Finding Short Term Housing vs. Living in an RV as a Traveling Healthcare Provider

*This is a Guest Post that Whitney wrote for Furnished Finder where she discusses the differences in housing options for travel therapists, including some of the pros and cons of each! This post should be helpful to those of you trying to decide what’s the best housing choice for you as a travel healthcare provider!


Finding Short Term Housing vs. Living in an RV as a Traveling Healthcare Provider

One of the major concerns for many healthcare providers looking to pursue travel careers is how they will set up housing. There are many housing options out there for those of us who travel for work, from using sites like Furnished Finder to secure short-term furnished housing, to having the travel agency set you up at an extended stay hotel, to choosing some form of tiny living on wheels like an RV!

During my 5 years as a traveling physical therapist, I have utilized a few of these housing options and have had the opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of each. (And let me tell you, any option is going to have pros and cons!)

So let’s dive in to some of those pros and cons to considering these different options for housing, and maybe some of my insight will help you along your own travel healthcare journey!

Logistics and Considerations

When you’re considering what option to choose for housing, you will first need to take into account your own personal situation. Are you traveling solo, with a significant other, with children, or with a pet? Do you feel comfortable sharing accommodations or would you rather have your own place? If you’re thinking about tiny living/RVing, do you feel comfortable with the maintenance and upkeep involved with owning a home on wheels, plus towing it around the country?

In addition, you need to consider the location of your potential travel contract(s). Are you interested in traveling to big cities or more rural places? Some quick internet searches can reveal a lot for you as to how easy or difficult it’s going to be to secure short term housing on your own vs. having the travel company assist you with the process. It will also give you an idea of whether finding campgrounds/RV parks in the vicinity of where you might travel will be feasible.

For me, I am a traveling physical therapist and travel with my significant other who is also a traveling physical therapist, so after weighing lots of options, we decided to buy a camper and lived in it for about 3 years! This worked well for us overall as a pair, rather than finding short term housing for the both of us; however, we did end up renting a short term furnished place on a couple of assignments. More on our journey below and how we chose between short term housing and the RV life!

Company Provided Housing

This is actually the only housing option I have not utilized. Generally speaking, it seems that most travel healthcare providers choose to accept the housing stipend from the travel agency and then set up their own housing, rather than letting the company handle housing. There are some travelers who choose to let the company set up housing for them though.

I think generally the best time to let the travel company set up housing for you is if in the area where you’re traveling, you are having a lot of difficulty finding housing on your own, or you are short on time to be able to set this up yourself. Also, some travelers may just find it easier to have this weight lifted off their shoulders and let the company handle it.

The pros of letting the company set up housing for you would be that you have less worry and headache in getting the housing set up. You also probably won’t be on the hook for any rent/lease issues, in case your contract gets cancelled early. However, the cons are that, you may have less control over your accommodations, and you may end up losing money on your weekly pay because they take out a lot for housing instead of giving you the housing stipend!

Finding Short Term Housing On Your Own

I would say this is the option that the majority of travel healthcare providers choose! In your pay package, you will have the company allocate part of your pay as a housing stipend (hopefully tax free if you qualify by maintaining your tax home– hooray!). Then you will utilize different websites, like Furnished Finder; ask around in online forums and groups; call realtors and apartment complexes; and so forth until you can identify some good short term housing options!

The pros here are that you can usually find housing that’s cheaper than what the travel therapy company would take out of your paycheck, so after you pay your rent, you should come out ahead by keeping the extra money! (Who doesn’t like extra money?!) You also have more control over choosing your accommodations, such as proximity to work/attractions, as well as how many bedrooms/bathrooms, and other amenities at the accommodation!

Cons are that it is sometimes difficult to find places that offer short term rentals near where you’re going to be working. I’ve definitely run into this in the times that I had to search for short term housing. A lot of apartment complexes and personal ads for housing do not allow any shorter than 12 month leases. Also, lots of the places you find won’t be furnished or have utilities included, which leaves you with another problem to solve.

I will say that Furnished Finder has solved a lot of these problems for us. They only list places that offer short term leases (or even better, month to month!) for us as healthcare travelers. And all of their listings are already furnished. I can’t stress how much hassle this removes in terms of setting up leases, getting stuck in leases if your contract is cancelled, setting up utilities, and furnishing a place for only a couple months!

But, unfortunately there is never a guarantee that a property on Furnished Finder will be available for the location and dates that you need, so alas we must sometimes use the other options like Craigslist, Airbnb, VRBO, apartment complexes, extended stay motels, realtors, etc!

In my experience, I’ve rented two different places I found off Craigslist for two different assignments. Both were semi-private, meaning that they were part of someone’s home, but we had our own “suite” if you will. One was an over-the-garage studio apartment, but we had to share the kitchen and laundry in the main house. The other was a fully furnished basement with our own kitchen, but we had to enter through the main door and share the laundry upstairs. Overall these were good experiences, and we were very lucky to find furnished, short term rentals, with utilities included in the price, on Craigslist! Because Craigslist can definitely be hit or miss, and sometimes sketchy!

