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!

Working in Schools as a Travel Therapist

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

For PT’s, OT’s, SLP’s and assistants interested in taking travel contracts working with pediatrics, sometimes these jobs can be harder to come by than other settings. The most common settings available for travel positions include home health, SNF, acute, and outpatient orthopedics. But for those looking to work in peds, school contracts may be a great option!

You might be wondering how school contracts are set up for a traveler. Do you have to work the full school year? What is the pay like? Do you get paid during school breaks? Since this setting is a bit different than others, we wanted to provide some key information to working in school contracts as a traveler.

The Basics of Working School Contracts

Most school contracts will typically be for the full school year, but some schools are open to just doing half the school year with the possibility of extending, or a little less than that even. Every situation is different, so if you’re unsure if you want to commit to a full year, work with your recruiter and the facility to find out what’s possible.

When school jobs are listed with an “ASAP” start date and it’s the middle of the school year, that contract would be from now or as soon as you could start, until the end of this school year. If you see a job listed with a July or August start, that would be for the upcoming school year.

Schools will typically have a very low facility cancellation rate, making it a pretty stable commitment on your end. This is helpful to know because as a traveler, you need to consider planning your housing for the duration of the contract.

The typical hours you will see for a school contract are between 35-37.5 hours per week. There are some contracts with 40 hour weeks, but it’s not usually the norm. Although most are not 40 hour guarantees, the rates are usually a bit higher in this setting which can help to offset the lower hours. This may bring your weekly take home to be similar or even better than a normal 40 hour work week in another setting.

A cool perk to working in schools is you have all of the school holidays off, so you know your days off in advance, and they are setup around desirable holidays/days people want to take off anyways. The uncool part of this, is you may not get paid during school holidays. So you will have to plan accordingly around this.

If you are off for the entire week for a school holiday (such as Spring Break or Winter Break), you will not be paid at all for that week. However, if you are off for only part of the week for the holiday, you may still receive your full week’s per diems, or part of the week’s per diems, in addition to the hourly pay for the days you did work. It’s important you clarify this with your travel company to understand how your pay will work around school holidays.

What Disciplines Are Most Needed?

The majority of school positions tend to be open for SLP, but there are options for PT’s, OT’s, PTA’s, and COTA’s as well. The market can vary across different states and school districts with different needs.

School positions often accept and support CF SLPs as well. However, this may or may not be a desirable setting for a lot of SLPs coming out of school that may be more interested in medical job settings.

What Questions Should I Ask During an Interview?

Not all travel therapy school positions are created equally. There are some important questions you should consider asking during your interview to decide if a contract is right for you, which might include:

  • How many children will be on caseload?
  • Who are the other staff members? (PT, OT, SLP, aids, etc.)
  • Have you had a travel therapist there before?
  • What is the facility like? (equipment, etc.)
  • What will my hours be?
  • Will I be covering more than one school?
  • What age groups will I be covering?

What Are Some Pros & Cons to Working School Contracts?

There are some benefits to working in schools pertaining to taking a longer (full school year) contract, which include more job stability; moving less often between contracts (as opposed to the typical 13 week travel contract); exploring an area for a longer period of time; and potentially saving on housing costs with a longer lease.

Another benefit is that you have planned time off to be able to take trips, and this time off is usually around holidays when you may want to spend time with family and friends.

Another potential benefit would be building your skill set in a different setting. This could be especially important with pending changes in Medicare, which could affect the market for settings such as Skilled Nursing Facilities.

However, for some people, there could be cons to taking a school contract. Some may consider committing to a full school year as limiting their ability to travel and see the country. They may also have fear of getting locked into a long contract without knowing if it’ll be the right fit for them. Fortunately for this concern, we as travelers have the option of a 14 or 30 day cancellation notice if placed in a bad situation.

Another con can be the paperwork and IEP meetings involved in working in schools. As with every setting, you have to take into consideration the documentation and meetings involved, which is the not-so-fun part of our jobs as healthcare providers.

