Travel Therapy with My Spouse & Kids

Here at Travel Therapy Mentor we often get questions from clinicians who are considering travel therapy but who are wondering if they can make it work with their spouse and/or kids. Fortunately, we know many healthcare travelers who have hit the road with their family and found different ways to make it work.

You can check out this post where travel nurse Alex discusses how her and her husband, a physical therapist, travel with their kids and alternate taking travel healthcare assignments. Or this post, where Kayla, a physical therapist, discusses traveling with her spouse who works remotely.

Below, we are excited to bring you Michael’s story. Michael is a physical therapist who travels with his wife and two kids, and his wife takes care of their children while they travel. We hope these stories will be inspirational to you and give you insight if you’re considering pursuing travel healthcare with your spouse and/or family!

Pursuing Travel Therapy with My Family

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I am sure I can speak for many people when I say that working as a healthcare provider, especially in the hospitals, was utterly exhausting. I love what I do as an acute care physical therapist, but the feeling of burnout really started to feel overwhelming as we were pushed to our max, with little hope in sight that weekend requirements and work-life balance would improve.

It was at this time in the early months of 2021, that I began to sincerely feel a change needed to be made. Shortly after I had started to feel this stirring for something different, my wife, Tessa, suggested one night the idea of doing travel therapy. Tessa expected me to say something along the lines of, “No way, you must be losing your mind!” But unbeknownst to her, I had already been considering it.

I was both surprised and a little scared, if I’m being honest, about the real prospect of leaving our permanent positions to pursue the travel therapy life. But, WOW, am I glad we took a chance and decided to embark on this new adventure together!

One of the most important factors for us as a family was ensuring our “why” aligned with this transition.

We realized that travel therapy could help us towards our ultimate goals:
  • avoiding burnout professionally
  • our desire to travel and explore this beautiful country rather than waiting for our “some day”
  • continuing to make progress towards our financial goals of paying off student loan debt and saving for a house
  • allowing Tessa to spend more time at home with the kids during these important formative years, without completely sacrificing our income
  • and seeking opportunities which offer a better work-life balance to open up the door for more quality time as a family

As we more seriously considered this opportunity, we began to dig deeper into researching what we would need to do to prepare ourselves to make such a transition. From me leaving my permanent acute care position, to my wife deciding to leave her PRN nursing position, we decided to say “YES” to our new adventure!

Making it Work: Logistics of Traveling as a Family

Getting On the Same Page

It may sound cliché, but I truly believe the most important first step in making a transition to travel healthcare, if you are married, is to ensure that you and your spouse are both on the same page. Tessa and I promised each other that we must both be in agreement that this is the right step, since this wasn’t just going to affect the two of us, but our two young kids, Luca and Marley, as well.

Telling Our Families

We knew telling family would be tough, and it was, as they were sad that we would be gone for several months at a time. With the kids having grown up no more than ten minutes away from all our Ohio family, we knew that being away from family for possibly half a year at a time would be extremely difficult for everyone at first. However, after the initial shock our intentions sunk in, they were very much supportive and understanding of why we were pursuing this lifestyle change.

Deciding on Housing

Once we were committed to pursuing this journey, we started doing research on the housing type that would best fit our needs. RVing was something we were strongly considering. This led us to joining a few full-time living RV Facebook groups to learn about family life in an RV, what we would need, and how to take care of an RV. The more we discussed and researched, the more we felt ourselves leaning toward getting a camper instead of navigating short-term housing. We ultimately decided it was important for us and the kids to have consistency when it came to “housing,” so the RV life it was!

Buying Our RV & Truck

We decided on a fifth-wheel camper (33 ft 2012 Keystone Cougar), which meant we would need a truck to pull it. In order to stay on budget, and to meet our goal to not go further into debt to start this endeavor, we made the tough decision to sell our beloved Ford Explorer in order to purchase our camper and truck. We did a lot of research on trucks as we wanted to ensure we had “enough truck” to safely pull our camper from the east coast, through the Appalachian Mountains, or even as far as Arizona. After much searching and patience, we settled on our 2008 Ford F-350 dually, which we have been incredibly pleased with throughout our travels.