But unfortunately during our searches, we did find that there were extremely limited options for short term housing in the areas that we needed, with the criteria we wanted in an accommodation. When searching for short term housing as a traveler, you are definitely at the mercy of what’s available. So sometimes you’re either going to have to skimp on your ideal setup, or raise your budget, or possibly both.

Another consideration when choosing to set up short term housing as a traveler (whether on your own or with the company’s help), versus choosing an RV, is packing and moving often. This was a big thing we were trying to avoid by buying an RV. In an RV, you always have all your stuff with you, so you don’t have to constantly pack and move in and out of places. But, those travelers who do choose short term housing (again- the majority of travelers) do end up becoming pretty good at packing their cars and being minimalistic! And although it can be a headache sometimes, it’s just part of the traveler lifestyle and you get used to it!

Tiny Living or RV Life

Tiny living, van living, and RVing are definitely becoming more popular options for traveling healthcare providers. There is certainly some appeal to having your own home on wheels with you all the time, and traveling from place to place. To be honest, a lot of RVs now are just like little apartments, and you are by no means “camping outdoors” when living in an RV! However, tiny living is very much a lifestyle choice and not to be pursued by just anyone! It’s difficult to even compare it side by side with the alternative short term housing options, because it’s so different! I recommend not looking at this like option number 3, but like taking a left turn and pursuing a completely different path!

We chose to buy a camper pretty early in our travel PT careers, and there were several reasons why we thought this would work out better for us.

  • First, we thought it would make life easier to leave all of our stuff in the camper and just move it from place to place, without having to always pack, move in, and move out of places every 3 months or so!
  • Second, we thought finding campgrounds/RV parks would make the housing location search a lot easier than finding short term housing accommodations.
  • Third, we thought we would save a lot of money by buying the camper, staying cheaply at campgrounds, and then selling the camper when we were done.
  • Fourth, we thought it would be a cool adventure!

All of those were true, to some extent. However I don’t think it was exactly the all-around-perfect life choice that we envisioned when all was said and done.

Not having to pack and move all the time, and having all of our stuff in the camper with us all the time, was for sure a huge perk! We only had to do minimal “packing up” each time to make sure things didn’t fall down inside the camper. We could usually easily load up and move to a new place (if it was within driving distance) on a weekend, then get set up within an hour or so at the new place, and be back to work on Monday if we wanted!

The campground/RV Park finding process was easier than short term housing to an extent. However, it does sometimes limit the locations you can travel to. For example, it’s not as common to see RV Parks that allow long term (month to month) stays near bigger cities. We had pretty good luck finding them in suburban and rural areas, but it did limit us from going some places. The way we maneuvered this was, when presented with a potential contract to apply for, we instantly did a quick Google search to see if there were even any RV parks nearby before we submitted our applications for the job. That part made it a little more feasible. Because as compared with short term housing, you can’t always do a quick search to know whether there are places to rent readily available for the dates you need, before submitting for the job.

Financially, having the camper usually saved us on our monthly rent costs, with most campgrounds we stayed at costing between $300-900 per month. Whereas depending on the area, short term rentals could run you anywhere from $500-2500 per month! But, with an RV, you still have to account for the upfront cost of buying an RV, the costs for maintenance and repairs, and the depreciation on the vehicle if you plan to sell it afterwards. When all was said and done after factoring in these costs once we sold it, we probably about broke even over the course of 3 years. If you planned to keep it for shorter than 3 years, you’d most likely come out behind financially based on our calculations.

As far as adventure goes, it was certainly a fun experience and something we will be able to talk about for the rest of our lives! But it’s not for everyone. The part we didn’t really take into account were the maintenance and repairs. It’s like owning a house, but one that’s on wheels, with little parts that can break, and you can’t always easily find the part to replace or a repair person who knows how to fix it like at a normal house!

All in all, we are glad we chose to do the RV life for 3 years. But it did not come without its hassles and headaches. In the end, we were glad to sell it and not have the responsibility anymore! So this is a huge thing you need to take into consideration for yourself. Are you going to be the type of person who wants to maintain and upkeep your home on wheels? Or would you rather just rent short term housing and not have a place to worry about all the time?

What Type of Housing Is Best for You?

So what’s the best choice for housing as a traveling healthcare provider? I don’t think there’s one answer to this question. You really have to consider what type of person you are, and what you’re comfortable with. As I mentioned, most travelers will choose to go with short term housing and set up their own accommodations. But there’s always the option of letting the company set up housing for you for an assignment and seeing how that goes. Or if you’re feeling really adventurous, or already know you like the camper lifestyle, maybe you decide to jump into RVing/Tiny Living, but just make sure to do your research before making any big purchases!

I hope this information has been helpful to you in terms of deciding what types of housing will be best for you as a traveling healthcare provider! Happy Travels, and enjoy the journey!

 


Written by, Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

Whitney has been a traveling physical therapist since 2015 and travels with her significant other and fellow Travel PT, Jared Casazza. Together they have a personal blog titled “Fifth Wheel PT,” which got its name from their 3 years traveling and living full time in a fifth wheel camper! Whitney and Jared have traveled for PT work up and down the east coast, and in their time off between contracts have traveled all over the world! Together with Jared, Whitney also mentors current and future travel therapists at their website TravelTherapyMentor.com. You can follow their travel journey on Instagram or Facebook @TravelTherapyMentor.

