How travel therapy works step by step

You might have heard of travel therapy. Maybe you’ve seen dreamy pictures on Instagram with a caption promoting life as a travel speech-language pathologist, travel physical therapist, travel occupational therapist, or travel assistant!

So what is a travel therapist? A travel therapist is a short-term healthcare worker that picks up temporary assignments in different locations and settings. You can even travel locally (within your state) or you could choose to pursue an adventure across the country!

Most therapists end up feeling so grateful that they took the leap into becoming a traveler. I am one of those “crazy travelers” who could not be happier I said yes to this lifestyle! It takes bravery, preparation, and a side of clinical experience. But it isn’t hard to get started. The hardest part is usually just deciding to go for it! But before you do, let me clue you in on the important information you need to know!

How does travel therapy work? (In 6 steps)

1. A healthcare facility needs a short-term/travel therapist.

2. Occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, COTAs, and PTAs can fill that facilities’ temporary need. You will work with a recruiter at a travel therapy staffing agency, that will alert you of facilities needing a therapist (aka open travel therapy jobs).

3. You apply for that facilities’ need (typically a contract will be 13 weeks/3 months). If your experience and credentials match up with the facilities’ needs, you’ll get a phone interview.

4. Once you are chosen for that job, you will temporarily relocate to that location and work at that facility until the end of the contract.

5. The staffing agency will charge the facility an hourly rate for each hour you work. They will take a commission/percentage for their service and you will get paid weekly. Most travelers qualify to get a paycheck that includes both taxed pay and non-taxed stipends that help pay for housing and food (a perk of being a traveler!)

6. Once you finish your travel contract, you can potentially extend that same contract (if the facility asks you). Or you can work with your recruiter to find another open job/travel assignment in a location you love, go back to working a permanent position, or you can choose to take time off! The flexibility is great.

Frequently asked questions about travel therapy

Should I be a travel therapist?

YES if…
1. You are clinically competent and confident in your skills as a therapist
2. You love the idea of short-term contracts and new adventures
3. You want to pursue growth in both your professional career and personal life
4. You’re willing to be flexible in your career and roll with everything and anything that comes your way
5. You’re kind, professional, open-minded, and are excited for the countless opportunities ahead!

Why do facilities need travelers and pay them more?

Facilities and patients need to use travel therapists for a variety of reasons. Permanent staff sometimes can’t cover all the patients. The staff could have babies and need some time off, they could go on strike, they could be learning a new computer program and need time to train, etc. A travel therapist can come in for 13 weeks and help out while the facility is either trying to hire permanent staff or while they’re giving someone temporary leave.

Travelers are expensive, yes (we can get paid the big bucks). But it’s not crazy for a facility to want us! Finding their own staff, interviewing them, dealing with resumés, onboarding, orienting, offering benefits, liabilities… is difficult and expensive. Travelers are a great solution.
We are meant to be skilled, talented, credentialed, and ready to help out. When we come in with a friendly disposition and in a mindset of service, we are very helpful to facilities around the whole country.

Can I travel as a new grad therapist?

Yes! I did! It was the best decision for me. I was confident in my clinical skills, I knew the benefits of travel, and I was ready to be open-minded with the travel therapy contracts that came my way.

Some feel better having at least a couple of months to one year of work experience, as a permanent therapist, before traveling. This is a great idea! If you are lucky you might get a job with a facility that offers a mentor program which is a great opportunity for new grad therapists! But that is a rare find, so it’s a good idea to find your own mentors to call too. Just take the employment opportunities that you feel comfortable with as a healthcare professional. Your travel therapy career can always wait if you’re not ready – the industry isn’t going anywhere!

Do you get to choose where you travel to?

Remember when I mentioned flexibility earlier? That’ll come into play here. I recommend having a list of at least 5-10 states that are your absolute favorites! Think of it as your “assignment location wishlist”. But remember, you can’t change which job opportunities are available. If you say you want San Diego, that’s great! But if there aren’t jobs there… you’ll need to be flexible and consider other locations. I would recommend choosing states over cities anyways, it’ll open up your options as far as travel therapy assignments. (PS… you can check out where the current jobs are here).

You’ll also need to consider what your dealbreakers are (if you have any). Maybe you’re super flexible on location but are only willing to work in skilled nursing facilities, outpatient clinics, etc. Or maybe you’re super flexible on setting but would prefer being by the coast! It’s perfectly okay to have an idea of a few desirable travel destinations and ideal settings! Just remember, a career of travel is a career of going with the flow! And a lot of flexibility = more unexpected and wonderful life experiences.

