Travel PT: Fayetteville, NC

-By Whitney-

Timeline: September 2016 – January 2017

So to go along with our original Travel PT Plan for the Next Four Years, we had planned to go North in the Summer and South in the Winter. Well, since we’re from VA, we really wanted to go deeper South this past Winter, like Florida, Georgia, South Carolina… but unfortunately we just weren’t able to find two jobs together in those states at that time. So the furthest South for the Winter we could get was North Carolina! We had actually heard not-so-great things about Fayetteville, NC and were initially hesitant to take these jobs. But we were given the opportunity to talk to a current travel PT working in the area who said she didn’t mind it at all, and that just like everywhere else, you have to be smart and avoid the bad areas. (And as it turns out, this was exactly how we felt about Fayetteville after having spent 15 weeks there.) Besides that, the jobs that we were offered sounded really great: 2 outpatient jobs with the same parent company within 10 minutes of each other and pretty darn close to a couple campground options! So we went for it.

Our first week there

When we first moved down, the campground that was closest to our jobs and cheapest didn’t have any availability. So we went with the one that did have openings which was only about a 25 minute drive up I-95. It was a former KOA which was very large with a beautiful property and great amenities, but the only problem we had were the bugs! There were so many gnats and mosquitos there, it was crazy. During our first week there, we also ran into some trouble with the commute due to rain and flooding. There was a day or so where they had just a regular storm, but as we were soon to find out, flooding is a major problem there. It was one of my first days of commuting to my new job and I ended up being over 30 minutes late because there were several road closures and detours. When I finally did get to work, my co-worker also informed me that the stretch of Business I-95 I took is extremely well known for hydroplaning and cars going off into the ditch, and she advised me always to go below the speed limit on that road when it rains. This was good to find out after I had already been speeding to work, ha! Fortunately I was safe getting to work, and in addition the rain caused a lot of cancellations that day (plus I didn’t have a full schedule yet as it was) so it was fine that I was late!

Moving again

So during our first week there, we got a phone call from the closer campground that there was an opening! It was kind of a pain to have to move again, but we were glad because it was so much closer to our jobs and everything in town, and also so much cheaper! This particular “campground” was kind of strange, and at first I was very skeptical. It wasn’t actually a campground, it was a person’s property where he had turned his backyard into RV sites with full camper hookups. It was an average sized lot in a residential subdivision, with ~15 camper hookups (almost all OCCUPIED) in his backyard! It was the strangest thing, but we really didn’t mind it at all. There were no frills, no fancy amenities, just the Water/Sewer/Electric hookups and a picnic table. We did have to go off site to the laundromat, but it was less than a mile away. Luckily we didn’t end up ever needing a bathhouse while we were there either. So it worked out just fine!

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Our humble camp site in Art’s backyard!

Hurricane Matthew

Okay well it wouldn’t be any fun for me to give an update where something didn’t go wrong (ha!). So the first week we had a “normal thunderstorm” that caused several inches of rain and some minor flooding. Then about a week later, as many of you might recall for this time period, Hurricane Matthew hit. This was a scary time for Fayetteville and the surrounding region, and for us too, especially being in a camper! We were all watching and waiting to see how bad it would be. Jared and I considered having to leave the camper and go stay with someone in their house, and we also considered trying to haul the camper out of there and go somewhere else safer so it wouldn’t flood or get blown away. We didn’t really know what to do. So we stayed. And luckily it worked out for us, but it easily could’ve gone much worse. The damage and troubles caused by this storm were immense. The normal things like downed trees causing power outages didn’t surprise me. But some crazy stuff happened too that I just had no experience with. So many roads in the region got washed out. What? They just collapsed. People were stranded with no way to pass for days to weeks in some of the outlying areas. I saw terrible photos, and heard horror stories where just earlier that day people were driving over those areas on the road before the collapse. On top of that, at one point running water was cut off. They were concerned it may have become contaminated, so when it finally did come back on we were on a boil water advisory. We honestly didn’t have any supplies and would’ve been in rough shape if we couldn’t get out to go get supplies. We went out during the storm and Jared scoured stores to find what bottled water was available. We were only without water and electricity for a short time, while others were without it for days. And we’re actually kind of lucky in the camper when it comes to the lack of electricity, because many of our appliances can run on propane. Many people’s homes became flooded, and the entire nearby town of Lumberton was under water. The flooding even extended days to weeks beyond the actual storm because of rivers rising and dams breaking. People came from all over to help those affected, with lifeboats and helicopters to rescue many who were stranded or whose lives were at risk in floodwaters. Looking back, we were so lucky we had just minimal flooding where we were, and thank goodness our camper didn’t float or blow away! I remember one of my co-workers actually came to check on us because nobody really had our contact info, but she knew which campground we were staying at and wanted to make sure we were okay!