Tax Homes 101 (for Travel Therapists)

What is a Tax Home and Why is it Important for Travel Therapists?

In general, a Tax Home is usually your place of primary residence, but it has more to do with the place where you primarily “maintain business” and earn income, by the IRS definition.

  • The IRS defines a Tax Home as: “the entire city or general area where your main place of business or work is located, regardless of where you maintain your family home. If you regularly work in more than one place, your tax home is the general area where your main place of business or work is located.” (source: IRS)

The reason determining your tax home as a traveling therapist is important is because it has to do with the way that your income is taxed by the IRS while working travel assignments.

It’s a very important concept to understand, and most travel therapists will want to make sure they are meeting the requirements for maintaining a proper tax home per the IRS guidelines, so they can receive tax-free stipends for housing, meals and incidentals when away at travel therapy contracts. Receiving these tax-free stipends is part of what makes Travel Therapy Pay so lucrative, because your after-tax pay is significantly higher than it would be at a normal job.

So let’s dig in a little more to better understand what a Tax Home is and how you can make sure you meet the requirements in order to receive tax free stipends!

How Pay is Taxed as a Travel Therapist

Normally, if you work at a regular, permanent job as a W-2 staff employee, or as a PRN employee, all of your pay is taxed. You will receive a flat hourly rate or salary, and taxes will come out of each paycheck on all of it.

As a travel therapist, if you qualify, you will receive an hourly pay which is taxed, and in addition you will receive a stipend or “per diem” for housing, meals, and incidentals to help cover your expenses while you travel away from home to go work in the travel location, and this stipend is not taxed.

The reason why you could receive these stipends/per diems untaxed is because, you should be maintaining a permanent residence which will be considered your Tax Home, where you regularly return to, continue to have financial obligations, and continue to carry on business. Because you have financial obligations (including rent/mortgage, utilities, maintenance, and other bills) at your primary residence, the IRS may give you a “tax break” on some of the expenses you have at your second work location, the place where you are temporarily traveling away from your tax home to go and work, aka your travel therapy job assignment!

If you’re not meeting these requirements, and you do not maintain a proper Tax Home, but instead you’re just a “gypsy” (aka an “itinerant worker”) who travels around from place to place for work, then there is no reason for the IRS to give you a tax break on your income and stipends. In this case, you would be taxed on all of your pay at the travel contract, just like it was a normal, permanent job.

Tax Home Requirements

There are some guidelines to follow to be sure you’re meeting the requirements for maintaining your Tax Home, so that you can qualify for the tax free stipends (and keep more of your paycheck instead of getting it taken away in taxes)!

You must meet at least 2 out of 3 of the following requirements to be maintaining a proper Tax Home (Source: TravelTax)

  1. Have regular business (employment) in that area.
  2. Have a permanent residence (physical residence) at your tax home (metro area where you last worked) and are financially responsible for that residence’s upkeep (rent/mortgage/taxes/repairs) while you are away from home.
  3. You have not abandoned your tax home (plan on returning and spend around 30 days a year there).

We encourage you to visit TravelTax.com and IRS.gov to learn more about these requirements. If you have specific questions about your own taxes and Tax Home situation, we highly recommend contacting a tax professional such as those at Travel Tax!

Do Your Research!

We can’t stress enough that it is your responsibility as a travel therapist to do your research about Tax Homes and make sure you’re meeting the requirements! Do NOT rely on recruiters to tell you whether you are or are not meeting the requirements. And do NOT accept a travel contract where they are giving you tax-free stipends unless you have made sure that you qualify!

If you accept tax-free stipends as a traveler and you were ever audited by the IRS, it is 100% YOUR responsibility to prove that you were maintaining a Tax Home and that you qualified for the tax-free income. If you cannot provide this proof, you will owe back taxes on all of the stipends and may also incur penalties and fees.

  • To learn more on this topic, read this article that goes into greater detail about Tax Homes.

Bottom Line about Tax Homes

As a Travel Therapist, as long as you are maintaining a Tax Home where you have expenses, conduct business, and return to often/between contracts, you may qualify to receive tax-free stipends on your travel contracts. Receiving the stipends tax free is a huge perk and allows you to make much higher after-tax income compared to those working permanent jobs! But it’s vital that you do your research to make sure you’re following the rules in order to avoid owing back taxes and fees if you get audited by the IRS in the future!


We hope this was helpful in understanding a little more about Tax Homes and why it’s an important concept for travel therapists! Be sure to reach out to a tax professional if you need further guidance on this topic, as we are NOT tax professionals and this is only general information that we have found from professional resources (linked above).

If you have not already, be sure to check out the other articles and videos for our Travel Therapy 101 Series in order to learn all the basics about getting started with travel therapy!

Please contact us if you have questions for us, or fill out this form if you would like recommendations for travel therapy recruiters and staffing companies to get started on your own travel therapy journey!


Written by Traveling Physical Therapist Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

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