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.

Pursuing Travel Therapy in an RV

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC


A common concern when considering pursuing travel therapy is how to set up housing for each travel assignment. Some therapists will choose to have housing set up by their travel company, while some will choose to find short term rentals, but another option that is growing in popularity is choosing to live in an RV.

Both Jared and I, as well as Travis and Julia, all have chosen to live the RV lifestyle and travel this way. There is a lot to learn when it comes to going this route, so I’d like to share with you some of the basics of pursuing travel therapy in an RV.


Our Journey to the RV Life

camperpic

Jared and I first decided we wanted to travel in an RV during our second year of physical therapy school, in 2014. We knew that we were going to begin travel therapy immediately after graduation in May 2015. We started looking into some of the logistics of finding short term housing for travel assignments, and we realized that moving every 13 weeks, including packing all of our stuff and setting up housing, was going to be a real pain. We decided that for us, having our own little home with all of our stuff packed in would make life easier moving from place to place. We figured we could move more quickly between assignments, decreasing down time/unpaid time off. We also figured it would be cheaper in the long run if we purchased a used RV and could resell it later. So, we were sold on the RV life, and started our search.

We ended up waiting until 6 months into our travel physical therapy careers to purchase our rig so that we could buy it outright and not finance, so we have only had one experience with short term housing in 3.5 years, which was during our first 6 months of work, and we found housing on Craigslist. Since then, we have traveled exclusively in our camper.

Our journey with the camper life hasn’t always been smooth sailing, and we’re honestly not sure if we actually came out significantly ahead financially after all is said and done, but overall we are happy with our choice! There is a lot to consider though, so you need to weigh all the options before you pursue it. Let’s go over some of the main considerations.

Most of these considerations are for newbies to the RV life who plan to do it only because of travel therapy. If you’re already an experienced RVer, and already have an RV, then what are you waiting for?! 😉


Considerations for Choosing the RV Travel Life

  1. Are you going to travel more than 1.5 to 2 years?
    • This is important to consider whether or not the financial investment of purchasing an RV is worth it in the long run.
  2. Can you find a reasonably priced RV and/or truck/trailer combo?
    • If you’re paying a high price for an RV, or financing a new RV, the financial investment will likely outweigh the financial benefit of you working travel contracts. That is, if financial gain is a primary motivator for you.
  3. Are you handy, or willing to learn what it takes for repairs and maintenance?
    • Having an RV is like having a home– on wheels. Things break. It does require quite a bit of upkeep and maintenance. You need to know that going in.
  4. Are you up for an adventure if breakdowns or malfunctions occur?
    • These things do happen, and you have to know how you’re going to respond in a situation with a breakdown or major malfunction. You could wind up stranded somewhere for a while, waiting on repairs, making you late for a contract (hopefully not if you plan ahead). You could have to vacate your RV for a little while to have repairs done. Are these things you’re willing to deal with? It sure can be a relationship builder if you are!
  5. Are you comfortable staying in an RV park/campground setting?
    • RV parks and campgrounds are generally very nice. They are not the same as “trailer parks.” But, you do have to be willing to be a little outdoorsy.
  6. Are you (or your partner) comfortable driving an RV?
    • You need to know if you’re comfortable driving, parking, and backing in the RV; unless you plan to pay to have someone move it for you.
  7. Are you comfortable dealing with emptying waste water and sewage tanks?
    • This is something that us girly-girls might not be okay with. I thought it would bother me at first, but it really isn’t a big deal.

