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.

How to Find Travel Therapy Jobs

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

Getting Started as a Travel Therapist

For those who are just getting started and looking into becoming a travel therapist, they often wonder how to find travel therapy jobs. The process can be pretty straightforward and easy sometimes. But, depending on your preferences, the process might look a little different and might be a little more challenging. Here I’ll outline how the process works and some routes you can take to best find the travel jobs that are right for you.

Working with Travel Therapy Agencies

The easiest way to find travel therapy jobs is by working with a travel therapy agency/company. There are hundreds of companies out there, and most of them will have access to many of the same jobs. However, each company may have individual connections with certain facilities or in certain areas of the country, allowing them to have some jobs that are different from other companies. Many jobs are offered through a “Vendor Management System” or VMS, which is a central database that lists jobs in a standardized format. Some larger companies may get “first dibs” to these jobs, then if they are not filled within a certain time frame, the jobs will be opened up to other companies.

It’s generally best to work with two to three different travel therapy companies at a time so that you can keep your options open for the best choices of job listings. You will find a lot of overlap in the jobs available, but sometimes there will be outliers. In addition, each company may be able to offer you a different pay package for the same job, based on the amount of overhead and other costs that the company must incur. You can better understand these pay differences by reading about how pay works as a travel therapist and what a travel therapy contract bill rate is.

By “working with” a few companies, this just means you are in communication with a few recruiters at different companies, and you’re having the recruiters search for jobs for you. They will probably have you fill out some paperwork for them so that they can build a traveler profile for you in order to submit you for jobs. By doing this with a few companies, you have not committed yourself to be an employee of that company. You are only an employee of that company once you have accepted a travel position with them and have signed a contract to work at a facility. Otherwise, you can be in communication with as many companies as you want and have profiles with all of them, but not be committed. While you can work with an endless number of companies, we feel about 2-3 is usually enough since more than 3 can start to become a headache when trying to communicate with each recruiter, and you likely won’t get much additional benefit from working with more than 3.

The Process of Finding Jobs with Travel Agencies

Once you’re in communication with one or a few travel companies, you need to make some decisions regarding your preferences. You have to decide about where you’d like to work, in what setting(s)when you can start, and how much money you’re looking to earn.

Based on your preferences, when working with a travel agency, the recruiter will notify you of jobs they have available. Sometimes they will be able to provide you a lot of details about a job upfront, sometimes not, depending what information is available to them. If they present you with a job, and you like it, they can “submit” your application/profile to that job for consideration.

Here are the things you need to consider when communicating with a recruiter and being considered for job submissions:

Location: Are you most concerned with the state you’re in, the region of the country, or a certain city? You usually need to already be licensed in a particular state before you are submitted for any jobs there, so you need to plan ahead. However, sometimes job listings will be posted far enough in advance to have time to get licensed in a particular state, if it is a short licensing process. Work with your recruiter and the state’s licensing agency to better understand how long licenses usually take for each state. This can be a tricky game of limbo, and in general we recommend being licensed in a state before allowing travel companies to submit your application for jobs there. Often, therapists will choose to be licensed in more than one state to allow them more flexibility with job options. For physical therapists, a “compact licensure” is in the works and has recently been enacted for certain states. If you are a PT and your home state is part of the “PT Compact” then you are in luck regarding your job options. Other disciplines may have the state compact licensure option in the future but not currently.

Setting: You need to let your recruiter know what your preferred setting(s) are, which ones you would consider, and which ones are a definite “no” for you. For example, you’d prefer inpatient acute, would consider SNF, but definitely could not do outpatient. Depending on your other preferences, including location, start date, and desired pay, you may have to be more flexible on setting. But for some therapists, setting is the most important, and the other factors are more flexible.

