**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.
- 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
- 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!
29 thoughts on “Pros and Cons of Travel Therapy in an RV”
This article is great! Thanks for posting it! I’ve been considering travel PT and living in a tiny house for some time now. A common response I get when I share that goal with others is that people question the safety of living in an RV park. I have no experience staying in RV parks, but I can’t imagine they’re too unsafe of an environment. In your experience have you found your RV spots to be quality living environments?
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We heard the same thing at first but people confuse RV parks with Trailer parks. RV parks are generally very nice and safe places with mostly retirees and people traveling temporarily for work. Nothing like a trailer park. We have never stayed at a campground that we felt unsafe at all in. Most of them we would be comfortable leaving the door unlocked.
Great article! I am a travel SLP and have been traveling with my husband and daughter in our RV for the last year or so (split between 2 contracts in west Texas) and we just moved up to TN for my husband’s work. The only thing I would have added to the CONs list would be the whole ‘RV Park/Campground’ vs. ‘Trailer Park’ concern, primarily because depending on where you take a job there may not be any really nice campgrounds. Also, some parks we have looked at for long term stay have their full time spots almost unreasonably close together where you feel like you can hear someone else’s conversations from the RV next to you or reach out and touch the RV next to you. From our experience, the first park we stayed at was in a tiny town but we lucked out and the park was brand new (had opened 2 months prior)- it had an amazing club house, restrooms and laundry with all travelers in the construction field working on wind turbines or other construction projects. But for the next contract we discovered that there was a fine line between campground/RV park and trailer park. We picked a park that had the shortest commute, and although it wasn’t the prettiest park and didn’t have the nicest ‘facilities’ (the laundry was in a shed), we never felt unsafe…but maybe just felt out of place as it was a solid mix of travelers (construction people and 1 other therapist), but then many locals who maybe had lost their home, etc. The PRO about all that is that if you ever felt unsafe or just didn’t like the park, you could always move the RV to the next closest RV park!!
Another PRO I would add would be that your little home can come with you on vacations (no packing needed), also saving you money on hotel stays since RV parks are $30-$40/night vs $100-$200 a night). You can meet many awesome people with awesome stories on those trips too. During our weekend travels we also stayed at some really nice campgrounds (we use a Good Sam membership for discounts on our short term/overnight stays for vacations and also to find their ratings on RV parks and campgrounds all throughout the U.S.).
I really enjoy reading other bloggers experiences and totally recommend the RV life! Have fun!!
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Great points! So far we’ve never had to stay in a campground that we felt at all unsafe in but in sure there are some out there. I like the idea of taking the camper on weekend trips but we never do it because we aren’t big fans of securing everything and hooking/unhooking the fifth wheel. We usually just stay in hotels (for free with credit card point 😉 or AirBnB places. I’m glad you guys have enjoyed it so far. We’re planning on another 3-4 years of traveling in our fifth wheel of everything goes according to plan.
I’m curious how you handle transportation to work. Two people, two jobs and one truck.
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Good question, Sally. I pull the fifth wheel with our truck while Whitney drives her car separately. That way when we get to the location and unhook the fifth wheel, I have the truck to drive and she has her car. There’s pretty much no way to make only one car work.
Do you stay in only warm climatez, or have you found a way to insulate the fifth wheel for colder climates?
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We do our best to stay in warm climates because freezing temperatures are a pain. The furthest north we’ve been in the winter so far is the mountains of VA and that was pretty rough. We have done our best to stay south of VA since that winter.
Thanks for sharing. This was a great post! I have curiosity when it comes to vehicles. Are RV parks receptive to having your RV, your truck, and your girlfriend’s car in the premises? And are they at all bothered by you driving in and out on a daily basis (assuming you work daily). Also are these RV parks also for motorhomes? I’m considering a class C motorhome for my travels. I’m completely new to the concept of RVing, so excuse the question if it’s a bit on the silly side. Thanks so much!
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Hey Jay. Glad this was helpful to you. Yes we usually ask to make sure about the number of vehicles. Sometimes we’ve seen some say only 1 in our research but none of the ones we have stayed at have had any problem with 2. There is no issue with coming and going. Most people will be coming and going whether for work or sightseeing on vacation or errands etc. Just mind their speed limits. When possible being closer to the front of the park is easier especially if you’re like us and wait til the last minute to head out the door for work! And – Yes they’re for all types of RVs: travel trailer, fifth wheel, motor home.