When traveling, I will drive the truck, pulling the camper, while Tessa and the kids follow behind in our Honda CR-V.  Once at our campground location, I drive the CR-V back and forth to work, while Tessa and kids have the truck available if they need it, but typically there are enough things to keep them entertained at the campground.

Getting Prepared to Start

If anyone is a very “Type A” personality like myself, you will understand the stress and worry that goes into preparing for such a big transition. I am definitely one who researches and plans as much as possible beforehand, so this is why I was so relieved when I found out that Jared and Whitney had created a comprehensive, everything-you-need-to-know travel therapy course to get us started. Their course gave us the insight and guidance we needed to go into our first travel therapy assignment well prepared and confident. It also personally gave me such peace of mind that I was doing the things I needed to ensure my first assignment was successful and a good first experience.

Day-to-day Life, Adventures, and Making Memories

Tessa and the kids have found fun things to do during the days while I’m working. Depending on the area, Tessa will occasionally take the kids to a local library for group activities, story times, socialization, or to simply read books.  Between bike rides, playgrounds, swimming, visiting other campground friends, playing outside (or inside on the rainy and/or cold days), and our kids’ always-favorite golf cart rides, there is usually plenty to keep the kids entertained during the day.

It’s no secret that Tessa has the harder job, entertaining two highly energetic kids, while managing the cooking, cleaning, and also performing regular weekly emptying of the RV tanks if it needs done during the day. Outside of managing all that, Tessa takes advantage of nap times (or “quiet time” for our 4-year-old) to exercise, including walking/running outside around the campground, cardio workout videos, or body weight exercises (inside or outside weather permitting). Depending on the location, a few campgrounds have had workout rooms, but if not, another option has been for Tessa to look for workout facilities that offer childcare (ie. YMCA, Crunch Fitness).

Some people considering a transition to the travel life may fear feeling alone or isolated with no friends or families to connect with during assignments; because I know we did in preparation for our first assignment. But we have been so blessed to have met so many wonderful families and people whom we now consider great friends. We even had previous campground friends from North Carolina come to visit us for a week while we were on assignment in East Texas. The ”regulars” at campgrounds definitely promote a family atmosphere, and as such look out for each other, especially those with young kids so that new families to the area feel safe and supported.

Outside of the campground and day-to-day life of living in a camper, we have had so many great experiences exploring the beautiful areas of the places we’ve been. Thanks to some of my assignments allowing me to work four 10-hour days each week, we have been fortunate to do some fun site-seeing. While in the Carolina’s, we took advantage of the beautiful landscape to experience some amazing hikes and checked some state and national parks off our list. While in Texas, we experienced the Stockyards (highly recommend if you’re ever in the Fort Worth area), the Dallas and the Fort Worth zoos, and of course some amazing BBQ.

However, don’t let some of our highlights give the impression that you have to spend a lot of money to have fun. We are also diligent to look for “free fun” and budget-friendly activities most of the time, such as parks, picnics, and hiking. Our kids have loved all of our adventures so far, and many weekends will ask, “Can we go on an adventure?” as they look forward to doing something new and exciting. We are thankful for these times we’ve had exploring different parts of this beautiful country, but the most important part of this experience is the valuable memories we have made together as a family.

Suggestions for Others Looking to Travel as a Family

Depending on the size of your family, and the ages of the kids, you may decide, like we did, that consistency of environment is an important factor and lean toward getting a camper/RV to begin your travel healthcare journey as a family. This option also provides an easier route for transporting items such as books, bikes, swim toys/inflatables, bedding and stuffed animals, kitchen items and utensils, and more.

