Navigating Travel Therapy as a Pair

Pros and Cons of Traveling Together

Whitney and I have been traveling as a physical therapist (PT) pair for almost 5 years now since we were new grad PTs in 2015. During this time, we have learned a lot about both the benefits and the disadvantages of traveling as a healthcare pair. Traveling with a healthcare partner can be a wonderful experience and can make pursuing a travel healthcare career much easier in some ways, but there are certainly some struggles to be had at times. If you’re considering pursuing travel therapy with a partner or friend, here are some of the biggest pros and cons you should consider, based on our experiences.

Pros:

  1. Having a guaranteed adventure buddy!It’s not uncommon for Whitney and I to have some sort of adventure planned nearly every single weekend when we’re away on travel assignments. This is especially true if we’re in an area where we’ve never been before and there are lots of things we want to do and see within a few hours drive. For example, while working in Massachusetts, we took weekend trips to Boston, New York City, Rhode Island x 2, Maine x 2, New Hampshire x 2, Vermont, Connecticut, Quebec City, and Montreal! That was a busy and exciting few months! In our opinion, going on hikes, visiting waterfalls, and exploring cities is a lot more fun with a partner. It’s certainly possible to find someone to explore with in a new area as a single traveler, but it can be much harder than taking your adventure buddy with you!
  2. Saving money on housing expenses!Our thoughts on this have actually shifted a little over time. Initially we looked at it as basically half the costs when traveling as a pair due to being able to split housing and utility costs when at each location. While this is true theoretically, in reality housing options are more limited and more expensive for a pair than for a single traveler in many cases. This is especially the case when comparing a single traveler that’s willing to rent a room in a house to a travel therapy pair. We’ve found that most people who are renting a room in their house don’t want two people there and if they will allow it, they always want higher rent each month. That almost always leaves the travel pair looking for an apartment of some sort, which can often be 2-3x as much as a room in a house. But, when comparing traveling as a pair and renting an apartment to traveling as a single traveler who wants their own space and isn’t willing to rent a room in a house, the pair will come out ahead by splitting housing and utility costs!
  3. Less potential loneliness!We’ve met tons of single travelers that seem to really thrive on getting a brand new start in each location. But we’ve also met many other single travelers that feel lonely when starting a new assignment, or never start traveling at all because they fear being away from everyone they know. This seems to be the case even more so for travel assignments in rural locations where there is less to do and it’s harder to meet people outside of the clinic. We find that many single travelers avoid rural locations because they’re afraid they won’t be able to meet new friends or find people to hang out with when population density is lower and options are more limited. Meanwhile, Whitney and I love traveling to rural places as a pair due to the more laid back environment, lower cost of living, and usually more friendly people. We know that even if we don’t meet new friends in the area that we will always have each other to hang out and do things with! And it decreases our loneliness from being far away from our home community, family and friends.

Cons:

  1. Less available jobs.This is definitely the biggest downside to traveling as a pair in our opinion. While there might be hundreds of open travel PT jobs throughout the country, there are usually less than a dozen jobs that are outpatient (the setting we prefer) and close enough to each other for us to consider at a given time. We’ve been lucky to mostly avoid lengthy commutes and find consistent outpatient jobs near each other, but we’ve had to be much more flexible on the location we’re willing to go to in order to make that happen. When we’re looking for new states to get licensed in, we aren’t necessarily looking for where we really want to go, but instead where we have the best chances of finding two outpatient jobs close to each other since that’s our main priority. For a travel therapy pair, it is vital to be lenient on either setting, location, or both, whereas a single traveler will undoubtedly be able to be more picky when job searching.
  2. Less negotiating power on new contracts.Anyone familiar with negotiation knows that the more good options you have, the more negotiating power you have. For a single traveler with many jobs that fit their criteria, it’s not a big deal if they miss out on a job by playing hardball to make a little extra money on a contract or passing on a job until the perfect one comes along. They’ll almost always be able to find something else that is decent with a start date in their desired time frame (provided they aren’t being too picky). For a travel pair, trying to negotiate for higher pay on good fitting contracts can lead to missing out on one or both of the jobs, which means going back to the drawing board and potentially one or more weeks of missed work. Because of this, Whitney and I only work with recruiters that we trust to give us their best offer right off the bat so we don’t risk missing out on two good jobs near each other, which can sometimes be tough to find.
  3. More difficulty finding housing.As mentioned above, a travel therapy pair will have less housing options in any given location than a single traveler will. This is simply due to the fact that landlords offering some rooms or small efficiency apartments will only accept an individual, not a pair. This difficulty with finding viable and affordable housing was the primary driver of us deciding to buy our fifth wheel camper. For our very first assignments in a rural area of Virginia, we spent dozens of hours trying to find housing, only to settle on a less than ideal place. Had we been single travelers, there were rooms in houses in the surrounding area where we could have stayed, but none of them would accept a pair!