Hey. Great posts! Just found u thru google. I am a PT for over 30 yrs. used to travel, considering traveling again mostly because flexibility to travel between assignments and to retire earlier. I hail from Colorado but looking to do any western states. I have a TT 19 ft already. I might consider that thru the summer and then am considering a road trek or class c and pull a car. Or buy a bigger truck with a 25 ft TT!
Questions for u! What would u do? Plus I have a dog how hard does u think it is getting dog walkers and CG/RV parks that allow? Also is it hard to find CGs/RV parks that allow 13 wks?
Is it worth it for that consistent pay Ck?
I had fun while I was doing it! I want to take a bunch of international climbing trips in the next few yrs and feel like it’s the only way to do it?!
I have questions too numerous for here! I just want to pick your brain! Any chance in talking with you? I have to make my decision in early March for may start!
Thanks for listening!
Jen PT, DPT
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Hey Jen. Thanks for reading! You should definitely get back in to travel for the flexibility, money and retiring sooner. I think traveling by RV is a good way to go if you’re planning to invest in it for at least 1.5-2 years. It all depends if it’s just you and how small of a place you feel you can live in. We have a 33ft fifth wheel for two of us and feel now looking back we could’ve done fine with smaller. So for one 19ft may be just enough. Prob not worth the extra money and hassle to get a bigger truck, RV etc. Every campground/ RV park is different but we have found plenty that do monthly/weekly rates so we can easily stay for 13wks/3 months. No experience with dogs/dog walkers so can’t help you there.
You can send me a private message through the link at the top of the blog if you have more questions!
Thanks for the post. I’m on my second assignment and I’m already over finding apartments or rooms to rent.. Do you have a list of the essential reads that you found helpful before selecting an RV?
I’m very minimalist–everything I travel with fits in my camry, I sleep on an air mattress, only have a fold out table and a folding chair. I’m ideally looking to live in something that’s as small as possible (can fit in a regular parking spot, double as a living space and regular vehicle). I’ve even thought about going straight up homeless and using gym membership for showers, coffee shops for wifi, cooking with an outdoor mini stove. Any thoughts on a vehicle?
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Hey Matt- we mostly researched online, went to some RV dealerships/shows, and looked for ours on RVtrader.com. Based on what you’re saying, sounds like you might be interested in van life. A converted mini van would be pretty cool. We are considering doing that for a cross country trip next year while taking time off from work the second half of the year. Otherwise a Class B or small Class C might work well for you.
Hi Jared! My husband is an OTD with quite a bit of experience now, he graduated 3 years ago and we’re researching doing travel full time because we don’t really like where we’ve landed after he graduated. Do you think that having more experience lends to getting better pay/more preferential assignments? Also, how did your travel company handle your living stipends while living in the fifth? Did they do a direct reimbursement or did you get a lump sum every month based on cost of living in the area you were assigned? How did you handle residency? Did you maintain a home in one state and travel back to it, or do something else? Feel free to just link me to any blog posts you have if you’ve gone over any or all of this 🙂 Thanks!
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Hey! If you haven’t read this post yet then check it out and the second part that’s linked at the bottom. https://fifthwheelpt.com/2016/04/10/thinking-about-travel-pt-as-a-new-grad/
Even though that is focused at new grad PTs, almost all of the information is applicable for anyone considering travel therapy.
Experience definitely plays a part in being accepted for jobs and he’ll likely be able to make a little more as well than he would as a new grad. Stipends are paid as a set amount based on the location you’re traveling to and the total pay package offered by the facility and your travel company, not specifically the costs you incur. For example, you may be offered $1,000/week in stipends for housing, meals, and incidentals based on the average cost of living for a given area. Even if your actual costs are less than that, you still get that $1,000 in stipends tax free because it’s based on the area not on your actual expenses.
I maintain a residence in VA that serves as my tax home. I pay rent there and travel back there at least 30 days per year in order to qualify for the tax free stipends. Maintaining a tax home is vital for making as much as possible when traveling because otherwise all compensation (including stipends) is taxed.
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Just wanted to know what you were using as your tax home? My husband and I have sold our home and purchased an RV and I am going to be traveling starting in January but was wondering about that stipulation?? I know that people do this, yourself included, just have a lot of questions regarding what is considered my “home”. Also, do you use a mail forwarding service?