One of the most important factors to making a successful transition to traveling if you are considering getting a camper/RV is to do your research ahead of time. Some may be in a position to make this transition happen sooner, but for us, this meant spending several months researching, learning, planning, preparing, and saving money before we could begin our journey.

Based on the needs of your family, you may decide to be pickier when it comes to camper layout. For us, having a separate bunk room for the kids was important so the kids can have their own space for toys and clothes, and also provide a quieter place for nap times, or “quiet time” if they are growing out of naps. 

There is a lot to learn about living in a camper, whether it’s a travel trailer, fifth wheel, or drivable RV. Plus, if you don’t have, plan on having, or are unable to afford a drivable RV, you will definitely want to research dependable truck size (and power) to ensure you have “enough truck” to pull your camper weight. You also want to determine what types of areas you might look to travel. Are you wanting to stay more local, within your state or maybe only 1-2 states away?  Or are you open to, and possibly considering, going anywhere and everywhere? You want to consider some of the possible distances you might cover, and if you’re going to be going through mountains to get there.

A great resource is to join Facebook groups related to full-time RV/camper living (ie. “Full-time RV Families”, “Full time RV Living with Kids”). These groups provide a wealth of knowledge from individuals and families living life in a camper/RV. You will learn some very useful tips and tricks, especially recommendations and lessons from people who have “learned the hard way,” helping you to avoid similar mistakes.

Some areas may even have Facebook groups that can provide helpful information in regards to alternate campground vs. housing options (possibly outside of the typical platforms of AirBNB, Furnished Finders, Vrbo, etc.), or recommendations for family-friendly things to do or see. When considering short-term housing vs campground RV living, finding and moving to short-term housing may be easier at times, but campgrounds will typically always be cheaper. Although, buying a truck and camper will be a bigger up-front cost, so I recommend crunching the numbers and determining the potential cost-analysis based on how long you may potentially travel.

Looking Toward the Future

Overall, we have been very happy with our decision to pursue travel therapy as a family, and very happy with our choice to travel in a fifth wheel camper. We have had amazing experiences as a family and made many life-long friendships in the process.

As for the future, we are definitely discussing when we may settle down vs. continuing to travel. In regards to school for the kids, Tessa currently does pre-school level activities with Luca who is 4 years old. Marley is 2 years old so we have a while before school will be a concern for her. We have talked about the possibilities of home-schooling the kids for a time, but haven’t completely decided how long into school years we will travel. We are currently saving to buy a house, and possibly might settle down by the summer of 2024, which would be a good time for Luca as he starts school. But, we are still open to extending our travel adventures if we decide it’s still what we think is best for our family!  Home truly is wherever we’re together!

About Michael & His Family

Hi, I’m Michael. I was born in St. Louis, Missouri, but my family moved to Mount Vernon, Ohio when I was 6 months old.  I transferred high schools going into my Junior year, which is where I met and started dating my now wife, Tessa. We got married in 2016, after dating for nearly 9 years. I got my undergraduate degree in Exercise Science from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois. Then I completed my Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree in 2017 from THE Ohio State University! I started out my PT career in acute care in a level 2 trauma hospital in Columbus, Ohio. This August (2023) marks 2 years since my family and I started doing travel therapy, but I still hold two PRN positions at a few hospitals back home in Ohio, which allows me to pick up shifts any time I am home. Tessa and I have two wonderful kids, Luca (4) and Marley (2), and they LOVE the travel life and all the places we get to explore. Marley was only 10 months old when we started traveling, so travel life is pretty much all she’s known.

Feel free to follow along with us as we continue our adventures!  Follow us on Instagram or email us if you have any specific questions or just want to connect as a fellow travel family.

Ready to Start Your Own Travel Therapy Journey?

We here at Travel Therapy Mentor would love to help! Our free Travel Therapy 101 Series is a great place to start learning some of the basics. If you’re ready to dive deeper and learn everything you need to know to be a financially successful travel therapist, take a look at our comprehensive travel therapy course.

