Top 5 Pros and Cons of Travel Therapy

-By Whitney-

If you’re a physical therapist or other healthcare professional, you may be considering the option of pursuing a traveling career instead of a permanent job. If you’re like we were, you may be trying to weigh out the options and decide what the best fit is for you. Here is our list of what we feel are the top 5 pros & cons to considering a traveling career:

Pros:

  • Earning higher pay
  • Adventures in new parts of the country
  • Experience in different practice settings
  • Learning new skills
  • Making new friends

Cons:

  • Possible tax law issues (do you qualify?)
  • Moving often and setting up housing each time
  • Being away from family/friends
  • Adapting to new environments
  • No paid time off

Here’s a closer look at what we think are the benefits of a traveling career and why we chose it. Higher pay and adventures are definitely our top two reasons for choosing travel. The higher pay is an obvious reason, and it is especially beneficial if you are smart with your earnings and investments. Because of the higher pay rate and tax benefits, Jared is able to aggressively seek Financial Independence before the age of 32. Although I am not seeking FI quite as soon, I too will have many options in my early to mid-30’s with working part time or PRN only. In addition, having a lower taxable income will lead to lower monthly income based student loan repayment if you choose to go that route. Besides the pay, we have already had so many amazing experiences while traveling to new states and cities on the East Coast, and we are excited for what lies ahead as we explore the Midwest and West Coast. We are having experiences that most would never have the opportunity to explore, unless they took extensive vacation time from work or waited until their later decades when they retire. Money isn’t everything, and we are definitely taking full advantage of our traveling adventures.

The other benefits include being able to go to different facilities, affording you the opportunity to gain new skills, knowledge and experience within different practice settings (i.e. if you choose to change from one type of setting to another on your different assignments), as well as learn from new colleagues. Last, you have the opportunity to make new friends and acquaintances you wouldn’t otherwise meet.

Considering all of the above, traveling physical therapy was definitely the right option for us. However, we know that everyone has different circumstances, and there could be some challenges associated with pursuing a traveling career.

A big thing to consider with travel is whether or not you meet the qualifications for the tax free stipends. In order to really maximize your pay when taking travel contracts, part of the benefit is being given a stipend for housing/food which is untaxed. However, if you don’t meet the qualifications, you will be taxed on all of your pay. If you’re taxed on everything, you may still come out ahead of a permanent job, but not quite as much as the travelers who are getting it tax free. To meet the qualifications, you must maintain a permanent tax home that is separate from your travel location. There are further stipulations surrounding what qualifies as a tax home, including: not abandoning your tax home (i.e. returning often), conducting business in area of your tax home, and having duplicate expenses which would include at your tax home as well as at your travel site. Along with this, if you are truly meeting the requirements, you would be paying living expenses at your tax home and your travel location, which does affect your bottom line on net income. You can find more information about this here: Travel Tax Website.

Once you’ve figured that out, you need to take into account that you’ll have to be willing to move around often. This can vary greatly depending on your preferences. You could choose to travel within one state, or just a couple surrounding states, or all over the country. Depending on your situation, you may want to be working continuously throughout the year in order to make the most money (like us), which means you have to try hard to line up your contracts back to back & arrange moving from one place to the next quickly. Others may choose to space contracts out more, taking weeks to months off to leisurely travel to the next location. There are many options, and you’ll have to figure out what works best for you. Along with this comes figuring out what your housing situation will be while on assignment. Some people choose to only take contracts where they could stay with family or friends, which could limit your destinations. Others will choose to have the travel company setup housing so it will be less hassle, but then you must consider your pay won’t be as high because they won’t give you the housing stipend. It seems like most travelers choose to set up their own housing in order to get the most out of the housing stipend, but this can sometimes be difficult. You can rent somewhere like a furnished apartment, extended stay motel, or corporate housing, all of which are more expensive. If you get an unfurnished place, you’ll have to either bring furnishings or get some when you arrive. Another challenge is that many places won’t rent to you for shorter than 6 or 12 months, which can be difficult when most of the contracts are 3 months long. Even though these things seem like a hassle, many travelers do it and the pros still outweigh the cons for them. I think it helps to travel as a pair so that you can split housing costs, but then again this comes with its own challenges with finding two jobs in the same location. But I digress. As you may have already figured out with our blog, we chose a totally different option with buying an RV. We are extremely happy with our choice to live in an RV, and we have found it a lot easier to find campgrounds to stay at instead of setting up housing at apartments. It also makes it a lot easier to move from one location to the next, usually just in one weekend as long as the next contract isn’t too far away. Again, there are many options & you’ll have to decide what the best is for you.

Another consideration for many people would be leaving your family and friends behind. For some, this may not be feasible, especially if you have children under the age of 18 and a spouse with a job. For others, it may just be that you aren’t comfortable being far away from your family, significant other, or friends and being in a new area where you don’t know anyone. Again, it’s all in what fits your lifestyle. We have heard of couples where the spouse has a job that would allow them to work from home and travel to new locations. Or, as many have done, they wait until later in their careers to choose travel, once their kids are grown and the spouse may be retired. For us, just starting our careers, both as PT’s, and traveling as a pair without children or pets, it has been perfect.

In terms of taking travel assignments, you also have to consider whether you are someone who can adapt quickly to new environments. As a traveler, you are expected to catch on quickly with the flow of the facility and the documentation system. This could be a struggle for some. In addition, you’ll have to adapt to your new location which could include learning your way around a new city and going to a new church, gym, grocery store, etc.

The last thing to consider with traveling is that there is usually no paid time off. So if your goal is to make the most money possible, you will have to work continuously throughout the year in order to have your hourly/weekly pay equate to that of a salaried employee. If you take days or weeks off between assignments, you’re not getting paid for that, which will bring down your annual income. Also if you choose to take a vacation or need time off to attend an event like a wedding, graduation, etc., you won’t have vacation time to use, it’s just unpaid time off.

Considering all of the above, we have still been able to make traveling physical therapy work very well for us. We hope that this list has helped you with some of your decision making if you are considering a travel career. Please let us know if you have any questions; we are happy to help! Also if you are a traveler, leave us a comment & let us know how you make a travel healthcare career work for you!

Travel PT: New England Adventures

-By Whitney-
Timeline: March-September 2016


Our goal with moving to Massachusetts for work was to be able to explore the Northeast. We took full advantage of our nearly 6 months there and were able to see so much! Here’s an overview of our many adventures:

 

MASSACHUSETTS:

Campgrounds
While in Massachusetts we lived at 2 different campgrounds (due to summer availability we had to move once). We got to experience living in two small towns: Middleboro and Mansfield. (Yes, experience, because seriously that’s a huge part of moving to new places, the little things!)

Boston, MA
We were able to go into Boston several times, including a weekend where we stayed overnight in the Copley Plaza hotel (very fancy) for free using credit card reward points. That weekend we did a lot of exploring, sightseeing, eating, and following the Freedom Trail (a red line that takes you through the historic sites in Boston). Other adventures included: going to a Boston Red Sox game with our co-workers; going to the Samuel Adams Brewery for a free tour & tasting, then riding a party trolley to nearby Doyle’s Cafe; meeting up with an old friend for a 4th of July cookout; going out downtown to some bars with co-workers to see the night life; and hiking at Blue Hills Reservation.

Foxboro, MA
Home to the New England Patriots, we explored “Patriot Place” which is a shopping center surrounding the stadium & saw the stadium itself. We did not make it to a game though. We went into Foxboro several times for dinner as it was close-by to our 2nd campground in Mansfield.

Cape Cod, MA
We took a day trip during the off-season while it was still cold to drive all the way to the end of Cape Cod to the last city which is called Provincetown (“P-town” for short) which is well known for its LGBTQ community & visitors. I loved P-town: it was such a cute, small, coastal town with beautiful views. Along the way we stopped at several of the beaches including Hyannis & the Cape Cod National Seashore. I wish we had gone in the summer because people say it’s pretty lively & the beaches are nice, but we sort of avoided it because everyone said the traffic was bad. It was in Hyannis that I enjoyed my first whole lobster!

Cambridge, MA
We went here one evening to explore & see Harvard. We also ate dinner & enjoyed a small local comedy club in the upstairs of a Chinese restaurant. We had a blast!

Plymouth, MA
We visited when it was still cold out, so we didn’t get to enjoy the beach too much, but we saw Plymouth Rock! My mom was also in town visiting & stayed in Plymouth.

