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

Pursuing Travel Therapy in an RV

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC


A common concern when considering pursuing travel therapy is how to set up housing for each travel assignment. Some therapists will choose to have housing set up by their travel company, while some will choose to find short term rentals, but another option that is growing in popularity is choosing to live in an RV.

Both Jared and I, as well as Travis and Julia, all have chosen to live the RV lifestyle and travel this way. There is a lot to learn when it comes to going this route, so I’d like to share with you some of the basics of pursuing travel therapy in an RV.


Our Journey to the RV Life

camperpic

Jared and I first decided we wanted to travel in an RV during our second year of physical therapy school, in 2014. We knew that we were going to begin travel therapy immediately after graduation in May 2015. We started looking into some of the logistics of finding short term housing for travel assignments, and we realized that moving every 13 weeks, including packing all of our stuff and setting up housing, was going to be a real pain. We decided that for us, having our own little home with all of our stuff packed in would make life easier moving from place to place. We figured we could move more quickly between assignments, decreasing down time/unpaid time off. We also figured it would be cheaper in the long run if we purchased a used RV and could resell it later. So, we were sold on the RV life, and started our search.

We ended up waiting until 6 months into our travel physical therapy careers to purchase our rig so that we could buy it outright and not finance, so we have only had one experience with short term housing in 3.5 years, which was during our first 6 months of work, and we found housing on Craigslist. Since then, we have traveled exclusively in our camper.

Our journey with the camper life hasn’t always been smooth sailing, and we’re honestly not sure if we actually came out significantly ahead financially after all is said and done, but overall we are happy with our choice! There is a lot to consider though, so you need to weigh all the options before you pursue it. Let’s go over some of the main considerations.

Most of these considerations are for newbies to the RV life who plan to do it only because of travel therapy. If you’re already an experienced RVer, and already have an RV, then what are you waiting for?! 😉


Considerations for Choosing the RV Travel Life

  1. Are you going to travel more than 1.5 to 2 years?
    • This is important to consider whether or not the financial investment of purchasing an RV is worth it in the long run.
  2. Can you find a reasonably priced RV and/or truck/trailer combo?
    • If you’re paying a high price for an RV, or financing a new RV, the financial investment will likely outweigh the financial benefit of you working travel contracts. That is, if financial gain is a primary motivator for you.
  3. Are you handy, or willing to learn what it takes for repairs and maintenance?
    • Having an RV is like having a home– on wheels. Things break. It does require quite a bit of upkeep and maintenance. You need to know that going in.
  4. Are you up for an adventure if breakdowns or malfunctions occur?
    • These things do happen, and you have to know how you’re going to respond in a situation with a breakdown or major malfunction. You could wind up stranded somewhere for a while, waiting on repairs, making you late for a contract (hopefully not if you plan ahead). You could have to vacate your RV for a little while to have repairs done. Are these things you’re willing to deal with? It sure can be a relationship builder if you are!
  5. Are you comfortable staying in an RV park/campground setting?
    • RV parks and campgrounds are generally very nice. They are not the same as “trailer parks.” But, you do have to be willing to be a little outdoorsy.
  6. Are you (or your partner) comfortable driving an RV?
    • You need to know if you’re comfortable driving, parking, and backing in the RV; unless you plan to pay to have someone move it for you.
  7. Are you comfortable dealing with emptying waste water and sewage tanks?
    • This is something that us girly-girls might not be okay with. I thought it would bother me at first, but it really isn’t a big deal.