If you’re within a few months of starting your journey, you can fill out our Recruiter Recommendation form to get connected with the best travel therapy recruiters. Feel free to message us if you have any questions!

SAVE Student Loan Repayment Plan for Travel Therapists

After three and a half years, it looks like student loans are actually going to go back into repayment in a couple of months.

I wrote about the student loan pause last year and how I expected it to get extended again after it was scheduled to end in August of 2022. It turns out that it didn’t get extended for just a few more months, but for an entire extra year!

After such a long pause, many borrowers have put themselves in a position where they don’t have extra money each month to make their payments when repayment resumes. To ease some of the pain, the government attempted to give a lump sum in loan forgiveness ($10,000-$20,000) to borrowers, but this ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court. In another attempt to reduce the burden on borrowers, the government has now introduced a new income driven repayment plan that is supposed to be more generous than current repayment plans for cash-strapped borrowers. The Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) Plan is slated to take the place of the Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) plan once payments restart.

As long time readers know, I’ve been a big proponent of the REPAYE plan for travel therapists for many years now. I’ve used this plan, via the 50% interest subsidy, to significantly reduce the effective interest rate on my loans while maintaining a $0 student loan payment for several years. This is a unique opportunity available to travel therapists due to our reduced adjusted gross income (AGI) since part of our pay is untaxed. By going this route, paying $0/month, and investing the money I would’ve used toward student loan payments instead: I’m ahead financially by tens of thousands of dollars since graduating PT school. Overall, I’ve been very happy with the REPAYE plan and the benefits it gives to borrowers, especially travel therapists.

If you’re new to this topic and are unsure if going on an income driven repayment plan is the right choice for you, vs. a standard repayment plan or aggressively paying your loans off as quickly as possible, I would recommend reading some of my prior posts on this topic to help you better decide, such as this one: Is it Better to Pay Off Student Loans or Invest?

So, is REPAYE being replaced by SAVE a good or bad thing for travel therapists on income driven repayment plans? Well, the changes are overwhelmingly positive, but there are some negatives as well.

Benefits of SAVE vs REPAYE

Let’s start with all of the positive changes coming with the switch from REPAYE to SAVE.

  • Payments will be lower
    • On REPAYE, your monthly payment was based on any taxable income you made over 150% of the federal poverty line. 10% of any income you earned over 1.5 times the federal poverty line was how much you would have to pay each year, with that amount being split into 12 equal monthly payments. That applied to both undergrad and grad school student loans.
    • On SAVE, payments will be lower because they are based on 225% of the federal poverty line instead of 150%. The same 10% over that level will apply to grad school loans. But for undergrad loans, your payment will be based on only 5% of your income over 225% of the poverty line. For borrowers with a mix of undergrad and grad school loans, what you owe will be based on a weighted average of the loan balances. The 5% of discretionary income for undergrad loans isn’t scheduled to go into effect until July 2024 though.
  • Interest won’t accumulate
    • The thing that made the REPAYE plan so powerful for travel therapists was the interest subsidy. Half of any interest that would have accumulated each month was automatically subsidized. That meant that if you had a $0/month payment, your effective interest rate was essentially cut in half since 50% of the interest was immediately forgiven instead of added to your loan balance.
    • On SAVE, this benefit gets way better! Now, 100% of any accumulated interest is forgiven automatically each month, meaning that if your payment amount isn’t enough to cover the interest, it doesn’t matter because that interest won’t be added to your balance. Now, if you have a $0/month payment, your student loan balance won’t grow at all, and you’ll effectively have a payment-free, interest-free loan. Those $0 payments will still count toward the 25 years of payments needed for student loan forgiveness as well.
    • For anyone on SAVE with a low income (or in the case of travel therapists, a low AGI), it will basically feel like the student loan pause has just been extended indefinitely. $0 payments, no interest accumulating, and progress toward loan forgiveness. That’s very generous!
  • Married filing separate won’t include your spouse’s income
    • Under REPAYE (unlike the Pay as You Earn Plan), if you were married, whether filing jointly or separately, your spouse’s income and student loan balance would be taken into account when calculating how much you owe each month on your student loans. For most people, that meant a higher monthly payment.
    • With SAVE, if you file your taxes separately from your spouse, then your payment will be calculated only based on your income, which will be a benefit for some.
  • Some loans will be forgiven more quickly
    • This won’t apply to many travel therapists, but if your initial student loan balance was $12,000 or less, it will only take 120 monthly payments to qualify for student loan forgiveness instead of the normal 300 monthly payments. Each additional $1,000 in loans over $12,000 will require an additional year of payments to achieve forgiveness. For all of us with more than $27,000 in student loans, it will still take 300 monthly payments to qualify for student loan forgiveness just like under the REPAYE plan, so no real changes there for most travel therapist borrowers.

