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.

What is Travel Therapy and How Does it Work?

What is Travel Therapy?

Travel therapy, contract therapy, contract therapist, traveling therapist, travel physical therapy (Travel PT), travel occupational therapy (Travel OT), travel speech therapy (Travel SLP) — these are some terms you may have heard floating around, and you’re wondering, what does that mean?

The answer is, it could mean a variety of things, but in most cases it means that a therapist (PT, OT, SLP, PTA, COTA) chooses to travel to different locations within the US for short term, contract work. This could be locally, within one state, or across state lines in any of the 50 US states.

In some cases, it could refer to working internationally, but this is not common and involves completely different steps than finding travel/contract work within the US. We are going to focus on travel therapy within the US only, as this is what is most feasible for US therapists, and it’s the focus of our Travel Therapy Mentor website.

How Does It Work?

In a nutshell, therapists (PT, OT, SLP, PTA, COTA) work with a recruiter at a travel therapy staffing agency, to search for short term jobs they’d like to apply to within the US. They have a phone interview to see if the job is a good fit, and if they’re chosen for the job, they move to the new location temporarily to work there for a short term contract.

A typical contract length is 13 weeks, or 3 months. But, it all depends on the facility’s needs and what you’re looking for. Some contracts could last just a few weeks, up to a year. In terms of finding short term housing, the staffing company can help you set up housing, or you can choose to set up housing on your own. Some travelers also choose to travel by RV.

The travel therapy staffing agency gets paid by the facility, they take a commission, and then you get paid weekly. You get paid an hourly rate, plus a stipend (also referred to as per diem) for housing and meals/incidentals (as long as you meet the appropriate guidelines for maintaining a Tax Home). You can also receive benefits from the staffing company, just like at a perm job, while you’re on contract with them. Remember, you’re an employee of the staffing company while on contract, not the facility itself.

When your contract is over, you can move on to another contract, or you could always return back home and work locally again.

Why Do Facilities Need Travel Therapists?

The facilities might need short term/travel workers for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Someone quit suddenly, and they need someone to fill in temporarily while they try to find a new permanent employee
  • Someone is away temporarily (for example on a maternity/paternity leave)
  • They have a temporary increase in caseload, for example some places that have higher needs during different seasons (think: Snow Birds in winter)
  • They’re having trouble finding a permanent employee or haven’t had a permanent employee for a while (for example rural areas or less desirable areas that don’t have a large pool of therapists in the area)

Why Do Therapists Choose Travel Therapy?

There are lots of benefits to travel therapy and reasons why therapists might choose this route, including:

  • You get paid higher as a travel therapist
  • You get to explore different areas of the country
  • You can try a variety of settings without committing to the job permanently

Do You Get to Choose Where You Go?

Yes, and no. There are 3 main factors to consider when searching for travel therapy jobs: location, setting, and pay. The more picky you are on one of these factors, the less picky you can be on the others.

You are at the mercy of the jobs available at a given time throughout the US. So you can say you really want to go to this state, but you can’t always choose exactly the city. Often, you won’t see any jobs in a particular city at a particular time, so you’ll have to look more at the whole state or a whole region. Plus, the more picky you’re being about the exact location, you won’t be able to be so picky on the setting and the pay.

On the other hand, if you’re only looking for a certain setting, for example outpatient or pediatrics, you will have to be more flexible on location and pay.

If you’re looking to make the absolute most money possible, you may have to be lenient on the setting and/or location available to find it!

Sometimes, you hit the “travel therapy jackpot” and get your absolute top pick on location, setting AND high pay! But it’s hard to come by all 3. So remember, flexibility is key!

What are Some of the Logistics with Getting Started?

First, you’ll want to find reliable recruiters at reliable staffing companies to work with. They help you find the jobs and can make or break your experience with travel therapy! We recommend working with at least 3 recruiters to open up more job options. To learn more about why this is, check out this article.

Next, you’ll want to consider in which states you’d like to work. You have to be licensed in every state in which you work, and it’s usually recommended that you get 2-3 state licenses up front so you’ll already have the license in hand before applying for jobs. In most cases, you have to apply individually to each state via their local state board website, but for PT’s and PTA’s you may be eligible for the PT Compact.

Once you’re set up with some recruiters and are working on getting your state licenses, the recruiters will help you search for jobs and submit your application for you.

Ready to Jump in & Learn More?

This is the first article in our Mini Series titled Travel Therapy 101: The Basics

Stay tuned for our upcoming articles and videos/podcasts in the series where we will cover:

  • Travel Therapy Pay 101
  • Travel Therapy Housing 101
  • Travel Therapy Licensing 101
  • Travel Therapy Recruiters 101
  • Understanding Tax Homes for Travelers

You can also find more detailed information on any of these topics via the links to other articles throughout this post, or by visiting our Educational Videos & Articles section!

Please send us a message if you have questions about travel therapy, or fill out this form to find out the recruiters and companies we recommend for you!