Agawam, MA
In the summer we went to Six Flags New England, which I was super excited about because we love rollercoasters & amusement parks. However, we were not too impressed with this particular park due to the small amount of rides & large amount of people! Also, unfortunately, I ended up feeling a little rough on some of the rides, probably because I hadn’t been on any in a long time. We had fun though & they had a really awesome 400ft swing ride (apparently the tallest in the world): The New England Skyscreamer that was pretty amazing.

Salem MA
This was on my list of places I wanted to go so I could see “witch things”! My mom was in town visiting again during this trip (she missed us & I think she visited 3 times) & we were able to do a lot of sightseeing there. There was more to see than just witch things- it was a really nice little town near the water.

Onset Beach & Nantasket Beach, MA
On a couple of occasions Jared & I (and my mom on one of her visits!) went to Onset Beach, which was more of a bay/cove with calmer water, but we chose there because it was closer & less crowded. I also on one of my days off from work during our last week (working part time that week) went to popular Nantasket Beach to enjoy a beach day on my own.

NEW HAMPSHIRE:

Jaffrey, NH
When we first thought we’d only be in the Northeast 3 months, we were trying to cram a lot into one weekend. This particular weekend we tackled both hiking in New Hampshire and then driving up the coast of Maine. We hiked in Jaffrey, NH at Mount Monadnock, which offered beautiful 360 degree views. We went here in April, when the weather was pretty decent in the valley, but at the top it was very cold and windy!

Conway, NH
We made another trip to NH on a different weekend later in our stay (when we realized we had more time) to hike in The White Mountains. We originally wanted to either hike or drive up the famous Mount Washington (one of the tallest peaks on the East Coast & also one of the most dangerous). However, we decided we weren’t in good enough shape to tackle the 10 mile/8 hour hike, and I was a little concerned about the integrity of my 2004 Chevy Trailblazer to make it up the steep drive… not to mention my fear of heights! So ultimately we decided to do a smaller hike (Mount Willard), but still got to see some awesome views including Crawford’s Notch, several other mountain ranges and valleys, and even a moose!

MAINE:

Portland, ME & Beaches
This was our first trip to Maine, the same weekend we hiked Mount Monadnock in NH. We did a ton of driving that weekend! After having gone from MA to NH for the hike, we drove to the coast of Maine and stayed south of Portland in a small beach town, Wells. We went into Portland for dinner that night and enjoyed some lobster rolls and lobster bisque (gotta have the Maine lobster!). The next day we took the scenic route up US-1 and stopped at several of the Maine beaches and lighthouses including York (Cape Neddick), Ogunquit, Wells, and Old Orchard Beach. We went to Portland again during the day & had, yes, more lobster rolls. Portland was beautiful and historic, reminding me of historic Charleston, SC where I went to undergrad (I tend to compare a lot of places to there as you will see as you go down the list). Last, on the way home, we stopped off briefly in Portsmouth for some delicious Annabelle’s Natural Ice Cream.

Bar Harbor, ME
This is an amazing, small island community off the coast of Northern Maine, almost to Canada. We’re so happy we made time to go here, which we originally would not have been able to without extending our contracts. We had heard wonderful things about its beauty, relaxation, the amazing seafood, and the awesome Acadia National Park located there, and it definitely lived up to the hype. We loved it so much that we have seriously talked about moving there one day. However, we did go during the summer & I’m not so convinced about the winters! But it was definitely top of the list of amazing places we’ve been. They have everything: a bustling little tourist part of town; a quiet residential area (which we got to experience by staying at a lovely Airbnb); mountains; trails; ocean views; and, of course, seafood!! I can’t say enough how much we loved Bar Harbor. But if you’re from Boston, it’s not Bar Harbor, it’s “Bah Habah.” Haha 🙂

NEW YORK:

New York City
Jared had never been to NYC, so that was definitely on our list while we were so close. We took the Amtrak from Providence RI to NYC which was a cool experience. The best part of our NYC trip was that we had another free hotel night to use at a Fairmont location, so we got to stay at the iconic Plaza Hotel, which if you’ve never heard of it is one of the nicest hotels in NYC & has been featured in many movies. It was very, very fancy and something we will never forget! While in NYC we did a lot of sight-seeing. We walked hundreds of blocks in our short stay there. We got to see Times Square lit up at night, the new World Trade Memorial, and went to a Broadway play- Les Miserables!

VERMONT:

Montpelier, VT
This is the capital of Vermont, and it’s centrally located to a few great hikes, scenic byways, and some other great sites. So we decided to stay here (at another Airbnb) during our weekend visit to Vermont, and to our surprise it was a really tiny little town. We learned it’s the smallest state capital in the country!

 

Burlington, VT
We heard great things about Burlington, and even though it was a little out of the way of the hikes and sightseeing we had planned, I’m glad we made time to go here! We saw a beautiful sunset over Lake Champlain, and looking across the lake you can see the Adirondack Mountains of NY on the other side. Burlington was yet another cute little historic city that reminded me of Charleston SC (wonder if you went to the north first, and then to Charleston, if you would compare it the other way? ha).

Stowe, VT
This is a big ski area in the winter, but we were here in the summer to go hiking. We drove up a toll road toward Mt. Mansfield (the highest peak in Vermont), and then we hiked the rest of the way to the top. We were worried at first because it was so cloudy/foggy you couldn’t see a thing, but at the top it cleared up & we were able to see some of the best views we have witnessed so far on any of the hikes we have done (granted, we have only hiked on the East coast so far). It was near Stowe that we also visited the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory for a tour & tasting (after hiking of course 😉 )! We took the Scenic Route 100 Byway for part of our drive home to take in the gorgeous views of Vermont!

RHODE ISLAND:

Newport, RI
Everyone kept telling us we had to go to Newport, and now we know why. It was a neat city on the water, with a beautiful rocky coastline. We walked the Cliff Walk which is a trail along the coast, which in some places requires climbing over boulders, and it passes behind many of the Newport Mansions. We didn’t go in any of the mansions, but we oogled them from outside. They also have a nice harbor front area that reminds me of… you guessed it: Charleston.

Providence, RI
My mom was along for this day trip as well (I think it was the same weekend as Salem MA- we were trying to squeeze a lot in!) We saw Brown University, ate at a little Italian deli with deep dish pizza in Federal Hill, and watched their arts and entertainment display on the river called Water Fire, where they light bon fires along the river at dusk.

CANADA:
During our last two weeks of work when we found ourselves with extra days off because we were working part time, and because it was Labor Day Weekend, we decided to take a trip up to Canada! Funny story though, it wasn’t until we passed through customs at the US/Canadian border that we realized 1. We wouldn’t have cell phone service, and 2. Everything would be written in French, ha! We had an interesting time finding our way around including reading street signs without GPS or Google! (Neither of us know a word of French!) Fortunately for us, many things are in English, most people speak English, and we could stop and use Wifi to gain some information to tide us over!

Quebec City
We had yet another free Fairmont hotel night to use from credit card rewards, which allowed us to stay at a beautiful castle-looking hotel in Quebec City called the Chateau Frontenac. We had a great time exploring Quebec City including historic Old Quebec, Ile de Orleans, Montmorency Falls, and The Citadelle de Quebec.

Montreal
We also stayed a night at an Airbnb in Montreal and enjoyed walking around the modern parts as well as Old Montreal. We also hiked Mont St Hilliard near Montreal.

 

PLACES WE MISSED:
Upstate New York is sadly somewhere we did not explore. We drove through here when moving to & from Massachusetts from Virginia, and we were able to see some of its beauty. However, among all of our other adventures we never made time for going there. Afterwards we heard from many people how great it is & we regret not exploring it! We will someday!
New Jersey & Connecticut were two other states we did not hit during our Northeast explorations. I’ve been to New Jersey in the past, but Jared has not; and Connecticut  we drove through but didn’t really do anything there.

