Net Take Home Pay Vs Gross Pay Quotes for Travel Therapy Pay Packages

It’s no secret that travel therapy pay packages can be confusing, especially for new and prospective travelers.

I’ve often gotten messages and comments from therapists not familiar with travel therapy pay saying that there’s no point in traveling when you can make just as much money at a permanent job. This is almost always just a misunderstanding in how the compensation is quoted, which is understandable because it is confusing. They look at a take home pay number for a travel job, and compare that to the gross pay they’re making at permanent job, and assume those two numbers are talking about the same thing, but this is incorrect. Even comparing pay between two travelers can be difficult due to all of the variables involved.

Travel Therapy Pay is Unique

While almost everyone in the regular working world discusses pay uses either an hourly pay number, or a gross yearly salary, those numbers don’t really make sense to use when talking about travel therapy jobs.

There are too many variables to determine a “typical travel therapy salary” on an annual basis. The biggest variable is how many weeks the therapist works each year, since flexibility to take long periods of time off and even semi-retire is a huge perk of travel therapy.

An hourly rate doesn’t make sense without knowing the stipend amounts and the number of hours expected or guaranteed.

As a remedy to this, in the travel therapy world, pay is almost always quoted in a weekly “take home” amount, otherwise known as the total weekly net or after-tax pay. This is the amount you can expect to see deposited into your bank account each week when working a contract. This amount typically includes both the hourly rate (minus taxes) plus the non-taxed stipends for housing, meals, and incidentals.

If you’re completely unfamiliar with how travel therapy pay packages are set up, I suggest reading this article or this article to gain a better understanding of this topic.

Unfortunately, while the standard is to quote a weekly after tax total, or “weekly take home pay,” there are also issues with this method.

Drawbacks of Quoting Take Home Travel Therapy Pay

If you’ve only ever looked at travel therapy pay packages, it may come as a surprise to learn that therapy is the only area of travel healthcare that commonly discusses compensation in terms of take home pay aka after-tax pay. Travel nursing and other travel healthcare disciplines almost always discuss compensation is a weekly gross (before tax) amount.

Why is that? It’s because take home pay numbers can also be confusing and hard for recruiters to determine accurately.

Think about it, for a recruiter to quote accurate take home pay for a job, they have to know details about your life to try to determine what your tax rate will be. They also have to know what benefits you’re going to choose that come out of your paycheck before taxes.

Here are some things that can cause take home pay to be different for one traveler compared to another:
  • Are you single or married?
  • Do you have dependents?
  • What is the state income tax rate in your tax home state?
  • Which health insurance plan are you going to choose?
  • Are you going to opt for life insurance or disability insurance offered by the company?
  • Are you going to contribute to a 401k plan if offered by the company?
  • Do you have any side hustles/other jobs that will impact the amount of tax withholdings on your paycheck?

Difficulty for Recruiters

Now, put yourself in a recruiter’s situation. What if you quote a traveler take home pay for a job assuming they’re single with no dependents, have a tax home in a state with no income tax, carry their own health insurance, and aren’t going to contribute to the company 401k plan, and then all of those assumptions are wrong. The actual take home pay the traveler receives could be much higher or lower than the quoted amount, but it wasn’t the recruiter’s fault. The traveler may feel like they were lied to, when in reality that wasn’t the intention of the recruiter at all. Even the highest paying travel therapy companies can run into issues with this.

You may think, “Oh well they should just ask those things before quoting a pay amount,” and that’s true, but some travel therapists don’t want to give all of that information to a recruiter who they may not even take the job with. Also for situations like with our hot job list or other publicly posted pay packages, the recruiters have no contact with the traveler before determining the pay package posted, so they just have make assumptions that of course may lead to inaccuracies for the individual traveler.

What About Gross Pay?

With all of the assumptions that go into determining a take home pay quote in travel therapy, you may think that quoting gross pay would be better. Well, yes and no. It certainly leads to less confusion since recruiters aren’t having to guess on your tax rate and the benefits you’ll choose, but there are issues as well. The main problem with quoting a weekly gross pay amount is that there’s no way to know how much of that pay is taxable and how much of it are tax free stipends.

For example, let’s say a recruiter quotes you $2,500/week gross pay for a travel contract. That sounds pretty good, but the amount you actually receive each week can vary a lot depending on if the taxable hourly rate is high or low. If the job is $20/hour taxable pay with $1,700/week in tax free stipends, then your weekly paycheck will be much higher than if it’s $40/hour taxable pay with $900/week in tax free stipends. This might not seem like a big deal, but if you’re trying to decide between two jobs based on pay, then a difference between $100-$200/week in take home pay could really sway your choice.