And the last consideration would be not getting paid during school holidays. This may require some additional budgeting on the traveler’s part, or working with the recruiter to rearrange the pay package as needed. But for many travelers who tend to take a week or so off between their normal 13 week travel contracts to travel for leisure, relax and recharge, or go home to visit family and friends, these school breaks can provide the same thing, just structured a bit differently.

Is a School Contract Right for You as a Traveler?

Some clinicians absolutely love working with pediatrics and in the school setting. For others, this may be a totally new experience. As with any travel therapy job, you will have to take into consideration many factors when choosing if a particular school contract is right for you.

If you have questions or would like help getting started with your travel therapy journey, please contact us!

6 Ways to Ensure Success as a New Grad Travel Therapist

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

1. Do your research and maintain realistic expectations.

Travel therapy is amazing… most of the time. As with anything, it can have its pros and cons. While most parts of being a travel therapist are an incredible adventure, there are still parts that aren’t always fun. It’s important that you do your research to understand all the nuances that go into being a travel therapist before jumping in. This goes for anyone looking into travel therapy, but especially new grads. If you plan to take a travel job as your first position after graduation, you need to know what to expect.

We recommend going into travel therapy with an open and adventurous mind. Not every assignment will be perfect; not every city will be your favorite; you won’t always have the easiest time with housing; there’s always a chance your contract could get cancelled; and sometimes you may question your decision to take on the life of a travel therapist. But if you go into this journey of travel therapy knowing this up front and are willing to roll with the punches for the sake of traveling the country, earning more money, and having unforgettable adventures, you will be successful and join the thousands of other healthcare travelers out there living and loving this lifestyle!

2. Connect with great travel therapy companies and recruiters.

If you talk to any travel therapist, they’ll tell you that your recruiter and company can make or break your experience with traveling! This is of utmost importance for new grads, because you will want support and mentorship as you begin to look for your first few travel jobs. You need a recruiter who gets you, your wants, and your needs as a new grad therapist. You want a recruiter who will be in your corner, going to bat for you with your best interest in mind, not just the best interest of the travel company or the client (facility). Many travel therapy companies offer some form of new graduate mentorship program, whether in the form of a mentor by phone or by placing you at “new grad friendly” facilities. These are things you will want to consider when choosing a company.

For more information on how to best choose a travel therapy company and recruiter, check out this article, or send us a message and we can give you personalized company and recruiter recommendations for you based on your situation!

3. Find a great first travel therapy job.

Your first few travel therapy jobs (or in the case of a new grad, first jobs period) will be crucial in your success as both a clinician and as a travel therapist. Sadly, we have heard horror stories of people having one terrible experience with travel therapy that turned them away from traveling again, and pushed them to take a permanent position, even though they had planned to continue traveling. This is unfortunate, and usually the result of them not knowing exactly what they were getting into on their first assignment and/or having a bad recruiter.

For your first job (or first few jobs), we recommend you work closely with your recruiter(s) to find a facility that is going to provide a supportive environment for you as a new grad. This may include having another therapist of your same discipline on staff (another PT, OT, SLP, PTA, or COTA); having more of a ramp up period in your caseload with training provided; and making sure the productivity expectations are reasonable. These are all important things to find out during your phone interview. For specific questions to ask during an interview, check out this article.

As mentioned before, a great recruiter should be able to assist you in this process of identifying supportive facilities. They may even have prior experience with facilities where they have placed new grads before that have been successful. Most importantly, a good recruiter will support your decision to decline an offer if it doesn’t sound like a good fit for you, and they will not push you into taking a job that’s not right for you just to secure a placement for themselves.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and never stop learning.

As a new grad travel therapist, it is important that you are ready to be an independent clinician and not have your “hand held,” but at the same time you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help and mentorship when you need it. This could be from your co-workers at your facility; through the clinical liaison provided by the travel company by phone; and even by reaching out to former professors, clinical instructors, and classmates for consultation when you encounter tough clinical situations.