WHAT ELSE DID WE MISS?
We would love to hear your feedback on our adventures, including any questions for us, comments on our experiences, and any recommendations for where we should go next time we find ourselves in the Northeast (or any other parts of the country for our future travels)! Please feel free to leave a comment below or send one of us a message! 🙂

Travel PT: Moving to the Northeast

WOW- if I thought I was going to get caught up back in October when I last posted & started this one, boy was I wrong! Let’s see if I can be any more successful this go round. Starting back where I left off with our travel PT adventures… 😀

Timeline: March-September 2016

After spending our first 9 months as travel PT’s close to home in Southwest VA, we were ready to finally make a move and go out of the state. We had decided that we would try to go to northern states during the summer and southern states during the winter, because living in a camper in extreme temperatures would not be fun. Per our travel plan for the next 4 years, we have planned to basically zig zag our way across the country, starting with our move from Virginia to the northeast. We didn’t really care which state we went to in the northeast, so we started checking the job lists in advance to see which state usually had the most PT jobs. We decided on Massachusetts because they had a ton of PT jobs and several close together. You sort of have to take a gamble, especially when traveling as a pair, because you have to apply for the license in that state weeks to months in advance. Then, once you are licensed, you start looking for the jobs you will actually take, which don’t become available most of the time until 3-4 weeks before your start date. (Sometimes if you’re lucky you can do it in reverse, get the job then the license, but not always). So, once we were licensed in Massachusetts, we started our job search a month or so before we planned to move. We ended up finding two jobs at the same outpatient facility in Brockton, Massachusetts, which is about an hour south of Boston. We were super excited about this, because both of us prefer to be in an outpatient setting (and I had been in SNF for a while…), and we thought it would be pretty cool to be at the same clinic for a change.

When it came time to move, we finished our jobs in Virginia on a Friday, and our start date in Massachusetts was on Monday. This was our first time taking the camper on a longer haul, so we were a little nervous. Just our luck, a rain/snow storm hit the day we were leaving (we seem to have the worst luck when it comes to moving… more on this later). So, the morning we left we had to do all of the camper unhooking, connecting to the truck, etc in the rain. As we made our way up I-81, it started to turn into sleet and snow. Jared had only minimal experience with driving the truck with the camper attached, so it was really nerve wracking. Thank goodness we didn’t have any complications and were able to make the drive pretty smoothly. It was about a 12-13 hour drive, and we had planned to drive about 8-9 hours the first day. We picked out a Walmart parking lot to stop at overnight in Fishkill, NY. Why a Walmart parking lot? It’s a lot quicker and easier to hop off the highway and pull into a parking lot than a campground, plus you don’t bother with pulling the slides out, hooking the electricity/water/etc up. You just park there for the night and sleep. That was all we needed. And Walmart is well-known for allowing RV’s and 18-wheelers to park in their lots overnight. There is actually a list of those that do and do not allow this. The next day we had just a few short hours to drive and we arrived safely in Middleboro, Massachusetts where we would be staying at the KOA campground.

The next morning, we awoke to snow on the ground as the snow storm had caught up with us overnight. It was our first day of work & we were a little worried that we would not be able to get there on time. To our surprise, Massachusetts is really on the ball with the snow handling (which was nice, because even though our plan was to go there while it was warm, we still had a little snow even into May). That first day the roads were completely clear by 7:30am when we needed to leave. We had an easy first day of work where we had an orientation at the hospital and then at our outpatient clinic. We had the same schedule the first day then we started our normal schedules the next day.

Like I said, Jared and I were working at the same outpatient clinic. However, the clinic hours were 7am-8pm to accommodate early and late appointments. As the newbees, we had to really help out on both ends of the spectrum with our hours. Our schedules unfortunately were opposites Mon-Thurs. I worked MWF 7-4 and T-Th 11-8, while Jared worked MW 11-8 and T-Th-Fri 7-4. This was good in some ways and bad in others. I think it would have been a little much to have the same exact schedule, where we would commute together, work together, go to the gym together, commute home together, and be home together at all times. So in a way it was good for us to have some time apart to do our own thing. However, it really made sleeping schedules tough, because one of us would have to be up really early while the other could sleep in. We’re really not the type of people to wake up at the same time everyday (or wake up early everyday) unless we have to. So the one who didn’t have to be at work til 11 definitely wanted to sleep in til 10, which meant wanting to stay up later. So that was a bit of a problem for us and definitely not something we would want to do permanently. But, like we always say with travel PT, we can do anything for a short time.

Another new experience for us at this clinic was that it was the first outpatient clinic where we had to overlap patients. Patients were scheduled on the half hour, but the expectation was to keep them 45 mins to an hour, meaning you would have two at the same time. Since then, we have learned this is more the norm and we have gotten a lot better at it. We really liked our manager there and the company was respectful of our time. The permanent employees were all hourly, and if they worked over 40 hours (including documentation), they were paid overtime. That was really nice for us as well. This I can tell you is certainly not the norm. Often, there would even be a documentation slot built in depending on how the evaluations and the treatments fell. There were some frustrations at this job, but really there are at any job, and overall we enjoyed it there.

Outside of the ins and outs of the clinic itself, this was our first experience with a big culture change. Where we were before in Virginia was familiar territory to us and we were used to “southern folk.” However, in Massachusetts, we really had to get used to the accents, the slang, and the personalities of different people. I learned a lot from working with different kinds of people from the northeast and even from other countries. There was a large immigrant population from other countries including Haiti and Cape Verde (small African island). Several of our patients did not speak English, so we had to have either an interpreter in person or use an iPad with a virtual interpreter. Now for the slang and “Boston” accents, I just had to get them to slow down– ha. I had a lot of fun joking around with everyone there about the difference in our accents and our dialects. I got to learn about “watah” and “a bubblah” and “Bah Habah.” (LOL) And I found out that I apparently tend to emulate others’ accents, so by the end had started to say certain words differently depending on who I was talking to. (I find this too when I’m talking to someone who is more southern than I, that I pick up more of the drawl because normally I don’t think I have much of an accent at all.)

Now this contract in Massachusetts was initially a 13-week contract (as most are), but we had been hoping all along that they would extend our contracts and let us stay for closer to 6 months so we could spend the entire summer there. So we had to play that game with waiting and hoping, while also looking into other options just in case. They did hire 2 permanent PT’s in the time that we were there, but fortunately we were able to get them to extend our contracts for a short period. This put us at about the end of August, which was great so that we could stay longer and see more of the northeast. However, it made kind of a tricky situation for us. We had planned to take a trip to the Caribbean in the fall, and back before we started in Massachusetts, we planned our trip for 26 weeks out from our end date in Virginia. We anticipated that either we would extend our 13 week contract by another 13 weeks at our same job, or take a different 13 week contract, that would place us right on track for the trip. Unfortunately because they did a short extension (9 weeks I think), it left us with a 4 week gap. This would have been bad for us for a couple of reasons. First, we would lose out on a lot of money by taking 4 weeks off of work. Second, if you take more than 30 days off of work as a traveler you lose your insurance. So, this left us trying to find a job that we could start right when we left Massachusetts, then take off for a week of vacation in the middle of that contract. Unfortunately that was just turning out to be too tricky and none of the jobs we were finding could let us do that. So we basically begged our manager to help us out and keep us there just a little longer. We ended up working out a 2-week extension, but they could only afford to have us work part time (20 hours each) during those 2 weeks. But it worked out for us because it was better than no employment and we got to keep our insurance through our time off & our trip.  It was also pretty neat to see what it would be like to work part time as well and have more free days during the week.

Overall we had a really great experience working & living in Massachusetts while exploring the entire Northeast. I’ll write my next post about all the fun things we did outside of work while we were there! 🙂

Pros and Cons of Travel Therapy in an RV

**The image above was taken on Friday at our campground on the NC coast.

One of the most common concerns for those contemplating travel therapy is regarding housing. Most people love the hearing about the higher pay and adventure of traveling around this beautiful country but are nervous about the uncertainty of housing. Unfortunately, there is a lot of uncertainty. I’ll go through some of the various housing options, and explain why we decided before ever graduating PT school and starting our traveling careers that traveling by RV was going to be the best for us.

People often ask us if the travel company sets up the housing for you. Yes, there is the option of having your travel company find housing for you, but if you go this route the company will use your housing stipend to pay for the housing which will likely mean $2,000+ less take home pay per month. Also, I have heard stories of people having to commute an hour each way from their company provided housing to their assignment which would be terrible in my opinion. This may be the easiest and most convenient option in some cases, but you will definitely pay for the convenience.

