What are the Most Common and Highest Paying Settings for Travel Therapists?

If you’re considering jumping into travel therapy, you’ve probably wondered which settings are the most common for travel therapy jobs, and which settings pay the most for travel therapy jobs. These are both important factors to consider before getting started as a travel therapist. If you’re accustomed to working in one type of setting or wanting to take most of your travel therapy jobs in that setting, you’ll want to know how prevalent the setting is and how much it tends to pay for travel therapy jobs. If you’re flexible on the setting but just want to make the most money, knowing which settings tend to pay the highest might sway you toward taking jobs in the highest paying settings.

Why Travel Therapists are Needed

Travel therapy jobs can be in nearly any setting where a PT, OT, SLP, or assistant would usually work. Travel therapists fill in temporarily at an open therapist position. The positions can be open for a variety of reasons, such as a maternity leave, a seasonal increase in caseload, someone recently quit, or lack of candidates to fill the permanent position.

Overall, the most common reason that a facility needs a travel therapist is because they are having trouble filling a longer term position with a permanent therapist. This may be because it’s a more rural area that doesn’t have a big candidate pool, or because someone quit suddenly and they haven’t had time to hire another permanent employee yet.

Because the most common reason to need a traveler is due to lack of candidates for the permanent position, it’s much less common to see travel therapy job openings for specialty settings, such as women’s health (pelvic health) or outpatient neuro. This is in part because specialty settings like this make up a much smaller number of all therapy jobs nationwide. It’s also because those settings are usually more desirable for therapists who have advanced certifications and specialize in those areas, thus why they are “specialty” settings. So, the jobs usually tend to already be filled by candidates who are seeking out those positions for their specialty.

Whereas, there are thousands of therapist jobs that need to be filled nationwide in the more common “general” settings. These are usually the jobs that have trouble filling up with full time/permanent staff. Therefore, these are the jobs that typically will need travel therapists to help them out to fill in temporarily while they are seeking a permanent therapist.

The Most Common Settings for Travel Therapists

Considering the reasons why travel therapists are typically needed, and the settings that most commonly have job openings nationwide, it makes sense why travel therapy job openings are more common in the “general” settings.

These are the most common settings for travel therapy jobs:

  • Skilled Nursing/Long Term Care Facilities
  • Home Health
  • General Outpatient Orthopedics
  • General Acute Care/Hospital
  • School Systems

There are occasionally travel therapy job openings in other settings, but they are going to be much less common. So, if you’re interested in specialty settings or other settings not listed here, it’s not impossible to find travel therapy jobs in those settings, just not as likely.

The best thing to do would be to talk to a few travel therapy recruiters and look at travel therapy job boards such as our Hot Travel Therapy Jobs List to get an idea of the market and see if you’ll be able to find jobs in your preferred setting. If you’re flexible to sometimes take jobs in the most common settings, while keeping an eye out for occasional jobs in your preferred specialty setting, that will help. Or, you may just have to be very flexible on locations in order to find the more rare openings in your preferred setting.

Factors Determining Pay in Travel Therapy Jobs

Now that we have covered the most common settings, let’s take a look at which settings tend to pay the highest. Here are some factors to consider that impact the pay for travel therapy jobs.

Reimbursement Rates

Reimbursement rates for a particular setting have a big impact on how much a facility can pay an employee. While the pay for permanent jobs is usually based mainly on reimbursement rates, that is only part of the story for travel therapy. In a permanent position, the employer is looking at the amount of revenue that a therapist can generate on average based on the units they bill and using that to determine a range of total compensation including salary and benefits. A travel therapy position is different because it’s short term and filling an urgent employment need. That, of course, is why travel therapists are able to earn more money than a permanent therapist in the same position. In some cases, a facility will actually be willing to lose money (i.e. pay the traveler more than they’re reimbursed for services) by employing a travel therapist temporarily at a high rate in order to keep from losing patients or having to shut down the facility. So, reimbursement rates do affect travel therapy jobs, but not as much as supply and demand.

