How to Become a Travel Therapist

One of the most frequent questions we receive from students and prospective travel therapists who find our website or Instagram account is, “How do I become a travel therapist?”

They usually see all of the amazing adventures we’ve had and the financial independence we’ve been able to achieve since we decided to become new grad travel PTs in 2015 and want to go down a similar path. Becoming a Travel PT, OT, SLP, PTA, or COTA is something that just about all therapists consider at some point during their schooling or upon graduation. Traveling around the country meeting new people, trying out different states and practice settings, all while earning 1.5-2 times as much as at a permanent therapy job on average, makes travel therapy a pretty compelling option, especially for a new grad.

We love getting these questions and helping others get started with becoming successful travel therapists now, especially since we made lots of mistakes when we first started due to no resources being available at that time. How to become a travel therapist is not a straightforward question to answer due to everyone starting at different places and having different wants/needs with travel therapy jobs, but I’ll do my best to give some insight applicable to everyone!

Do Your Research Before Becoming a Travel Therapist!

When considering becoming a travel therapist, doing your research before starting and understanding the process is essential. After mentoring many thousands of new and current travel therapists, the one theme that consistently emerges is that the therapists who jump into travel without understanding the ins and outs first are the ones who are much more likely to have a bad experience early on, causing them to stop traveling. The horror stories about travel therapy are almost always coming from therapists who didn’t understand what they were doing and allowed themselves to be put in a bad position, or made avoidable beginner mistakes.

Naïve new travelers are very easy for bad travel companies and recruiters to take advantage of by either paying much too low or by sending them to terrible facilities. There are certainly pros and cons to travel therapy, but the best way to minimize many of the cons is to be well informed.

We created Travel Therapy Mentor in 2018 to make becoming a travel therapist and doing your research as easy as possible by providing a plethora of resources. Now we have over 100 articles as well as over 100 live videos (audio versions of most of them here on our podcast) on just about every possible travel therapy topic. We also have our step by step course that will walk you through becoming a financially successful travel therapist.

Another great option for learning and connecting with other travelers is our Facebook groups, Travel Therapy Mentor Community Group and Healthcare Travelers on FIRE, where thousands of travel therapists ask questions and learn from each other. If you’re completely overwhelmed with content, then the single best place to start is our Travel Therapy 101 series which covers all of the basics, with links to more in depth content. However you choose to learn, just make sure to do your research and start your travel therapy career informed!

Find Trustworthy Recruiters at Good Travel Therapy Companies!

With hundreds of travel therapy companies out there placing travel therapists, and many of those companies having dozens of recruiters, finding the best travel companies and recruiters is undoubtedly daunting. Finding great companies and recruiters is the most sure fire way to have a good experience when becoming a travel therapist. Every travel company will say they’re the best, and most recruiters are great at selling themselves since their livelihood depends on it. There are lots of great companies and recruiters out there, but unfortunately there are also a lot of not so great companies and recruiters.

Working with multiple different companies and recruiters is very important so that you have as many job options as possible, increasing the odds of finding a great fitting contract. Every therapist wants to find the best travel companies or the highest paying companies, but the truth is that the best and highest paying companies will vary depending on your specific needs in terms of discipline, setting, location, and benefits. Finding the best recruiters for you is also difficult because every traveler has their own communication style and expectations which will mesh well with some recruiters more than others. This means that the best travel companies and recruiters for you will often be different than for your classmates or coworkers.

Let Us Help!

Since finding amazing companies and recruiters is difficult, one of the most important services we offer at Travel Therapy Mentor is helping travel therapists get connected with good companies and recruiters that should work well for their specific situation. We’ve spent thousands of hours interviewing companies and recruiters to find their strengths and weaknesses to know which travelers they would work best for. We also continuously reassess which recruiters we work with and recommend based on their performance, communication, and feedback we receive from travelers. We have over 50 recruiters at over a dozen different companies that we send therapists to according to their wants and needs. If you’d like us to help you get connected with companies and recruiters that should work well for your situation, then fill out our recruiter recommendation form!