To give some context, here’s an excerpt from a local news story on Hurricane Matthew:

“The storm dumped three to four months’ worth of rain in about 12 hours, killing 26 people in North Carolina and turning communities into islands. People were stranded, their lives at risk, as the floodwaters rose … Matthew’s arrival as a rainmaker couldn’t have been any worse. Heavy rainfall about a week earlier had left the soil saturated and lakes bloated in several counties … Fayetteville officially picked up 14.8 inches, shattering the all-time one-day total … At least nine people died on the roads of the Cape Fear region during or just after Matthew.” (The Fayetteville Observer)


 

Our jobs

So during this time we did actually go to work (except for one day Jared’s clinic was closed), because we were some of the lucky ones who could actually get out and on the roads very easily. Many of our co-workers were unable to get out, so we were covering for them. But many patients cancelled too because of the storm. Overall, our first several weeks there were just very strange with scheduling, and I remember our co-workers saying that cancellations/no shows were unusually high during our time there.

Overall we both had a great experience at our jobs in Fayetteville. But not everyone involved did.  The company was going through some changes, as a larger company had just acquired both facilities. One of the facilities had lost a bunch of staff due to the changes, and the other was just seeing a huge increase in caseload. Therefore they asked for five travelers between the two clinics: two at Jared’s site and three at mine (plus two that were already there who Jared and I were replacing, who finished up a couple weeks into our contract). Unfortunately, with all the cancellations we had, caseload just wasn’t as busy as they had thought, and they decided they didn’t need all the travelers after a few weeks. So they ended two of the travelers’ contracts early, a new grad PT couple that was placed with me at my clinic. It was definitely a crappy situation for them, because not only was it their first assignment, and they were going to be out of jobs, but they had rented an expensive furnished apartment and signed a 3 month lease that they had to still pay. Jared and I were thankful that they didn’t cut our contracts, and I have a feeling it was because we had more experience than the other two (and also we had started a week earlier). It was weird to think of ourselves at that time as the experienced ones, because we had only been out of school for less than a year and a half!

The two clinics where we worked were very different. Jared’s was more general orthopedics and elderly population. Mine was more sports medicine based with a younger crowd. To date, it’s the most fast paced clinic where I’ve worked. It was fun but at times stressful, and I didn’t even have as busy a caseload as the full time employees. I got to brush up on a lot of my sports medicine background from athletic training, which was awesome.

Our co-workers were pretty good as well. We hung out with them on several occasions outside of work (including line dancing which I love! and it seemed there were a lot of going away parties during our time there: the two travelers who were leaving when we started, the two travelers whose contracts got cut, a full time employee who was moving with her husband for the military to Germany, and then of course our going away when that came!). We were also there through several holidays, so we got to enjoy things like dressing up on Halloween, Secret Santa gift exchange, and a Staff Holiday Party.

Weekend trips

There wasn’t a ton to do in Fayetteville, but the neat thing about the location is that it’s easily accessible to highways to get you a lot of places fast (including back home!). We took a bunch of weekend trips including:

  • Home to Roanoke, VA for a wedding in which Jared was a groomsman
  • I went to Wrightsville Beach/Wilmington, NC with my mom & sister for my mom’s birthday
  • Asheville, NC (where we attempted to hike Mount Mitchell but couldn’t because it was freezing!) but where we got to drive on new stretches of the Blue Ridge Parkway and see the Biltmore Mansion
  • I went to New Bern, NC for a girls weekend with my PT school best friends
  • Kernersville, NC to do Thanksgiving with my sister’s in-laws (thankful to have a home away from home Thanksgiving with some of my family)
  • The North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, NC
  • Touring around Chapel Hill and Raleigh, NC
  • Home for Christmas to see family and friends
  • And last- Savannah, GA for New Years Eve!

