Pursuing Travel Healthcare Later in Your Career

Guest Post by Traveling SLP Pair Courtney & Tim for Travel Therapy Mentor

Many healthcare professionals choose to pursue traveling healthcare early in their careers, perhaps right out of school, or within the first few years of practicing, before they “settle down,” and have a family. However, we get questions from healthcare professionals who are in other stages of their careers, such as during the time they have a young family, when they’re empty nesters, or close to retirement. Fortunately, we do know many healthcare professionals who have pursued traveling opportunities later in their careers, and have made it work in various different ways depending on their personal situation. We are excited to share a guest post from Travel SLP duo Courtney & Tim who started traveling in their 50s once their children were out of the house. Keep reading to learn more about their situation & insights to traveling later in your career!


Background

As the credits rolled for the movie, Nomadland, I looked at my husband (and co-worker) and said “that’s us!” I totally can relate to that feeling of no matter how good a situation/location is, there’s a powerful pull of finding out what else is out there that doesn’t seem to ever release you.  As Fern seemed to discover in the movie, there’s almost its own special joy in not getting too attached to one place or knowing that it doesn’t have a complete hold on you.  But like the movie and in life, every positive aspect has its negative as well.

While Fern had her nomadic life initially thrust on her, we chose to become modern-day nomads, as traveling speech-language pathologists.  We had heard about “travelers,” or therapists that take short term placements all around the country, since grad school (we met at the University of Louisville) but thought that was for young, unattached therapists.  But after a trip to Australia for their national speech and language convention (one of the perks of both being in the same field), we learned people of all ages are travelers and even do work abroad! 

As we had young kids at the time with special needs and relied on the support system we had in our hometown, we agreed that traveling at that point wasn’t feasible.  But the seed had been planted and, as a natural planner, I started mapping out when and how we could pull off this mid-life career change.  It took about 12 years, but in 2019, with one son teaching in Spain and the other doing gap year experience(s) during his deferred enrollment in college, we set off for Northern California for our first school-year Travel SLP contracts.  Last year was the Maryland/Northern Virginia area.  We are now currently in our third contract, in our third school district, in Salem, Oregon for school year 2021-22.

Pros and Cons of Being an Older Travel Therapist

I skipped over a lot that happened in there, but perhaps that is fodder for a future article.  What I really wanted to share were some of the unique positives of being older travel therapists.  But my brutal honesty means I will also share the negative side of each of those positive elements, as well.

1. Being an older, experienced therapist means you have a LOT of experience doing “the job,” which makes it easier to, well, do the job.

Positive: You know how to get clients/students to make progress; you know how to communicate with families; there is usually an immediate trust/respect given you by co-workers, families, etc. when they realize you have 25+ years’ experience in the field; you have an idea about the paperwork involved; you have a LOT of tools in your therapy tool box and it is usually very easy to get hired for positions.  Speech therapists are in high demand anyway, and experienced, skilled ones that prefer in-person work are almost “unicorns,” as one recruiter called us.

Negative: It’s not fun to have to learn how THIS district wants paperwork completed or the acronyms they use or even how they interpret IDEA (I grit my teeth every time I question a procedure or requirement and the answer starts with “well, the LAW says..” I KNOW the law; I need to know how YOU guys interpret it). Don’t get me started on the “fun” of learning new computer systems for paperwork and inevitable, unique-to-every-state Medicaid billing. An older brain is a bit less plastic, and it can be hard to start all over every year (or in the case of shorter placements, every few months) in a brand-new district, learn new administrative structures and even names of those you report to and for what.  Additionally, as an older therapist, you know the possible pitfalls in new assignments and are usually very careful and request a LOT of information before signing a contract.

2. You get to spend your free time exploring and learning about an area like a live-in tourist.

Positive: We have landed assignments primarily based on locations chocked full of activities that we couldn’t explore in a week, the usual length of time we had for our annual family vacation.  It’s a completely new experience to learn about history again, as an adult, and with all the context of the life you have already lived.  It’s so exciting to look up local attractions, sights and landmarks, museums and areas of interest and not be afraid of looking too uncool to check it out (we’re not from here!).