Determine Your Priorities as a Traveler

Every traveler chooses travel therapy for different reasons. When I started traveling as a new grad physical therapist, my main reason was to make and save as much money as possible. I had a lot of student loan debt and was determined to improve my financial position quickly, which made Travel PT extremely appealing. While traveling, I could earn a lot of money while also making very minimal student loan payments, meaning I could invest a ton of money each year to get myself in a better financial position early in my career. As time went on though, my priority shifted from saving as much as possible each year to having more free time which is when I decide to “semi-retire.”

Some travelers choose to travel because they want to explore the country and find where they want to eventually settle down. Sure, making a lot of money is great, but for them that’s secondary to checking out cool locations across the country where they may end up staying long term. Other therapists choose to travel because they aren’t sure which setting they want to work in long term, and with travel they’re able to try out different settings for a few months at a time before choosing and settling into a permanent position. Still other therapists choose to travel for the flexibility of being able to take long periods of time off between contracts to do long road trips and travel internationally. Whitney and I have used that flexibility to take multiple 2-5 month international trips including our five month around the world trip in 2018.

Every Travel Therapist is Unique

Since all travelers have their own priorities, it’s important when becoming a travel therapist to sit down and think through yours and decide what’s most important for you. Ideally you get all of your contracts in the exact location you want, in the setting you desire, and with extremely high pay. Realistically though, this is unlikely. Most of the time you’ll get one or two of those, but not all three. For that reason, ranking setting, location, and pay in order of what is most important to you is necessary before becoming a traveler, and this may evolve through your travel career as well.

For me when starting, finding outpatient PT jobs in low cost of living areas was most important. I was willing to work just about anywhere on the east coast as long as it was an outpatient job in a low cost area where I’d be able to save a lot of money. Another traveler might want the absolute highest paying contracts and care much less about the setting and location, so even though they’d prefer to work in outpatient on the east coast, they end up working home health in California where contracts pay much higher. Think about these factors as you prepare to begin your journey as a travel therapist, as it can help guide you with your job search and career choices.

Is Being a Travel Therapist Really for You?

Becoming a travel therapist isn’t a decision you should take lightly. While just about everyone considers it, it’s certainly not for everyone, especially not for all new grads. While we started traveling as new grads and have helped many hundreds of other new grads get started with travel, we occasionally advise against it for some therapists. If you’re a therapist that isn’t comfortable yet with your evaluation and treatment skills, or have a difficult time with change, or get overwhelmed easily, then travel might not be right for you.

Additionally, if you’re a therapist who’s already planted some roots, maybe you own a home with a mortgage, or you have a family or a spouse to consider, you will have various factors to take into account to determine if traveling is the right move for you. You may also have a lot of financial factors to consider in order to decide if travel therapy is really worth it for you financially.

Weigh the Pros and Cons

Adapting to new clinics, job searching and interviewing for jobs every few months, packing and moving often, and being away from family and friends for long periods are all things you need to consider before deciding to become a travel therapist. Also while most facilities we’ve worked at over the years have been very good, not every contract is going to be perfect, and some can be downright difficult.

Before deciding to become a travel therapist, make sure that you consider all of the pros and cons, and that the pros outweigh the cons for you. If they do, then travel therapy can be the adventure of a lifetime for you! We have had an amazing experience ourselves as travelers and wouldn’t change anything about choice we made to travel, despite occasional headaches along the way. The financial freedom, adventure, and flexibility it has given us would have been impossible by any other means as therapists.

What are You Waiting for?

If becoming a travel therapist sounds like a good fit for you, then use the tips above, and jump in! Utilize the resources on our site and in our groups to set yourself up for success. If you have questions that aren’t covered in our content, then feel free to contact us. Best of luck on your journey to becoming a travel therapist!

Additional Resources:

Jared Casazza
Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT – Jared has been a traveling physical therapist since 2015 and has mentored thousands of current and aspiring travel therapists.

Can You Find a Travel Therapy Job Anywhere in the Country?

A common question we get from aspiring travel therapists involves how to find a travel therapy job in a specific state or even in a specific city. Usually the question is coming from a therapist who has limited knowledge on how travel therapy works, but they found our website, our Instagram account, or saw our hot jobs list during a search for travel therapy information and are reaching out to us for help.

