Packing and Moving for Travel Therapy Jobs

One thing that can be daunting for therapists who are considering travel therapy is the idea of having to pack and move for three or more months at a time.

  • How much do you take?
  • What do you take?
  • And the most nerve-wracking question of all: Will it all fit?

This post, written by an experienced travel therapist, is designed to help offer solutions to some of these questions for you.

My Experience Packing for Travel Therapy Assignments

To give a background on me: my name is Morgan, and I started travel occupational therapy right out of school as a new grad. I decided to rip the ‘Get Out of Your Comfort Zone’ bandaid off from the get-go, by taking my first contract all the way across the country! This meant I had to pack up and drive from Pennsylvania to Oregon in my little Hyundai Elantra.

Like most first-time healthcare travelers, I WAY overpacked. Did I need to take every pair of shoes I owned? Most definitely not. But in my head at the time? I could think up a potential ‘what-if’ scenario in my head for each pair, and therefore they all needed to come. I did this with a lot of things, from clothes, to kitchen supplies, to OT-related items.

I think everyone starting out needs to go through this learning phase to an extent. But, hopefully in this article, I can help lessen that learning load for you and better prepare you for what you’ll actually need.

Since taking that first travel therapy contract, I took several more Travel OT jobs across the country, from California to Texas to North Carolina. I got a puppy named Zoey in between TX and NC, which meant I had to learn how to fit another living being and all of her essential items into my already-full car.

You know how every Olympic sport should include one average person for reference? Well, I’m the average person of packing. So you know you can count on me and my advice, because if I can manage to fit everything and my dog into my tiny car to drive cross country, then you most certainly can too.

Types of Moving for Travel Therapy Jobs

In most circumstances, travel therapists will be driving to their new travel therapy job locations, which means packing up everything in their vehicle.

There are certain circumstances where travelers may be flying to their travel therapy assignment location, particularly if it is in Hawaii or Alaska. For tips on packing for these situations, check out Travel Therapy Mentor‘s articles about working as a healthcare traveler in Hawaii and Alaska.

Some therapists may consider flying to other travel assignment locations within the continental US, particularly if it is very far across the country. If you are considering having your car shipped and flying to your new location, you may be able to pack some items in your car, but there are lots of considerations before doing this. If you are considering flying to your location and renting a car locally, you’ll be faced with packing everything in what you can bring on the plane and/or shipping some items to your new location.

These are all special scenarios to take into consideration, but for the most part, travel therapists generally pack their vehicles up and drive to the new location. So we’ll mainly focus on that type of packing here.

Keys for Success When Packing for a Travel Therapy Assignment

The three keys for successful packing are: Planning, Storage, and Minimalism.


One of the best things you can do to determine what to bring is to know as much as possible about where you’re going.

In terms of the facility where you’ll be working: what’s the dress code? Scrubs (any specific colors)? Business casual? Polo and khakis? Bring what you’ll need and ditch the rest for now, or at the very most bring one pair of the alternatives just in case. You can also check with the facility to see if they provide essential tools such as pulse-oximeters, gait belts, goniometers, etc., or if these are things you should bring yourself.

In terms of the location you’re headed to: what’s the weather like? During what season will you be there? Will it be cold/hot/rainy/snowy? What types of activities/hobbies do you plan on doing? Do you have any trips planned during your contract that require different-weathered clothes than your location?

In terms of where you’ll be living: is it furnished or unfurnished? Do they provide you with bed linens/towels/kitchen supplies, or do you need to bring your own? Take an inventory of what you have at home and what you regularly use, then send a list to the landlord to ask if they have these items or not. Also consider that for some items, you may be able to buy or thrift for cheap on arrival rather than bringing your own from home.

If you choose to go with an unfurnished apartment, most travelers do not bring actual furniture across country with them. They may bring an inflatable mattress (sometimes even an inflatable couch!), or use storage tubs as end tables or dressers. But for the most part, when travelers rent unfurnished places, they just pick up some furniture on arrival at thrift stores, by asking coworkers, or by renting through a store like Aaron’s.

You’ll also need to consider if you are moving for just one travel therapy assignment then will be able to return home before the next one to swap out any items, or if you’re packing for multiple back to back assignments before returning home. Likewise, do you have anyone at home who could mail you something later on if you leave it behind? Could you consider having an alternative season of clothes ready at home to swap out later on?