Cheers to you and your future travel adventures! It’s an exciting life!
xo Laura

Keep learning, empowered travelers 💪

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Additional Reimbursements

Did your offer come with something extra that would cost the staffing agency money? This may include a CEU class, scrubs, or sign on bonuses. Don’t worry if this section is blank, most offers don’t have extra reimbursements.

Travel Reimbursements

This is tax-free money that is paid to you to help you pay for the expense of traveling to your assignment. Many staffing agencies pay for this per mile up to a certain amount. They will usually pay this on your first paycheck or split between your first paycheck and last. If you are traveling a short distance this could be a very small amount.

Also, it’s becoming more popular for an agency to not offer this at all. It’s really not a big deal though. If you don’t get travel reimbursement money you should make a bit more in your weekly pay so many times it all equals out.

Weekly Housing Stipends

If you have a tax home you can get money in two ways: Your taxable base pay per hour + tax-free stipends that help pay for your housing and meals in your new city. This is usually presented to travelers on a weekly or per shift basis.

The government tells the staffing agency the maximum they are allowed to pay travelers based on the cost of living in each zip code.

The staffing company does not usually get to pay us the full amount since they only have the amount the facility is willing to pay for us. That may end up being less than the government’s max, if so, no worries. This is okay as long as the total package is fair.

Weekly Meal Stipends

If you have a tax home you can get money in two ways: Your taxable base pay per hour + tax-free stipends that help pay for your housing and meals in your new city. This is usually presented to travelers on a weekly or per shift basis.

The government tells the staffing agency the maximum they are allowed to pay travelers based on the cost of living in each zip code. The staffing company does not usually get to pay us the full amount since they only have the amount the facility is willing to pay for us. That may end up being less than the government’s max, if so, no worries. This is okay as long as the total package is fair.

Weekly Insurance Costs

Medical insurance can impact your final paycheck a lot since it will deduct pay from your check each week. If you are taking the company health insurance, you are going to want to know up front about how much this will cost you per week.

The average is around $30 a week but some companies charge as much as $100 a week to their travelers and some offer some health insurance options for free. If you are not taking their insurance just set this to zero.

Hours per week

For this calculation, put the hours per week you are expecting to work. And then feel free to run it again with the hours you are guaranteed. Many times contracts have guaranteed hours that are lower than the expected hours.

Guaranteed hours means if the facility doesn’t need you to come in, you will still get paid as long as it was their choice and not yours to not work.

Also, find out if this contract has any “call off shifts” where the hospital can call you off without pay a certain number of times per contract. This is common and not a deal breaker but just good to know!

Length of assignment

In travel nurses and allied health the most common length of a travel assignment is 13 weeks. If you are looking for a contract shorter or longer just ask! Sometimes facilities or hospitals who hire you will be flexible.

Taxable rate per hour

If you have a tax home you can get money in two ways: Your taxable base pay per hour + tax-free stipends that help pay for your housing and meals in your new city.

If you do not have a tax home all of your pay will be taxed and put in this field.

Good to know: Your taxable base pay is the only part of your paycheck that is legally considered income. The average taxable base pay is $20 but you might get offers higher or lower than this. It’s the only part of your paycheck that is taxed

Nomadicare’s purpose is to empower. It’s the lifeblood that flows through every single thing we create. We are here to make sure every traveler has all the transparent knowledge they need to make empowered decisions. We want you to feel confident so you can live your dream!

Nomadicare is partnered with dozens of companies and each of those companies have access to different settings, locations, and exclusive contracts. We know their benefit options and who have jobs in each location. We will match you to the best recruiters for you and your goals. Every single recruiter has been vetted and comes with the Nomadicare guarantee.
You can browse the open jobs from many of our company partners on the Nomadicare’s anti bait and switch job board. When you see one that catches your eye, the goal is to apply asap. Jobs are closing faster than ever with all the craziness this year so speed is our best friend. When you request an interview, we’ll instantly match you with the vetted recruiter who posted that job.
Typically 0-3 months before you are ready to start your next assignment is best. A short quiz will give us a picture of who you are, and what you are looking for. After the quiz we’ll have everything we need to match you with the perfect recruirer for your travel goals
If you know where you want to go and you’re ready to travel, Instant Matching is perfect for you. You can browse the open jobs from many of our company partners on the Nomadicare’s anti bait-and-switch job board. When you see one that catches your eye, the goal is to apply asap. Jobs are closing faster than ever with all the craziness this year so speed is our best friend.
We highly recommended being ready! Having all of your documents and being super responsive are key. Speed is the biggest factor in getting the job you want. We recommend using a free service like Kamana, which you can share your online resume, credentials, and licenses with a single link to any of our vetted recruiters when requesting an interview.
Graph Café, Chiang Mai, Thailand 🥇