Also don’t forget to utilize a variety of resources (textbooks, CEU courses, websites, blogs, podcasts, Facebook networking groups, etc.) to continue learning once you start practicing on your own. Being a student working under a clinical instructor is very different than being out on your own! There is a huge learning curve when you first get started. You don’t have to know it all when you first start practicing, regardless if you choose to take a travel or a perm job right out of school!

5. Stand up for yourself and your professional license.

New grad or not, you worked very hard to get to the point of being a licensed clinician! Regardless of whether you’re in a travel job or perm job, you need to maintain integrity, be ethical, and follow the law. If you are being asked to practice in an unethical or illegal manner, you must stand up for yourself and practice the way that you feel is best. You are ultimately responsible for your actions and your license. Do not be dragged down by poor management or not-so-great co-workers.

There are many examples of how you could be placed in a bad situation where your ethics and legality are tested. For example, starting at a new clinic where they want you to sign off on documentation for patients that you haven’t seen before, or for visits that occurred before your start date. This can be a common event when you’re filling in as a traveler. It’s important you do not sign off on anything for which you were not present, including co-signing assistant notes. Another example would be feeling pressured to work off the clock to get your documentation done, or add additional time to your evaluation codes to account for documentation time, which is sadly a very common practice in many Skilled Nursing Facilities. These things are illegal, and regardless of what the other staff “has always done,” if it doesn’t feel right to you, it’s probably not! We would encourage you to reach out to an unbiased third party to discuss any potential ethical or legal questions you may have. Again that could mean reaching out to the clinical liaison by phone or to a former professor or clinical instructor.

If you’re facing ethical dilemmas or problems in your facility, don’t be afraid to talk to you director of rehabilitation or your recruiter if appropriate. You can’t always predict how a clinic will be before you start working there, but you can always get out of a bad situation if you are being asked to practice in an illegal or unethical way.

6. Work smarter, not harder.

There are some great ways you can optimize and be an efficient therapist, without always going over and beyond. This can be especially important when you’re starting out as a new grad travel therapist. Often when you start as a new grad, you want to do everything perfectly, including doing all the fancy treatment techniques and being extremely thorough in your documentation. But sometimes for the sake of time management and being successful at a new clinic, you need to go back to the basics.

Don’t overachieve on documentation so you can maintain good time management. Just make sure you document the appropriate amount, but don’t go over and beyond or be too wordy. Time management is going to be a huge key to success as a new grad travel therapist, and you definitely don’t want to be working off the clock to get notes done.

Focus on functional and effective treatments, while emphasizing building a strong patient rapport. Don’t worry too much at first about using every new fad treatment out there. Often times it’s your relationships and demeanor that matter the most to be successful and well-received, by both your patients and your co-workers, not how good you are at the latest manual therapy techniques and the coolest exercises.

Take advantage of co-treatments when applicable in an inpatient setting, to learn from your colleagues from other disciplines and get ideas. This can be extremely helpful as a new grad, especially in a travel therapy position where you’re not only learning how to be an independent practitioner, but you’re also having to learn a new location, staff, caseload, etc!

Last, do no harm! Focus on being the best therapist you can be, while ensuring you put patients’ health and safety first and foremost. It’s better to do a basic treatment, or do nothing at all, than to do something you’re uncertain about and cause harm to a patient.

Conclusion

Traveling as a new grad can be a wonderful experience and a great way to get ahead start on your finances, but it’s vital to go in well-informed and with realistic expectations about what the process will entail. Finding a great company and recruiter is paramount to your success and sanity as a travel therapist. Be picky about your first job to make sure that it’s a good fit for you and will provide you with the best opportunity to succeed. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other therapists both in person and online for help or ideas with regards to patient care, and spend some time continuing your education to be the best possible clinician. Always stand up for your ethics and protect your license. And finally, don’t burn yourself out by working long hours being a perfectionist with documentation and treatment. Of course, include the key components in your notes and provide sound treatment methods, but it’s important to be efficient with your time to have a good experience as a travel therapist.