Logistics of Buying an RV

  • New or Used?
    • You can choose to buy new or used, but we recommend used because new ones can be very expensive and depreciate rapidly the first few years! And with our financial independence mindset, financing something like that is not an option. It’s as bad of a financial decision, or worse, than buying a brand new car. The depreciation is significant!
  • How old is too old? 
    • When you buy used, you want to choose one that’s less than 10 years old, because some RV parks don’t allow older rigs for aesthetic reasons. Also, the older ones are likely to have more mechanical problems. So you’ll need to consider your budget, and try to find a fairly nice used rig preferably.
  • Motorhome vs. travel trailer? 
    • For newbies, do your research on the difference. Motorhomes are the kind you drive (like a bus/van) and come in Class A, B, and C. Travel Trailers are the kind you pull with a truck, and there are Pull Behinds, Fifth Wheels, and Toy Haulers. There are a couple other types, but for the purpose of long term living, these are the best options for most people. Unless you want to consider a Pop-Up Trailer, but I feel they’re too small for long term living although we did live beside a couple that was making it work.
    • Our biggest consideration between a Motorhome vs. a Travel Trailer was that we needed to have two vehicles for work. So we figured if we got a truck and travel trailer combo, the truck would serve as one vehicle, while I would drive my car separately. We figured if we had a motorhome, we’d still need two cars, so then we would have three vehicles with engines that could potentially have issues! And we figured that if there was engine or other trouble with the drive train of the motorhome, we’d have to take our whole home in for repairs. So we chose the truck and fifth wheel trailer combo!
  • Do Your Research. 
    • Read up on pros and cons of different brands, layouts, model years, etc. This is especially true for trucks and motorhomes, as different model years could have had recalls, known problems, or certain parts that didn’t operate as well, such as the engine!
  • Choosing the Best One. 
    • The best thing to do is go to a couple dealerships or RV shows and go inside a whole bunch! This will help you narrow down what you are looking for as far as size, layout, and amenities. We chose a fifth wheel vs. a standard pull behind travel trailer because it seemed to be more spacious. We also found that with Jared being 6’4″, he had trouble standing in a lot of the showers, so check the showers and ceilings, tall guys!
  • Getting it Inspected. 
    • If you’re buying used, and you’re not familiar with RVs, it’s a good idea to pay someone who is familiar with RVs to come and check it out for you. We didn’t do this, and we wound up with one that had some water damage we later had to repair, because we didn’t know what to look for.
  • Where to buy? 
    • We scoured RVTrader.com, Craigslist, and local dealerships. We ended up finding one listed on RVTrader.com, then went to see it where it was located 3 hours away. We bought through Camping World, which we felt comfortable with because we also bought an extended warranty plan. We found our truck on Craigslist.
  • Payment/Financing. 
    • Again, we’re not fans of financing, so we chose to work hard for 6 months in order to save up and buy with cash. We realize this may not be an option for everyone. So do what suits you. But generally speaking, it’s along the same lines of the process of buying a car as far as loans go.

Finding Where to Stay

Now, the big consideration with using your RV to take travel assignments around the country, is figuring out where to stay! Sometimes, it can be slightly limiting on your job search, because there are not places to park your RV just anywhere, especially in big cities. Generally, your contracts will need to be more on the outskirts at places they are more likely to have campgrounds. We personally never accept a contract before we have found out for certain that we will have a place to park our RV nearby.

  • Campgrounds/RV Parks:
    • Search Google, use the Good Sam website/app, and call around!
    • You need to make sure that when you do your search, you check to see if it’s just a “campground” or an actual “RV Park.” Some campgrounds are just for tent and weekend camping, not to park RVs, and not for long term.
    • You want to find out if the RV park has “full hookups” (this includes water, sewer, and electric at your site).
    • You want to find out if the campground is open year round because some of them close for the season during the winter, especially up north!
    • You need to call and see if they do monthly stays. Some of them only allow a few days up to two weeks, and will not allow you to stay month to month for your full 13 week contract.
    • Find out if they actually have availability/open sites when you’re going to need to be there for your contract. Places like Arizona and Florida when the snowbirds/retirees come down in Winter to live might be full months in advance!
    • Find out about the amenities they offer, like wifi and cable, and if it’s included in the monthly price or it’s extra. Find out of the electric is included in a set price or if it’s metered based on how much you use.
    • Find out if they have any other amenities like a pool, a store, laundry facilities, or a bathhouse in case you just need a real shower (or in case your water freezes in the camper)!
  • Other Options:
    • Sometimes you can find places on Craigslist that are not exactly campgrounds, but have hook ups for campers. This might be someone’s house or property, maybe a farm or a field that they’ve equipped with hook up sites.
    • Depending what type of RV you have and how easy it is to move around, you could potentially get away with staying somewhere that just had a water source and electric source, then you could go occasionally to a separate dump site for your sewage.
    • Another option if you didn’t have direct sewage hookup at your site is having a Septic Service come out periodically to pump your sewage for a fee, so you don’t have to move your rig.
    • There are some people out there that choose to “boondock” or “dry camp.” This involves staying in a parking lot somewhere or at someone’s house where you didn’t have hookups, just a place to park. You can generally get by on this for a few days or possibly a couple weeks by filling your water storage tanks, having some source of electricity such as a generator or solar panels, using other sources of energy such as a gas stove or battery power, going to a dump station as needed (or as mentioned above utilizing a septic service), or just finding alternative bathroom solutions instead of using your actual bathroom facilities in the RV (think: shower at the gym? I’m not saying it’s the greatest, but sometimes people do what they gotta do)! —-But personally I would not recommend this long term!

There is a ton more I could discuss regarding the RV Travel Therapy Life, but I hope I’ve covered at least the basics for now! I will write future posts going more in depth on issues you might encounter with traveling in an RV, such as logistics of moving place to place, maintenance and repairs, living in different climates, and various pros vs. cons!

Are you considering pursuing travel therapy in an RV? Do you have questions? We have mentored many people on their journeys to living the RV travel life. Jared and I now have 3 years of experience living and traveling in an RV, and Travis and Julia have over a year of experience. Please feel free to reach out to us with your questions, or leave us a comment below!

Whitney

Author: Whitney Eakin