If company provided housing isn’t ideal, then what other options are there? Well, there are a few. You could always travel to places where you have family or friends to stay with, but this would certainly limit your options for location. You can try to find an apartment complex in the area that would be willing to let you sign a three month lease. However, this is often impossible to find. When we were first starting out, we decided to go the apartment route for the first assignment while we saved to buy our RV. We called about 20 complexes in the area of our first assignment, and six month leases were as short as they would go, and in most cases 12 months. So usually this just won’t work when your contract is for the usual 13 weeks (plus there’s always the uncertainty that they could end your contract early and you’d be stuck in a lease, or you may end up extending your contract and your lease may not be flexible). In addition, if you do find a place that will allow you a three month lease, you have to see if it can be furnished or you have to rent or move furniture and set up your own utilities. If an apartment complex doesn’t work out, you can search Craigslist for housing, but this is hit or miss and can be time consuming. On our first assignment we found housing on Craigslist, but it was a bedroom in a house in which the owner was extremely particular about things. We were very unhappy with the set up, but it was the only convenient option in the area. You can look for housing on AirBnB or VRBO. These places are furnished with utilities included most of the time, but you’re going to be paying a premium for this, and, as with Craiglist, it is hit or miss based on your location. You can choose corporate housing which are furnished (which is usually where the travel company will place you if you go that route), but these places know that you have limited options for short term housing so they are not cheap. We spoke to a complex in our hometown about corporate housing and their rate was $2,200 per month for a one bedroom (furnished with utilities) while a normal yearly lease for a one bedroom would have only been $800 per month. You could stay at an extended stay motel, which is generally quite a bit cheaper than corporate housing ($1,200-$1,500 for the ones we’ve priced). However, these are often not in the best parts of town and the furnishings often leave a lot to be desired. The last option is to buy an RV and stay at a campground near your assignment. I will expand more on the pros and cons of this below. We were already pretty sure this is the route we wanted to go, and after our bad Craigslist experience, it solidified our decision. We never wanted to have to pack and move our stuff again or risk being in another housing situation we hated. A camper was the only option that made sense for us.

Neither Whitney nor I had ever spent even one night in an RV. We were complete beginners, but we knew that it would be the only way that we would continue traveling. We started reading and learning about campers and trucks back when we were still in PT school, and really started narrowing down our search several months before we were planning on buying. We went to an RV show while we were first starting to learn about them in our last year of PT school, and as time grew closer to buying, we scoured every RV sales place near us as well as the internet for sales in Virginia and surrounding states. After looking at hundreds, we determined that it would be better for us to air on the side of buying something too big than risk getting a camper that was too small. We found that a fifth wheel fit our needs better than a regular travel trailer. We set a budget of $40,000 to buy both the camper and the truck which meant that we would be buying both of them used. This price was a big factor in waiting until after our first assignment to buy, because right out of school we didn’t have very much money saved up, and we preferred to buy them outright instead of financing. We ended up waiting for 6 months after starting working to buy. During our search, we made a list of all of the features and amenities that we couldn’t live without. After scouring RV lots, Craigslist, and RVtrader.com for hundreds of hours, we found a fifth wheel with a layout that we loved and for a price that we could afford. Then, we found a truck that had the features needed to tow our camper. In the end we paid about $35,000 for our 2009 fifth wheel and our 2005 diesel F-250. This was a big upfront cost, but more than worth it in our opinion. We have now been living in the fifth wheel for our past four travel assignments and wouldn’t do it any other way. Let’s look at the pros and cons of living in a camper to see why we believe it’s the best option for most travelers.

Pros:

  • Cheaper monthly living costs
  • No scouring the internet for short term rentals
  • No packing or moving furniture
  • No setting up utilities
  • Consistency with your surroundings/home
  • Quicker turn around from one assignment to the next

Cons:

  • Initial learning curve for camper living, setup, driving, etc
  • Upfront costs
  • Maintenance on camper
  • Less living space
  • General “camper life” things such as dealing with water tanks, sewer, setup/breakdown

Although we paid upfront costs of $35,000 for the camper and truck, we estimate that we are able to save about $1,000/month on housing costs staying at a campground vs. finding short term housing. Our average housing at campgrounds has been about $520/month to this point compared to $1,200-$1,700 (sometimes much more) for short term housing options with utilities and furnishing included. Add in the costs of maintenance/repairs, personal property taxes, and extra cost of gas, and we probably come out about $800/month ahead. Since we plan to travel for about five years total, the truck and fifth wheel will more than pay for themselves. In addition, when we finish traveling we estimate we will be able to sell the truck and fifth wheel for somewhere between $20,000-$25,000 which will allow us to recover much of that upfront cost. Based on my estimates, we will save about $33,000 by living in the fifth wheel for five years compared to living in short term housing, and this includes a loss of $15,000 on depreciation of our truck and camper.

Finding somewhere to stay while living in the camper is fairly easy- much easier than the alternative. Once we find two jobs that are near each other, we immediately look for campgrounds that are between the two assignments, find prices on their websites, call to confirm availability at the campsite, and make a decision. Usually this can be done in an hour or less if we are able to call during their business hours. This is so much more convenient than just guessing at whether we will be able to find housing between our two jobs. Even if there is an apartment complex on the map, there are again a lot of stipulations as to whether they will have openings and if they can do a short term lease. If you’re going with other options like corporate housing, extended stay motel, Craigslist, or Airbnb, your search is going to take a lot longer and have a lot more uncertainty, all while your recruiter is waiting to hear whether you’re going to take the job or not. Otherwise, if you accept the job upfront BEFORE finding housing, you’re really going to be at the mercy of whatever you can find, despite the cost, the hassle, or the distance, because you already accepted the job.

We have determined that securing everything inside the camper, unhooking everything from the outside and hooking the camper to the truck takes us about three hours. Getting things back out inside, unhooking the truck, and setting up the outside takes about two hours. Total set up and break down time is five hours, so we can usually complete this and the drive to the new location in one day, or at most over a weekend depending how far we are traveling. Due to this quick turnaround, we have so far always been able to finish an assignment on Friday and start a new assignment on Monday, including our biggest move so far from VA to 13 hours away in MA. Since daily and weekly pay is so high as a traveler, missing one day or one week of work due to moving can be very costly, especially since there is no such thing as paid time off between assignments. Also not having to pack boxes and load cars is invaluable to us.

Utilities provided at campgrounds vary, but they all include water and sewer. Electricity is either included or metered (paid for separately in addition to the monthly rate), but is always provided one way or the other with no additional setup by you required. Most, but not all, campgrounds have wifi included and some have cable included as well. Not having to set up your own utilities saves time and frustration.

Constantly moving to new locations is very exciting, but we find that we really enjoy having the consistency with our living situation. We always know that no matter where we go we will have the same bed, same couch, same chairs, same shower, etc. In addition, our clothes, dishes and other belonging are always in the same place as they were at the last location. This might sound insignificant, but it can mean a lot in some situations.

Having a smaller living space may be a problem for some, but this has not been an issue at all for us. Our fifth wheel is about 230 square feet inside with the slides out. This may sound small to some, but it’s bigger than it sounds. For some pictures, check out this post written by Whitney.

Camper maintenance is a given and needs to be factored into costs. For the most part it is usually very minor if you stay on top of things, but, of course, there could be occasional big costs if something malfunctions and has to be repaired in the camper.

Learning about the camper including hooking up, unhooking, pulling/backing, emptying tanks, etc. can seem daunting, but with Youtube and forums, is really not that bad. As I mentioned earlier, we started learning a few months in advance, so we took our time reading and learning which made it easier. We had some problems when we started, but thanks to helpful fellow campers and the internet, we figured everything out.

Overall we have been very happy with our decision and enjoy the adventure of living in the fifth wheel. It allows us to save money and travel with much less hassle. If it wasn’t an option we probably would have taken permanent jobs long ago because packing and moving is very draining for us.

I hope this post is helpful. I’m always open to questions about anything in the comments section below!

What is the pay difference between Travel PT and Permanent PT jobs?

This is one of the most common questions I get asked by PT’s or students that are considering travel PT. Everyone knows that generally you make more, but these people want to know if the extra pay is enough to outweigh the hassles of traveling. In previous posts I have written that $1,500/week take home pay is a pretty decent starting point for a new grad travel assignment, but many people don’t understand exactly what “take home pay” means compared to their current pay check. Let’s start with some definitions before getting into an example:

Gross pay: this is your total pay before taxes. This is the number that people talk about when they say things like, “My salary is $70,000 per year.” If you’re hourly you can get this number by taking your hourly rate, multiplying by the hours you work per week, and then multiplying by 52 weeks in a years. (i.e. $33.50/hr x 40 x 52 = ~$70,000/year)

Net pay: This is your “take home pay” after all deductions and taxes. These might include: federal taxes, state taxes, Medicare taxes, insurance, etc. Finding what this number would be for you can be a little more difficult unless you are currently working. This is the amount that is directly deposited into your bank account on pay day.