If you have questions about anything regarding getting started with your travel therapy journey, feel free to contact us. If you need help finding a great recruiter and company to help make your travel therapy career a success, we can help you with that as well.

Reaching Semi-Retirement in Three Years as a Travel Therapist: Jared’s Story

Written by: Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

The Past

Education

I spent a total of 8 years in college (3 of which were in community college trying to decide my direction in life) which culminated in a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, earned in May of 2015. Even though I was very proud of this accomplishment and the incredible amount of work it took to achieve it, I knew that physical therapy was not something that I would spend the next 20-30 years of my life doing full time. I’ve had various interests throughout my life and knew myself well enough to know that eventually I would likely become bored with physical therapy like so many of my passions in the past.

My Personality

You see, I get consumed with an area of interest for a period of time, before eventually becoming mostly disinterested once I feel that I’ve achieved a certain level of proficiency in the area. I seem to find something I like and throw myself into being the best that I can be in that area, which ultimately leads to me burning out with the pursuit. In my 30 years, this has happened with basketball, chess, video games, diet/nutrition, powerlifting/bodybuilding, and now to some degree physical therapy and finance. I still enjoy all of these things, but I no longer feel an intense urge to learn everything or be “the best” at them anymore like I did with all of them at one point or another in my life. At some juncture, the return on invested time and energy in any area of interest leads to a point of diminishing returns, and this is always where I seem to gradually disengage. At 30 years of age, I still don’t know if this is a good or bad thing, but I have accepted it as a part of my personality.

Knowing about this personality trait (flaw?), I was skeptical whether the time and money investment that is synonymous with 3 years of graduate school (after already completing 5 years of undergraduate work) would be worth it when I had no idea how long I would be passionate about the field. I ultimately decided that it was, and I am very happy with where I am now because of the choice. Although, I would be lying if I said I never questioned whether a DPT degree is worth it.

Student Loan Debt

Upon graduation in 2015, I had about $95,000 in student debt from grad school alone, and that included trying my best to be frugal by living at home and commuting to classes. Even though this is a massive sum, it is generally on the low end of the debt range of what many physical therapists graduate with. Terrified by this student debt, I became engrossed by the idea of increasing my income and decreasing my expenses to pay down the loans as quickly as possible.

After hundreds of hours of research and performing my own calculations and projections for the future, I ultimately decided that it would be in my best interest to pay the minimum on my loans while investing heavily in retirement and brokerage accounts. This has turned out to be a very good choice so far, with my student debt growing at an effective rate of about 3.2% per year while on the REPAYE plan, and my investment portfolio growing at a rate of around 9% since I started heavily investing (this was closer to 11% before the big drop in December 2018)… and this isn’t even accounting for the tax savings from utilizing the retirement accounts. This plan isn’t for everyone, of course, but I do think it should be a consideration for those trying to reach financial Independence as soon as possible with a lot of student debt.

Financial Independence

As for financial independence, while researching what to do with my student loans in late 2014, I stumbled upon a couple of blogs talking about saving heavily and retiring early, and I was immediately sold. Once I knew the math behind achieving financial independence and calculated “my FI number,” I knew that was the goal I needed to reach as soon as possible. My main motivation for pursuing financial independence so aggressively was to have as many options as possible for the future in case my interests shifted again and I became passionate about something different and wanted to pursue that.

Traveling Physical Therapy

In my first year of physical therapy school, I researched the options and found that the easiest way to make the most money as a physical therapist, in order to reach my financial independence goal, is by taking travel contracts. In some cases a travel physical therapist can make twice as much or more when compared to a therapist taking a permanent full time job in one location, especially as a new grad.

Whitney, my significant other of over 5 years and also a physical therapist who graduated at the same time as me, also liked the idea of making extra money while going on adventures, moving to and working in new places around the country together. Without a doubt, this was one of the best decisions that either of us have ever made.