What’s the Best Way to Discuss Travel Therapy Pay?

Unfortunately there’s no perfect answer here. Hourly rates and annual salary are inadequate, and weekly take home pay and weekly gross pay both have drawbacks.

Take home pay quotes lead to unavoidable inaccuracies, and sometimes even hard feelings between travel therapists and recruiters. Gross pay quotes lead to less information being communicated, which can make choosing between jobs based on pay hard for the traveler. Gross pay also means a little more work on the part of the traveler to determine their own expected tax rate and calculate their own approximate net weekly pay.

Overall, gross pay is probably a little better to quote than take home pay, since many more variables are eliminated. But for whatever reason, that has never been the standard in the travel therapy world, and it’s hard to change what people expect.

I’ve seen some people in various Facebook groups claim that any recruiter that is quoting gross pay is intentionally trying to mislead or take advantage of travel therapists. This is almost never the truth. Usually recruiters will quote gross pay in order to avoid the inherent confusion that comes with trying to guess someone’s tax and benefits situation. Certain companies even have policies that do not allow their recruiters to quote the net pay due to inaccuracies and miscommunications this has led to in the past. You certainly shouldn’t be choosing to work with a recruiter or not based solely on how they communicate pay information. There are many much more important variables when picking great recruiters.

Ensuring Your Travel Therapy Pay Package Quote is Accurate

Whether you work with a recruiter who quotes you weekly take home pay or weekly gross pay, it isn’t a big deal if you’re a smart travel therapist that understands the limitations of each, and understands how to calculate your own pay package. Just make sure that you are clear on which way they are quoting the pay to avoid further confusion. If you have one recruiter quoting net and the other quoting gross, you will be sorely disappointed when you realize that the reason the gross weekly pay package was so much higher was that it was before taxes! So just have clear communication with the recruiter if they quote you a weekly amount: be sure to ask is this weekly net or weekly gross.

If your recruiter quotes you a weekly net take home pay number for a potential contract, you need to understand that this is just an estimate based on the average travelers’ situation and could be a little more or less for you based on your personal taxes and benefit elections. No big deal. The recruiter is probably doing their best to be accurate, but it’s never going to be perfect. Quoting approximate net pay can give you a good idea of a rough estimate of your weekly take home pay, which will make it easier for you to quickly compare jobs side by side. Once you’ve been quoted the approximate weekly take home pay, you can do the leg work to figure out a more precise weekly take home number for yourself before accepting the contract.

If your recruiter quotes you a gross pay number, no problem. It’s easy to get a rough estimate of the take home pay amount yourself.

Whether you’re quoted the net weekly take home or the gross weekly amount, you just need to find out how the pay package is broken down to run the calculations for yourself. Ask the recruiter what the hourly taxable rate is, and what the stipend amount is.

To get a rough estimate for my own taxes, I take the hourly rate and multiply by 40 hours, and then subtract 20% of that to account for estimated taxes. I then add in the tax free stipends and have a pretty good guess of what I’ll receive on my weekly paycheck. If I want to be even more accurate, then I’ll use a pay check calculator as discussed in this article. The calculators at Paycheck City are great for this. I’ll then subtract whatever I estimate that the pretax benefits I choose will cost (such as insurance premiums and 401k contributions).

So in summary, as long as you have a good understanding of how pay packages are broken down, you can get a good estimate of what your own weekly pay will be no matter whether the recruiter quotes it as net or gross. It’s very important to know that recruiters are not “good” or “bad” for quoting it one way or the other, this usually has to do with their company standard. A savvy traveler will not be fazed by it being quoted one way or the other. In fact, smart travelers will prefer to see the pay package breakdown and run the calculations themselves.

Being an Informed and Savvy Traveler

Something that helps significantly with getting accurate, as well as the highest possible, pay quotes is working with high quality and reliable recruiters at good travel companies. If you need help getting connected with some that will work well for your situation, be sure to fill out our recruiter recommendation form. We’ve spent years interviewing recruiters and companies to find the best ones for all sorts of different situations.

If you’re brand new to travel therapy and want to learn more information that will help you to be successful and avoid mistakes, start with our free Travel Therapy 101 series. If you want to take your learning to the next level and use travel therapy to become financially independent, then our comprehensive travel therapy course “Becoming a Financially Successful Travel Therapist” is for you.

Best of luck in your travel therapy journey!

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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.