Thanks for your time
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Hey, Jennifer. Congrats on getting the RV! I hope it works out well for you guys. We recently wrote about tax homes on our other site which should be helpful to you. https://traveltherapymentor.com/2018/09/27/travel-therapy-what-is-a-tax-home
Whitney and I both rent out rooms in our hometown which we go back to when we have time off and occasionally on weekends and holidays. I think renting a room is ideal for travelers if possible since it’s cheaper than renting a whole apartment and having an entire apartment. It’s hard to justify the cost of an entire apartment since most travelers don’t spend a ton of time at their tax home each year anyway. As far as mail, there are forwarding services that other travelers use but I just opted out of physical mail for everything I possibly could and pay everything online. The stuff that does still come in the mail I let accumulate until I can go back and check it all after an assignment is over or during a weekend trip home. I almost never get anything in the mail that is urgent so it has been fine that way for the past few years.
Thank you, Jared and Whitney!
Your blog is AWESOME and very informative! I am a Medical Laboratory Technician and started traveling with my family last August! For the most part I am enjoying it but trying to find places to live, especially since we are traveling with our dog who is a large breed, has proven to be a challenge. My husband and I have discussed looking into purchasing a RV, and after reading your blog and all the questions and answers that followed, I feel more confident in going this route. Thank you so much for all the info!
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That’s awesome, Evelyn! When traveling with pets, an RV can be a big advantage since it can be difficult and more costly to find short term housing with them.
I love the idea of travelling with a small camper. Is there one that is small enough to be hauled by a regular truck or do you have to have the special truck? I have a regular Toyota Tundra 4wheel drive.
I’m interested in doing travelling therapy so I can get more cash for my son’s college expenses as well as my retirement and take advantage of the tax benefits. We are still paying on our home for the next 2 years, so having 2 housing expenses might make it a bad idea. What are your thoughts financially on paying for a home as well as travel expenses? My husband is still working locally so we won’t be selling the house to travel. Thanks for this blog I’m so glad I found it!
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Yeah you can definitely find a camper small enough to pull with a regular truck that would work for 2 people. That’s what we should have done but we thought we’d want something bigger to live in.
I think you’d still come out ahead while traveling even with paying the mortgage as long as you work the majority of the year. Pay is usually significantly higher.
I am really itching to do travel therapy. I worked in a SNF for 2 years and just started a home health job a few months ago, I have always been interested in travel therapy, but have been nervous about leaving the places I volunteer and finding housing. I recently went on a vacation to California and I realized how few places in the country I have visited. Due to my animals and cost savings, I think that RV therapy is the best option. I have a horse as well, it would be sad to leave him, but I would visit as often as I could and I know he would keep getting taken care of and ridden as he gets older. Anyway, I have an F250 already and I am used to pulling a bumper pull trailer, though always working on my backing technique. Anyway, do you have specific websites you look into for campsites, because finding one that I feel safe and comfortable in is my concern and do you ever have an issue finding ones that are open in the winter?
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In the past we’ve only used google and the Good Sam website to look for campgrounds. We always made sure there are some reviews before we book anything though to make sure it seems safe. Most of the places we’ve chosen have been wonderful but you do have to do a little research to make sure. It’s not nearly as hard as it seems to find good places in our experience. Good luck and feel free to reach out if you need some recommendations on travel companies/recruiters!
You guys are my inspiration! I’m 2 weeks into my first PT contract and loving it. Had to buy a civic for home health and will plan to upgrade to a truck and small travel trailer within the next 6 months! It was such a hassle to find housing for myself and my dog for 3 months and the cost savings in the RV seem like a no brainer. After weeks of research to see if it’s worth it this post helped push me over the edge.
COVID has made the average prices go up but I’m hoping next year there will be lots of people selling their RVs that they only used once or twice this year and maybe purchased as an impulse.
Looking forward to about 3-5 years of traveling! Hope you’re both well.
Hey that’s so great to hear!! Glad to help. Hope your first contract goes well!
Sounds like you have a great plan in place! Enjoy the journey 😊
It’s great that you’re happy with your decisions to live in a fifth wheel. I don’t think I’d live in one all the time. I’d like to get one for vacations though.
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Yeah it was a good choice for us for a few years, but we recently decided to sell it. We aren’t taking travel jobs as regularly now and it was in storage a lot.