Living in a Camper

Finding affordable short term housing at each assignment location can be the biggest difficulty of being a travel therapist, and to combat that we saved our money and paid cash for a fifth wheel camper and truck to haul it after our first 6 months of working and saving aggressively. For the majority of our travel careers, we have lived and traveled in the camper. Whether or not we have come out ahead financially with this decision is still up for debate, but we did enjoy the simplicity of finding somewhere to live while traveling in the fifth wheel and also the consistency of our living arrangement. There have been many pros and cons to traveling in a fifth wheel, but overall we wouldn’t change our decision.

Maximizing My Income and Savings Rate

After having a goal of financial independence in my cross-hairs, I wasn’t content with just making more money as a traveling therapist, so I did everything feasible to minimize my expenses while simultaneously finding ways to make more money along the way. This led to working as many hours as my travel assignments would allow with hundreds of hours of overtime in total over three years, taking part time jobs when available, creating this blog (just as a hobby initially with hopes to eventually generate some income), and going a little overboard with credit card rewards.

In reality, I hustled so much and minimized my expenses to a point that I have been able to save 100% of my income earned from my regular 9-5 travel physical therapy jobs, and even extra on top of that some months. The first two years, I was able to live on just the money earned from credit card/bank account sign up bonus combined with overtime hours and part time work. The last year, to my surprise, the FifthWheelPT blog actually started consistently bringing in enough money to cover all of my living expenses most months.

The Present

After 3 years of living frugally and saving my entire full time paycheck as a travel therapist (each year with a savings rate of between 85-90% of my total income), combined with the investment returns I mentioned above, I officially “semi-retired” in July 2018 at 29 years old. I tracked my progress to financial independence with my monthly “Path to 4%” posts each month for the past 2.5 years along the way, and will continue to do so until I fully reach my “FI number.” Even though I haven’t fully reached that number yet, there were various reasons that I went ahead and transitioned into semi-retirement when I did, with a primary one being our desire to travel internationally.

I refer to what I’m currently doing as “semi-retirement” because I still plan to write on this website, write on the FifthWheelPT blog, andhelp those interested in travel therapy get started, which takes up about 5-10 hours per week, and I will also likely continue to work one travel assignment (3 months) per year to keep my physical therapy skills from getting rusty. I still enjoy the job and helping patients, but I no longer wish to do it full time for the entire year.

We celebrated this semi-retirement with a 5 month trip around the world at the end of 2018, which was a wonderful and eye opening experience. By utilizing credit card points to keep expenses lower while traveling, I was able to spend less than an average of $37/day on the trip, all of which was able to be covered by money brought in from this blog. This meant that I didn’t even have to start withdrawing money from my investment accounts, which was a blessing with the market taking such a hit at the end of 2018! This trip really made us realize that life is short and there is so much that we want to see and do before settling down and having kids. We plan to take several more 3-6 month long trips all over the world for the next few years before deciding what’s next for us. We’re currently planning a 15 week trip to Europe in May, which we are extremely excited about.

The Future

Right now, we still own our fifth wheel and truck, but we are considering selling them between now and May when we leave on our next trip, so that we don’t have to pay personal property taxes, insurance, storage fees, and deal with further depreciation while taking these long trips and not using the truck and camper. I have to admit that this has led to a bit of an identity crisis for me, since many people know me as the “Fifth Wheel PT” now… if we sell it do I have to rename the blog?!

We haven’t worked as physical therapists in 7 months since leaving for our Around the World Trip, but after searching for jobs since we returned to the US in December, Whitney finally found a Travel PT contract about 3 hours from home. She started work this week, however I still don’t have a job lined up as of now. I’m working on trying to set up a short term contract or PRN work in the same area as Whitney. But, if I don’t end up working before leaving on our next trip to Europe in May, then I will most likely find a travel contract in September when we get back from the trip. Although that will mean I will have a 15 month gap in my work history, which I’m a little concerned about.