Supply and Demand

Due to the high urgency for travel positions, supply and demand come into play to a much larger extent for travel therapy jobs than with permanent jobs. The favorable supply and demand dynamics are also where travel therapists can have a lot of room to negotiate in the right situation. There’s no doubt that reimbursement rates play a roll for travel jobs as well, but it’s just not the primary factor like with permanent positions. In the travel therapy world, a setting with a lot of open jobs can pay higher even if reimbursement rates are lower because they have to pay more to attract candidates to fill their open position. Pay rates are what travel therapists look at when deciding if they should apply for a position or not over other factors, so higher paying jobs get more travel therapist submissions.

Cost of Living

Another factor that can impact travel therapy jobs is location/cost of living. However, this is a much smaller factor than you would think. Facilities still have to budget to some extent based on how much they’re reimbursed for services. The cost of living in the area doesn’t always coincide with reimbursement rates, so not all jobs in high cost of living areas pay really well. Hawaii is a great example of this. Although the cost of living in Hawaii is extremely high, the reimbursement rates tend to be low and so does the pay (for both perm and travel jobs).

Where high cost of living can help you earn more as a traveler is IF the facility is offering a fairly high bill rate for the job, and the cost of living in the area is high, then usually the GSA allowable stipend for the area will be high. Therefore, the travel therapy company can move more of the bill rate for your pay package into the tax-free stipends, which in the end will mean you’ll come out making more after taxes. However, it’s important to keep in mind here, ONLY being in a high cost of living area doesn’t guarantee the job will pay high. If the facility is offering a low bill rate for the job, then the travel therapy recruiter can’t always max out your stipends even though the GSA rate is high, because there isn’t enough money in the bill rate to fill up that stipend category.

The Highest Paying Settings for Travel Therapists

While pay is going to vary across all travel therapy jobs depending on the factors above, particularly the location, supply/demand, and reimbursement rates, there do tend to be trends with which settings pay the highest for travel therapy positions.

Generally speaking, this is the usual ranking for highest to lowest pay for travel therapy jobs:

  • Home Health
  • Outpatient
  • Acute care
  • Inpatient Rehab
  • Skilled Nursing
  • Schools

Of course there will be random times when jobs in a particular setting may pay lower or higher than expected. The best way to gauge the job market and know which settings and locations are paying the highest, is to work directly with a few different travel therapy recruiters and ask them to send you a list of jobs in a particular area or setting where you’re interested. You can also look at travel therapy job boards, such as our Hot Travel Therapy Jobs list, to get a general idea of settings and pay for travel therapy jobs.

Getting Started with Travel Therapy

If you’re ready to learn more about travel therapy, check out the resources we offer here at Travel Therapy Mentor to help you get started. Our free Travel Therapy 101 Series is a great place to start. If you want to dive even deeper, you may want to sign up for our comprehensive travel therapy course which will teach you everything you need to know from start to finish to be a successful travel therapist and come out ahead financially.

If you’re within three months of starting your travel therapy journey, fill out our Recruiter Recommendations form here to get connected with great travel therapy recruiters. We will take a look at your preferences, including your preferred setting(s), location(s), and priorities, and email you back with our personalized recruiter recommendations specifically for you.

If you have questions about travel therapy, please feel free to send us a message!

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Written by Jared and Whitney Casazza, PT, DPT – Jared and Whitney have been traveling physical therapists since 2015. They have become experts in the field of travel healthcare through experience, research, and networking over nearly a decade.

Are Travel Therapy Bonuses Worth It?

There’s no doubt that travel therapy can seem daunting when first starting out. One of the more confusing things for many new travelers is how travel therapy pay packages work and what’s a reasonable amount to make on a contract. Between taxable pay, stipends, tax homes, reimbursements, and various bonuses offered by companies for travel jobs, it’s certainly reasonable to feel confused by it all. Combine this with understanding how the pay packages relate to the bill rate and how much the travel company keeps of the bill rate, and it’s easy to understand how many new travelers can feel confused and be taken advantage of.

If you’re completely new to understanding travel therapy pay, then start with this comprehensive guide to travel therapy pay that breaks it all down.