The more you can predict, the more necessary items you’ll have on hand when the time comes, and most importantly, you’ll be able to leave behind the non-essentials.


When being tasked to fit a large (sometimes seemingly impossible) amount of items into a condensed space, efficiency is key. You know those little Russian dolls that fit inside of each other? That’s what you want to do as much as possible with the items you plan to bring. You want to have as little empty space as possible.

As far as packing clothing is concerned, the two methods I find most effective are ‘flat packing,’ in which you lay the clothing items as flat as possible on top of each other to maximize space, or the ‘army roll’ method, which can be found with a quick Google search and is one taught and used in the military.

The storage containers you choose to use are also important, but will depend on personal preference and the dimensions of your vehicle. Packing cubes, plastic tubs, soft storage bags, and vacuum bags are all good options to choose from. Personally, I prefer the multi-size soft storage bags because with my small car space these are more moldable to squeeze into spaces, and they collapse and fold down when not in use. But I also have been known to take with me a few plastic tubs, some reusable grocery bags, and even trash bags when my packing energy is reaching zero.

Note that you may need a suitcase or two with you for any trips you plan to take while on assignment. But as far as space efficiency goes with packing up your car, suitcases are not usually the best choice for all of your items. Consider just one or two suitcases, then put the rest of the items in more space efficient containers. Think: car Jenga (or is it more like Tetris?)

Sometimes though, if you’re traveling with a partner or pet(s), there’s just not enough room for it all. If you cannot fit everything in your car even with the use of these methods, then you might consider getting a roof carrier or a hitch-style cargo carrier. Depending on the type of car you have and preference, there are hard or soft rooftop carriers to provide you with additional space.

Just be considerate of where you are parking your car along the way for a multi-day move. Unfortunately if you have stop overs, having a car top carrier, hitch cargo carrier, or a visibly packed car can put you at risk for theft. Consider bringing your items inside with you if parking in a questionable public area.

I also know of travelers who ship items to their location if they don’t have the room in their car, but keep in mind this option can be costly. If you’re traveling with a partner or friend, having more than one car is also a good option to maximize storage space.

If you have time, especially if it is your first move, I recommend doing a ‘practice pack’ a few days before hitting the road to make sure everything fits. I also recommend having certain items that you know you’ll need on the road in a reachable spot to easily get to when needed, instead of having to rifle through bins wondering where you put it.


This last part comes down to the question: What is your definition of minimalism?

In truth, it depends from person to person. It doesn’t mean you have to bring the bare minimum. What you really want to think about is what things you absolutely need to help you thrive while on assignment, and what can you leave behind for now?

For me, things that I consider ‘essential’ include my spices for cooking (those things can get expensive), a spatula, knives, a cutting board, a blender, an InstaPot, my hiking/camping gear (boots, tent, sleeping bag, pack(s), etc.), knitting needles & yarn, a hammock, an inflatable paddle board, and a tub of books (yes a whole plastic tub). Unfortunately I have a lot of hobbies, so my ‘minimalism’ may be way more to some than others. But I know that I will use them, and I make them fit.

Things I recommend leaving behind are things that you can purchase once you’re at your location: things like cleaning supplies, hangers, laundry detergent, dish soap, other toiletries, etc. Don’t waste your precious space on these. If you’re looking for cheap options, Dollar Tree/Dollar General or Walmart typically have all these things on hand at low prices.

Clothes and shoes are definitely something that travelers tend to overpack on. A lot of us tend to own way more clothes than we actually wear. Consider that most days of the week, you’ll be wearing work clothes, lounge clothes, and maybe gym clothes. On the weekends, you usually need just a couple casual or dressy outfits. While you may be concerned with re-wearing clothes often, keep in mind that almost no one will ever notice this except you. So when it comes to packing clothes, keep it simple with a few varieties of each clothing piece (tops, bottoms, outerwear, shoes, etc.), and try to pick items that are interchangeable to make different outfit varieties.

If you’re on the fence about what to bring, a good resource to use is social media and getting connected with other travelers. If you search ‘packing tips’ in travel therapist Facebook groups, you’ll find countless responses from seasoned travelers with tips and tricks to help.