Per diem/stipends: This is money that you get as a traveler that is tax free to reimburse you for things such as housing, meals, and incidentals while on a travel assignment. You only get this money tax free if you make sure you meet the requirements in the tax laws for travelers. I will write a future post of these requirements.

In the past I have had people comment on the $1,500/week take home pay for travelers and say, “I can make more than that at a full time job! Why would I travel and make less?” I guess that it is possible you could make more than that as a perm employee, but it is very unlikely, especially as a new grad. Most likely these people are confusing gross pay with net pay. $1,500/week gross pay is definitely possible as a perm PT, but getting that same amount after taxes is much more difficult.

Also, this is probably obvious but, it’s important not to confuse just the amount per paycheck for travelers with the amount per paycheck for perm PT’s: as I have mentioned, travelers get paid weekly, while most perm employees get paid bi-weekly. But for the sake of comparison I’ll be using the weekly pay numbers.

Let’s breakdown $1,500/week gross pay into hourly and salary numbers and then compare that to $1,500/week net pay to see the true difference.

Gross pay: $1,500/40(hours per week) = $37.50/hour. $1,500 x 52 (weeks per year) = $78,000/year. Depending on setting and location, these numbers may or may not be attainable as a new grad PT. People starting out in a SNF or working in home health will likely make this much or more, while for those starting in outpatient or acute care it may be a little less likely. Ben Fung has some great resources on average salary for full time PT jobs across the country, and this would be a good comparison to look at for new grads deciding between travel and full time jobs.

Net pay: This will be different for everyone depending on the state you live in and your number of federal allowances (dependents). Fortunately there is a great site called Paycheckcity where you can easily calculate this number for yourself. The results I will show here are for my situation (living in Virginia with only one allowance). To get a net pay (take home pay) of $1,500/week, my hourly pay would have to be $57/hour, and my gross pay would have to be $2,280/week. $2,280 x 52 = $118,500/year. As you can see the difference between gross pay and take home pay is huge ($78,000/year compared to $118,500/year) and this is due to the factoring in of taxes which are usually much higher than people new to the working world expect.

Now you may be thinking, “Almost $120,000/year as a new grad sounds great, but how likely is it to actually make $1,500/week take home pay as a traveler?” The short answer is, very likely. Whitney and I have been traveling for a year and a half now and $1,500/week is the lowest we have ever been paid on a contract so far. Some contracts have paid quite a bit more than this.

Example: Fortunately at one of my first travel assignments, I was offered a full time position after finishing my travel assignment with them, so I can directly compare my travel pay to the perm PT wage offered. For reference, this was an outpatient ortho clinic. My travel take home pay was $1,530/week and I was offered $35/hour to stay and work there as a perm PT. Let’s break these numbers down and see what the difference would be in my pay if I had stayed as a perm employee. $35/hour x 40 hours a week x 52 weeks per year = $72,800/year gross pay. Now I can use Paycheckcity to see what my net pay per week would be on this amount. Filling single in VA with one allowance, $35/hour would equal $983/week net pay (take home pay). That is quite a big difference. I would make $550 less per week after taxes by taking this job as a permanent employee instead of as a traveler. We can also go the other way with the numbers and determine what my hourly pay was at this job and then compare that to the $35/hour offered for permanent employment. Filling single in VA with one allowance, my $1,530/week take home pay would be the equivalent of $58/hour! I would make $23/hour less by taking this job as a full time employee instead of as a traveler.

These are obviously very big differences, and it illustrates the very high pay rates that can be achieved with travel assignments compared to full time employment, but I would be lying if I said that this is all you need to consider. If I had taken a full time job at this clinic, I would have gotten paid vacation of three weeks per year, whereas with a travel assignment, paid vacation doesn’t exist. This can be a huge benefit of being a permanent PT. Paid holidays as a perm employee can also be a consideration, although we have always made sure that we get paid when the clinic is closed on a Holiday and we have to miss work when agreeing to our travel contracts. Also, depending on how you choose to travel, working all 52 weeks in a year as a traveler may or may not be feasible. When we first started traveling, Whitney and I worked 16 months straight with no unpaid days, but doing that is not for everyone. Many people want to take time off between assignments, and this will obviously cause you to earn less for the year.

In my opinion, traveling as a new grad is a great way to be exposed to a lot of different treatment styles while also making extra money to pay off loans or contribute to personal investments, but you do miss out on some of the perks of being a permanent employee. Hopefully these pay breakdowns help in understanding what the actual difference in pay would be. If you have any questions about travel or pay, don’t hesitate to ask!

Travel PT: All Work & No Play?

– By Whitney –

Sorry for the delay in posts on our Travel PT adventures — we’ve been busy! 😉 Planning on getting caught up to the present over the next few weeks.

Timeline: June 2015-March 2016

I’ve written a lot so far about the process of finding jobs & our experience at each job – but nothing yet about what else we’ve done over the last year outside of working. For our first 9 months as Travel PT’s, we worked in a few different areas in Southwest Virginia, the region where we are from originally but a couple hours from home. During this time, our main objective was to save money in order to buy a camper & truck to be able to move around the country easily while working as travelers. We also wanted to get a little experience not too far from home to make sure it was what we really wanted to do and be nearby for a little while to go to weddings that were coming up. Even though we were just an hour or two from home, we took the opportunity to do and see a lot of things that we hadn’t before right in our “backyard.” As many of you may know when visitors come to your hometown, they tend to do and see things that have you find yourself saying “I haven’t even done that, and I’ve lived here all my life!” We really took advantage of our weekends and were able to do a lot. Here’s an overview of what we did outside of work during our first 9 months of Travel PT.

Family Time

One contributing factor as to why we didn’t set sail across the country right away was that my sister was getting married in September 2015. We had an offer to take 2 jobs that were “New Grad friendly” in Alaska right out of school, but it was going to be a 6 month contract that would’ve had us far, far away from June-December. We decided to pass on these jobs, so as the Maid of Honor I was able to be around to help with planning the wedding and of course attending the big day! Jared also had a commitment as a groomsman for his friend’s wedding in October, so we were able to be close-by for that as well. Besides these exciting events, there was also a tragedy that hit my family during this time. In June when I was just beginning work in Blacksburg, I received a terrible phone call from my mom one day while I was at work. My sweet, loving grandma, “Nana”, had been found unconscious at home and had had a stroke. I was in shock, and fortunately because I was less than an hour from home, I immediately told my boss I had to leave, got in my car, and got to the hospital. Because I was so close to home, I was able to be with my Nana and my family during these last few days and moments of her life as we said goodbye to her in the hospital later that weekend. This was a very difficult time for me and my family, but I am thankful that I was so close to home for this. I can remember talking to my Nana the week or two before as I was starting my new job and making a 45 minute commute from Roanoke to Blacksburg before we moved to Dublin. Nana told me I could call her during my drive because she woke up early, and she encouraged me and wished me luck at my new job. I wish she was still here now to hear about all of our new adventures that have happened since then, and everything that our future holds ahead. She will be forever missed. In addition to being close to home for my Nana’s passing, we were also able to take several other weekend trips home to see family & friends for happier things like birthdays, baby showers, births of new babies, and holidays. There are certainly perks to being close to home, and this is something we will miss out on during our years ahead traveling to different parts of the country.

Exploring the Outdoors

Something that we have recently gotten into over the past couple years is hiking. Hiking is a great way to see nature and views you would not otherwise see unless you get there on foot! Living right in the Blue Ridge Mountains, there are plenty of hikes and outdoorsy things to do in Southwest VA. We got to enjoy a few places where we had never been before, including:

  • Hungry Mother State Park, Marion, VA: Lots of beautiful hiking trails (also lakes & other activities- but we were there in winter and didn’t do those)
  • Mt. Rogers, Grayson/Smyth Counties, VA: Highest peak in Virginia & sight of many wild ponies
  • New River Trail, Grayson/Wythe/Pulaski Counties, VA: A long trail spanning several counties, more of a walk/stroll than a hike, but we did several different stretches of the trail throughout our time in the Dublin area (also would be great for biking- if I was any good at riding a bike! – something I definitely need to work on, ha)

Local Festivities

We enjoyed getting immersed in the local activities near where we were living, which was a mostly rural area. Some of the more simple things like finding new farmer’s markets/farm stands, grocery stores, restaurants, country stores, gyms, and wineries were fun for us living in a new area. We also found a nice pool with a water slide/park for the summer months in Dublin. It was at a place called Randolph Park which was a great outdoor venue with many recreational activities for kids & adults (basketball courts, soccer fields, hiking trails, picnic areas, etc.). We were really impressed by this b/c we don’t even have ones that nice in Roanoke. We also enjoyed going to the local minor league baseball games at the Pulaski Yankees stadium. We had some outings with our co-workers including a couple cookouts at a coworkers’ lake house at Claytor Lake, going out downtown in Jared’s old stomping grounds in Radford, and my first Paint Nite with my work ladies! We went to some local festivals including the Blacksburg Steppin’ Out festival with live music, vendors & food, and a pumpkin festival in Pulaski with food, pumpkin picking, pumpkin launching & a giant apple sling shot.

