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The Expectation Versus Reality Of Being a Traveling Therapist

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Blue oceans, dream jobs, and big bucks! The world is your oyster with travel therapy. This expectation of travel therapy is perceived by many. However, it is far from the reality of life on the road. As a travel therapy blogger, my mission is to be authentic and not sugar coat things. With that being said, here are some common expectations that people may have about travel therapy and the more realistic reality.

Expectation: Free luxury housing

Reality: Sleeping on an air mattress in a place you rented off of Craigslist

My bedroom in CT, which also morphed into a office, gym, and coffee bar.

Agencies lure therapists into jobs by saying that you will be able to travel for work and receive free, luxurious company housing while you work. This is the expectation. Who wouldn’t want that? Make big bucks AND get free housing? Woohoo sign me up! However, the reality is much different.

Yes, you can get housing from your agency. However, if you receive housing from your agency, that means they are taking that money out of your pay for your housing. Often times, they do the best they can with the money they can, and the housing may be less than perfect. So yes, while you can get housing, realize that the housing may mean up to a 50% reduction in pay. With the “free” housing, you may receive less per hour than you were making at a permanent position.

The majority of travelers actually do not take company-provided housing. They gamble and take the tax-free housing stipend. With a tax-free housing stipend, you are in charge of finding your own housing. This can add a lot of stress and work to the process, but is financially motivating for many. Before long, travelers become the masters of Craigslist, Airbnb, and extended stay hotels. Many travelers try to maximize money by finding unfurnished apartments and outfitting them with the bare necessities. Others choose to have roommates.

Read more: How To Find Housing For Your Short-Term Travel Assignment

Expectation: Big money

Reality: It depends

Many travelers want to travel because they have recruiters and agencies selling them on a grandiose lifestyle. Being a traveler will solve all of your financial burdens, they say. You will be able to pay off your loans, buy a new car, live in a lush apartment, etc. The truth of the matter is that it really depends. With some contracts, you may be able to make a decent chunk of change. Others, you may barely break even or save money because you are paying a fortune in housing or other expenses.

Traveling is not synonymous with big bucks. Especially for seasoned clinicians who make $40-50+ an hour perm with benefits or those who travel to places with a high cost of living.

Expectation: Great jobs

Reality: Ethical dilemmas

Did you ever stop to think why travel jobs exist in the first place? Why is there a need for somebody to travel across the country and work at a high pay rate for 13 weeks? In some instances, it’s because of things that could not be prevented, such as a therapist out on a medical leave, a pregnancy leave, or a seasonal town that needs more help in the wintertime when the snowbirds fly in.

In other cases, and to be honest in MOST cases, it’s because of something different. It’s because the building cannot sustain permanent staff. Why? Well, there are a variety of reasons why. Maybe it’s because they don’t pay well, there is poor management, they work therapists to the bone, etc., etc. In more cases than not, the travel jobs you will encounter will force you to face some ethical dilemmas and challenge you both mentally and physically as a therapist.

Expectation: Orientation to your job

Reality: Hit the ground running

As mentioned above, travel jobs can be hard. You may have demands to see high caseloads and have high productivity standards. Along with that, there is rarely an orientation to your new job. The reality of the situation is that when you show up at a new assignment, you are expected to work. You will be expected to “hit the ground running” as we say, and start seeing patients immediately.

Expectation: You get to work in glamorous places

Reality: You are working in small town USA

As a new traveling therapist, my number one desire was to see the country and live in beautiful cities. In 2010, my bucket list of places included New York, Austin, Chicago, Miami, and Portland. Guess what? It’s nine years later and I have never lived or worked in any of those places.

Travel therapists have to go where the jobs are. Often times, the jobs aren’t in the places that are cool and desirable. Those jobs go to people who live in those cities and work there permanently. While I never made it to some of my original bucket list places, I guess I cannot complain too much. I have lived in Boston, Hawaii, and beautiful Southern California, to name a few. I also got to experience some wonderful small, unknown places. While not on my original destination list, I have found joy and beauty in so many wonderful places across the US.

Expectation: I’ll travel for x amount of time

Reality: Not that

Travel is a journey and it takes you places that you never knew you were going to go. I’ve met so many people who have set a travel timeline for themselves. They want to either travel for an assignment, or a year, or two years. No matter what the initial plan is, it seems like things always change. Maybe you set out to travel forever, but you fell in love with your first assignment and stayed on perm. Others thought that they were only going to travel for a year, but ended up going on and on.

While travel may not live up to some of its expectations, it truly is a beautiful lifestyle for many. The reality of travel is that it can be hard, but rewarding. While it may not be glitz and glam, it is an adventurous life with a lot of fun twists and turns!

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6 thoughts on “The Expectation Versus Reality Of Being a Traveling Therapist”

  1. Thanks for the information! I want to start traveling after I get my Cs and this article gave me a lot to consider before I do.

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