We plan to go to a few physical therapy conferences each year to network with other therapists and students and talk about travel therapy as well as finances and how these things have so positively impacted our lives. I may not be as ravenous with learning new things about personal finance and investing as I once was, but I still enjoy writing and talking about it. I’m also not nearly as involved with travel therapy as I once was, but I have learned a ton and want to spread the knowledge and let others know that an exciting and lucrative adventure is possible.

I’m considering writing a book in the future about personal finance and investing from the perspective of a physical therapist, and possibly even more specifically from the perspective of a travel therapist, but I don’t know that I have the motivation required to do that right now. Nonetheless, I plan to continue to write about whatever interests me on the FifthWheelPT website and to write articles about travel therapy on this website.

Ultimately I’m grappling with the realization that financial independence and retiring early is really just the beginning, not the end of the journey. With time and brain power freed up to a large extent, I’m not sure where I’ll go from here, but I’m okay with that uncertainty.

Conclusion

It has been a wild ride for both Whitney and me since graduation in 2015. I would have never anticipated doing what I am now back then, but I’m very grateful that things have turned out the way that they have.

I undoubtedly sacrificed on some things to reach semi-retirement so quickly, but by no means was I a “miser,” living an unfulfilling life in those 3 years of saving aggressively. We took dozens of weekend trips all over the east coast (Whitney has written all about those trips here); spent a few days in Canada; stayed at an all-inclusive resort in Jamaica for a week; I took my brother to Aruba for his high school graduation; Whitney and I went on a cruise to the Bahamas; and we bought plenty of stuff that we really didn’t need (you know, the American way).

I really didn’t do anything special to get in the position I’m in besides looking for ways to maximize my income and minimize my spending while still having a good time. This combined with a cultivated urge to learn as much as possible in my areas of interest have paid dividends. No two paths are the same, but I feel that just about everyone has room to make headway on these fronts.

Thank you for reading this. If you’re a regular reader, then I hope that you have a little better insight into who I am, and if you’re a new reader, then this should be a good introduction to me and my life. Feel free to reach out to me with questions or comments!

 

This article was originally published on our personal blog. You can learn more about Jared’s story by visiting our blog at FifthWheelPT.com.

Factors to Consider when Comparing Pay Rates to Other Travel Therapists

Written by: Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

Background

One of the biggest fears for travel therapists, especially those new to traveling, is getting taken advantage of by recruiters. There is good reason for this fear since there are plenty of recruiters out there that are willing to low-ball those that don’t know what is reasonable in terms of pay and benefits. This is actually one of the main reasons that we created this website and began mentoring those new to travel therapy. Whitney and I  have had such an awesome experience while traveling, and we want to do our best to ensure that other travelers have a positive experience as well.

Since travelers are often so worried about their pay being inadequate, there is often open discussion regarding weekly take home pay between travel therapists. In general, I think this is a great thing and that everyone (not just travel therapists but therapists in general) should be more open to discussing their pay in order to have more transparency in this area.

Alas, as a travel therapist, there are some pitfalls to these discussions and comparisons that should be considered. If another travel therapist is working in the same state and at a similar facility but making significantly more than you, are you being taken advantage of? Sometimes, but not always. Let’s look at some of the factors that can affect discrepancies in pay. (If you’re completely new to travel pay then check out this comprehensive article on how it works for some background information)

Differences Between Travel Companies

Each travel company does things differently in terms of pay. Sometimes these differences are minor and sometimes they are major. The biggest difference affecting pay is your hourly taxable pay rate. For example, getting a pay offer from two different companies offering different taxable hourly pay rates is going to make the total take home pay each week much different even if the bill rate is the exact same. Some companies have a policy of not allowing taxable pay to go below a certain level (this can be as high as the $25-$30/hour range) whereas other companies will allow a much lower hourly rate (we’ve seen as low as $15/hour for PT, OT, and SLP). If your taxable rate is higher, that means your total weekly take home pay will be lower. The reason for that is not only do you have to pay extra money in taxes on that higher hourly rate, but the travel company has to pay a higher amount toward FICA taxes on your behalf as well. The difference between a $15/hour taxable rate and a $25/hour taxable rate can be $100-$200/week or more on your take home pay! If comparing your weekly take home pay to a fellow traveler, make sure to always consider your taxable pay rate compared to theirs.