Often these therapists are in one of these situations:

  • already planning to move to a specific city long term and wants to try a travel contract there before committing to a permanent position
  • or has heard good things about a city and wants to check it out short term before committing to moving there
  • or they only want to take travel jobs in specific cities where they have family or friends
  • or they just have their heart set on certain cities to explore with travel contracts (like San Diego or Austin)
  • or they’re a therapist looking to take “local travel therapy contracts” in the area where they already live

These individuals are usually looking to take advantage of some of the perks of travel therapy jobs, such as higher pay, trying out different settings without committing to a permanent job, and flexible time off between contracts, but while being able to choose the exact city/state where they want to work. Sometimes they’ve heard from a recruiter or another travel therapist that they can work where ever they want as a traveler, but they don’t understand how the process works.

So, Can You Take a Travel Job Anywhere You Want in the US? Well, It Depends.

Unfortunately, although it is theoretically possible to work anywhere in the country if a travel job is available, often there isn’t going to be a travel job opening in a specific city at the time you need it. This is especially the case if there’s a certain setting you want as well. Of course, this will always depend on the city in question, because some cities consistently have significantly more travel therapy jobs than others. For example, say you’re a PT who wants to find a pediatric outpatient travel job in Salt Lake City, Utah. Although it would theoretically be possible for a job like that to pop up, the odds are very low, and it could take years to see a contract like that. In fact, in 6+ years of traveling, we’ve only seen a handful of PT travel jobs in any setting in all of Utah. The odds of finding a travel contract in Utah in general are already low, but adding in a specific city and setting make finding something to fit that criteria almost impossible. On the other hand, say you’re a PT who wants to find a travel contract near San Francisco, California and you’re open to outpatient or home health. In that case, it’s going to be a lot more likely to find what you’re looking for and you’ll probably see a lot of job options.

But Why?

Some therapy students and new therapists think that just because it’s possible to work anywhere in the country as a travel therapist, that this means they can find a job anywhere they want at any time. They may have the impression that travel therapy companies are essentially creating a new job for them when they want to go to an area, but that’s not how travel therapy works. In order for a travel job to exist, there has to be a facility with a need that is specifically looking for a short term employee at that time. Usually that need will be due to something like a sudden increase in caseload, a permanent therapist at the facility recently quitting, a permanent therapist out on medical leave, or difficulty with finding a permanent therapist to fill an open position. No matter what the reason, a travel therapy recruiter can’t create a job in an area where a need doesn’t currently exist. So, depending what area you’re searching and the open job availability at that time, travel therapy just in one area may or may not work out.

In addition, for popular places such as San Diego, CA or Austin, TX, you’ll have to take into account competition for jobs in the area. Not only are these areas competitive for permanent positions because they’re highly desirable places to live (which means you won’t see travel therapist needs there as often), but when there are travel jobs there, these positions are highly competitive and often get taken really quickly because many travelers want to go there.

So, What If I Only Want One Location, Is Travel Not an Option For Me?

Not necessarily. It’s just going to depend on the city and/or state of interest, and how flexible you are on different settings. If you’re someone who is only interested in traveling to one area, or you’re interested in pursuing travel jobs within a commutable distance from where you currently live, it is possible that you may have some options. It’s never a bad idea to get connected with a few travel therapy recruiters to discuss your job search and see what job availability they may have for you.

But, don’t be too surprised if they tell you that they don’t have any job options in the exact location where you’re looking, or in your preferred setting. You may have to be open to a bigger search radius, different settings, or both in order to make travel therapy jobs a reality. Depending on the area, this could mean that you need to be open to within an hour or two of the exact city, or for some areas it could mean you need to be open to the entire state or even nearby states. Every state and city is going to have varying job availability for travel positions, and this job availability literally can change by the month, week, day, or hour, depending on fluctuations in staffing needs.

In some cases, travel therapy companies can try to “cold call” facilities in the area you’re looking, in order to see if a facility would be interested in having a travel therapist there short term, even if they don’t currently have a listing. But this is not always fruitful and is time consuming for recruiters, so if they’re already busy with a lot of other travelers, it may not be something they’re willing or able to do.