All in all we enjoyed our assignment in Fayetteville, and we were hoping to be able to extend our contracts there longer. Unfortunately they were not able to extend, so we ended up finding other jobs in a different area of NC – this time near the beach! Stay tuned for my next post about our experience in Eastern North Carolina.

Is Travel Therapy Really Worth It?

This blog post was inspired by some questions I’ve gotten recently regarding the financial implications that accompany being a travel therapist. In this post I want to talk about not only the financial factors but also the lifestyle factors that play into the decision to become a travel therapist. What would a post on this blog be without talking about finances, am I right?! After all, that is the most common reason leading someone to pursue travel therapy in my experience.

An important factor, that those considering travel therapy are often unaware of is, the tax considerations. In order to be eligible for tax free stipends (the reason travel therapy is so lucrative) you have to meet certain criteria based on the tax laws. I have been promising to write a post on the tax implications of traveling for a while, and I’ve been working on it but want to make sure that I know as much as possible before telling you guys. In the meantime, the most important, and burdensome, of the criteria is to have duplicate expenses while traveling. This means that you have to be paying living expenses in both your “tax home” as well as in the area where you’re working. (I always recommend checking out Travel Tax as they have a great FAQ section that helped me a lot when I was first starting out).

Financial Implications

When prospective travelers find out about this, I often hear, “Is it even worth it to travel if you have to pay rent in two places? The extra pay isn’t enough to offset that, is it?”. Those are great questions, and I want to address them both. First lets start with a refresher on the pay difference between a travel job and a permanent job. We’ll use the example of a new grad here:

  • Average starting pay at a permanent job for a new grad PT is around $70,000 from what I’ve seen over the past couple of years. This will, of course, be higher in some areas and lower and others, but I’d say it’s a good estimate of the average.
  • Average weekly pay after taxes for a new grad traveler is around $1,550. My first contract paid $1,560, some make less, and some make significantly more (I just spoke to a new grad who accepted his first travel contract making $1,900/week after taxes!).

Let’s assume that the traveler works 50 weeks per year. As a traveler without vacation time, this just counts as two weeks of lost pay.

  • $1,560 * 50 = $78,000/year

Now you’re probably thinking, only $8,000 more AND I have to pay rent in two places?! That’s not a good deal at all. But wait, this is comparing apples to oranges. Don’t forget that I said the $1,550 figure is after taxes are taken out. What would this equate to before taxes? Using Pay Check City, I find that you would have to be making a salary of $124,000/year before taxes in order to bring home $78,000 a year (assuming Virginia taxes and no exemptions)!! Now with an apples to apples comparison, we have:

  • $70,000/year on average at a permanent full time PT job
  • $124,000/year on average taking travel assignments full time assuming two weeks off per year

For an even more crazy comparison, let’s look at the new grad I was talking about earlier who just signed a contract making $1,900/week after taxes. Assuming he works 50 weeks per year, he will be making the equivalent of $153,000/year!!

Duplicate Expenses

An average of an additional $54,000/year sounds pretty awesome, right? These calculations are the exact reason I chose to pursue the travel PT route. But all of that money doesn’t end up being profit, and the reason is what I talked about earlier, duplicate expenses. All travelers should be paying living expenses at both their “home” and at their travel assignment location. For some this can lead to a lot of extra monthly cost, but if you play it right, it doesn’t have to be. Ideally you want to keep your living expenses at your tax home as low as reasonably possible in order to keep as much of that difference as possible. For this reason, I recommend renting a room in someone’s house where you can keep your stuff while away and where you can stay while between assignments. Depending on the area of the country that your tax home is in, a reasonable amount for a rented room can be pretty low. I’d say the average country wide for a room is $500/month. Again this is keeping in mind that some places are ridiculously expensive and others are ridiculously cheap.