Is Traveling as a Healthcare Pair for You?

When comparing travel therapy as a pair versus traveling as an individual, I really think the pros and cons even out. This depends highly on your personality though. If you’re an extroverted person who’s great at making new friends, is willing to rent a cheap room in a house, and isn’t worried about being lonely, then traveling by yourself will be an awesome adventure and you’ll almost certainly come out ahead when compared to a travel therapy pair. If you’re more introverted (like me O_O), wouldn’t want to rent a room and live with a stranger, and want someone to experience new things with, then traveling as a pair would probably be better.

Unfortunately not everyone has the ability to choose between the two, as we usually encounter single therapists that are going to travel by themselves or not at all, and couples or friends that are going to travel together or not at all. In that case, it’s important to understand the pros and cons and be willing to accept them whatever your situation happens to be, and employ certain strategies to make traveling successful!

Strategies for Traveling as a Pair

Taking into account these pros and cons for traveling as a pair, there are lots of strategies we’ve learned over time that go into being a successful travel pair. Here are our top suggestions for traveling as a pair:

  1. Be Flexible!As I alluded to above, it’s important for travel pairs to be flexible on setting, location, and/or pay in order to successfully line up two jobs together. These variables are always at play regardless of whether you’re traveling as a pair or traveling solo, but when traveling as a pair, your top priority has to be finding two good jobs close together, so the other factors have to go lower on your priority list. In an ideal situation, you’d always find two jobs together, in your favorite setting, in the perfect location, and with the highest pay. Sometimes all the stars align and this is the case, but realistically you need to be as flexible as possible on these factors to maintain consistent employment as a healthcare pair.
  2. Work with multiple recruiters!We always recommend that travelers, whether traveling solo or as a pair, work with more than one recruiter to give themselves the most job options and be able to compare how different recruiters/companies operate, and compare pay and benefits on different offers. However this is most crucial for travel pairs. It is much more challenging to find two jobs together, so pairs need to have as many job options available as possible. We generally recommend working with 3-4 different recruiters as a pair. While each recruiter will have access to some of the same jobs, they will each have some exclusive/direct jobs that the others may not have.
    • *For more information on the process of working with multiple recruiters and companies, check out this article.
    • *If you’d like specific recommendations from us for recruiters and companies that would work well for you as a pair, you can fill out this form.
  3. Strategically choose states licenses!In order to be more flexible on finding jobs, it’s important to have at least 2-3 different state licenses. You need to be strategic in choosing these state licenses, based on which states tend to have the most jobs for your disciplines. Over time, we’ve tracked different job lists and talked to several recruiters to learn the trends for which states tend to have more PT jobs for us. We also pay attention to which states tend to have two jobs closer together that will work well for us as a PT pair. In our experience, some states that have been good for PT pairs are: California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Massachusetts, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia. We have made sure to get licensed in a couple of these states, and we always have the license in advance before applying to jobs in each state.
  4. Scope out housing in advance!A final piece of advice we have for lining up travel jobs as a pair is being aware of the housing situation before accepting your contracts. Quite often, recruiters will try to pitch two jobs close together to you, stating that if you “live in the middle,” then you will each only have a commute of “X” time or distance. However, sometimes when you start looking more closely, you’ll see that there’s no way to actually live in the middle to make this a realistic commute for the both of you. Often, the only real housing options are closer to one job or the other, making the commute unrealistic for one of you, or the area has really bad traffic, so even though on the map it looks close, the commute time would be insane. We always try to at least scope out the housing options to see if there are viable options that will make the two jobs worth our while before we accept a position. Ideally, you’d try to secure the housing before accepting, but this is not always possible with how quickly contracts move in the travel healthcare world. So at least do a little housing research before you agree to any contracts!

The Bottom Line for This Travel Pair

For both Whitney and I, I don’t think we would have been adventurous enough to travel by ourselves, and we almost certainly wouldn’t have continued to travel for almost 5 years now if we weren’t traveling as a pair. Travel therapy as a pair has not only provided us with countless adventures and lifestyle flexibility but has also brought us closer together as a couple when we encounter the inevitable hardships. Despite the challenges that sometimes come with traveling as a pair, we wouldn’t change anything we’ve done to this point for the world!

If you’re a current traveler (individual or pair) let us know about your experience in the comments below!

 

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

Jared and his girlfriend Whitney have been traveling as a physical therapist pair since 2015. Together they form Travel Therapy Mentor and offer free advice and mentorship to current and future travel therapists!

