travel jobs!

Now, once you’ve got your 2-3 recruiters on the prowl for jobs for you, they’ll start letting you know when they see a good job that fits your search criteria. It’s important that you let them know you’re working with a few different companies, so they should not “blind submit” you to jobs. This means they should be asking you first (“There is a job in Tampa, Florida, start date 7/1, Skilled Nursing. Can I submit you to this job?”). When you’re working with multiple companies, it’s important that you don’t let them submit you to the same job, resulting in a “double submission.” (Although this is not the end of the world if it happens, it’s not ideal). If more than one of the recruiters has the same job offer, you need to pick which one you want to go with. Sometimes this comes down to which company can offer better pay or better benefits for the same job.

As far as communicating to the recruiters that you’re working with multiple, we always recommend being up front about this in the beginning. If you’re working with a good recruiter, they will understand this. If a recruiter gives you a hard time about working with others, this is not a recruiter you want to work with.

So, once you’ve been submitted to a couple jobs, maybe by a couple different recruiters, and you’ve had the interviews, then you may get an offer or more than one offer. You will decide then which job you want to take, based on how the job sounds, the pay package, the benefits etc. Once you’ve decided on a job, and you sign a contract, then you are now employed by that travel company that got you the job, just for the duration of that contract. This is when you let your other recruiters know that you’ve secured a position and are no longer searching, and no longer interested in the other potential job options they had for you. You let them know your end date for that contract, and when/where you’ll be looking for your next job.

While you’re on this contract and employed by this company, this recruiter will be your main point of contact. The company will manage your pay and benefits for the duration of that contract. But, you can still keep in touch with your other recruiters to let them know what you’re thinking for your next contract (“When I finish this job on October 1st, I’d like to take my next job in California.”) So as your contract nears its end date, you’re back on the market for a new job, and have no obligation to take the next job with the same travel company. You can switch between companies whenever you want.

How Do Benefits Work When Switching Between Companies?

Okay so this is always the next question. If you switch companies, what happens with your benefits? This can be the downside of switching between companies. This situation will vary company to company. It’s important to ask each recruiter how their insurance coverage works. Many will start on the first day of your contract. So if you finish up a contract with Company A and your insurance terminates on the last day of your contract, let’s say Friday- but then you start a new job with Company B on Monday, hopefully you’ll only go 2 days without insurance between jobs. However, if Company B’s insurance doesn’t start until day 30 or the first of the month, you’ll have a lapse in your insurance. Or, if you decide to take a longer period off between jobs, you’ll also have a longer lapse.

However, if you take your next contract with Company A (take two back to back contracts with the same company) and take a few days to a few weeks off between jobs, usually your insurance will carry over during the gap. This is a big benefit to sticking with the same company. It does vary by company the length of time they’ll cover you between contracts, but usually it’s about 3 weeks or up to 30 days.

There are some exceptions to this. There are a few smaller companies who have more flexibility in their agreements with insurance companies that will allow coverage to start before your job begins, or can extend coverage beyond your contract end date, even if you aren’t working for them during the next contract. But this is more rare, so you’ll need to ask around to find out if your travel company can do this.

To learn more about your options on insurance coverage, including using COBRA to manage lapses in coverage, check out this article on insurance as a traveler.

Besides insurance, another company benefit to consider is your retirement savings account, or 401k plan. This can be another downside of switching between companies, as many require you to work for them for a certain period before you are able to contribute to their 401k. This is the fine print you’ll need to look into if a company sponsored retirement account is important to you. Being eligible to contribute continuously to a 401k with your travel company may be a consideration that sways you to stay with the same company continuously.

There are some companies that allow contributions to 401k immediately, so it’s possible you could contribute to one during one contract, then another during another contract. In this case, you could be maintaining more than one 401k account. Then later, it’s pretty easy to roll them all over to an individual retirement account (IRA) that you manage rather than keeping different accounts with different companies.

Summary

So in summary, there are lots of benefits to working with multiple travel therapy companies/recruiters, but there are downsides as well. Most travel therapists, us included, will recommend you maintain communication with multiple to give yourself the most job options, help ensure the best pay, and learn the most about the industry to help set yourself up for success. However, this process can be challenging at times and does come with certain limitations when switching between companies during different contracts.