Out of Town Weekend

Aside from weekend trips home & day trips for hiking adventures, we decided to take a longer weekend trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This is only 4 hours from home (and 3hrs from where we were living at the time) but we had never been there. Many of my co-workers in Chilhowie said that Gatlinburg & nearby Pigeon Forge are where many locals go on vacation. They described it like Myrtle Beach in terms of the attractions — except in the mountains & without the beach! There were definitely a lot of touristy things like you would see in Myrtle such as restaurants, mini-golf, cheesy gift shops, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, and an aquarium. We decided to stay at an AirBNB in a cabin in the woods during our visit, a little ways away from the touristy area. While we did do some of the touristy things, we were mostly excited about visiting the nearby Great Smokey Mountain National Forest where we went on some beautiful hiking trails and scenic drives.

Overall we had a great experience exploring new parts of beautiful Southwest Virginia and nearby Tennessee. But after 9 months, we were ready to start our real traveling careers and head out of the state. The adventures have only gotten better since then! 🙂

Travel PT: Moving Deeper into Southwest Virginia

-By Whitney-

Timeline: Dec 2015-March 2016

So, as our second (or third for me) round of contracts were winding down, we again started looking for the next one. Have you gotten the theme yet? Working as a traveler really reminds me of being in school and going from one internship to the next. You think about an area you’d like to go, you research the jobs in that area, you might talk to your recruiter about it or take an interview or two before choosing, you search for housing in the area (or in our case, a campground), and you plan your next move. The turn around can come up really fast (usually 3 months), so you almost feel like you’re always job searching. That’s why whenever possible we’d like to extend our contract at the same location for longer than 3 months to cut down on the hassle, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

Any-who, there I was finishing up my 2nd round at the retirement community in Blacksburg, very ready to move on, while Jared was enjoying his time at the small hospital-based outpatient in Pulaski and was considering extending his contract again. This left me searching once again for jobs nearby, and not coming up with much. We again started looking for 2 jobs in an entirely new area as an option, but weren’t having much luck there either. (Traveling as a pair can make finding jobs tough sometimes!) At this time we were only licensed in Virginia, so that was a limiting factor. We were also in the process of really finalizing our decision on a truck and a camper to buy, so we weren’t sure if it would be such a good idea to plan to move to an entirely new area during our first few months of  living in the camper. Weather was also a factor when planning to first start living in the camper, as it was approaching December at this time.

I ended up finding a job at a SNF/LTC facility about an hour away from Jared’s site in a small town called Chilhowie, even further into Southwest VA from where we were living at the time, close to the Tennessee line. We had identified that if we were going to start living in the camper the same time I changed contracts, there was a campground in between those two jobs in Fort Chiswell, VA which would be about a 20 minute commute for Jared and a 45 minute commute for me. It wasn’t perfect, but it was our best option at the time. I ideally wanted an outpatient job, but I had a great phone interview with the clinic director who was also a PT, and it sounded like a lot better of a place for a Travel PT than my first retirement community job. So I went for it, and Jared extended his contract at the outpatient in Pulaski.

This was a hectic and exciting time. We to this point had not had to take any time off between jobs, and we were trying to keep up that momentum. This meant the process of actually going and buying the truck and camper was done on weekends while still working. After searching at several different RV dealerships and looking online, we found a few top choices in Southern VA and NC, then drove down on a weekend to look at them and make a choice. We picked one at Camping World in Concord, NC while we were there, and put a deposit on it. We planned a date in December to go back and get it. In the meantime, we were on the hunt for a truck. We did the same thing, found some online, went and looked at a few in 1 day to narrow down our choices, and picked one in North Carolina. We thought we would be driving it home that day, but we ended up having to drive home and go back and get it another day due to a delay in the wire transfer to pay for it. We though having cash in the bank to pay for it would make things easier than getting a loan, but apparently it’s not easy to access $17k+ in cash when dealing with an individual seller. (Cue JG Wentworth commercial: “It’s my money & I need it now!”) Next, we had to go back with our truck a different weekend and pick up the camper. Luckily due to the proximity of everything, we were able to drive south to get the camper in NC, drive back north and drop it off at the campground where we would be staying (paying for a couple weeks of time there when it was only being stored on site, we weren’t actually living there yet), and keep on heading back north to where we were living in the apartment.

So, among all this craziness, we were still working. I finished my job in Blacksburg on a Friday; we picked up the camper on Saturday; stayed in the camper for the first time in NC on Saturday night; drove it back and dropped it off on Sunday; and I started my new job in Chilhowie on Monday. I only worked for 2 or 3 days that week, because I had planned my contract around taking a vacation with my family to California for Christmas. I wouldn’t have started until after the trip, but the manager asked if I could come in for a couple days and get oriented before I left. This way I would be prepared to cover evaluations on my own when I got back on New Year’s Eve because the manager (PT) would be out of town. Meanwhile, Jared stayed at the apartment in Dublin and worked right up until Christmas Eve. He then got to go home for the long weekend and see his family, and returned right back to work. I chose to take a week or so off to spend with my extended family out of town, and I was right back at my new job on New Years Eve to cover a few evaluations. So, needless to say we had a really fun New Year’s Eve – we spent the evening at the apartment packing up our belongings and preparing to move into the camper, and January 1st was our first official day of camper living.

Over the next three months from January to March, we lived in the camper in rural Southwest VA – which included fun times dealing with below freezing temps, and snow, and freezing water hoses, and breakers kicking off, and frozen water tank valves, and getting to know the on site bath house pretty well. It was definitely a learning experience, and if we had it to do over, we would probably not have lived in a cold climate as our first time living in the camper – ha.

As far as my new job went, working in Chilhowie was like taking a step back in time. Chilhowie is a one-stoplight, small town deep in Southwest VA. It was a unique small-town feel that I enjoyed. The facility was one building with SNF, LTC & Assisted Living units, instead of a large campus with several different buildings like where I was before (I liked this better because it made getting around to the patients & overall scheduling a lot easier). The crazy thing was that the rehab department used paper documentation (think, carbon copies on carbon copies on carbon copies). I remember telling my coworkers I had never written a paper evaluation before, and the older therapists had a good laugh! This was a big challenge for me, and really made me still hate the documentation-productivity part of working at SNF’s. My  manager was a lot better than the ones I had at the last SNF experience, and I wasn’t hounded about my productivity, but I did end up working quite a bit off the clock to finish my paperwork like the rest of the staff. I really hate those standards. Some pros to this location were that I could set my own hours (I’m not a morning person, so this was wonderful, plus I had a 45+ minute commute which was rough), my boss was a PT which was very helpful, my co-workers were great, and most of the patients were very sweet (but they did have a large psych & dementia population which kept things interesting). Overall I liked it there and enjoyed the experience, but I was ready to get out of nursing homes & ridiculous documentation standards for a while.

Meanwhile, Jared was pretty much a permanent employee at Pulaski at this point. He ended up working there for 9 months, which is just about the limit of how long you can stay in one place as a traveler before you would be considered permanent and stop getting travel benefits. During that time, I had worked in Blacksburg, Pulaski, Blacksburg again, and Chilhowie. We enjoyed our time seeing different parts of our region of Southwest Virginia (future posts to come about the fun things we did outside of working while in Southwest VA), but after 9 months we were ready to head out of the state and see a completely new part of the country. Stay tuned for my update on our next move!