As I mentioned before, every traveler ultimately has to go through a learning phase when it comes to packing. But, if you can remember to plan as much as possible, use efficient storage methods, and keep your items to a ‘minimum,’ it should help make this daunting task that much easier to allow you to head across the country to your travel therapy contract.

About the Author: Morgan Lauchnor, OTR/L

I started travel occupational therapy back in 2019, beginning as a new grad and moving from Pennsylvania to the west coast so I could live out my dream of seeing the country and all that it has to offer, while working my dream job. I’ve taken fiver different assignments in SNFs, from OR to CA, to TX, and NC. Two years ago, I planted some temporary roots in Asheville to get some inpatient/acute/LTAC/home health experience working PRN for a hospital network, before planning to return back to travel therapy. I travel with my mini-Aussie pup Zoey who has been the best adventure buddy. We love exploring new cities, getting outside any chance we can, and meeting the best people along the way! If you’d like to connect, the best way to contact me is through social media: Instagram: @zoandmo_onthego or through email at

If you’re looking for additional resources for your travel therapy career, check out Travel Therapy Mentor’s Traveler Resource Hub. If you’re ready to get started with travel therapy and want to connect with vetted travel therapy recruiters, fill out our Recruiter Recommendations Form. Feel free to message us with any questions!

What are the Most Common and Highest Paying Settings for Travel Therapists?

If you’re considering jumping into travel therapy, you’ve probably wondered which settings are the most common for travel therapy jobs, and which settings pay the most for travel therapy jobs. These are both important factors to consider before getting started as a travel therapist. If you’re accustomed to working in one type of setting or wanting to take most of your travel therapy jobs in that setting, you’ll want to know how prevalent the setting is and how much it tends to pay for travel therapy jobs. If you’re flexible on the setting but just want to make the most money, knowing which settings tend to pay the highest might sway you toward taking jobs in the highest paying settings.

Why Travel Therapists are Needed

Travel therapy jobs can be in nearly any setting where a PT, OT, SLP, or assistant would usually work. Travel therapists fill in temporarily at an open therapist position. The positions can be open for a variety of reasons, such as a maternity leave, a seasonal increase in caseload, someone recently quit, or lack of candidates to fill the permanent position.

Overall, the most common reason that a facility needs a travel therapist is because they are having trouble filling a longer term position with a permanent therapist. This may be because it’s a more rural area that doesn’t have a big candidate pool, or because someone quit suddenly and they haven’t had time to hire another permanent employee yet.

Because the most common reason to need a traveler is due to lack of candidates for the permanent position, it’s much less common to see travel therapy job openings for specialty settings, such as women’s health (pelvic health) or outpatient neuro. This is in part because specialty settings like this make up a much smaller number of all therapy jobs nationwide. It’s also because those settings are usually more desirable for therapists who have advanced certifications and specialize in those areas, thus why they are “specialty” settings. So, the jobs usually tend to already be filled by candidates who are seeking out those positions for their specialty.

Whereas, there are thousands of therapist jobs that need to be filled nationwide in the more common “general” settings. These are usually the jobs that have trouble filling up with full time/permanent staff. Therefore, these are the jobs that typically will need travel therapists to help them out to fill in temporarily while they are seeking a permanent therapist.

The Most Common Settings for Travel Therapists

Considering the reasons why travel therapists are typically needed, and the settings that most commonly have job openings nationwide, it makes sense why travel therapy job openings are more common in the “general” settings.

These are the most common settings for travel therapy jobs:

  • Skilled Nursing/Long Term Care Facilities
  • Home Health
  • General Outpatient Orthopedics
  • General Acute Care/Hospital
  • School Systems

There are occasionally travel therapy job openings in other settings, but they are going to be much less common. So, if you’re interested in specialty settings or other settings not listed here, it’s not impossible to find travel therapy jobs in those settings, just not as likely.

The best thing to do would be to talk to a few travel therapy recruiters and look at travel therapy job boards such as our Hot Travel Therapy Jobs List to get an idea of the market and see if you’ll be able to find jobs in your preferred setting. If you’re flexible to sometimes take jobs in the most common settings, while keeping an eye out for occasional jobs in your preferred specialty setting, that will help. Or, you may just have to be very flexible on locations in order to find the more rare openings in your preferred setting.

Factors Determining Pay in Travel Therapy Jobs

Now that we have covered the most common settings, let’s take a look at which settings tend to pay the highest. Here are some factors to consider that impact the pay for travel therapy jobs.