If you want to learn more or have questions, please feel free to contact us. If you’d like recommendations on travel therapy companies and recruiters we know and trust, we can help you with that here!

Looking to Start Your #RVLife? We’re Selling Our Camper and Truck!

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

Are you a current healthcare traveler, or aspiring to be a healthcare traveler? Have you considered traveling in an RV? Are you in the market for one now?

If you’re located near Virginia/North Carolina and are looking to buy used, you’re in luck, because our fifth wheel travel trailer and diesel truck are for SALE!

Many travel healthcare professionals (therapists, nurses, technicians, and more) choose to travel in an RV for ease of moving between contracts, lower cost of living, and having their own space! Jared and I were among those travel therapists living the #RVLife. We traveled and lived in our fifth wheel camper for almost 3 years. We loved living in our RV. It was our first “home” together. We moved quickly from one contract to the next, moving city to city, state to state, often over just a weekend between jobs. We learned about “tiny living” and became more minimalistic. It tested our relationship in all the right ways between learning to navigate a tiny kitchen making dinner together, managing repairs, and making jokes about “going upstairs” to get some space!

fifthwheeltraveltrailer

Now that Jared and I have decided to transition into working only part time as traveling physical therapists, and are living an “alternative lifestyle” by traveling internationally several months per year, we have not been using our RV as much. We have decided to sell both our fifth wheel and our truck, rather than leave them in storage several months out of the year.

As we transition into a different phase in our lives, we hope that someone else can start their own travel journey with our beloved fifth wheel and truck!

See below for some details about the camper and truck, as well as some pictures! If you’re interested, know someone who might be, or would like more details, please send us a message!

 

Location: Roanoke, Virginia or Charlotte, NC and surrounding areas

Truck: 2005 Ford F-250, 4-door extended cab, extended bed, Diesel engine, with fifth wheel hitch installed in bed, 110,000 miles

Camper: 2009 Coachmen Chapparal 278DS fifth wheel travel trailer, 32ft long, 2 slide outs (living room and bedroom)

Asking Price: $26,000 ($12,000 for camper alone, $14,000 for truck alone)

 

camperandtruck
Truck and Camper
camper
Fifth Wheel Camper Unhooked
backside
Rear of the Camper
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Truck and Camper with Bedroom Slide Out
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Truck and Camper
downstairs
Living Space Viewed from the “Upstairs”
couch
Large Couch and Ottoman, Lots of Storage
dining
Reclining Theatre Seating with Cupholders, and Dining Area
entertainment
Entertainment and Kitchen
kitchen
Entertainment and Kitchen
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Kitchen
livingroom
Living Space, Amazing Furniture
bathroom
Bathroom (upstairs)
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Bathroom
bedroom
Bedroom with Slide Out, Closet, Drawers, Bed Lifts Up for Storage
dresser
Dresser, Lots of Storage
drivers
Interior of Truck
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Front Seats

seats

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Tow Package
truckseats
Back Seat
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Fifth Wheel Hitch Installed
Layout
Camper Layout (Coachmen Chapparal 278DS 2009 Model)

The Single Biggest Advantage of Travel Therapy

Written by: Jared Casazza, PT, DPT


In the past I’ve written several articles on the financial advantages of being a travel therapist and how those advantages have allowed Whitney and me to embark on an alternative lifestyle full of international travel. In fact, I’ve always made it known that the financial aspects of being a travel therapist are the biggest reasons I was so dead set on going down the path of travel therapy even two years prior to graduation. However, there is one even bigger advantage that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately that is even more important to me than making more money… and that is flexibility.

The Many Faces of Flexibility

Flexibility as a travel therapist comes in many forms. There’s the flexibility to take extended periods of time off.

  • I’m currently writing this after last working over 6 months ago.

There’s the flexibility to try out different settings for a three month stint to see if you have any interest in that area.

  • I’ve now worked in outpatient ortho, acute care, home health, skilled nursing, and wound care while traveling.

There’s the flexibility to choose to invest money instead of paying down student debt.

