a physical therapist working on a patients arm

Is Travel Physical Therapy Right For Me?

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If you’ve been thinking to yourself “Is travel physical therapy right for me” then you are in the right place.

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney

Being curious could possibly the most useful characteristic of being a human. It is natural for us to wonder what another location is like, what the newest type of gadget does and if that puppy is really as soft as he looks.

There are many different reasons to try a travel Physical Therapy job. Some need a change of scenery and weather. Others may get excited at the prospect of working for three months then taking another month off, no questions asked. Others purely want to travel to make a few extra dollars or to try a new setting. Whatever your reason I’d like you to consider a few things before choosing your first travel destination.

1. Quality of Life

Only you know what you want out of life and where/with whom you are most happy. Let us first begin with whom you will be traveling.

Traveling alone?

Will you be traveling with a spouse or by yourself? Maybe with another therapist or nurse? I’ve traveled by myself as a travel physical therapist but always try and make sure I have a friend or two located within driving distance. If you are traveling with a spouse then you’ll always have someone to go out with. If you are traveling alone and don’t mind eating by yourself or seeing movies alone then you’ll do just fine. Don’t get me wrong, you will make friends quickly but who you bring along on your travels (or don’t) can have a big impact on your quality of life.

Sidenote #1: I’ve never met a travel therapist(s) traveling with their kids. I don’t have kids. I can’t really speak to that side of things.

Urban/Rural/Country

I’ve worked in rural settings and was super bored-no one to hang out with and lack of entertainment. I was in Seattle and couldn’t wait to get out- too much cement and traffic- although the food was good. I have found that I love university towns with 100-250K people which is where I’ve settled. It took me about seven years to figure it out (I’m a slow learner) where I’m happiest. As a travel physical therapist, you can choose to do assignments in all types of locations which is great! You can figure out what you truly love and get paid for it!

Pets

I’ve never traveled with a pet. I know people that have. It is a pain to find a place that accepts animals but it is doable. When coworkers want to go out for a happy hour or there is a weekend trip climbing a mountain you’ll want to be able to go and not worry about an animal. Also, if you are traveling to make some extra dough remember your pet will likely cause you to stay at higher-priced housing. On the other hand, they might provide you with some much-needed companionship, so it is up to you.

2. Location Consideration

Climate

For some it’s easy and this is a no brainer. They love the warm weather and they’ve gotta get to Florida or SoCal. For others, they have friends in upstate New York. But for others, it’s not that easy because there are simply too many areas of the country they want to see. You’ve gotta start with a list and really try to narrow down why you want to travel.

Make a list of places YOU want to go to. Recruiters will want to put you in areas that will make the most money, which may or may not be what you are looking for. There are pros and cons of working in different locations such as urban vs rural, expensive cities vs low-cost cities, university towns vs farming.

On numerous occasions I had recruiters ask me to work in Saginaw, MI (I’m from Michigan) or somewhere in Southern California, Arizona or Texas (I’m not inclined to Southern California, Arizona or Texas). None of those were for me so I chose to stay in the West and Northwest, which was difficult, but doable. Looking back Arizona would have been a great place to go, but oh well, things have worked out ok.

Let’s talk Money and location.

If you want a fun location where everyone wants to be i.e. Austin, Denver, Seattle, San Fran, Boston ect…. Pay will be lower. If you want to make the Dolla Dolla Bills Y’all, I would recommend the south, rural areas, Texas, AZ and California. Obviously, my list is biased and I’m not sure on the job market out east (Philly, SC/NC, Florida), frankly, because I’ve never worked there. You will get paid more to work in places with a high need which tends to be places without many therapists (duh).

Sidenote: Travel Physical Therapy versus Travel Nursing Needs

If you have travel RN friends and they are telling you where to go make sure you talk to therapists about that location. The demand for Travel RNs is different than for travel therapists (PT, OT, SLPs) in general. A quick example is the Front Range of Colorado. You won’t find much if anything for travel PT, OT, SLPs but there is a plethora for Travel RNs.

In Conclusion

If you are an adventurous person (and I suspect you are) there are many things to take into consideration while researching travel physical therapy jobs. Location, pay, weather, town size are just a few considerations. It all starts with the curiosity to sit down and look online for resources and then talk to a few people who have done it. My brief intro here is just an introduction into a few basics of travel physical therapy for the curious person. Travel physical therapy can be whatever you make it. Can you travel with pets? Probably. Can you find a travel job in Denver? Maybe. You’ve gotta start looking and seriously considering your options and you will never know unless you try. If you have questions feel free to reach out to me or Julia and we would be happy to answer any questions.

picture of Justin Johnson, DPT
Justin Johnson, DPT

About the Author: Justin graduated from Central Michigan University with his DPT in 2008 and earned my GCS designation in 2011. As a permanent PT, he worked at large teaching and trauma I-IV hospitals. As a traveling therapist, Justin adventured to critical access hospitals, regional hospitals, and skilled nursing facilities. His writing interests include lifestyle, work-life balance, burnout in healthcare, and self-improvement.

During the winters Justin can be found on my skis and as a National Ski Patroller in the Rocky Mountain Division. He has attempted “settling down” and currently reside in Ft. Collins, CO. You can reach Justin at his email or LinkedIn

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