Cost of Living

A huge factor to consider is the cost of living and desirability of the location in the area that you’re working in. In general, areas with higher costs of living (big cities) are able to offer higher stipend amounts for housing, meals, and incidentals. These stipends usually aren’t able to be fully maxed out in those areas though because the bill rate won’t support the full amount. Keep in mind that in general, rural areas are willing to pay more due to a lower demand in the area. As you can probably imagine, most travelers (and permanent therapists) want to go to the desirable areas in the country, which means that the demand for therapists there is lower and the facilities can offer lower bill rates and still know that someone will still take the position. If you’ve looked into a  contract in Hawaii then you’ll know what I mean. Hawaii is an extremely desirable location for travelers, and despite the high cost of living there, pay rates are very low due to the high demand. If you’re taking a job in Hawaii, it’s for the experience of the island life, not the pay.

Be careful comparing your weekly take home pay in lower cost of living states to others taking assignments in higher cost of living states (such as the west coast). Even though someone on the west coast might be making significantly more per week, you have to remember that their living expenses might be significantly higher there as well!

Up-Front Reimbursements

Some companies may offer up-front reimbursements as part of their pay packages, while others don’t and instead add that money into the weekly pay. This isn’t necessarily a good or a bad thing either way, but it can affect weekly take home pay significantly and cause a discrepancy in pay between you and a fellow travel therapist, which is something to be cognizant of.

For example, let’s imagine both you and a fellow traveler recently accepted 13 week travel contracts in California after getting licensed there last month. You’ll both be traveling there from your home state of Tennessee. Your company offers you $500 in reimbursement for your CA license, as well as $400 to travel from Tennessee to California, and another $400 to travel back to Tennessee when your contract is completed. The other therapist’s company does not offer any reimbursements. Their take home pay is quoted to be $1,900/week after taxes, whereas your take home pay will only be $1,800/week. If you met this traveler while in California and discussed your pay, you may very well think that your company is taking advantage of you by paying you $100/week less, but in reality when you factor in the reimbursements, your pay is the exact same!

Be careful comparing weekly pay without considering reimbursements. Some companies and recruiters will purposely not offer reimbursements in order to be able to offer a high weekly pay rate since that’s what most travelers are concerned with. This is just moving the same money around, don’t be fooled!

Travel Company Size

As I talked about in the post I wrote on bill rates, travel companies take a different percentage of the bill rate depending on their overhead. Bigger companies are going to have higher overhead due to more people on payroll, bigger marketing budgets, more buildings, etc. Small companies usually have lower overhead and can get by with taking a lower percentage of the bill rate, although this isn’t always the case as we’ve found over the years. If bigger companies have higher overhead, isn’t it always better to work with a smaller company? Not necessarily. Bigger companies often have more jobs as well as exclusive contracts. They also tend to have better benefits and lower costs for the benefits due to having more employees working for them.

Combining Multiple Factors

When these factors are added together, differences in weekly pay can huge. If you compare weekly pay amounts between a big company that pays a high taxable rate and offers a lot of up-front reimbursements with a job on the east coast to a small company that pays a very low taxable rate with no reimbursements with a job on the west coast, you can see differences of $500/week or more in some cases!

Conclusion

Be careful when comparing weekly pay rates to other travel therapists without also considering all the factors influencing weekly pay rate. Don’t automatically feel bad about your pay the next time you see another travel therapist bragging about their high weekly pay rates when working with small companies on the west coast, when you’re working with a big company with more jobs and better benefits on the east coast.

