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.

Do Travel Therapists Receive Benefits? The Comprehensive Guide to Travel Therapy Benefits Packages

Written by: Travis Kemper, PT, DPT – Jared Casazza, PT, DPT – Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

Do Travelers Receive Benefits?

Many prospective travel therapists are under the impression that travelers do not receive corporate benefits, such as health insurance, 401k, dental insurance, etc., or that they are much worse than average. This is a misconception, and all the companies we work with (and most others) offer benefits packages that are very similar to a hospital or clinic position, and in our experience better than most small businesses due to having more employees and benefiting from economies of scale.

You also have the option to opt out of these benefits if you choose to enroll in your own health insurance, or if you are covered by a parent or spouse’s insurance, and/or if you want to forego the other benefit options.

There are some important differences to highlight between benefits offered for travel therapy contracts and more traditional full-time permanent jobs. Keep reading to find out more about the benefits offered by travel therapy companies!

When Are You Covered?

The sometimes tricky part about benefits when working with travel companies is that, generally speaking, you are only covered while you are on contract. Most companies will continue to cover you for a certain period between contracts (usually 15-30 days), as long as you resume work with that company for your next contract within the specified time period. This allows for a few days to a couple weeks off between contracts if desired. However, if you terminate employment with a certain company and take your next contract with a new company, you will not be covered during the interim. Similarly, you will not be covered if you take extended time off between contracts over the allowed period mentioned above. Of course, for health insurance, you can always sign up for COBRA coverage as needed if you plan to take longer off between contracts or are switching between companies. This is certainly a viable option for those of us that enjoy the flexible schedule with a career as a travel therapist, which involves reaping the benefits of an alternative lifestyle!

Because of the potential lapse in health coverage, and because switching retirement accounts may be a hassle, it is typically more desirable from a benefits perspective to stay with the same travel company continuously. However, many travelers will choose to switch companies based on the jobs available, or if they realize they like a different company/recruiter better. You just have to take into consideration what this will mean for you in terms of benefits (especially insurance coverage and potential 401k matching). This is one reason that some travelers might choose to maintain their own health insurance and retirement accounts independent of the company benefits. We certainly universally endorse the idea of having an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) outside of the travel company sponsored 401k plan (if available), but whether or not to have your own health insurance plan outside of the company sponsored option is a more individual decision to be made with regard to a variety of variables.

You also have to take into account when benefits coverage begins for each company. Some companies will offer benefits enrollment and health insurance coverage on day 1 of your contract. But for others, your coverage may not start until day 30 of your contract or perhaps the first of the next month, which could leave you without health insurance for a period of time. It’s important to look at each company’s benefits package closely and ask these questions to fully understand the coverage you will receive and to determine the best course of action for yourself.

Health Insurance

Every company has different plans and options, but in general most companies offer a high deductible health plan and/or a PPO option. Some will also offer a third option that is the minimum allowed under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and is basically just “preventative” in nature. For all of us mentors, the high deductible plan with 100% coverage after meeting the deductible is perfect because we are young, healthy, and very rarely in need of medical coverage. This type of plan still covers us in case of a major injury while skiing or hiking, or something like an emergency appendectomy, all of which would be completely unforeseen. The lower premium is the real benefit of the higher deductible plans, since this means more money in our pockets at the end of the week. These plans also allow us to utilize a Health Savings Account (HSA) to save for future healthcare expenses. Since a lot of the travelers that we mentor are younger and generally in good health, meaning they are unlikely to meet their deductible in either scenario, a high deductible plan can make the most sense, but that is certainly not universally the case. There are lots of other options based on your, or your family’s, individual needs. It’s important to remember that premiums and deductibles are always a balancing act, at least in terms of finances, in any health insurance plan and to consider all options before choosing. For more information on the difference between plans if you’re having difficulty choosing, here’s a good article on the topic!