In this article, I’ll be focusing specifically on the various bonuses that you might see offered in a travel contract, and if they really are just extra “free money” like some recruiters will claim.

Travel Therapy Bonuses as a Marketing Tactic

An important thing to understand is that there are hundreds of travel companies out there vying for your business as a therapist. There’s also not often all that much to make one stand out from another on the surface. Largely, the benefits of each travel therapy company are very similar. Of course, some have more jobs in certain areas, more direct clients, or specialize in certain settings or disciplines, but those are things that take a thorough interview to really discover. On a superficial marketing level, most things are pretty similar.

Some common things you’ll hear from almost every travel company if you contact them online or walk around and talk to them at a conference include: “We have travel jobs in all 50 states,” “We offer mentorship to new travel therapists,” “We offer day one health insurance,” and/or “We offer a 401k with matching.”

While nice to hear, none of that really makes a company stand out, especially when most are offering the same things. Travel healthcare companies know this and are always looking for ways to entice new travelers to work for them instead of the competition. Some of the intangible benefits of working with certain companies can definitely be enticing. One way they do this is offering a travel therapy bonus in a contract.

Let’s say you’re walking around a large conference and are at the booth of the fifth travel company of the day. All of the ones you’ve talked to have said the things above, and they have also reassured you that they have the best recruiters and will get you the highest possible pay. You feel like you’re still at square one and still have no idea which company you should work with. Then suddenly one of the booths you stop at, a recruiter tells you that they offer all of the above, but also $5,000 worth of student loan reimbursement after you work with them for four contracts!

To a naive prospective traveler, this is probably enough to sway them to work with that company. After all, they have everything the other companies have, but will also put $5,000 toward your student loans?

But not so fast, things aren’t always what they appear.

Where Do Travel Therapy Bonuses Come From?

You can see how offering a big bonus like that could be a persuasive marketing tactic for a traveler with very little else to differentiate one company from another. Unfortunately, that bonus isn’t just “free money,” and it’s often counterproductive for you to take it. Why you ask?

It all comes down to where the money for a travel contract comes from. The bill rate (an hourly amount for the time you’re on the clock at a travel assignment) in most cases is all that’s paid to the travel company from the facility. This means that everything about your pay, along with any taxes and fees, as well as the travel company’s expenses and profit have to be accounted for from the bill rate. There’s no extra “free money” to give you in a travel contract, but the money can be moved around in creative ways to create the illusion of free money.

What’s happening in the $5,000 student loan reimbursement example above is that the travel company is moving money from the bill rate around, and making a suboptimal situation sound more exciting. If they’re agreeing to give you $5,000 toward your student loans after working four contracts with them, what they’re doing behind the scenes is reducing your total weekly pay for each of those four contracts by $1,250, adding it all together in a separate basket, and then giving it back to you at the end of the four contracts in a $5,000 lump sum.

So essentially, for getting that $5,000 bonus after four contracts, you’re making $100 less each week on your pay. Remember, there’s no free money in a travel contract. It all comes from the same bill rate.

Suddenly, that bonus doesn’t seem so appealing.

Why Travel Therapy Bonuses Usually Aren’t Optimal

Okay, so the travel company is just keeping some money from you each week to then give that money to you all at once at the end of a specified timeframe, and calling it a bonus. That’s a little different than what you were thinking, but still not so bad, right? Sometimes it’s nice to get a big lump sum that feels like a windfall. But, it is actually bad for a couple of reasons.

First, you have to consider the time value of money. Money that you receive now is worth more than money you receive in the future. That should make sense, because you know that if you put that $100 that you could have been receiving each week toward your debt or into smart investments along the way, then it will be worth more than $100 a year from now. It will have earned you a return, or reduced the amount of interest you had to pay on your debt. This is the same reason that getting a big income tax return is suboptimal. It’s better to have that extra money throughout the year, instead of allowing the IRS (or travel company in this case) to collect interest on it instead.

Second, there’s a stipulation on the bonus. Imagine that you work three travel contracts with that company, and then decide to stay and take a permanent job at the third assignment location. You didn’t meet the requirement of working with the company for four contracts, so you don’t get the bonus! Even though they set some of the money you would have been making aside for three contracts to give you the bonus, they now get to keep it since you didn’t fulfill the terms.