Travel Healthcare with a Family

We often receive questions about whether it’s feasible to travel with kids or travel with a family as a travel therapist, travel nurse, or other traveling healthcare provider. The answer is YES. absolutely! But, this will look different for different families, and there are a lot of logistics and considerations. We are excited to share Alex’s story about traveling with her husband and two young children to give you one perspective on how this travel healthcare couple has made it work!

Travel Healthcare with a Family

Hey all! My name is Alex McCoy and I am a traveling Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) nurse. I have been a nurse for eight years, and I have traveled for about five of those years. I started out using travel nursing as a way to make more money when I was the sole provider for our family while my husband, Keaton, finished physical therapy school. 

Once he graduated, we were able to travel together as a couple, which was such a fun way to experience the country together. We traveled for two years and were able to coordinate Travel PT and Travel Nursing contracts together most of that time– which also allowed us to pay off debt, buy a car in cash, and save a lot of money as well!

Adding to Our Family

Around the two year mark of traveling together, we decided to start a family. I was actually on contract through the first half of my pregnancy, and then we ultimately decided to move home to be closer to family while we adjusted to parenthood. A lot of things about transitioning to permanent jobs didn’t pan out the way we had hoped– for example, I was not at mine long enough to accrue any paid maternity leave, and my insurance didn’t kick in until I was almost seven months pregnant. In hindsight, I should have probably continued a travel job until delivery simply for the better benefits and pay. 

Anyway, our daughter was born late in 2019, and I was able to work a PRN job as I eased into being a working mom. And little did we know, but a global pandemic was about to wreck the entire healthcare system as we knew it. We had initially talked about going back to travel after our daughter was born, but the physical therapy market crashed in mid 2020, and the pediatric nurse job market wasn’t looking any better, so we stayed put near home for the time being.

Near the end of 2020, we got pregnant with our second, also a girl, who was born in May of 2021. We were living the iconic American dream– two adorable little girls, a nice house in a nice neighborhood, working in well-respected jobs– but we were struggling. Keeping two under two in daycare full time was going to cost us $2500 a month (this was in our home base in Kansas City, Missouri if you were wondering). Most of our call-offs and vacation days were being used to juggle days where one kid was running a fever and couldn’t go to the sitter, or the other was vomiting and needed one of us at home. Even with an incredible support system, we barely had time as a family, and all of the “perks” of working a regular job weren’t really being utilized to our benefit.

The Leap Back Into Travel

When our youngest daughter was about seven months old, I reached out to a friend of mine who had become a travel nursing recruiter. On a complete whim, I asked her for a list of travel nursing jobs that were within three to four hours of me that were paying high rates. She immediately sent me a job in St. Louis that was paying per week what I made in a month, and it was weekend-only nights.

Thus started the craziest three months of our lives. We decided to “try before you buy,” if you will. I would work Friday-Sunday nights in St. Louis, and my husband, Keaton, would work four, 10-hour days during the week at our home base in Kansas City. This meant we only needed childcare Fridays and Mondays, and I could be home with my girls four days a week.

While this arrangement was hugely beneficial from a financial standpoint, it was not a long term option. I got used to the driving pretty quickly, but Keaton and the kids would also drive up most weekends. I was still nursing my younger daughter, and it was nice to be able to see my kids for a few hours on Saturdays and Sundays when I woke up before my shift.

Hitting the Road Full Time

As my contract in St. Louis began winding down, we decided we were ready to go all-in on travel. Keaton was used to solo-parenting all weekend, so he felt a lot more confident if he had to be the stay at home parent. I was loving the freedom and flexibility that much higher pay provided us, and I was excited to not feel tied to a regular employer. 

That summer we hit the road to Virginia and haven’t looked back. Thus far we have continued to have me work the contracts while Keaton keeps the kids, simply because PICU travel nursing is paying an average of $3500 a week or more, and I only have to work three days per week. We do plan to have Keaton take the next contract so he can keep up his clinical skills as well.

Transition to Full Time RV Living

Unaware that we were going to go back to full time travel, in the fall of 2021 we had purchased a pop up camper to use for road trips. If you have kids, you know how much of a chore it can be to pack for any sort of outing. The pop up camper was our solution to this. We would have most of the basic necessities stocked, and we could just pack clothes and go. The pop up would also allow us to travel more cheaply while still having a climate controlled space to use for naps and bedtimes.

We actually brought the pop up along with us to Virginia, where we stayed at a short term rental for our housing, and it was so fun for weekend beach getaways. On these trips we started discussing the idea of full time camper living. 

