Places in Time

I was listening to NPR on the way home from work today and heard a segment that caught my ear. I grew envious of the author in the piece who had lived on a remote Alaskan island for two months to study the island’s history and write a book about it. I thought, “Man, I wish I had a job I could just take around to a cool places like that.” I then laughed hysterically at myself, because I do have a job that I can take where ever I want – if that remote Alaskan island ever needs a PT, I’m there.

I hear about peoples’ travels to far out and cool places and immediately want to be there. The only problem is that I can only be in one place at one time. Working typical 13 week travel contracts, a person can only see four different places in one year max. When I first started out traveling eight years ago, I had a short list of places I absolutely had to live in – Hawaii, Alaska, and a ski town. Three assignments, you figure you can chisel that out in nine months, right? Wrong. It took me six years to get to those three places.

We took 4 weeks off for our wedding and honeymoon including this zip-lining in the Dominican Republic. You're absolutely free to take whatever time off you want between assignments, but no PTO.

We took 4 weeks off for our wedding and honeymoon including this zip-lining in the Dominican Republic. You’re absolutely free to take whatever time off you want between assignments, but no PTO.

There’s so much time in travel PT that people don’t account for. If a three month contract is going well, it’s not unusual to negotiate a contract extension (typically another 13 weeks at a time*). Sometimes, particularly in home care or far-off places, the facility will request that the contract be six months instead of three. Usually a contract is longer when there are anticipated costs to the facility like an extended training process or extra relocation expenses. Living life 13 weeks at a time can get really manic, so most of the travelers I know who have traveled for a while have found a way to slow the pace of the constant 13 week shuffle. For instance, those of you who read often know that my wife and I spend half our year returning to the same seasonal jobs in Colorado. Returning to the same jobs provides us a little stability  while leaving 7 months each year to be true traveling therapists. Other travelers I know make a habit of extending their contracts whenever they can – their typical contract is not three months, but more like six or nine after extending their contract a time or two. One thing to know about extending contracts is that you do have a year cap on how long you can work somewhere before giving up your “traveler” status. I’m honestly not sure what determines this, but I do think it has to do with the IRS, tax home, and not being able to continue to receive tax-free per diem and housing.

*If you do negotiate a contract extension, always ask for a raise, even if it’s a small one.

In addition to extended contracts, the other place I’ve lost a lot of time over the years is between assignments. When I say I’ve “lost time,” I only mean that I’ve completed fewer traveling assignments because of all my time off. Most agencies don’t offer paid time off (PTO) unless you’ve done a few consecutive assignments with them. The bad news is you likely won’t get paid for your time off. The good news is that nobody else has a stake in your time off, and you can take as much time as your bank account can tolerate. I spend a lot of my time between assignments visiting family and friends back home, but I also use the time between assignments for some of my best adventuring. There were a couple years where I was ending up with 10+ weeks off per year! Luckily I’ve reeled that in a bit and tend to only have a week or two between assignments.

So far, I’ve talked about two positive things that can account for unanticipated time – prolonged assignments and vacation time. The third way your next travel assignment can be delayed is because you can’t find a job. I’ve written recently on the discussion board about staying flexible as a traveler. The more flexible you are, the less likely you are to remain unemployed. The only times I have ended up unemployed are few and far between – and I’ve never been more than a week without a job. Should you ever find yourself in a position where the job you want is just not popping up in time, re-evaluate and see what your other options are – other adventures await! There are great opportunities available in travel rehab, the only reason you would ever remain unemployed for a sustained period of time would be your own stubborn solidarity to a particular city or a particular practice setting.

Arriving in Juneau on our boat/roadtrip back from Alaska in 2012. One of the coolest uses ever of two free weeks between assignments.

Arriving in Juneau on our boat/roadtrip back from Alaska in 2012. One of the coolest uses ever of two free weeks between assignments.

As you plan to take on traveling as a career, or even for just one year, there will be many places you’ll want to see. You can’t see them all at once, so allow time to get to where you want to be. There will be positive experiences that keep you in areas longer than you intended, and there will be obstacles to getting exactly where you want to go. But, with a little patience, you can turn  traveling therapy into one of the greatest life opportunities ever.

When my wife and I started traveling, we thought we’d travel for two years. We eventually saw everywhere on the original list of places we wanted to see, but haven’t shaken the travel bug yet. Eight years later, we still think two more years will do the trick. Yeah right! Maybe we’ll find our way to that remote Alaskan island someday.

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