Downsides of the SAVE Plan

So those are pretty awesome positive changes, but what about the negatives?

  • You won’t be able to switch plans
    • As of July of 2024, you will no longer be able to switch to the Pay as You Earn (PAYE) plan. Part of the rollout of SAVE is making choosing a student loan repayment plan easier for borrowers. This means reducing the number of choices and subsequently the elimination of the PAYE plan. Anyone already on PAYE will be able to continue on the plan though.
    • Why does this matter? Currently on REPAYE, you can freely switch between repayment plans, and all of your payments made on the other plan still count toward loan forgiveness. That means theoretically you could make 19 years of payments on REPAYE, getting the benefit of the interest subsidy during that time, and then switch to PAYE on year 20 and get forgiveness after 20 years instead of having to wait until 25 years like you would on REPAYE. This was a loophole that I always thought would eventually get closed, and it looks like that time has come.
    • It is also proposed that after 5 years of payments on the SAVE plan, you wouldn’t be able to switch to a different repayment plan, further limiting options. For travelers, REPAYE made sense due to the interest subsidy while traveling and having a lower AGI. But once not traveling anymore, there are many situations where PAYE would be better due to the shorter amount of time to loan forgiveness, and potentially a higher payment due to AGI going up at a permanent job (no tax free stipends). In the past, you could get the best of both worlds by staying on REPAYE while traveling, and then switching to PAYE once you settle into a permanent job, but now that won’t be an option.
    • For some travel therapists, especially those who don’t plan to travel long or who don’t plan to contribute heavily to pre-tax retirement accounts to lower their AGI when they’re back at a permanent job, PAYE could be a better repayment option than SAVE while it’s still available.
  • No cap on payment amount
    • This isn’t actually different than the REPAYE plan, but it’s something to be more aware of now that PAYE will be going away and you won’t be able to switch plans after five years.
    • On SAVE, if your income increases significantly, there is no cap as to how high your payment can go, whereas on PAYE it is capped at your 10 year standard repayment monthly payment amount. This won’t apply to many people, but if in the future your income is very high, you may find that your student loan payment is much higher than you expected. If that happened on REPAYE, you could have just switched to PAYE to lower the payment, but now that won’t be an option in the future while on SAVE.
  • Future uncertainty about repayment plans
    • This will be the first time that a student loan repayment plan has been completely replaced by a new plan. That will set a new precedent that big overhauls of repayment plans are possible. Although the changes with SAVE are mostly positive, future changes may not be. If a future president comes in who is much more fiscally minded and thinks SAVE is too generous, it’s possible they could change SAVE into a new plan with worse terms than REPAYE had by executive order. Or, maybe they switch the terms of the plan back to how they were on REPAYE, but now without the ability to switch to PAYE in the future since that plan is gone. Although this is probably pretty unlikely, there’s no doubt that these changes introduce this possibility which didn’t really exist before.

Does SAVE Make Sense for Travel Therapists?