Negative: You must push yourself to research, plan and execute activities (oh, and pay for them) every weekend and long weekend.  It can feel like its own job! At our age, we realize we don’t have forever to see or do everything we want to and often feel as though any time not out ‘doing’ is being wasted. You also must “learn” where all the usual daily living stuff is all over again, such as which grocery store carries your favorite brand of natural soft drink or where are the parks with the best walking paths. As an older person, you can get very picky about those items and finding them takes time and energy. Thankfully, coworkers and landlords that are locals are usually very willing to help new folks with a number of those details, including recommending restaurants and hidden attractions.

3. You’re free of the usual commitments you had back home (I felt like I had run away from home!).

Positive: I am an over-committer, I admit it.  And it takes a lot for me to quit something.  That was why I taught classes weekly at the YMCA back home for 25+ years (started in grad school).  Church choir (and weekly practice), family, and community obligations provided lots of structure to our lives; but, after a couple of decades, sometimes it could feel like more of a burden than a blessing.  Living across the country kind of resets all that, particularly if you don’t know if you will be returning to that area or not.  We also had decades of birthday parties, holiday traditions, etc. with our families and friends, several whom are no longer with us. It feels refreshing and maybe even less painful to find new ways to celebrate those milestones with the family you still have, especially when some of them are out of state, as well.

Negative: You have to a) work to make new friendships and connections in your assignment city, and b) you must work at maintaining your relationships back home.  That means phone calls and emails and video chats and FB posts to keep the folks back home connected to what you’re doing instead of just vegging out when you get home from work.  You can feel somewhat unmoored, when the social network you spent decades building is no longer close by and available. And you must be willing to kind of put yourself out there and ask coworkers to possibly hang out with you after hours in order to foster those new friendships.  That can be awkward!

4. You are more financially stable, so you have technically the financial freedom to spend money on adventures. 

Positive: The years of putting kids through school, paying for extracurricular activities and making mortgage payments on our family home are behind us. Living a more portable lifestyle also means spending a lot less on ‘stuff’ and freeing up more income for ‘doing’.   Everyone must make their own choices, but after having to empty two parents’ homes of decades of ‘stuff,’ we feel resolute about choosing adventures over things.  That, along with careful budgeting and the living stipend part of travel pay, has allowed us to be off together a total of almost three months every calendar year.

Negative: You never get to stop watching your pennies.  I am the household CFO and must watch our payroll deposits very closely, as there is not a lot of room for mistakes.  Our pay is a bit complicated, as well, with unpaid holidays, taxes paid in three different states in one year and, of course, no workdays for the summer.  And, as linguists by trade, numbers aren’t our thing.  So, I have to use a combination of software and budgeting app and a go-to guy back at our bank to help us troubleshoot issues that come up.  We also find that we are often unwilling to give up or compromise on some amenities in our living situation(s), which can cost more.  We have hand-washed dishes and used a laundromat for our clothes; we just don’t want to do it anymore.

5. You are old enough to appreciate the uniqueness of your situation

Positive: While we joke about being “weird,” we realize we are living most people’s fantasy: to run away to a new city or area you have always heard of/dreamed about going to visit, and then LIVE there for 10 months!  Checking out museums and wineries, beaches and waterfalls, driving by national monuments every day (ok, that just happened in Northern VA).  Essentially, getting the opportunity to be a tourist for 9-10 months.  Well, a tourist with a 40-hour work week. But having spent 20+ years in the same city, we really do realize how unique and interesting a way this is to spend your work life and really experience so much beauty in this country.

Negative: We had a fellow therapist we met remind us that we are indeed in the sweet spot of life: old enough to not have people depending on us, but not so old that we have grandkids to hold us in place.  We realize that this lifestyle will need to come to end once our sons hopefully bless us with grandkids, or, less hopefully, a family member needs our daily assistance. We were so fortunate to have our parents available to be involved in our sons’ lives, not only helping us but interweaving themselves with our sons’ earliest memories.  We are committed to being there to fulfill those roles for our own grown children, wherever that may be.  So, there is something of a clock ticking loudly in the back of our minds, pushing us to try new assignments in new locations so we can see and do as much as possible before the buzzer goes off!

Our Unique Situation

A little asterisk for all the “weird” or unique things about our situation, in particular:

  1. We are a married couple in the same discipline
  2. We do school-based therapy contracts for the full 10 month school year (at least for now)
  3. We are completely debt free, including our house/condo/home base (thank you Financial Peace University)
  4. We are in very good health, in part to good genes, good luck and a lot of hard work
  5. We were friends before we dated so we genuinely enjoy spending time together and have a lot of similar interests. 