Travel PT: Playing Musical Jobs

-By Whitney-

Timeline: Sept 2015-Dec 2015

As I said in my last post about our first jobs, I was preparing to finish up with my first 13-week contract (a retirement community in Blacksburg, VA) and join Jared at his facility (a rural hospital in Pulaski, VA) working in the outpatient department. Jared was planning to extend his contract working in the acute care unit of the hospital. However, just before I was going to start, we found out they hired a permanent PT to take Jared’s place. This put us in a predicament. The main reason I was going to take this job was to be at the same facility with Jared. It wouldn’t make sense for me to take the job in the outpatient and Jared to have to find a new job at a new facility. So instead, we decided that Jared would move into the outpatient position and I would find an entirely new job. Jared had already worked some in the outpatient department at the hospital because it was a small hospital and the therapists floated between units as needed. So it just made sense for Jared to take my would-be job since he already had experience there. So this left me needing to find a new job in the same area. Luckily, due to a clause in my contract, the facility allowed me to start and work 30 days before ending my contract since I had already signed the contract. This meant I had a little extra time to look for a new job. At this time, we also started looking into the option of leaving Southwest VA altogether and both getting new jobs, meaning Jared would’ve had to put in his 30 days notice. But this wasn’t our first choice because we had a good housing situation and wanted to stay a little longer to continue to save for our truck and camper.

I went ahead and finished my first contract and started working in the outpatient department at Jared’s hospital, with my 30 day timeclock ticking.  I was really excited to have my first outpatient experience as a “real” PT. I had had plenty of experience in my undergraduate internships for athletic training as well as my outpatient PT internships, but it’s definitely different working on your own. I was the only full time PT working in outpatient at the time, with two full time PTA’s working under me, and a few PRN or float PTA’s from the hospital who worked sometimes. There was also a part time PT who worked there 3 days per week and had been working there for more than a decade, but she mostly saw all of her own patients, so I was the main supervising PT for the PTA’s. Overall, I had a really great experience working at this outpatient clinic. It was pretty much the best clinic to get my feet wet in outpatient, because I had 1 hour, 1-on-1 treatments with every patient, seeing about 8 patients per day. This is pretty much unheard of in the outpatient community. It still got hectic at times since I was learning the new-to-me documentation system and was only there 30 days, but overall it was very good. This facility also allowed you to get overtime if need be in order to finish documentation. This was crucial at times because, being the only full time PT, I had almost all of the evaluations, progress reports, and discharges. So there was definitely a lot of paperwork still. I really appreciate a facility that respects your time and pays you for all of the time you are there working, instead of expecting you to work off the clock to get your documentation done (which is very common from what I hear from other therapists). In addition to my job in the outpatient, I worked two weekends in acute care in exchange for a day off during the week in outpatient.

Meanwhile, the new permanent PT started a week or two after me, and Jared trained him to take his place in the acute dept, just as the PT before Jared had trained him. I didn’t really get a training period because the travel PT whose spot I took had left the same time I left my other job. I ended my first contract on a Friday and started the new job on a Monday. Because Jared had worked some in the outpatient he helped me get acquainted; and, I was only going to be there 30 days, so it wasn’t that important for me to learn everything about the new system. Plus, most places don’t even give you a training period as a traveler. Since I was only there short term, I never really became that proficient with the wound care part of my job. Luckily the lead PTA for wound care was by my side during all of the wound evaluations I had to do, which was a huge life saver since I didn’t have any experience with wound care.

During the time I was working my 30 days in the outpatient, I was still on the hunt for a new job. We weren’t having much luck, so we were getting nervous. A couple weeks in, I came up with an idea outside the box. The facility where I had my first contract (the “terrible” retirement community) had undergone a change in management/therapy company during the month that I was gone. From what I heard from the therapists who were still there, this company was supposed to be much better. So I went out on a limb, and asked for a job. I called the new regional manager for the therapy company and asked if he would be interested in having me back there for a short term contract so that my end date would line up with Jared’s end date. He went for it. Because this was a new therapy company coming in to the facility, they were trying to make a lot of changes. They had offered contract renewals to many of the therapists, but not all of them. They were still short staffed on PT’s and were actively looking for a permanent PT to hire. I figured in the meantime, it would be beneficial for them to have me fill the gap (especially since I already had experience there), and they agreed. Also, according to the manager, when he pitched it to the staff about me returning, they were very excited. So that was our next move, I was headed back to my first job, and hoping for the best.

So at my 30 day mark, I ended my contract at the outpatient department on a Wednesday, and started back at my old job on a Monday. (As you can see here, we were trying to minimize our down-time between jobs, because there’s no PTO as a traveler). Jared switched over into the outpatient department, and the new permanent PT at the hospital took over in the acute care. Jared was very excited to be out of acute care and back in outpatient, which is way more of his forte. From what I hear, he had a lot of fun working in outpatient with the two main PTA’s, who were both guys and were always joking around, tossing the football, and laughing with each other and the patients. His job had its ups and downs as with any job, but again this outpatient was pretty laid back compared to many outpatient departments.

I headed back to my old job in Blacksburg which was undergoing a lot of changes. One of the changes included giving each of us an individual, mini laptop that we would carry with us at all times. This helped a lot with the documentation and productivity issues, especially running around to all the different buildings on campus. Another great change was that the regional manager was a lot better than the previous regional manager. I’d come to find out that management can really make or break your experience at a facility. But, at the time I started back, we still didn’t have an on site manager, which was always a really big issue there. But this was soon to change. They hired a new on site manager, which we all thought was going to be great. At first, it was. But things started to go downhill again after just a short time. I didn’t have a lot of direct issues with the manager, but he didn’t get along with certain employees and treated some differently than others. He also kept trying to make too many big changes too soon, which the staff was not responsive to. There were many long-time staff members that considered quitting because of him, one of which (an occupational therapist) did leave a few weeks before my contract ended and decided to start working as a traveler! As time wore on, things started to get really shady, and everyone became skeptical of the manager’s ethics. Without giving too much detail, he ended up being accused of Medicare fraud and was let go shortly after my contract ended there.  Besides the new manager that didn’t really fit the bill, the company had also hired a new male PTA who was very abrasive and not a good fit for this facility or the staff. I personally had a run-in with this employee during his very first week at the facility, where a simple PT-PTA conversation turned into the PTA standing up out of his chair, yelling in my face, and cussing at me. This was the first time I had ever had confrontation like that in the workplace, and it was not a good experience. Not to anyone’s surprise, this employee was fired shortly after I left as well, for various reasons – one of which was coming to work drunk/hungover and falsifying his billing and whereabouts on campus that day.

As you may have gathered, there are always going to be issues at any facility, and probably more likely at the ones where travelers tend to be placed. You have to imagine that’s probably part of the reason those facilities don’t have adequate coverage from permanent staff in the first place. However, besides the issues stated above, overall I was a lot happier at that facility the 2nd go-round. They were more lax on productivity in the beginning since it was a new company with new changes (after about a month they started to tighten up on that too), the laptops made life easier, I still loved the staff and my patients, and I had become more proficient at my job and not to mention stopped taking as much slack and standing up for myself more when it came to my capabilities and the work expectations. But by the time the end of my contract rolled around, I was definitely ready to move on (icing on the cake was certainly the two bad-egg employees). This location will definitely hold a lot of strong memories for me as my first and – third? (ha) jobs starting out just out of school. I learned a lot while I was there, good and bad, and I made a lot of lasting relationships with the staff there.

So like I said, I was ready to move on and try something new. But was Jared? Tune in to my next post to find out about our next Travel PT adventure!

Travel PT: Our First Jobs

-By Whitney-

Timeline: June 2015-Sept 2015

As I explained in my last post, my first travel PT job was at a large retirement community in Blacksburg, Virginia and Jared’s first job was at a small hospital (acute care) in Pulaski, Virginia. Our jobs were about 45 mins apart, and we were staying at a furnished garage apartment in Dublin, Virginia.

My job started 2 weeks before Jared’s, so I was the first up to bat, one month after graduating with my Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. I was told at this job that there was going to be another full time PT at this location, which was a top priority for me in choosing my first job right out of school. I had turned down several other jobs because I would have been the only PT. On my first day of work, I was given a half-day orientation and tour by the “interim” manager, a PTA at the facility. It was at this time that I found out that there actually was not going to be another PT. I was the only one. I was shocked. The regular full time PT had gone on medical leave a couple weeks before my start date. I was to later find out that she had gone on medical leave due to blood pressure issues, likely contributed to over-working herself and staying late at this job until Midnight at times. (Great.) So, there I was, brand new, nervous, never having worked as a “real PT” before, and I was going to be the only PT at this large campus which included a skilled nursing unit, a long term care unit, an assisted living unit, an assisted living apartment building, and several apartments, condos, and houses filled with independent living clients. Not only that, but also I was the only supervising PT for 3 (and soon to be 5) full time PTA’s and several PRN PTA’s. I was definitely concerned and felt like I had been lied to. My first day I had a couple of new patient evaluations after my orientation, and by day 2 I had a full schedule.