Our housing arrangement in Virginia was great– for a couple or single person. We found a cute little house on Furnished Finder at a reasonable price. The problem was, everything “reasonable” was a one bedroom. We made it work, but it was tight. Our bedroom basically functioned as a bunk room, and the main living area felt chaotic all the time with the kids’ stuff being everywhere.

Keaton and I started doing the math and figured that even if we had to finance a truck and/or a small portion of a larger camper, we would still end up paying less than what it would cost for a two bedroom furnished rental in most places. Ultimately, we decided to purchase a used camper and newer truck.

Perks of Full Time RV Life

So far, we are really enjoying full time camper life. Our floor plan is the Keystone Bullet Premier Ultra Lite 31 BHPR. It allows us to have a full bunk room for the girls to use for their toys and things, and then Keaton and I have a small “bedroom”.

My favorite part is all of the time we spend outside as a result. Since you can’t really live in areas with extreme weather in an RV, it is typically nice enough to spend at least part of the day outside each day. Plus, when you are living in a campground, there are usually lots of places to walk and explore, and we even have a playground nearby most of the time. Plus, we just invested in a Frozen Power Wheels Jeep— so mom and dad get lots of steps while the girls drive around.

We also love that we can just close our slides and take off. On our contract in Virginia, it took several days to pack, load, and organize our stuff. Pre-kids, we could typically do it in a day, but since we can’t just power through these days, it just wasn’t that simple. In the RV, we try to do some cleaning and organizing beforehand, but we don’t have to be as perfect as when we are returning the keys to a rental unit.

Downsides of Our Lifestyle

Hands down the hardest part of being on the road full time with two small kids has been the lack of a “village” or support system. Keaton and I have been married for over seven years, but we still try to be intentional about our quality time together. Without babysitters or family nearby, we often can’t have traditional date nights or time away.

We work as a team to make sure we each get time alone to decompress or work on our own hobbies. We also always find a gym with childcare so our kids can go play while we work out, and we don’t have to worry about juggling kids and workout schedules.

The other thing we are conscious of is taking advantage of time we do have with childcare available. If we go home or have visitors on assignment, we usually ask for a few hours to get out and reconnect. We also try to plan a trip once a year to go on a trip as just the two of us.

Overall we are thankful for the time we get together as a family, but we recognize how important it is to also take time to be ourselves and make it work even while on the road!

What the Future Holds

Honestly…we aren’t sure just yet! And we’re okay with that. Continuing to travel and homeschooling our girls is always an option, but our oldest is only three, so we have some time to decide. As long as we are traveling, we plan to alternate who takes a travel job and the other one of us will stay at home with the girls.

At this point, if we continue to travel, I don’t think we will go back to short term housing. It’s so nice having our own space and not having to worry about packing each time, and I can’t see a world where we would want to give that up.

If we do decide to go all-in on continuing to travel, homeschool, and live in the RV more long term, I think we would look at upgrading our rig and truck just to have more space. We would love a fifth wheel and maybe a toy hauler space that we could use for a multipurpose room.

In the end, we are constantly thankful for the options our careers afford us. Whatever we decide to do in the future, there is always room to pivot and do what works best for us and our family!

Alex McCoy is a Pediatric ICU Travel Nurse who has been active in the travel nursing community as a writer and content creator since 2017. She is currently traveling with her husband, Keaton, and their daughters Jade and Cecelia in a 35 foot travel trailer. Alex and her family love exploring different areas and love getting outside to hike and explore the national parks and monuments! You can reach Alex on Instagram @alexmccoyrn or by email at

We would like to thank Alex for sharing her story about how her and her family are making travel healthcare work for them! If you’re reading this and wondering if travel healthcare could potentially be an option for you and your family, of course there will be special considerations depending on your specific circumstances. We have definitely heard of a lot of families making travel healthcare work for them. Whether it’s a single parent with one or more children who finds childcare locally on contracts, a couple who both work, or a couple where one works and the other watches the kids. There are plenty of healthcare travelers that have either young children or school-aged children. Many of them bring their families along with them, but we have also talked to travelers who go away from home and leave their families behind, visiting often on weekends.

If you’re looking for more info about traveling with a spouse who’s not a healthcare worker and needs different work options, whether remote or locally on your assignments, check out this article. Whatever your situation might be, we guarantee there is another healthcare professional in a similar situation who has made travel healthcare work for them if that was their goal!

For more insights on this topic, watch the video we made discussing Travel Healthcare with a Family!

If you’re a healthcare traveler who travels with your family, we would love if you’d leave a comment below & share your story about how you’ve been able to make this lifestyle work!