Reimbursement Rates

Reimbursement rates for a particular setting have a big impact on how much a facility can pay an employee. While the pay for permanent jobs is usually based mainly on reimbursement rates, that is only part of the story for travel therapy. In a permanent position, the employer is looking at the amount of revenue that a therapist can generate on average based on the units they bill and using that to determine a range of total compensation including salary and benefits. A travel therapy position is different because it’s short term and filling an urgent employment need. That, of course, is why travel therapists are able to earn more money than a permanent therapist in the same position. In some cases, a facility will actually be willing to lose money (i.e. pay the traveler more than they’re reimbursed for services) by employing a travel therapist temporarily at a high rate in order to keep from losing patients or having to shut down the facility. So, reimbursement rates do affect travel therapy jobs, but not as much as supply and demand.

Supply and Demand

Due to the high urgency for travel positions, supply and demand come into play to a much larger extent for travel therapy jobs than with permanent jobs. The favorable supply and demand dynamics are also where travel therapists can have a lot of room to negotiate in the right situation. There’s no doubt that reimbursement rates play a roll for travel jobs as well, but it’s just not the primary factor like with permanent positions. In the travel therapy world, a setting with a lot of open jobs can pay higher even if reimbursement rates are lower because they have to pay more to attract candidates to fill their open position. Pay rates are what travel therapists look at when deciding if they should apply for a position or not over other factors, so higher paying jobs get more travel therapist submissions.

Cost of Living

Another factor that can impact travel therapy jobs is location/cost of living. However, this is a much smaller factor than you would think. Facilities still have to budget to some extent based on how much they’re reimbursed for services. The cost of living in the area doesn’t always coincide with reimbursement rates, so not all jobs in high cost of living areas pay really well. Hawaii is a great example of this. Although the cost of living in Hawaii is extremely high, the reimbursement rates tend to be low and so does the pay (for both perm and travel jobs).

Where high cost of living can help you earn more as a traveler is IF the facility is offering a fairly high bill rate for the job, and the cost of living in the area is high, then usually the GSA allowable stipend for the area will be high. Therefore, the travel therapy company can move more of the bill rate for your pay package into the tax-free stipends, which in the end will mean you’ll come out making more after taxes. However, it’s important to keep in mind here, ONLY being in a high cost of living area doesn’t guarantee the job will pay high. If the facility is offering a low bill rate for the job, then the travel therapy recruiter can’t always max out your stipends even though the GSA rate is high, because there isn’t enough money in the bill rate to fill up that stipend category.

The Highest Paying Settings for Travel Therapists

While pay is going to vary across all travel therapy jobs depending on the factors above, particularly the location, supply/demand, and reimbursement rates, there do tend to be trends with which settings pay the highest for travel therapy positions.

Generally speaking, this is the usual ranking for highest to lowest pay for travel therapy jobs:

  • Home Health
  • Outpatient
  • Acute care
  • Inpatient Rehab
  • Skilled Nursing
  • Schools

Of course there will be random times when jobs in a particular setting may pay lower or higher than expected. The best way to gauge the job market and know which settings and locations are paying the highest, is to work directly with a few different travel therapy recruiters and ask them to send you a list of jobs in a particular area or setting where you’re interested. You can also look at travel therapy job boards, such as our Hot Travel Therapy Jobs list, to get a general idea of settings and pay for travel therapy jobs.

Getting Started with Travel Therapy

If you’re ready to learn more about travel therapy, check out the resources we offer here at Travel Therapy Mentor to help you get started. Our free Travel Therapy 101 Series is a great place to start. If you want to dive even deeper, you may want to sign up for our comprehensive travel therapy course which will teach you everything you need to know from start to finish to be a successful travel therapist and come out ahead financially.

If you’re within three months of starting your travel therapy journey, fill out our Recruiter Recommendations form here to get connected with great travel therapy recruiters. We will take a look at your preferences, including your preferred setting(s), location(s), and priorities, and email you back with our personalized recruiter recommendations specifically for you.

If you have questions about travel therapy, please feel free to send us a message!

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Written by Jared and Whitney Casazza, PT, DPT – Jared and Whitney have been traveling physical therapists since 2015. They have become experts in the field of travel healthcare through experience, research, and networking over nearly a decade.