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