  • $500/month * 12 months = $6,000/year in additional housing costs

We also have to consider the fact that while on travel assignments, short term housing can be pretty expensive. I recently took a poll of 130 travel therapists and found that on average, short term housing costs about $1,055/month. Let’s assume that this is $255 more than you would normally pay for housing costs. After all, if you had a permanent job, in most parts of the country, finding decent housing for $800/month is more than reasonable. Let’s add this in.

  • $255 * 12 = $3,060 + $6,000 (calculated above) = $9,060/year

So what is the total difference between an average paying travel job while obeying the tax laws and working 50 weeks per year compared to a full time permanent job?

  • $124,000 (travel job)$70,000 (permanent job)$9,060 (additional cost of housing) =$44,940/year!!

I was terrible at statistics, but I’d call that a significant difference!

Lifestyle Considerations

If money was the only consideration, travel therapy would obviously be a no-brainer. An additional $45,000/year goes a long way toward whatever financial goals you’re shooting for, whether that be fast loan repayment, saving for a down payment on a house, or seeking financial independence. There are of course other factors to consider which differ significantly depending on the stage of life the potential traveler is in. Traveling with young kids, although possible, doesn’t seem like the ideal situation to me. Having a spouse who can’t travel for his or her job would make it tough. Traveling while having a close family member sick at home would also be difficult. For young people with no kids and no family issues, I believe traveling is a great choice. For those that are outgoing, it provides an opportunity to constantly meet new people and experience new things. For those that are more introverted (definitely me), it forces you to open up more and do things you would normally avoid. My personality and confidence have evolved significantly in the past two years of traveling.

I often have a conversation at some point with each patient about being a travel therapist. I’ve gotten many different reactions (especially once they find out we live in a camper…) but the most common reaction goes something like this: “Wow! That is so cool. I wish I had done something like that when I was younger. I’d love to have seen more of the country when I was in good health.”

If you’re on the fence about traveling and have a conducive family/social situation, I encourage you to give it a shot. Worst case scenario, you hate it and it’s over in three months, but best case scenario, you have the adventure of a lifetime over many years of travel and end up in a much better financial situation with no regrets about traveling later in life.

Please feel free to reach out to me if I can help you at all when starting out because it can definitely be scary. I have mentored many people and love to help those starting out by answering questions and providing recommendations for good companies and recruiters.

Thanks for reading, and I’d love for you to leave questions or comments down below. What is keeping you from traveling or, if you’re a current traveler, what do you love and hate most about travel therapy? Where would be your ideal place to visit on a travel contract? What goals are you saving money for?

Travel PT: Headin’ back down South. But first, Jamai— repairs, then Jamaica!

-By Whitney-

Delayed post to update our Travel PT Chronicles… I’m perpetually several months behind on this! I blame staying busy all the time (which doesn’t stop Jared from writing, but I digress…)

Timeline: September 2016

So when I last updated, we were finishing our contracts in Massachusetts in September 2016 and planning to go on vacation to Jamaica!

We had it all planned out…

We had our next contracts set up in North Carolina for 2 weeks after our end date in Massachusetts, leaving about a week to go home to Virginia to visit family, a week for the vacation, and a couple days for the move. We had so far always done back to back to back contracts with only a weekend between (including the time we left VA on Friday and started work in MA on Monday). So this was the first time we actually took any time off between contracts, but we still were on somewhat of a time constraint. We planned during this time to drop our camper off in Concord, NC where we bought it at Camping World to have some repairs done. When we originally bought the camper, it was used (2009) and we noticed some wood damage under the slide-outs. We were told this was “cosmetic,” but it turned out to be potentially hazardous when we noticed the floor was basically rotting and could have fallen out beneath us. Therefore we were able to work out with Camping World to get this wood replaced at no cost to us. So we just had to get the camper there, and we arranged our flight to Jamaica out of Charlotte after we dropped it off.