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What is Travel Physical Therapy?

Did you know that you can get paid to travel for work as a physical therapist (PT)? In fact, physical therapist’s assistants (PTA), occupational therapists (OT), occupational therapist’s assistants (OTA), and speech language pathologists (SLP) can all get paid to travel!

Maybe you’ve heard of travel therapy (or travel nursing) before, but don’t really understand what it is or how it works. Travel physical therapy (“Travel PT”) and other travel therapy careers are growing in popularity, and for good reason, as it is actually a very accessible and lucrative career path.

Keep reading if you want to learn more about the basic ins and outs of travel physical therapy (and other disciplines!), and how you can get started!

 

What Is Travel Therapy?

Travel therapy is a career option for PTs/PTAs, OTs/OTAs, and SLPs/SLPAs allowing them to work temporary, short-term contracts while moving around to different facilities all over the United States. The length of each contract varies from a few weeks up to a year, but the most typical travel therapy contract length is 13 weeks (3 months). Travel therapists work at facilities that need a temporary employee for various reasons which could include: a temporary medical leave, a seasonal increase in caseload requiring increased staffing, or a short term staffing need while trying to hire a permanent employee.

Why Choose Travel Therapy?

There are many benefits of choosing a career in travel therapy. Financial gain is a major reason many therapists choose to travel, since travel therapists typically earn a higher income than permanent therapists. Another perk of choosing travel therapy is being able to explore new areas of the country and experience new adventures. Therapists can also gain experience in new practice settings, learn new skills, and meet new friends and co-workers. Plus, travel therapy can afford therapists significant lifestyle flexibility, as they can choose to work when they want to and take off from work when they want to. For example, we have been able to work only one or two 13-week contracts per year, while taking 6 months or more off from work each year to travel around the world for leisure!

For more on our domestic and international travel adventures, check out our travel physical therapy blog

How Does Travel Therapy Work?

There are different ways that a therapist can become a traveler, for example by working through a travel staffing company, working as an independent contractor, or working as an internal traveler through a particular medical system. The most common way is working through a staffing company, often referred to as a “travel company.”

Travel therapists, especially new grad travel therapists, often ask, “Which is the best travel company?” The truth is that there are well over 100 different travel companies out there, and they all have their pros and cons. Each travel therapist has their own unique situation and needs that will influence which travel company is best for him/her. Finding the ideal travel company for you can be difficult, but it helps to get individualized recommendations based on your situation.

If you’re wondering which travel company to choose, send us a message and we’ll give you personalized company recommendations based on our experience!

When working through a travel company, the therapist’s primary point of contact is the recruiter. Your recruiter helps you find travel therapy jobs, assists you throughout the process, and is a resource to you during your contract. The individual recruiter you work with can make or break your experience with a particular travel company. It’s vital to find a great recruiter at any company you choose to work with in order to have a successful travel therapy career. You want to search for a recruiter that is personable, trustworthy, attentive, and understanding. Unfortunately there are many recruiters out there that are willing to low ball travel therapists on pay and push therapists into a bad situation just to make money off of them. Be sure to choose wisely and reach out if you need help!

Travel therapists should communicate with more than one company in order to have the most job options, because not all companies have access to the same jobs. This also introduces a bit of healthy competition between recruiters, which discourages low ball pay offers that I mentioned earlier. Since the recruiters are working to get your business and are aware that you have other options, they are much more likely to present the therapist with the highest pay offer possible in order to not lose out to a different recruiter/company. Therapists are free to work with as many companies as they want, and they are only employees of one company during the length of one contract. There are no binding commitments to stay with one company for a certain length of time. Travel staffing companies are simply there to help you through the process and offer positions for you to pursue.

Travel therapists have a choice to take as many or as few contracts as they wish. They can work one 13-week contract, then decide they want to take a permanent job after that, or they can continuously work travel contracts for their entire careers, with short or long breaks between jobs. They also have a choice as to where they would like to go and when they would like to work. However, finding a position depends on the jobs that are available and the timing. Therapists have three major factors to consider when searching for positions: location, setting, and pay. The more flexible therapists are on these factors, the more job options they will have. If they are too particular, for example only willing to work in one setting and in one state, there will be less job options and may lead to extended periods of unwanted time off.

How Much Money Do Travel Physical Therapists Make?

Travel physical therapy salary is a major concern for many prospective travel PTs. This is no surprise with the massive amounts of student loans that many new grad physical therapists begin their career with these days! Travel physical therapists can sometimes make up to double what a permanent physical therapist would make! Similarly, travel OT’s, SLP’s and assistants can make quite a bit more than permanent therapists in these professions.