Dental/ Vision

Again, this is going to be different with every company. But these benefits are almost always available in the benefits packages, and they usually only cost a few dollars per week. Similar to the health insurance option differences discussed above, you will often have more than one option with varying levels of coverage and therefore varying premium amounts. If you only plan to be on contract with a company for part of the year and don’t need those benefits during that period, you can even opt out of them completely which will save you from paying for the premium out of each paycheck for a benefit you won’t utilize.

Employer Sponsored Retirement Accounts (401k)

This is often overlooked, especially with new grads and people in their 20’s and 30’s who may just be focusing on paying down debt rather than investing. However, it’s great to take advantage of a 401k early in your career to maximize the benefit of capital gains as they money grows over the years. This applies as well even when done in conjunction with paying down debt, since a combination of the two (paying down debt and investing) will usually lead to the best outcomes over the long run. Taking advantage of investing in a 401k is especially important if your employer offers a match.

Most travel companies do offer 401k, but it just depends on how long you work for them as to when you are eligible. Some companies make you eligible to start contributing immediately, while others make you wait 30 days, or a full contract. Also, many companies offer an employer match, which varies but could be something like 50% of your contributions, up to a contribution of 6% of your taxable income (meaning they would match up to 3% of your taxable income if you contribute 6% or more). However, sometimes there is a vesting period where you are not able to keep the money they match until you have worked with them for a certain number of contract hours. Some will have a tiered vesting period. For example, if you work with them for one full year, you get to keep 25% of the match; two years 50%; and three years 100%. Others might have an all or nothing vesting period (also known as a “cliff”), where you have to work with them the equivalent of three full working years (sometimes more or less, but this seems to be the most common) until you keep their match. It’s important to read the fine print and talk to your recruiter or benefits team to understand the 401k plan for a travel company you plan to work with if you want to utilize this benefit. Even if the company you work for either doesn’t offer a match at all, or you don’t plan to stay with them long enough to be able to keep the match, the importance of taking advantage of a 401k account early in your career for the tax benefits offered cannot be overstated! Since this is an important benefit for us, 401k plans are available through all of the companies we recommend.

Life Insurance

Usually a small policy (around $50,000) is standard in each benefits package, with increased policy amounts available at increased premiums. We would recommend buying life insurance privately if you want increased policy limits, if you plan to switch between travel companies often, or if you take extended time off between contracts, so that you would have life insurance coverage continuously. But whenever this benefit is available through your employer at no additional cost, we would definitely recommend opting in since there’s no additional cost involved and there’s at least a small amount of coverage!

Other Benefits

Some companies may offer some other benefits including: vacation pay (PTO); sick time; short term and long term disability insurance; CEU reimbursements or access to online CEUs for free; or even a free vacation! These additional benefits are by no means standard and vary greatly between travel companies.

Something to be conscious of is that benefits like PTO, sick time, disability insurance, and 401k will be based on your hourly rate, which as a traveler is generally $18-25/hour for example for a PT, OT or SLP, since you are also receiving additional money in the form of stipends. Since the hourly rate as a traveler is lower than that of a permanent employee, this will decrease the amount you would receive for PTO, disability pay (whether short or long term), or 401k matching compared to a permanent job. Just be aware of this, because it is often a cause of confusion among travelers. It’s also important to note that since taxable pay is lower as a traveler, meaning less money paid in taxes, there is also less money being paid into Social Security and Medicare in the form of FICA taxes, which could potentially mean a lower payout at retirement age. The good news is the extra income you receive more than allows you to make up for the differences plus some! To learn more, read our comprehensive guide to pay as a traveler versus a permanent employee.

Final Note on Traveler Benefits

Travel companies are usually able to offer the same, or better, benefits to their travelers as other employers would at a permanent job. Sometimes these benefits may look a little different based on your hourly pay, and sometimes your coverage could be a bit of a hassle if you are taking extended time off or switching between companies. It’s important to consider the benefits offered when choosing a travel company. Quite often, travel companies have a lot of the same jobs, but their benefits packages might just make the difference in your choice between companies!

Please feel free to contact us if you have more questions about travel therapy benefits, or if you would like our list of recommended recruiters and companies with benefits that we love!