These may not seem important, but I feel like they all come together to help us make this traveling therapy life a successful one. Again, these are just my thoughts after being at this travel therapy gig for almost three years now and doing it as a part of the over-50 set!

Is Traveling Right For You?

While we certainly don’t think we have the whole traveling therapy thing “nailed down,” we really do enjoy the life it has afforded us. We also hope that our experiences open the eyes of other therapists considering the travel therapy life, particularly those with more “experience” that thought it was only for young people. Everyone must look closely at their own life, their long-term (and short-term) goals and decide what will work for them. But we hope our experience(s) may give others some food for thought as they contemplate the next phase of their careers.


Guest post written by Courtney Richardson-Young, MS. CCC-SLP & Tim Young, MS. CCC-SLP

Courtney Richardson-Young is a pediatric speech-language pathologist from Louisville, KY with 25 years of experience in settings from in-home early intervention, private practice to school-based services. When not working, she likes to complete half and full marathons around the country, as well as participate in yoga, aqua fitness and any activity that gets the heart rate up!

Tim Young, also from Louisville, KY spent most of his 26 years of practicing speech-language pathology in medical settings, including home health, rehab centers, hospitals and nursing home settings. He currently provides school-based services to students from ages 5 to 21 yrs. He enjoys classic cars, outdoor activities and reading every placard in every museum he can!

Tim and Courtney, also known as the Dynamic_Speech_ Duo, are traveling SLPs who met in grad school, fell in love, got married, raised a family and are now traveling the country. They have two grown sons, both with disabilities, that taught them a lot about advocacy, ableism and what life is like outside of the therapy room. They are enjoying “flying” their empty nest, since both sons graduated in 2019, and exploring as many wineries, cideries, museums, parks, festivals and historic sites as possible!

Courtney & Tim can be followed on Instagram @dynamic_speech_duo and reached at dynamic_speech_duo@hotmail.com.

Being a Solo Travel Therapist

Photo of Morgan hiking with title "Being a Solo Travel Therapist, Guest Post by Morgan Lauchnor TravelTherapyMentor.com"

While we have always traveled as a pair, most travel therapists actually travel solo! We are excited to share a guest post from Traveling Occupational Therapist Morgan Lauchnor, who travels on her own. We hope her insights will help give you the confidence to pursue this path on your own as well if you think it’s right for you!


When looking into travel therapy, the ability to travel with a spouse, significant other, or with friends sounds like the ideal situation, but often times this isn’t an option for some people. That shouldn’t prevent you from still deciding to try out travel therapy though! In fact, a good majority of travel therapists are solo travelers. Some people, like myself, even wanted to travel solo. Venturing into it on your own might seem daunting and scary, but it can also be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. The world is way too big and life is too short to wait around for someone to go with you on this opportunity of a lifetime!

Benefits of Traveling Solo

Enhances Independence & Empowerment

Any time you follow your dreams, go after what you want, and face your fears, it’s going to be the most empowering feeling. Solo travel is the definition of freedom, independence, and living life on your own terms.

Builds Self-Confidence

Taking the leap to go into the unknown on your own is brave. There is so much growth that comes from pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and there’s nothing that pushes you outside your perceived limits quite like traveling solo, because you really have no choice but to handle whatever challenges get thrown your way. You develop a ‘can-do’ attitude and become more relaxed and comfortable figuring things out on your own. And not just in the cities you travel, but any new job assignments you take on.

Gives You Total Freedom

On your own, you have the freedom to choose the states/cities where you want to take assignments. You also get to decide how you spend your weekdays, weekends, and everything in between, without worrying about disappointing or negotiating with other people. In traveler pairs, it often limits options because you have to find places that will accommodate both of you, and they might not want to go/explore the same places that you do.

Boosts Your Problem-Solving Creativity

Traveling rarely goes smoothly or according to plan: cars get flat tires, assignments get cancelled, you get lost (a lot in my case). It’s all a part of the solo adventure and the stories you’ll share of how you got through. The best stories never come from the things that went smoothly, right? And as healthcare professionals, we are creative problem solvers for our patients, so this skill can be carried with us into our practice as well.