In transit

So we were all set to leave Massachusetts and make the 13 hour drive back to Virginia. Things were going great… for about 30 minutes. Jared was driving the truck and camper and I was following in my SUV. Jared called me to say he was pulling over and something was wrong. So there we were on the side of the highway with a truck, a camper and an SUV. Jared climbed up in the hood and was able to visibly see the problem (thank goodness, because we were already wondering how the heck do you get a truck towed with a camper attached?? not to mention worrying what we would do about getting the camper home and make our repair appointment and flights on time). Now we really aren’t that mechanically savvy, but he was able to see that a hose that was supposed to be connected was not (turned out to be a Turbo hose). So fortunately with the second vehicle, we went to a nearby garage, got some advice, went to NAPA Auto Parts, got a new hose clamp, and Jared was able to fix it on the side of the road. Luckily the truck made it the rest of the way without any more problems. We planned to stop a couple hours short of home to sleep overnight at a Walmart parking lot in the camper (“boondocking”) and also visit friends. It had rained during the drive, and when we got to the Walmart to sleep, we discovered that the skylight in our bedroom had cracked and broken, letting water pour inside onto our bed! So it was late… we were in a Walmart parking lot… 3/4 of our bed was soaked. It was great, ha. So Jared slept on the sliver of dry bed, I slept on the couch. I just remember waking up being so hot and miserable because it was summer and we didn’t have any AC (no generator/electricity). (But I guess at least the couch was dry!) So we met up with our friends and had a good laugh about our luck and headed home safely the next day.

Back home

We enjoyed our time at home with family and friends, as we had not been back in almost 6 months. This was also the first time that we had the truck and camper without being at a campground, so we had to figure out where to put it while we were home for a week. Unfortunately we didn’t really know anyone with enough space to park it. So we rented a space at a storage unit for a week. We also wanted to take the truck in to have it looked at to make sure everything was okay. So we took it to the Ford dealership, and they ended up replacing the Turbo hose which was an unexpected cost, but we were glad to have it fixed and ready for the next adventure.

In transit again

We left Roanoke the night before our flights, planning to sleep in another Walmart parking lot, so we could drop the camper off first thing in the morning in NC for repairs and head to the airport. We got about 20 minutes down the road… this sounds familiar… and the truck started to mess up again. The hose/clamp had come undone again. This time Jared’s dad was able to come meet us and help out, again on the side of the road, this time in the dark. They got the clamp fixed and we were back on the road again.

Vacation time!

Luckily, things went smoothly for the rest of that trip. We dropped off the camper, made it to the airport, and were in vacation mode! We (…Jared) did some serious planning to make this trip one for the books! It was completely paid for with credit card reward points, from the flights to the all inclusive hotels. We took advantage of my American Express Platinum membership rewards perks and specifically planned our flights with a long layover in Miami, where they have an exclusive Centurion Lounge with free food and alcohol. So we got our All-Inclusive started early. We had fun being fancy and gluttonous at the lounge, and then enjoyed a nice snooze on our final flight to Montego Bay, Jamaica! Our trip was amazing. We split our stay between two all inclusive resorts based on points allocation. Our favorite was The Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall, which was Adult Only and was the fancier of the two resorts, and we were able to spend 4 nights there. We then moved down the road to the Holiday Inn Resort – Montego Bay All Inclusive, which wasn’t quite as fancy but was still great! We spent most of this vacation just relaxing and enjoying what was offered at the resorts. Unfortunately we did not take any excursions to really explore the area. I think after working continuously for over a year we were just ready for some R&R! The beaches were so beautiful and the people very hospitable! We made some vacation friends, and we got to experience the island life for a week!

Back to reality

We were of course sad to leave, but I don’t think our waistlines could’ve handled much more free food and drinks after 7 days! (But seriously, finding work clothes that fit the next week, a struggle…) So we headed back to the states. This time we stayed at an Airbnb overnight upon returning to Charlotte, because the camper was still at Camping World. We picked up our camper the next day, and they stayed true to their word and covered the wood repairs at 100%. We did have some additional cost to repair the broken skylight, and we left with some suggestions on how to help upkeep our camper to help prevent future water damage (more on this later…)

So we just had a short drive from Charlotte, NC to our next job assignments in Fayetteville, NC. Stay tuned and I’ll update on our adventures in Fayetteville (someday 😉 ha)!

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!