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.

Avoiding Bad Job Environments as a Travel Therapist

Combating the Stereotype

We often hear this idea from current therapists and students that travel therapists are expected to go into bad environments in their travel jobs. Have you heard this before? That all travel jobs are terrible clinics and work environments, and that “there’s a reason they need travelers”?

The thought process follows these lines: Since travelers make more money, then they should expect that the clinics they go into won’t be as good, or that the situation in the clinic will probably be less than ideal. A similar myth that is frequently told is that travel therapists are worked harder and given more difficult patients than the permanent staff at a facility. While there are certainly cases where these things are true, this has not at all been our experience as travel physical therapists over the past 4.5 years.

When we started traveling as new grad PTs in 2015, we heard all of these same stories and were warned to avoid traveling as new grads; but despite these warnings, we were confident in the path we had chosen. Now, years later, we couldn’t be happier that we made that decision. The vast majority of our contracts have been in clinics that we really enjoyed and have considered going back to in the future. Based on our experience interacting with well over a thousand other travel therapists over the years, we believe that travelers that get into those toxic situations have often not done their research or asked the right questions. We want to change this stereotype and give current and future travel therapists the tools to advocate for themselves and avoid those bad job environments!

Do Your Research

If you’ve read any of my prior articles here or any of my financial articles on FifthWheelPT, it’s probably pretty apparent that I thoroughly research things before making a decision. There are times when this is either good or bad, but in terms of our travel PT careers, this has certainly been a blessing. Before we had ever even graduated from PT school, I had already spent a lot of time researching about travel physical therapy to go into it as informed as I could possibly be. This included the basics, but also things like learning what a reasonable travel PT salary would be, what questions to ask during an interview with a facility, learning how to find a good recruiter and why it’s vital to work with more than one, learning how to solidify a tax home, and how best to approach getting licensed and finding jobs.

Researching these things may seem like common sense to some of you, but after conversations with many travelers in bad situations, I can assure you that it isn’t. In fact, it seems that a large proportion of travel therapists get all of their information from a single recruiter. This is a recipe for disaster, since often recruiters are trying to fill jobs as quickly as possible and not necessarily trying to find a job that is the best fit for the traveler. It may sound like they have your best interest in mind, and the good ones certainly do, but that’s not always the case. It’s extremely important to be informed and to get your information from sources that are as unbiased as possible.

Avoiding Bad Situations

We’ve talked to a number of travel PTs working in outpatient settings that have completely absurd schedules. One in particular we’ve talked to was having patients frequently triple booked throughout the day. That is not only very poor patient care, but also an extremely stressful environment for the therapist. This doesn’t just happen in outpatient though. In skilled nursing, I’ve heard of evaluating therapists that are expected to achieve 95%+ productivity. How?! Other settings can have equally ridiculous situations, but it doesn’t seem to be as common. The important thing to know is that these situations can be avoided, and we’ve had no issue finding good fitting assignments without unrealistic or unethical expectations.

The first step to finding a good clinic that fits you well as a traveler is having all the available options presented to you. This is where working with more than one company/recruiter comes into play. Many travel companies have contracts that are exclusive, meaning that no other travel company has access to those jobs. That’s important to know, because a certain travel company may have a perfect job for you in a great location, but if you aren’t actively job searching with them then you’d never even know it exists. While it’s unreasonable to try to work with a dozen or more companies, talking to 3-4 is reasonable and will ensure that you have an increased number of jobs available to you. On the other hand, many travelers that have a bad experience are working with only one recruiter and are likely only presented with a couple of different job options, and they’re told that if they don’t take one of those then they will probably have to go without work for a while. In some cases depending on your needs and preferences, that may be true, but often those are just the jobs that the recruiter needs to fill most quickly, or might be the only ones that company has, and that is why you’re being presented with only those few.

Once you are presented with a job (or several) that sounds like a good fit for you, then the next critical step is the phone interview with the manager/rehab director. Phone interviews can be intimidating, but they are usually pretty laid back with minimal or no difficult questions like you might receive during a perm job interview. The important thing during the interview is to go into it with a list of questions that YOU need answered prior to determining if the job will work for you. Sometimes the interviewing manager will be trying to get a traveler in the position as quickly as possible, in which case it may turn into you interviewing the manager more than them interviewing you for the position. If you don’t ask the right questions, then you can easily accept a job and really have no idea what you’ll be walking into. This is where you’ll ask about things like productivity, other staff on site, documentation systems, schedule, and job expectations. At this point in our careers, if double booking is expected in the outpatient travel PT job we’re interviewing for, then we’re out. Plus a few other red flags we look out for during the interview, such as PT/PTA ratio, being the only PT (in some cases), and being expected to “take your laptop home to document” (off the clock).

What if the Job Isn’t What You Expected?

Even when you go into an interview as prepared as possible, you’ve done your research, and you ask all the right questions, it’s possible that you get to the clinic and the job isn’t what you were told it would be. This is pretty rare in our experience, because clinics don’t want to waste time training someone for them to just turn around and leave/quit early, but it does happen. This is the situation that the cancellation policy in your travel contract is for. It’s always best to inform your recruiter of the issues you’re having and to do your best to work out a compromise with the clinic director/manager that works for everyone if things aren’t going as expected; but if that isn’t possible, then there’s no shame in ending your contract early and finding something that fits you better, especially if you’re being faced with illegal or unethical situations. Putting in your cancellation notice isn’t something that should be taken lightly because the facility and the travel company will both likely be upset, but if it’s between you leaving early or staying at a job that you’re miserable in (or potentially breaking laws/ethics), then put in your notice!

Don’t Fear Traveling

Bad situations certainly come up as a travel therapist, but if you’re an informed traveler and do your best to ensure that each contract fits you well, then it should be no more common than bad situations at permanent jobs.

The keys to avoiding bad job situations as a traveler are:

  • do your research on travel therapy and the process beforehand
  • allow yourself the largest number of job options possible by working with multiple companies
  • ask the right questions and listen for inconsistencies when interviewing for a travel position

If you do those things then you’ll be well on your way to having a successful and prosperous travel career while avoiding the bad job environments!

If you need help getting started with travel therapy then check out the articles I linked to in this post as well as our Facebook Live videos covering many common questions we get. If you need help finding recruiters you can trust with good companies, fill out this short questionnaire and we’ll do our best to match you with a few great recruiters and companies that should work well for you!

 

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

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