Overall, these changes are pretty awesome. If you’re a travel therapist who is able to get your AGI below about $33,000, on SAVE you’ll have $0/month payments and no interest accruing for the entire time you’re traveling. If you contribute some money to a traditional IRA, 401k, or HSA each year, then having a $0/month payment shouldn’t be hard to achieve at all now, whereas previously having to get below $20,000 AGI on the REPAYE plan to achieve a $0/month payment was difficult for some. Having essentially an interest-free loan with no payments due while traveling makes paying down student loans quickly even less beneficial than before for most travel therapists. Not having to account for your spouse’s income is also a pretty big benefit for married travelers who are willing to file separately. This is very applicable for me and Whitney this year.

Not being able to switch off of the SAVE plan after making five years worth of payments and having PAYE no longer be an option after next year could really be a detriment to some travelers though. Being locked into five extra years of payments (on the 20 vs. 25 year plan) before reaching forgiveness could come back to bite, especially if those last five years are really high earning years for you with no cap on payments.

There will be no one size fits all answer here since most of the choice between SAVE and instead going on PAYE will now depend on what you plan on your life looking like after you stop traveling.

If you plan to transition straight from travel to semi-retirement and then to early retirement like me, or to just do part time work after traveling, then keeping your AGI low to continue to get the benefits from SAVE won’t be an issue, and SAVE will be an awesome option for you.

If you plan to eventually transition to a much higher paying permanent job or open your own clinic with high earning potential after you stop traveling, then you may end up being better off on PAYE and forgoing the interest subsidy on SAVE while traveling.

There’s also the option for some with a reasonable student loan balance to go on SAVE while traveling to take advantage of the interest-free loan, and then just switch to a standard 10 year repayment plan after traveling or aggressively pay off the loans ASAP to get rid of the debt and not worry about forgiveness at all. I can see that being a much more reasonable option now for some.

If you’re planning to work at a non-profit for 10 years in order to get Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) after traveling, then SAVE would be a good option for you due to the lower monthly payment and the extra 5 years of payments not being a factor.

Overall, I think SAVE will be the best choice for most travelers, but certainly not all.

Summary and Considerations

As you can see, lower payments and no interest accumulation on student loans are very generous new benefits on the SAVE plan. Because of this, many more people, not just travel therapists, will chose to go on SAVE instead of paying off their student loans quickly. Additionally, people already on an income driven repayment plan will now pay back less over the life of their loans.

For this reason, I’m pretty confident that this new repayment plan will be challenged in court, and the changes could end up being overturned. This is exactly what happened to the proposed $10,000-$20,000 in partial loan forgiveness from last year. I’ve waited a long time to write any update about student loans because things have constantly been in flux and uncertain. To a degree, that’s still the case now. But hopefully that doesn’t happen and everything goes through as proposed with the new SAVE plan.

Since switching plans will be less feasible on SAVE, it’s more important than ever to put a lot of thought into your personal situation and future before making a choice on which student loan repayment plan to choose. Before, it wasn’t a big deal if you chose a less optimal path because you could always switch later, but now the consequences are greater. It’s vital to do some calculations to determine what will be the best choice for you over the long term and not just choose SAVE to have a low payment and no interest accumulation while traveling without considering your future after traveling. If that’s not something you’re comfortable with doing on your own, then FitBux is a great place to go make an account and schedule a call with an expert who can help. This is an invaluable resource for all student loan borrowers.

Personally, I will most likely go on the SAVE plan due to the lower payments and enhanced interest subsidy, but I am going to have to put some extra thought into it before making my final decision now than switching to PAYE won’t be possible after next year.

Do you plan to go on the new SAVE plan? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

If you have questions about travel therapy or student loan repayment options for travel therapists, feel free to send us a message. We also have additional resources you can check out below!

If you’re interested in getting started as a travel therapist, check out our free Travel Therapy 101 Series and get connected with the best recruiters by filling out our Recruiter Recommendation form.

Related Articles:

Jared Casazza

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT – Jared has been a traveling physical therapist since 2015. He has become an expert in the field of travel healthcare through his experience, research, and networking over nearly a decade.