By Stephen Stockhausen, PT, DPT, OCS, Contributing Writer, PT Adventures
The travel physical therapist life is pretty incredible—bouncing around to new places, new jobs, new friends and new adventures! But it is no secret that life on the road alone can get lonely. This is where travel teams come in.
Simply put, a travel physical therapist team is a pair of PTs (or any combination of PTs, occupational therapists, registered nurses, speech-language pathologists, dieticians, physician assistants, medical doctors/osteopathic medical doctors, respiratory therapists, etc.) that decide to explore the world together. Teams do not necessarily have to be in the same field, and often it is easier to have different professions in order to find jobs in the same locations.
Travel teams have a few distinct challenges and benefits that should be considered before you combine powers with another fellow traveler.
Challenges of being a travel physical therapist team
As a pair of PT travelers ourselves, we have had to accept that most of the quaint mountain towns we want to explore do not have two openings for PTs at that exact same time. If we had separate specialties this might be a different story.
We have accepted that for us to be in the same general location we must consider larger towns or cities to find two PT jobs at once.
Neither of us is dead set on working for the same company or even in the same town as one another. However, with our new child, we do require that we can still live together regardless of where we are working.
For this reason, we have created what we call the “60-Minute Rule” for job locations. We will consider jobs that are within a 60-minute drive from one another as long as there are viable housing options in between them. (Notice that we do not call it the “60-Mile Rule” California traffic can be crazy!)
This ensures that, at worst, one of us will have an hours drive to work, and at best we each have only a 30-minute commute.
Enacting this rule requires some research, however.
In Alaska, Ellen took a job in downtown Anchorage, while I was in Eagle River. My facility provided us with free housing, walkable to the clinic, and it was only 13 miles from Anchorage, so obviously we lived in Eagle River. Initially, we thought this was going to be a simple solution and would fit our rule easily. What we did not consider was winter traffic on Glenn Highway!
Anchorage sits on a precipitously skinny sliver of flat land wedged between the Chugach Mountains and the Cook Inlet. Flatland is at a premium in Alaska, so there is literally only one road connecting the two towns. Ellen would frequently have 75-90 minute commutes as the highway would be bumper to bumper due to a moose kill or black ice. Lesson learned.
Being flexible with your job selection and keeping in mind the “60-Minute Rule” will keep your travel team resentment-free and happy as clams.
Benefits of traveling as a team
Travel physical therapist teams have some distinct advantages over solo travelers. Shared expenses, added safety, and friends are just a few.
By far, the biggest benefit for a travel physical therapist team is shared housing costs. For most of us, housing is the largest single monthly expense (assuming you are not drowning in loan debt). Being able to split the burden between both of you will save some considerable cash. Even up-sizing to a two- or three-bedroom place won’t compare to the cost of renting a one bedroom apartment. Many travel teams can save $300-500 per month each by pairing up and splitting housing costs.
Other shared expenses can also add a little extra cash to the coffers.
One travel nursing team we are good friends with were big time city girls. They took jobs in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Denver to name a few. In doing so, they often only required one car, as city transportation in large metropolitan areas is frequently cheaper and less of a headache to manage. Plus, a bus pass is far cheaper than gas and parking in most major cities.
I only bring this up because of the huge number of questions regarding safe travel as a single person. Our fear-obsessed society loves bad news, and as we have all heard, “if it bleeds, it leads.” Having worked home health jobs in two of Californias most “dangerous” cities, I firmly believe the world is not out to get you.
However, we all must do our due diligence to ensure personal safety. Traveling as a team provides one more layer of protection against a dangerous situation from happening. It’s one more set of eyes and ears, and one more rational mind to help make the good decisions that prevent problems from ever starting.
By far the best gift that this lifestyle has provided us is the friendships we have made across the country. That being said, there are some lonely times out there. Many of our solo travel buddies have lamented about periods of loneliness they deal with. Most often this is at the beginning of a contract before they have been able to settle in and meet new people, but it’s still a problem.
Having a travel buddy helps to inoculate yourself from these feelings. You will have someone to explore with and someone to commiserate with on bad days. Someone to help you out of a jam and someone to push you into new, uncomfortable, and exciting situations. As you each branch out and make new friends, your travel buddy will provide a solid base that you can build a new community around.
Being a travel PT team has been a life changer for us. We went from drowning in student loan debt in permanent positions to debt free in four years (less than 2 years as travelers). We have seen more of this country that I ever imagined and have become lifelong friends with a diverse and wonderful crowd of prior strangers.
For the right person, and the right pair, traveling as a team can provide added benefits to an already exceptional lifestyle.
This story first appeared on PT Adventures and has been edited for style and clarity.
Stephen Stockhausen is a doctor of physical therapy, a traveler, and a founder of PT Adventures—a blog created with his wife Ellen to help travel PTs take control of their career and live their dreams. You can find Stephen and Ellen exploring the country with their daughter, Kinley, and two dogs Cayenne and Layla.
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