Logistics of Buying an RV

  • New or Used?
    • You can choose to buy new or used, but we recommend used because new ones can be very expensive and depreciate rapidly the first few years! And with our financial independence mindset, financing something like that is not an option. It’s as bad of a financial decision, or worse, than buying a brand new car. The depreciation is significant!
  • How old is too old? 
    • When you buy used, you want to choose one that’s less than 10 years old, because some RV parks don’t allow older rigs for aesthetic reasons. Also, the older ones are likely to have more mechanical problems. So you’ll need to consider your budget, and try to find a fairly nice used rig preferably.
  • Motorhome vs. travel trailer? 
    • For newbies, do your research on the difference. Motorhomes are the kind you drive (like a bus/van) and come in Class A, B, and C. Travel Trailers are the kind you pull with a truck, and there are Pull Behinds, Fifth Wheels, and Toy Haulers. There are a couple other types, but for the purpose of long term living, these are the best options for most people. Unless you want to consider a Pop-Up Trailer, but I feel they’re too small for long term living although we did live beside a couple that was making it work.
    • Our biggest consideration between a Motorhome vs. a Travel Trailer was that we needed to have two vehicles for work. So we figured if we got a truck and travel trailer combo, the truck would serve as one vehicle, while I would drive my car separately. We figured if we had a motorhome, we’d still need two cars, so then we would have three vehicles with engines that could potentially have issues! And we figured that if there was engine or other trouble with the drive train of the motorhome, we’d have to take our whole home in for repairs. So we chose the truck and fifth wheel trailer combo!
  • Do Your Research. 
    • Read up on pros and cons of different brands, layouts, model years, etc. This is especially true for trucks and motorhomes, as different model years could have had recalls, known problems, or certain parts that didn’t operate as well, such as the engine!
  • Choosing the Best One. 
    • The best thing to do is go to a couple dealerships or RV shows and go inside a whole bunch! This will help you narrow down what you are looking for as far as size, layout, and amenities. We chose a fifth wheel vs. a standard pull behind travel trailer because it seemed to be more spacious. We also found that with Jared being 6’4″, he had trouble standing in a lot of the showers, so check the showers and ceilings, tall guys!
  • Getting it Inspected. 
    • If you’re buying used, and you’re not familiar with RVs, it’s a good idea to pay someone who is familiar with RVs to come and check it out for you. We didn’t do this, and we wound up with one that had some water damage we later had to repair, because we didn’t know what to look for.
  • Where to buy? 
    • We scoured RVTrader.com, Craigslist, and local dealerships. We ended up finding one listed on RVTrader.com, then went to see it where it was located 3 hours away. We bought through Camping World, which we felt comfortable with because we also bought an extended warranty plan. We found our truck on Craigslist.
  • Payment/Financing. 
    • Again, we’re not fans of financing, so we chose to work hard for 6 months in order to save up and buy with cash. We realize this may not be an option for everyone. So do what suits you. But generally speaking, it’s along the same lines of the process of buying a car as far as loans go.

Finding Where to Stay

Now, the big consideration with using your RV to take travel assignments around the country, is figuring out where to stay! Sometimes, it can be slightly limiting on your job search, because there are not places to park your RV just anywhere, especially in big cities. Generally, your contracts will need to be more on the outskirts at places they are more likely to have campgrounds. We personally never accept a contract before we have found out for certain that we will have a place to park our RV nearby.

  • Campgrounds/RV Parks:
    • Search Google, use the Good Sam website/app, and call around!
    • You need to make sure that when you do your search, you check to see if it’s just a “campground” or an actual “RV Park.” Some campgrounds are just for tent and weekend camping, not to park RVs, and not for long term.
    • You want to find out if the RV park has “full hookups” (this includes water, sewer, and electric at your site).
    • You want to find out if the campground is open year round because some of them close for the season during the winter, especially up north!
    • You need to call and see if they do monthly stays. Some of them only allow a few days up to two weeks, and will not allow you to stay month to month for your full 13 week contract.
    • Find out if they actually have availability/open sites when you’re going to need to be there for your contract. Places like Arizona and Florida when the snowbirds/retirees come down in Winter to live might be full months in advance!
    • Find out about the amenities they offer, like wifi and cable, and if it’s included in the monthly price or it’s extra. Find out of the electric is included in a set price or if it’s metered based on how much you use.
    • Find out if they have any other amenities like a pool, a store, laundry facilities, or a bathhouse in case you just need a real shower (or in case your water freezes in the camper)!
  • Other Options:
    • Sometimes you can find places on Craigslist that are not exactly campgrounds, but have hook ups for campers. This might be someone’s house or property, maybe a farm or a field that they’ve equipped with hook up sites.
    • Depending what type of RV you have and how easy it is to move around, you could potentially get away with staying somewhere that just had a water source and electric source, then you could go occasionally to a separate dump site for your sewage.
    • Another option if you didn’t have direct sewage hookup at your site is having a Septic Service come out periodically to pump your sewage for a fee, so you don’t have to move your rig.
    • There are some people out there that choose to “boondock” or “dry camp.” This involves staying in a parking lot somewhere or at someone’s house where you didn’t have hookups, just a place to park. You can generally get by on this for a few days or possibly a couple weeks by filling your water storage tanks, having some source of electricity such as a generator or solar panels, using other sources of energy such as a gas stove or battery power, going to a dump station as needed (or as mentioned above utilizing a septic service), or just finding alternative bathroom solutions instead of using your actual bathroom facilities in the RV (think: shower at the gym? I’m not saying it’s the greatest, but sometimes people do what they gotta do)! —-But personally I would not recommend this long term!

There is a ton more I could discuss regarding the RV Travel Therapy Life, but I hope I’ve covered at least the basics for now! I will write future posts going more in depth on issues you might encounter with traveling in an RV, such as logistics of moving place to place, maintenance and repairs, living in different climates, and various pros vs. cons!

Are you considering pursuing travel therapy in an RV? Do you have questions? We have mentored many people on their journeys to living the RV travel life. Jared and I now have 3 years of experience living and traveling in an RV, and Travis and Julia have over a year of experience. Please feel free to reach out to us with your questions, or leave us a comment below!

Whitney

Author: Whitney Eakin