The bottom line is, if you’re only open to a small area and are only looking for certain settings, your options are going to be limited. It’s possible you can line up one travel therapy contract to suit your needs, but it may be less likely that you’ll obtain consistent employment as a travel therapist just in one region. There are certain therapists who are able to get their exact desired location and setting for a travel job, and there are certainly therapists who live at home and find consistent contracts within a commutable distance. But this is not always the case and certainly not how most travel therapists do it. As always, “it depends.”

How Would “Local Travel Therapy Contracts” Work if I Can Find Them?

Let’s say that for the particular city or region you’re interested in, there are some travel job options. You can accept a “travel therapy” job anywhere in the country. But, you’ll need to take into account the IRS Tax Home Rules in order to determine how you would get paid as a therapist working that job.

If you’re unfamiliar with travel therapy pay, we suggest checking out our Comprehensive Guide to Travel Therapy Pay to better understand how typical travel therapy contracts and pay packages work. Part of the reason that typical travel therapists make a lot more money, is due to tax-free stipends as part of their pay packages. But, in order to qualify for these tax-free stipends, you need to meet certain Tax Home rules. The best resource to learn more about Tax Homes is TravelTax.com.

For example, if you are maintaining a permanent residence in another state, duplicating expenses, and meeting all the tax home rules, but you want to go try out a travel therapy job in a new city/state to see if you want to move there or just check it out for a few months, you can likely accept the pay package like a normal travel therapist with tax-free stipends.

However, if you move your permanent residence to a new area and are just taking a travel contract or two to decide on a job you like in the new area, before accepting a permanent job, you’re likely not meeting the tax home rules and would have all of your pay taxed for your contract.

Similarly, if you plan to live at home at your permanent residence and commute to “travel” contracts within your area, you are not meeting the tax home rules because you are not duplicating expenses, and therefore your pay package will be fully taxed, rather than receiving tax-free stipends like a traditional travel therapist. (Yes this is the case even if the job is more than 50 miles from your home. This “50 mile rule” you sometimes hear about is actually a “50 mile myth.” Being 50+ miles away does NOT qualify you for tax free stipends per IRS rules. If you are living at home and commuting to the job, regardless of how many miles away the job is, you aren’t meeting the requirements to receive tax free stipends.) Doing this, you’ll likely still earn significantly more than a permanent therapist, but not as much as a traditional travel therapist who is receiving tax free stipends. Your pay as a “local traveler” would likely be more like a PRN rate.

Take Home Message

Typically, to be a travel therapist, you need to be somewhat flexible on locations in order to find consistent travel contracts. We usually recommend that therapists open up their search criteria to at minimum an entire state, or a few states. Then, from there, you can see what travel job options are available, and start narrowing down your job search based on the settings, pay packages, etc.

However we understand that some therapists may have limitations on the geographic locations they are willing or able to travel to, but they’re still interested in pursuing short-term contracts to take advantage of the higher pay, flexibility to take time off, and flexibility to try out different settings. If this is the situation you’re in, we recommend getting in touch with a few travel therapy recruiters to find out what options they may have available, or seeing if they can “cold call” facilities for you to try to arrange a travel contract. Alternatively, you could consider being an independent contractor and calling around to arrange your own short-term contracts in an area, although this is a lot more hassle and may or may not be worth it depending on your situation. Last, you can consider applying directly to regular therapy jobs in the area that are listed as permanent or PRN positions, then if you are given the opportunity to interview, you could ask about taking the job as a short term contract rather than long term if that would suit your needs better.

Keep in mind that if you do take “local travel contracts” just in one region, you need to consider the tax home laws and implications before accepting any pay package which includes tax-free stipends.

We hope that this helps better explain different options that you have if you’re considering taking travel therapy contracts just in one specific area. Please send us a message if you have more questions, or fill out this form if you’d like to get connected with travel therapy recruiters and companies that we trust.

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC
& Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

Whitney and Jared have been traveling physical therapists since 2015. Together they have mentored and educated thousands of current and aspiring travel therapists.