Since I was the only full time PT (there were a couple PT’s that worked PRN and were there occasionally) and the regular PT had already been gone a couple of weeks, there were piles of evaluations, progress visits, and discharge visits that needed to be done. Looking back, I pretty much feel like these SNFs who hire you has the only PT just need you for your signature. My first month or two there, I would almost never have a regular treatment on my schedule. The first couple weeks of my job were a blur of stress, crying, and considering quitting. There was no way I could keep up with the amount of paperwork involved with all the reports (Evals, PR’s, DC’s), much less meet the “productivity” expectations. I was told that this facility expected 92% productivity for assistants (PTA’s, COTA’s) and 90% for evaluating therapists (PT’s, OT’s, SLP’s). My productivity averaged 30-50% in the first couple weeks. This can quickly turn into a huge rant about the ridiculousness of “productivity standards,” so I’m going to save that for another post.

To say the least, my first job was pretty terrible at first. The only saving grace was most of my co-workers were great. I got a lot of help from the OT and the SLP as far as logistics with evaluations, paperwork, and some general plan of care decision making. Co-treating and co-evaluations saved me at times. The PTA’s were also pretty knowledgeable and helpful for the PT specific things. I pretty much grinned and bore it and counted down the days until my contract ended. Eventually about 6 weeks into my contract, the other full time PT came back, and this definitely helped with the caseload. Over time, I did get somewhat quicker with the documentation and time management, but never to the point of anywhere near “good” productivity in the company’s eyes. Again, more on the “Productivity Issue” later.

Meanwhile, Jared started working about 2 weeks after me. He was at a very, very small hospital in a rural area and was the only PT in the inpatient/acute side of the building, which also had a small skilled nursing unit on one wing. As I said in my last post, Jared had no prior experience in an acute care setting or a SNF, so this was a completely new experience and challenge for him. There was another travel PT in the “outpatient” department, literally right down the hall. There were several PTAs that worked in the outpatient and inpatient. Since both departments were on the same floor of the hospital just down the hallway from one another, all of the PT and OT staff pretty much floated between departments as needed. Jared did well with the acute care/skilled unit, which wasn’t anything too complex as far as the conditions went (i.e. general debility, pneumonia, total knees, etc). Anything more complex would be sent to the bigger hospitals. The toughest part of Jared’s job was that the PT staff did wound care at this facility, which more and more is becoming a nursing duty and very few facilities still have this under PT’s role. Jared had no prior hands-on experience with wound care, only what he had learned in school. In fact, during a shadowing experience in PT school, he had nearly passed out while watching wound care. Luckily the PTA’s were very knowledgeable and helped him learn how to do it. Jared is a fast learner and very good at adapting to new situations. He became a lot more comfortable with wound care and got pretty good at it. His job came with its own frustrations, but for the most part he liked it even though it wasn’t his ideal setting.

As our first 13-week contracts were winding down, we started looking into options for our next contract. We were already thinking about staying in the same area to continue saving money for the camper. Since Jared’s job was going well, and the facility had had a series of travelers for a long time before him without having hired a permanent PT, he was strongly considering extending his contract for another 13 weeks. I clearly was not considering extending mine. We then found out that the traveling PT in the outpatient department at Jared’s hospital was leaving exactly the same time when my contract at the retirement community ended. So, we arranged for me to take her job in the outpatient as my next contract, and for Jared to extend in his current job in acute care. We were excited to be working in the same facility, and I was excited to be taking my first outpatient job at a small hospital-based clinic that was going to be low stress. So we were all set. So we thought.

As the weeks approached for me to switch jobs and join Jared at the hospital, we found out that the hospital had found a PT to hire permanently for Jared’s job in the acute care. We were really nervous and mad about this. But we knew that this was what was best for the facility, as the ultimate goal in hiring travelers is for it to be temporary until they can find someone permanent, so we couldn’t be mad at them. This was just part of the bargain with working as a traveler. So we had to decide what our next move was.

Stay tuned for my next post to find out about our 2nd jobs as travelers and our next move. Thanks for reading, and please let me or Jared know if you have any questions about our experiences!

Our Experience with Finding Travel Jobs

Arguably the two worst parts of being a travel physical therapist include: finding new jobs and applying for PT licenses in new states. Many other travelers would likely include finding housing on that list, but that has not been much of a hassle for us to this point due to choosing to live and travel in a fifth wheel camper. We do still have some difficulty finding campgrounds that will accept monthly renters, but since this is much more common than finding an apartment for three months, it usually isn’t so bad. I will be writing a post soon about our experience with finding and living at campgrounds.

We dread having to constantly look for new jobs and do several phone interviews every few months, but a good recruiter makes that much easier. For a single traveler, finding a job would not be very difficult, and it would be more about finding the best fit. But for us, we are limited in our selection due to having to find two jobs within driving distance of each other, as well as within driving distance of a campground. Whitney and I have both interviewed for jobs that sounded great but we ultimately had to turn down because there were no other openings close by for the other. There are two ways that we have done our best to combat the difficulty finding two jobs near each other. those include: being flexible on the state that we choose and being flexible in the settings that we will accept jobs in. This is why I have made a general outline of our travel plan but have some wiggle room as the exact state and setting.

An good example of being flexible on the state that we choose involves our current contracts. We decided that we would like to see the northeastern United States in the spring/summer. We heard amazing things about how beautiful Maine is this time of year and began looking for jobs there. Unfortunately, Maine had a grand total of six travel jobs available when we began looking, and four of those jobs were home health, which we are not comfortable accepting at this point in our careers. We were really set on going to Maine, but it just wasn’t feasible. Instead we began looking at the jobs available in all of the surrounding states, and to our surprise, Massachusetts had a total of over 45 jobs available, with nine of those being outpatient! Massachusetts is well within “weekend trip” distance from Maine, so we could take jobs there and still explore Maine where we wanted to be originally. We easily found two outpatient jobs in Massachusetts (in the same clinic) and actually had other offers as well.

Although Massachusetts started out as not being our first choice, we are now really glad that we took jobs here. We have been able to take trips to: Cape Cod, Boston, Plymouth, New York City, New Hampshire, and Maine so far in the past nine weeks here. That would have been much more difficult from Maine since it is not as centrally located as Massachusetts. Since this is partially a finance blog, I also want to mention that most of the expenses from these trips (including staying in 5-star hotels) were afforded using credit card sign-up bonuses!

Being lenient on setting has allowed us to keep from having large gaps between jobs. For my first travel job, I accepted a contract at a small hospital in Virginia working in acute care and skilled nursing. I was extremely nervous about this decision since I had never worked in either of these settings before. The reason I accepted this job was because Whitney interviewed for a SNF job nearby that she really liked and decided to accept. The hospital job was one of my only options at that point since we were locked into that particular location. Although I was very hesitant to accept that job, I ended up really enjoying it and actually stayed for nine months (eventually moving to the outpatient department) while Whitney did not like her assignment and left after three months. This was ironic due to the fact that she got her first choice while I had to take what was available nearby. Since I enjoyed my assignment so much and decided to stay, Whitney was then forced into a situation where she had to compromise and move to another SNF that was not ideal, but was about 45 minutes from the clinic where I was working.

So far neither Whitney nor I have had to take a single unpaid day off of work because of not being able to find a contract. Many other travelers choose to take a week or two off of work between contracts for vacation or to move to a new location, but we have chosen not to do this so that we can reach our financial independence goals sooner. That being said, obviously it is not just all work and no play for us. In addition to all of the weekend trips mentioned above, we are also planning a trip to Jamaica in August or September (also almost all free from credit card sign-up bonuses). I think that one week of vacation every year is ideal while trying to accumulate as much wealth as possible since when don’t have the luxury of paid vacation days.

As for applying for new licenses as mentioned above, there is not much way around this inconvenience. Each state is different, but there is almost always some guaranteed hassle involved. One positive in the process is that most, if not all, travel companies will reimburse for license expenses once you start a contract in the new state. For us in Massachusetts, that meant a $318 reimbursement from our travel company, so it was just the paperwork and time that we lost on filling it all out.

Even though finding new jobs so often can be a hassle, it is far surpassed  by the benefits of increased pay, exploring the country, and adventure. We plan to continue along this path for at least another four years to see the country and get closer to financial independence. Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!