People frequently ask me if I get to choose where I go as a traveling therapist. Let’s clear this up right now. Yes. As a traveler, you choose where the recruiter looks for jobs for you, you have the choice of whether you interview for any specific job, and you make the decision whether to take a job or not.
Once you have decided to travel (Good decision, traveling is awesome!), the first logical questions is, “Where do I want to go?” The answer to this question totally depends on your own personal priorities. In this post, I hope to share with you some of the different factors that can shape where you would like to go and where you might take your first assignment. When you put priority into one area, you may have to sacrifice in others – for example, if you want to make great money, you may have to sacrifice on location, or if you are set on one specific city, you may have to sacrifice on what clinical setting you’ll work in. To find good assignments on a regular basis, you’ll have to be flexible. The more flexible you can make yourself – in location, setting, and timing – the more successful you’ll be at finding assignments that you enjoy. Let’s take a look at the factors that may affect where you’ll choose to travel.
Getting Your Feet Wet
Sometimes, you just need an immediate temporary job near your current home. Maybe you want to be a traveler, but the life-timing isn’t quite right to hit the open road yet. Or, maybe, you have to get away from the job you’re in, NOW, but aren’t yet ready to make a commitment to another permanent job.
These are great reasons to get a local “travel” job and get familiar with the traveling process.
I did this when I first left my original permanent position in Vermont in 2006 to start travel, but wanted to be closer to my girlfriend (now wife) and see if she would eventually travel with me. I took an assignment back home near Boston and nearer The Missus. After spending 10 months at my first travel job, we were on the road headed westward together.
Taking an assignment local to where you live can be a great way to dip your toe into traveling and get a taste of the travel life without having to completely uproot yourself. Taking assignments locally can also be a great method of exploring potential local employers if you need a change of job, but want to continue living where you are. Employers love the idea of hiring a temp employee that might stay to work on a permanent basis.
Travel for Travel
You want to travel for the sake of traveling? You can and will see different places, different people, and different cultures through being a traveler. This is why I got into traveling PT. I have gained an appreciation for the sheer size and diversity of our country by working all over it and having driven through 49 of 50 states. North Dakota is the one we’re missing out on. Side note: South Dakota, very impressive state – happened to be camping our way through during the Sturgis motorcycle rally which was a blast, and we were awestruck by the sights of Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills, and Bad Lands National Park along the way… a really cool weekend. Ha! That’s what you’re up against, North Dakota.
Seriously though, if you want to get out and see something different than what you are used to, step one is to start applying for licenses now. As a healthcare worker, most of us are growing more and more needed by the day, you can pick anywhere you want to be in this country and find good work there. That’s pretty special, there are people coming out of school in other professions who are doing unpaid internships for two years just to get an entry-level job… If you are dead-set on going to a particular city, region, or state, you may have to (as eluded to earlier) compromise on other factors. Every area will have jobs for you, but there not be availability in the setting you like. Highly desirable places, like my two favorites: Colorado and Hawaii, don’t necessarily pay well. So, you can go where ever you want and find work, but you might have to be flexible on other factors.
Yes, you can make great money as a traveler, but you will have to work at it to get the really great paying gigs. Your average travel job will pay modestly more than your standard permanent job, but the travel lifestyle comes with increased expenses too – moving costs, renting furnished apartments, and often more unpaid time off than you would typically take at a “normal” job. When I first started traveling, my time off was killing my annual pay. One year, I only worked 40 weeks – it was wonderful to enjoy the extra free time, but I was barely breaking even with what I had made working ay my previous fulltime job. These days, I have streamlined my transition from job to job and typically only take off 4 to 6 weeks per year, that extra month or two of work each year makes all the difference in my gross income.
If money is your main motivator for traveling – and we all know those loans ain’t gonna pay themselves – you can chase assignments that pay better than average. This is the part of the blog where I would try to guess at which settings or which areas of the country pay better than others, but it really would be a guess. Your recruiter could do a much better job of pointing you in the right direction for the jobs that are going to pay big. I can tell you this much, the jobs that are really, really rural are the ones I have seen with the best pay. If you are willing to go where others aren’t, you can make considerably more cash.
Some areas just aren’t going to have availability in the setting you want to work in. The more flexible you can be about what settings you are willing to work in, the better success you’ll have finding the jobs in more desirable locations. Working in a variety of settings is also a nice way of broadening your own skill set to make yourself more marketable to the next employer. Even if you don’t enjoy working in all settings, there’s a lot of appreciation and knowledge to be gained by exploring different portions of the spectrum of healthcare delivery.
On the other hand, timing can be fickle – there may be no jobs in a particular city for your dream setting right now, but the employment options can change greatly in a very short time. Patience can be a virtue if you are unwilling to settle on a setting. A two week pause can really change the employment prospects of any particular location.
Friends and Family
Still not sure where you want to go or stuck between a few options? Go where you might have a friend, acquaintance, or relative that may be willing to share their social circle with you. It is great when you have someone who can introduce you to people and make your transition to a new place that much easier. It was said very well by a new friend earlier this year, “Friends of friends make good friends!” Reach out to people you may only know a little, call anyone who is suggested by a friend as someone who could show you around, and don’t be afraid to say “yes” if someone extends an invite to you. You may not become best buddies with your initial contact, but chances are there is somebody in their group of friends that you’ll connect with.
The greatest secret to success and joy in travel jobs is to be flexible in as many variables as possible. If you have a few settings you are willing to work in, are licensed in a couple states, and have the ability to wait 2 weeks to start a job if needed, you’re going to do just fine. See you out on the open road!
James Spencer and his wife Kate have been traveling Physical Therapists for 9 years and normally blog on their website HoboHealth.com. They have spent this summer working in home health on Martha’s Vineyard while living in a camper. They spend their winters working and skiing in the mountains of Colorado. Follow their travels on Facebook or Twitter at @HoboHealth.