There’s also an opportunity cost with this. If you have to commit to that company for four contracts to get the bonus, what if after your second contract, you talk to a different travel company that has the perfect job for you with high pay that your current company doesn’t have. Now you have to choose whether you want to take the good job with the other company and leave that bonus on the table, or stay with the current company and take a less than perfect job just to get that bonus after another couple of contracts. Staying with this company just to get the bonus at the end really has you locked in.

Types of Travel Therapy Bonuses

After interviewing more than a hundred recruiters and managers from over twenty travel companies, and talking to many more on a less formal basis, we’ve heard all sorts of different benefits, intangible benefits, and bonuses offered to try to attract the attention of potential travel therapists.

“Student loan reimbursement” and “contract completion” travel therapy bonuses are definitely the most common. There are also companies that offer vacations or trips as incentives for their travelers. While this is really creative and exciting, you always have to remember that what I talked about above still applies. A “free trip” doesn’t come from free money on top of your normal pay, it comes from a small percentage of all travelers’ pay each week being allocated to a fund to later pay for the trip.

As long as you understand where all of these incentives come from, then taking them isn’t always a bad thing. For example, say you find a company and recruiter you really like. They have lots of jobs all over the country with exactly what you’re looking for, and they also seem to pay higher on a weekly basis than other companies you’ve talked to. If they happen to offer a bonus or an incentive trip, then by all means, take it. The problem is really when travelers choose a subpar company and accept low pay packages with poor job options, just because they were enticed by a bonus that is nothing more than fancy marketing and moving money around in the pay package.

An Exception to the Rule

One exception to everything above is that in rare cases, a facility might offer a completion bonus directly.

There are two different types of completion bonuses. One is the travel company moving money around to give you a lump sum at the end of a contract instead of spreading it out through the contract in your weekly pay, suboptimal for the reasons above. (Time value of money, contract cancellations, etc.)

The other is a completion bonus offered directly by the facility. In this case, the facility will pay the normal bill rate to the travel company, and then at the end of a contract agree to pay an additional amount as a completion bonus that goes to the travel therapist. This is to attract travelers to that position and also deter travelers from cancelling their contract in the middle. In this case, the completion bonus essentially is free money, because nothing is being moved around in the pay package. While these types of completion bonuses are rare for therapists, your recruiter will be able to tell you if a job that you’re interested in is offering one.

Finding Good Travel Companies and Recruiters

Finding travel companies and recruiters that fit your individual wants and needs is difficult. So difficult that many prospective travelers just give up on it and pick one nearly at random or based on some marketing strategy that catches their eye. That is why various bonuses and incentives are so common. They can make one company stand out above the others in the mind of a new traveler who thinks they are getting something for free, when it’s really just often a suboptimal gimmick.

The things you really need to know about a recruiter and travel company to find the best ones for you are things you won’t learn without a more thorough interview, which is extremely time consuming with so many options out there. The traveler-recruiter relationship can make or break your experience with travel therapy. So can choosing a travel company that does or doesn’t have what you’re looking for in terms of job options or that pays very low or high for what you need.

If you’d like assistance with finding travel therapy companies and recruiters that should work well for your situation, fill out our recruiter recommendation form. After interviewing more than a hundred recruiters from over twenty companies since 2015, we’ve found ones that shine in all different types of situations. Finding a recruiter and company is certainly no one size fits all situation, so we do our best to take a look at your individual preferences and provide our best recommendations for you personally.

Other Great Travel Therapy Resources

If you’d like to see a sample of some of the best jobs currently available from the companies and recruiters we work with, check out our hot jobs page. If you have questions about travel therapy, join our Community Facebook group where we, along with thousands of other travel therapists, are eager to help. Maybe you’re new to travel and just want to get an overview of the basics: our free 101 series is best place to start. If you want more in-depth, step-by-step information on how to be a financially successful travel therapist, then check out our comprehensive travel therapy course.

Best of luck in your travel therapy adventures! Feel free to reach out to us with any questions!

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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.