Watching football on the camper's big screen.

Watching football on the camper’s big screen.

Kate and I had wanted to live in a camper for a while. We had this old, awesome RV in Alaska a few years back and had always talked about living in one for a full summer. When we accepted our assignments on Martha’s Vineyard this summer, we started looking at apartment rents and quickly realized living in a camper was our cheap way out.

The funny thing is, 5 months of camper living have passed and I barely even recognize that it happened. I had all these grandiose intentions of sharing all kinds of tidbits about “#CamperLife”, blogging about the great advantages of living in a camper and having some great take-away message after almost half a year living in 150 sqft. I posted less during the time living in the camper than I intended. When I did post, it was mostly pictures of campfires. Now that it’s over, I have no revelation, I have no great take-away message, I have no feeling of great accomplishment from living a minimalist life. It just feels… I don’t know, it’s like I’ve simply lived in a small apartment that I really liked.

Our main kitchen for the summer. Cooking indoors will never be the same. The kitchen sink was a garden hose.

Our main kitchen for the summer. Cooking indoors will never be the same. The kitchen sink was a garden hose.

There are a few appreciable improvements on life that are worth mentioning. I spent the vast majority of this summer outdoors. We had a great screen room and deck that was where we spent all our home time – 3 months went by where I didn’t cook a single meal inside. Meal prep happened on our outdoor stove top, grill, and fire pit. All this outdoor cooking and campfiring left me wondering about whether my carbon footprint was really improved by living in a camper. Originally I had thoughts of buying solar powered generators to be really minimalist in energy usage, but our very shaded campsite put the kibosh on that very early on. Our entire electric usage for the summer was about 750 kilowatt hours, my understanding is that for 5 months, that’s a relatively small amount of electricity. I figure with all the campfires we had, that we broke about even on our carbon production – sorry, Earth. I did find myself a little more in-tune with nature through all of our outdoors time. Most days, I could tell you the sunset time within 15 minutes, could tell you whether the moon was waning or waxing, and could describe any recent changes in the flora and fauna surrounding our campsite… so that was pretty cool.

People have been asking, “How’s living in a camper?” It’s fine, it really hasn’t been much of a change from how I like to live. It’s cool that I’ve lived minimally and mildly increased my connection with nature, after all, these are two things I have been looking to enhance in my life. So, if you’re wondering if living in a camper is for you, go for it. Hopefully you’ll have a very pleasant and unsensational experience like mine. Although, now that I think about it, maybe my blasé experience says less about the experience of living in a camper than it does about me. Maybe it didn’t affect me because I’m built for this. Me and a camper fit together so seamlessly that I barely noticed it. Let’s latch home onto the back of the car and keep moving – maybe I could be a traveler forever.

See you on the road.

Community Chest

Being a traveling Physical Therapist really has its benefits. Seriously, getting paid to move all over the country? People take entire years off of their jobs and normal lives to do what we do. For the special person willing to live a mobile lifestyle, traveling PT is an easy choice.

But, every so often I consider the downside to being a gypsy, a transient, a vagabond. A few months in a place is plenty to let a community leave its mark on you – I have good memories and have learned something from every single place I have worked. But, it can be a real challenge to leave your own mark on the places you visit. Being a part of a community comes in a lot of different forms, and people will accept you as one of their own at varying rates. Some places are quick to accept you as a “local,” other places require that you are born local and see so many people come and go that they will never fully let you into their inner circle. Having a sense of community, and feeling like you belong and are accepted where you are can be a very difficult part of travel PT.

Being a part of a community is a two way street. You have to find a way to absorb some of the traditions and culture of a place into yourself, but also you must contribute to the experience of the people you work with, the larger community, and if you’re lucky, the great friends you make while on assignment. Every time a clinic asks you to extend your contract^ or your coworkers are sad to see you go, you’ve done something right and made your mark.

Lift Jan. 26th | Dr. James Spencer from Aspen 82 on Vimeo.

I’ve been coming back here to Colorado on winter contracts for 6 years now and am starting to have my own identity in the larger community. But, I’ve realized that many of the small things I’m doing now to strengthen that identity, could have been done years ago. I can probably do these things early on future assignments. What kind of things? Advocacy! Being involved in advocacy is great on so many levels. You’re becoming involved in your profession and advocating for your own self and interests, you’re taking an active role in your career and taking action on the issues that affect and matter to your co-workers and patients, and, when done right, you’re making a valuable contribution to whatever community you’re in. Advocate for your profession, advocate for your coworkers, advocate for your patients, advocate for yourself.

Up above, there’s a screen-shot from the interview I recently did on local cable. I talked about preventing ski injuries, focusing on knee and back injuries in particular. Super-easy, it took 30 minutes of my day, and these local channels love health pieces like this. Volunteer to talk about whatever matters to you, or whatever is easy for you to talk about. Last year, a local newspaper article about back pain pissed me off. It focused on all the wrong things – MRIs, surgery, and chiropractors. Rather than return an incendiary letter to the paper, I wrote a short letter advocating the use of PT early in the treatment of low back and neck pain. The letter went over well and did a bit to cement my professional role in this community. I’ve been seeing more neck and back patients ever since. And, that’s fine by me, I like treating those kinds of injuries, it has become my “thing.”