Fosters Self-Discovery

Traveling solo is the best way to get to know yourself. Exploring new places and new cultures, outside your comfort zone, figuring things out on your own, you discover just how much you’re capable of.

Challenges of Traveling Solo & How to Overcome Them:

Being Alone/Lonely

One of my first assumptions as a solo traveler was that I would be on my own most of the time, especially since my first assignment was all the way across the country in a state where I knew no one. But once I was out there, I realized there are SO many opportunities to meet people. I ended up being surrounded by friends and mentors, some becoming lifelong friends. I also always try to take advantage of visiting any family/friends nearby who I might not ever get the chance to see otherwise.  

Ways to meet people:

  • Doing things with co-workers outside of work: There might be other travelers at your assignment that will go on adventures with you, or you might get to know the perm workers who are typically great assets to show you around your new city/give you tips on the best spots!
  • Connect through apps and social media: Travel therapy/nursing Facebook groups, following other travelers and travel therapy companies on Instagram, and apps like MedVenture, designed specifically for connecting with other traveling healthcare professionals, are all great ways to find people in your area and also to just have a supportive community to lean on.
  • Get involved with local organizations and community groups.
  • Just get out and explore the area! (This was a lot easier to do before the pandemic, but hopefully now that there’s a vaccine and more things are opening, this will be more of an option again)  

Another thing to consider if you’re worried about feeling lonely is bringing a pet with you on your travels! I got a puppy while on assignment in CA, and she’s now traveled with me to TX and NC as well. It definitely makes things a little more challenging, but I can’t imagine the travel life without her anymore!

Safety

This has never been an issue for me personally, but it’s always something to keep in mind traveling by yourself, especially for female solo travelers. Before committing to a new assignment, research the area to see if it is somewhere you’d feel comfortable living, look into the housing options available to make sure you’d feel safe, and always trust your gut if something feels off. When you’re on assignment, tell people where you’re going, bring mace with you on hikes and while out exploring, and ask the locals of places to go and if there are areas to avoid.

Boredom

Sometimes you might live and work in areas that are rural or with limited things to do. In cases like this, I focus a lot on hobbies and things I wish I had more time for—like CEUs, reading, cooking, planning future travels, blogging, etc. But ultimately, you’re choosing where you want to work, so if you’re someone who needs to be doing things and wants to be around people, consider choosing assignments that are in busier locations.

Costs

Traveling alone can definitely be more costly than traveling as a pair, since you are the sole provider. Housing is usually one of the biggest costs that you incur as a solo traveler. One way you can cut down on housing costs would be to consider living with roommates. Traveling therapist/nursing pages are a great way to reach out to people in the area to see if anyone is interested in splitting housing costs, or ask your supervisor if any of your coworkers have a room for rent or are looking for a roommate. This can also be another great way to meet people and have people to do things with!

Summary

Ultimately, I truly believe that the pros of traveling solo far outweigh the cons. If it’s in your heart to do travel therapy, don’t be afraid to take the leap. There’s a whole community of other travelers out there who are here to support you and help you along the way!

Even if you go for it and it doesn’t work out, you still win. You still had the guts enough to head straight into something that frightened you. That type of bravery will take you places.


About Morgan

I’m a traveling occupational therapist who started right out of school as a new grad. Originally from eastern PA, I got my Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science from the University of Pittsburgh and went on to get my Masters in Occupational Therapy degree from the University of St. Augustine in St. Augustine, FL in 2019. I was introduced to travel therapy at a job fair there and knew right then that’s what I wanted to do. I completed my fieldwork rotations in Greenville, SC and St. Louis, MO, so I already felt like I was traveling before taking the leap. But once I did start my official travel therapy journey, I road tripped cross-country from PA to OR to begin my first travel assignment in Ashland, OR and have been traveling ever since! I’ve now been on five assignments in OR, CA, TX, and currently NC, and my pup Zoey has traveled with me since CA. We love exploring new cities, getting outside any chance we can, visiting breweries and wineries, and meeting the best people along the way!

If you’d like to connect, the best way to contact me is through social media: Instagram: @zoandmo_onthego or through email at mlauchnor@gmail.com. I am also currently in the process of starting a blog, The ChrOnic WanderlusTer, so keep your eye out for that soon!