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Advice For Undergraduates Who Want To Travel

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The reasons why people want to become a traveling therapist can vary. There are wanderlust souls and people trying to pay off their student loans. Many are burned out clinicians who are trying to spark life into their career. Generally, when people approach me to learn more about traveling, they fall into one of those categories.

Every now and then, I get emails from undergraduate students. These student have questions about travel and want to be a traveler when they enter the field. I find it surprising that undergrads are thinking about traveling as a career. To be honest, I didn’t even know that travelers existed until I started working in the field.

In this piece, I’m sharing the advice I give to those undergraduates who are considering being a traveler. This advice is far different than the typical advice I give to the licensed clinicians who are considering travel.

Do You Really Want to Be a Therapist?

This is something that I struggle with. I decided to become a speech-language pathologist when I was 18 years old. Now, in my mid-thirties, I am a different person with different priorities, needs, and views of the world. Traveling as an SLP definitely keeps my career alive. However, if I were currently not an SLP and wanted to explore a career that would lead me to travel, being an SLP would not be it.  

While I LOVE my career and wouldn’t change a thing about my path in life, it is hard for me to recommend that anybody become a therapist at this point in time. The daunting productivity and caseload pressures, disrespect from other professionals towards our field and professional judgement, dwindling benefits, increasing student loan debt, and little room for financial growth are all factors that contribute to rapid burn out in the therapy world.

For more pros and cons of being an SLP, check out this blog: Pros and Cons of Being a SLP

If you are an undergraduate and want to travel professionally for work, take a minute to explore other options that may satisfy your wanderlust. Consider nursing, which also has its pros and cons. However, nursing offers many different paths to expand your career both in the travel world and in the business and professional world.

There are also very many high demand jobs, which pay much better than healthcare, that do temporary staffing. Jobs in accounting, engineering, and technology are far more lucrative than travel therapy or travel nursing and offer opportunities for consulting and temporary work. Also, check out this blog about jobs that allow you to travel for ideas of jobs that include travel.

Minimizing School Debt

Student loan debt is rapidly increasing in the therapy world. Master’s and doctorate programs can cost upwards of 100k for a two-year education. This leaves the clinician struggling with a mountain of bills after graduation. Many novice clinicians turn to travel therapy as a means to pay off their debt. While that is great, paying off debt with travel involves a lot of sacrifice.

If you are traveling to pay down your debt, you may find yourself in over worked situations with high productivity demands. Or, to find a high paying contract you may be in a very rural area, or an area that you wouldn’t prefer to be in.

As much as possible, try to minimize your debt in graduate school. Whether that means going to a state school versus a private one, working while you are in school, or saving expenses by living with family, do what you can to avoid a mountain of debt in the future. Whether you travel or not, avoiding obscene student loans can lead to a lot more opportunities, if you are not tethered to making a certain amount of money per month to pay your bills. You can have more freedom in your travels and in life with less debt.

Get Relevant Clinical Experience in Graduate School

As a traveler, you will be expected to hit the ground running when it comes to clinical practice. You are hired to do a job, and often there will not be staff available to train you on that job. You need to be independent.

If you plan to travel early in your career, use your graduate school experiences to your advantage. Request clinical placements in relevant settings, where you could see yourself working as a traveler. You may want to request more challenging placements to push yourself to learn more and be a more independent clinician from the start.

Work on Being Independent

When you travel for work, you are also traveling personally. You will have to move yourself to your new location, find housing, solve problems, make connections in the community, etc. In other words, you need to be pretty independent. If you have been sheltered or have had helicopter parents, now is the time to work on your own personal independence.

If possible in graduate school, take an internship that you need to travel to and find temporary living arrangements for. See if that is something you like. How do you feel about being in a new place and a new culture?

If it’s not possible to take any travel opportunities in grad school, then venture out on your own during your breaks. Go to a new city for a day and learn how to navigate it on your own. Learn how to follow maps and directions. Drive on new roads and eat a meal at a restaurant by yourself. The more independent you are, and the better you can act on your feet to problem solve and adapt to new situations, the easier your transition into the full-time travel lifestyle can be.

In conclusion, if you are an undergrad and are dreaming about becoming a traveling therapist, I really advise you to look at your career and future. I urge you to consider other routes and career paths that can lend themselves to travel. If you definitely want to be a therapist and want to travel, then you can make some decisions today that may make your life easier as a traveler. Reducing your debt in school and gaining valuable clinical experience can help prepare you for becoming a traveler.

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2 thoughts on “Advice For Undergraduates Who Want To Travel”

  1. Wow, you hit everything right on the head! Especially the part about burn out, too many pressures to be productive, lack of respect, etc. I’m a 24yr OT who is now on his first ever travel assignment. I feel I’ve gotten a good assessment but certainly wondering if I’ll be lucky with the next one! Thanks for sharing your travel experience!

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