If you’re in need of a company/recruiter that you can trust, send us a message with some info about yourself and your reason for traveling and we can set you up with a few that match well with you and that we trust!

What to Look for in a Home Health Travel Therapy Contract

Written by Travis Kemper, PT, DPT

Home health can be a great option for travel therapists due to the abundant need for therapists to serve patients in this setting. If you are willing to take home health contracts, options for locations will open up dramatically at any given time, and usually you can command even higher pay than normal. To see if home health may work for you, check out my pros and cons article here.

Since home health is a bit different than other settings, you may be wondering what things you should look for in a home health contract and what questions you should ask in an interview for this setting. Here is a more in depth look at some important aspects of a home health contract that you should consider:

  • Training:
    • Find out how much training will be provided by the company. This is especially important if you don’t have prior experience in this setting.
    • Tips during training: Take the computer from your trainer and document as much as possible. You know how to be a therapist, but as I mentioned in the pros and cons article, there is a lot of documentation in home health, so you really want to start getting familiar with the system as soon as possible.
    • Of course, you should also pay attention to the differences in care that you’ll be providing in home health because there are some important safety issues to take note of during evaluations, but otherwise the therapy you’ll be providing is similar to other settings.
    • In our experience, my wife Julia and I have received about two weeks of training at the home health contracts we have taken.
  • Points system:
    • You want to find out how their productivity works, and if it’s on a points system vs. hourly vs. purely based on number of visits regardless of type. This is an important measure of productivity that is different from every other setting. Your company may assign a certain number of points to each type of visit based on the length of time they predict this visit taking (I am sure that it is also based on the reimbursement from insurance).
    • For example, the last home health contract we did had the following points system:
      • 2.5 points for start of care/OASIS
      • 1.5 points for evaluation
      • 1.25 for discharge
      • 1 point per regular visit
    • In a 40 hour week we were expected to complete 30 points at that company.  The numbers generally are similar to these from what I have heard from others. This is also how many full time and PRN employees are paid in home health instead of hourly/salary.
  • Travel Radius:
    • You want to find out how far you will be expected to drive and what areas you will be covering for your home health visits.
    • This is going to be the number one factor outside of your personal efficiencies with documentation and planning that is going to affect your productivity capabilities.
    • At our first contract, our travel radius was very similar and only about 15 miles from the office for either one of us. At our second contract, my radius stayed about the same, but the majority of my patients were located in a 10 mile radius of the city in my territory; while Julia’s was a larger territory, probably 20 miles, and her patients were more spread out as there was no main city in her territory.
    • This is something that is hard to figure out before you take a contract. We didn’t even know exactly where our territories were going to be when we took our second contract due to the huge territory the company covered. There were many days where I would only drive 15-25 miles in total, and Julia would drive 50-60 miles.
    • Obviously the more you drive, the tougher it is to hit your productivity standards. Your best bet is to ask how many miles you can expect to drive in a day/week in the interview. You can also ask around to find out about the area and the traffic before committing.
  • Mileage Reimbursement:
    • Find out if they reimburse for mileage and how much.
    • We do not recommend you take a home health position unless they are going to reimburse you for mileage.
    • You want to be making at least 50 cents per mile no matter what, and personally if I ever do home health again I will demand the government rate of 58 cents per mile. The mileage is not only for your gas consumption, but also for the wear and tear on your vehicle. If you are planning to do home health for an extended period of time, getting a fuel efficient vehicle is highly recommended as well.

These are a few of the key factors you want to consider when looking into taking a home health contract as a travel therapist. Home health can be a rewarding setting to work in, especially because it can be flexible for your lifestyle. But you want to make sure to ask the right questions so that you won’t be stretched too thin when it comes to number of visits, driving radius, gas, and wear and tear on your car. If you have more questions about working in home health, or have a specific job offer you’d like to discuss with us, please reach out to us for mentorship!