The return to Colorado each year has helped me fill that sense of belonging to a community that I otherwise miss in travel PT. I have built a social circle here with good friends, co-workers, and other acquaintances around town. But, outside of the personal relationships that take time to build, I believe there is a lot I could have been doing earlier to make myself a part of the community and not just a passer-through. I’m in the process of re-upping my Hawaii license for a second assignment there this spring. The locals there can be a tough group to gain acceptance from, so we’ll see if my ideas to advocate for the profession early in an assignment have some merit to them, or if I’ll flop. It can’t hurt, no publicity is bad publicity… an interview on preventing swimming injuries? Yeah, that sounds easy enough.

Until next time, travel safe. I’ll try to write more frequently!


^ Footnote: Most of us PTs and PTAs are just terrible at business and negotiating. I was talking with a friend recently and telling him a story about a friend who had done 3 contract extensions at one facility. He was surprised to hear that a contract extension should come with a raise. It is my experience that if a contract is extended for a few months (which happens frequently when things are going well), you should ask your recruiter for a small hourly raise. Just my input on another small way us PTs can better advocate for ourselves.

Home is Where

“Where do you live?” It’s a simple question that is likely to be asked at the start of a conversation with any stranger. It’s a question that is easy for most people and that the asker expects a quick answer to.

For any traveling healthcare worker who has been at this for a while, it’s a loaded question. My mind races over a series of responses, “I have an apartment in Maine, but I’m rarely ever there.” “Well, the IRS says I live in…” “I live part of the year in Colorado and keep going back there.” I usually settle on the most simple response, secretly hoping the conversation will change topics, “I live here right now, but I move a lot for work.”

But, NO! They can’t drop the inquisition, it always continues on, “You move a lot? Well where’s your home base? Where are you from? When are you going to settle down? What does your wife do?”

I, again, try to keep the answer simple. Again, hoping the conversation can move along from this complicated topic, “Well my wife is a therapist too, so we move from contract-to-contract together. We’re both from New England, but we’ve been doing this a while now, so we have some fairly scattered roots at this point.” Meanwhile, I’m thinking, “This poor guy was expecting an easy answer. There isn’t one.” Traveling PTs don’t fit most people’s pre-determined mold of what a life, home,and job should look like.

There’s a whole host of issues, social and logistical, that complicate the home question both extrinsically and intrinsically. First is the IRS, travelers live by their rules and we do the best we can to try to maintain a life that fits their rules. Unfortunately, certain states have laws that complicate the picture by having loose standards for what a fulltime resident is and taxing people based on that status. I’m looking at you, Maine! I am certain that there is a traveler out there somewhere who has the perfectly wrong combination of living situations and who is taxed as a permanent resident by multiple states.

Don’t get me going on the system for forwarding mail by the post office. OK, do get me going. Every 3 to 6 months I head to the USPS website and submit my change of address forms. To their credit, the post office usually gets me my mail, but sometimes that mail makes a few stops along the way to reach me. I have attended weddings and received the invitation afterwards. Gad zooks!

The years since starting travel have started to really add up for me. I used to be able to intuitively know how many years ago I was in Hawaii, or how many winters I had spent in Colorado. When I showed up back here 3 weeks ago, I went around telling people it was either my 4th or 5th year coming back, I wasn’t really sure… WRONG! After some counting by figuring out what years I was in which apartment, I have come to the realization that this is winter number 6 (out of the last 7) that I am living out here in Colorado. How can we tell people where we live if we don’t even know!?

On the return, Saturday, 3 weeks ago, Kate and I quickly moved into the same employee apartment building that we have lived 3 years prior. On Sunday, we drove 1.5 hours to the local Costco and stopped by our storage area on the way back. It turns out that in our storage area, with all of our skis, 7 pairs between the two of us, was a ton of stuff that we have accumulated. Kitchen supplies, wedding pictures, snow tires for the car I sold this year, a painting I picked out of the trash at work 4 years ago, a bag of clothes to take to the local consignment store, beer brewing kit, computer printer, and our beloved 18 inch Christmas tree. I hesitate to say we keep a lot of junk here, because most of it has a purpose, but we do have a lot of “stuff” here. By Monday morning at 10, we had our ski passes and we were on the mountain where, by chance, we ran into a group of friends and skied with them all day. On Tuesday, Kate and I returned to work where we were greeted with hugs, a one-hour orientation, and quickly slipped into a seamless afternoon full of patients. Yeah, this is familiar, good friends, the old apartment, great job, and all my… “stuff.” Since the first year here, unlike many other places I’ve lived, people are willing to quickly include me in the small group they call “locals.” It’s tempting to call this “home” or to at least be less committal and admit that I live here, because I do have an established life here.

Back on the ski lift, a familiar conversation ensues, “Where do you live?”

“Here.” “… in the winter. This is my 6th season.”

The quick response, “Where do you go the rest of the time?”

Here we go again. Why doesn’t this conversation get any easier? 🙂

I used the word “inquisition” above, so this video seems pertinent. Until next time, travel safe!