  • This is primarily due to travel therapists having lower taxable income meaning a lower monthly income based payment due each month. And this is the path I’ve chosen for my own finances.

There’s even the flexibility to decide if pay or travel location is more important to you for the next three months and to change your mind about that decision after each assignment.

  • Occasionally these two coincide, but generally higher paying contracts are in less desirable areas.

Flexible Time Off

Starting out traveling as a new grad, I was most concerned about making as much money as possible to offset my student loan debt (and in my case, start investing heavily early in my career). For that reason, pay was the primary consideration for me, but I’ve recently found that the flexibility to take time off is even more important. These things go hand in hand to some degree, because without making so much more money as a traveler, it would be difficult to take extended time off of work, but the flexibility goes beyond that.

If I had taken a permanent job out of school, there’s little doubt it my mind that I also would have saved a large percentage of my income despite the lower total pay at a permanent job. After a couple of years, I would have likely had enough saved to take an extended trip out of the country, but because of the nature of a permanent position this would have been impossible. After all, it’s difficult to find a permanent employer in healthcare that is willing to let an employee take two consecutive weeks off, much less 5 months! So to me, the flexibility in time off allowed by travel therapy is huge.

Flexibility to Try New Settings

The flexibility to try out different settings is something that I didn’t know at first would be a benefit of traveling. I was always most interested in outpatient ortho as a student and undoubtedly would have taken a permanent job in this area had I not decided to travel. Whitney with her Athletic Training background was 100% in agreement with me in this area. To my surprise, after taking a couple of contracts in other areas, I found that I actually really enjoy home health and even wound care!

As a student, wound care was something that I was terrified of, and I would have never willingly taken a job with that requirement if it wasn’t for knowing it was only for three months. Home health is an area that I started to become interested in, but I most likely wouldn’t have taken the leap into trying it out at a permanent job due to fear of the unknown. As a traveler, it is much easier to get over that fear when you have a predetermined end date that you know will be there pretty quickly if it turns out you really don’t like the job (this was skilled nursing for me).

Flexibility to Invest Instead of Paying Down Debt

I’m not sure if investing instead of paying off my debt is something that I would have done if I had taken a permanent job, but there’s no doubt that it’s more feasible as a travel therapist. The biggest reason is that with a lower taxable pay as a travel therapist comes a lower income based student loan payment. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a big deal, but when using the REPAYE income based repayment plan, this becomes more important.

The reason is that under REPAYE, half of the accumulated interest each month is subsidized, which ends up being a massive benefit for travel therapists who choose an income driven repayment plan. For me, this is the difference between having an effective interest rate of 6% on my loans versus an effective interest rate of 3.2%. Or, to put this in different terms, it’s the difference between my student debt growing at $500/month versus growing at $266/month.

If you take into account that the stock market returns on average 7-10%, then you can see why investing your money to get that return instead of paying off low interest debt at 3% would make sense. Having the interest accumulate much more slowly makes investing instead of paying down my student debt a no-brainer in my current situation.

Flexibility to Choose Between Pay and Location

Since the primary motivator of travel therapy for Whitney and me was pay, to this point we’ve always chosen to take higher paying travel contracts in rural areas. In addition to the higher pay, we like the slower pace, caring people, and lower cost of living that goes along with traveling to rural areas. Although rural areas are great for us, they lack the excitement of being closer to bigger cities and more desirable areas.

In the future, as money becomes less and less of a motivating factor for us as we approach financial independence, location is likely going to become more important. For example, we’ll likely sacrifice pay and low cost of living at some point to take travel assignments in Hawaii and southern California, which is something that we would never have done three years ago when starting out.

Take Home Points

It’s inevitable that priorities change throughout one’s life. The many different forms of flexibility offered by travel therapy have made pursuing these changes in desires and priorities much more feasible for Whitney and me. Starting out, we never would have guessed that some day we would value being able to take 5 months off to travel around the world, being able to experiment with different settings, or being able to try out the city life without committing to it long term. Travel therapy has given us the ability to do all of the above due to the flexibility, and that has been priceless!

 

jared doctor of physical therapy

Author: Jared Casazza, PT, DPT – Traveling Doctor of Physical Therapy – Aggressively seeking Financial Independence early in his career