Start Date: You need to have a start date in mind and let your recruiter(s) know. Usually jobs are posted with “ASAP” start dates, which generally gives you up to about 4 weeks depending if the facility can wait and if another clinician interviews and could start earlier. Sometimes jobs will be posted with a specific start date in mind, usually no more than 2-6 weeks out. Rarely, you’ll see jobs that they know will be available 2-6 months in advance (for example if there is a planned maternity leave). But for the most part, when you’re about 4-6 weeks out from your desired start date is when you’ll start seeing jobs posted for that time frame.

Pay: You need to have an idea of your desired weekly pay. For example, many physical therapists will look for jobs somewhere around $1500-1700/week “take home pay.” This can vary highly across different regions, settings, and disciplines. You also need to take into account the weekly pay amount vs. the cost of living in a certain area. $1500/week is going to mean a lot more money in your pocket in rural Virginia vs. coastal California. Usually letting your recruiter know what a “minimum” pay would be for you will help them narrow down job options and avoid submitting you to jobs that are very low paying. However, some therapists will recommend you don’t give the recruiter a minimum pay number, because hopefully the recruiters will offer you the highest pay available for each position based on the bill rate, and not “low ball” you based on knowing you’ll accept a lower number. Again, this part can be a bit tricky and why it’s vital to have a recruiter that you get along well with and trust to not take advantage of you.

Once you’ve let the recruiter(s) know about your preferences, they will start the job search for you. They will notify you of a potential position, and ask if you would like to be submitted. You should avoid giving permission for the recruiters to “blind submit” you to any jobs. They should ask your approval first, to ensure that it is truly a job you’re interested in, so as not to waste your time, their time, or the facility’s time. In addition, you want to avoid being “double submitted,” or submitted to the same job by two different companies. If two companies present the same job to you, you can decide who you would like to submit you based on the pay package each company presents and the benefits they’re able to offer. If you do end up accidentally getting double submitted, it’s not the end of the world, and normally the facility will give you the choice of which company you’d like to take a contract through if offered the position, but it’s best to avoid if possible.

In addition to the recruiters searching for jobs for you, you may also be able to monitor their websites or search online for jobs, then ask the recruiter about those jobs. But generally speaking, the job listings on the travel company websites are usually not the most up to date, and the recruiter can let you know about the most up to date listings a lot quicker.

Finding Jobs on Your Own as an Independent Contractor

For most therapists, working with a travel company is going to be the easiest for finding travel therapy jobs and setting up contracts and benefits. However, some therapists choose to search for jobs on their own and set up their own contracts.

The perks to this may be that you can make more money by “cutting out the middle man” and you may be able to find some jobs that are not open to the travel therapy agencies. But do keep in mind that you will also lose out on company benefits such as health insurance, which will usually be a lot cheaper since the company gets a group rate. By opting for your own health insurance, you may have higher out of pocket costs, which should be accounted for in your bottom line. You also wouldn’t be able to contribute to a company 401k plan, although you may choose to set up your own solo 401k as an independent contractor, but there will undoubtedly be more work involved.

If you are able to find your own position by searching job listings online or by “cold calling” facilities, you may be able to negotiate a higher rate and negotiate your own contract terms. Sometimes this may be in the form of a 1099 contract employee or as a direct hire employee of the facility, but with a mutual understanding you may only be there a short time. Travis and his fiancee have done this recently for a contract, so if you would like more information on this route, please contact us here.

Conclusion

Generally the easiest way to find travel therapy jobs is by working with one or more (preferably 2-3) travel therapy companies and having them search for jobs for you. Be sure to work with highly regarded recruiters/companies in order to avoid falling prey to being low-balled with pay offers. Determine which aspects of travel jobs are most important to you between pay, location, and setting. You can occasionally get a great job that has your preference for all three, but usually you’ll have to settle on 1-2 of these so it’s important to determine what is most important ahead of time. You may also be able to find jobs on your own by doing online searches and cold calling facilities.

I hope that this information has helped you to better understand the process of finding travel therapy contracts. If you have more questions or would like our recommendations for which travel companies we work with, please reach out to us!