A typical weekly pay for a Travel PT would be between $1500 to $1800 after taxes. This is the equivalent of a permanent gross salary of over $120,000 in many cases! Some travel physical therapy jobs can pay as high as $2,000/week after taxes, although these jobs are usually on the west coast and in the home health setting. Travel SLPs and Travel OTs make similar weekly take home pay, while assistants can expect to make between $1100-1300 per week after taxes.

Travel therapist pay works a little differently than salary pay. Typically the travel therapist will be paid an hourly rate, plus a stipend for housing, meals and incidentals. The stipend is not taxed, as long as the therapist meets the IRS requirements for maintaining a proper tax home and traveling away from that tax home. Since part of the pay is untaxed, the net amount that the travel therapist keeps is much higher than with a permanent, salaried position. The bottom line is that a travel physical therapist salary, when working consistently throughout the year, is very high, and that is even the case for new grad travel physical therapists!

In What Settings Do Travel Therapists Work?

The most prevalent travel physical therapy jobs are in Skilled Nursing Facilities and home health, followed by outpatient and acute, then schools. Specialty settings such as pediatrics, neuro, and women’s health are less common to see for travel physical therapists. Skilled Nursing and home health are by far the most common for Travel PTA’s and Travel COTA’s. Travel OTs and Travel SLPs most often work in Skilled Nursing, acute, home health, and schools.

Do You Have to Be Licensed in Each State?

When moving to a new state to work as a travel therapist, you must have a license to work in the new state. Traditionally, therapists apply for licensure in each individual state in which they plan to work. Currently, physical therapists in some states are eligible for an an interstate licensure agreement called the “PT Compact” which makes licensing easier between states. Hopefully in the future, all 50 states will participate in this agreement, which would be a huge perk and make life much easier for travel physical therapists! Occupational and speech therapy organizations are in the process of working on this type of compact licensure as well, which would greatly benefit Travel OT’s and Travel SLP’s.

Do Travel Therapists Receive Benefits?

When therapists take travel contracts through a staffing agency, they become employees of the staffing agency, just like the recruiter with whom they’re communicating. During that contract, they are eligible to receive benefits (including health insurance, liability insurance, 401k, etc.) through the staffing company. They would maintain these benefits as long as they are on contract, and the benefits would carry over to the next contract and during short breaks between contracts if the therapist takes the next contract with the same company. If, however, the therapist switches companies, the benefits would change and switch to the new company.

If therapists choose to work as independent contractors, or choose to decline the benefits from the travel company, they would be responsible for maintaining their own benefits. For more information, check out this article explaining how benefits work as a travel therapist.

What About Housing?

There are many options for housing as a travel therapist. The staffing agency can help you set up housing, however it is often better to set up your own housing. If they set up your housing for you, they will not pay you a housing stipend, and your weekly pay would be reduced. If you opt to set up your own housing, they will pay you the tax-free housing stipend, and you are responsible for making your own housing arrangements.

There are a variety of ways to go about searching for short term housing as a travel therapist. Some real estate agencies and apartment complexes allow short term housing arrangements. Therapists can stay in extended stay motels, or many therapists choose to use sites such as Airbnb, VRBO, Furnished Finder, and Craigslist to find short term housing. Some travel therapists choose to stay with friends or family, or search Facebook communities to find housing options using their peer groups. You can also contact the facility where you would be working and ask if they have any housing leads. Others choose to live in an RV and stay at campgrounds, like we did for several years! Finding short term housing as a travel therapist can be a hassle, but there are many options!

Is Travel Therapy Limited to the United States?

The typical travel therapist is licensed to work in the United States and takes contracts within the United States or the US Territories.

Therapists who are trained outside of the US can pursue travel therapy within the US, but there are more regulations and hoops to jump through, so often this is not an easy career path. It is generally recommended that foreign-trained therapists apply for their work visas within the US at a permanent position prior to pursuing travel contract positions.

US-trained therapists who would like to travel for work outside the US will encounter similar challenges. It is possible to arrange short term travel contracts in another country, but it is certainly more challenging and not the norm. US therapists may have more success applying for a work visa in another country and applying directly to a certain facility to work there, rather than searching openings to try to obtain short term contracts.

How Do I Get Started?

If you’re interested in getting started as a travel physical therapist or other travel healthcare professional, check out our guide to starting your travel therapy career to learn what steps to take.

If you’d like our recommendations on travel therapy companies and recruiters that we’ve had a good experience with, fill out this form and we will send you personalized recommendations for your situation!

To learn even more about travel therapy, you can visit the other articles on our Travel Therapy Mentor website, and check out some of our own personal stories on our travel physical therapy blog “Fifth Wheel Physical Therapist.” Feel free to send us a message if you have more questions about pursuing a travel therapy career!

 

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

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