Minimizing for Travel PT Assignments

The ‘ol Accord. Fully loaded, ready to roll.

When I was a traveler, everything I owned fit in or on my Honda Accord. Now, just 2 years departed from travel, I have all this stuff. Most of it has a function, the things that don’t definitely have sentimental value. Regardless of it’s use or sentiment, all of this stuff is… here. In my house.

As I get ready to move from my current home to a bigger house with additional free space (which I’m sure I can fill-up quickly), I am reflecting on everything I own and how it came to be this way. I had great joy living in a camper for 5 months on Martha’s Vineyard. I lived out of 2 suitcases in Hawaii for 6 months – multiple times. A 5×5 storage area once contained all my wintertime equipment and toys – now they spill forth from every closet, rack, and corner.

As I lament my minimalistic-demize, I’ll share these tips with you for down-sizing and keeping small as you transition to your next travel assignment. Come on, Marie Kondo, hugging all my belongings? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Rent Furnished

This one is easy. If you rent furnished apartments, you won’t need furniture or appliances. This simplifies everything as you move place-to-place. Simple.

Airbnb, Craigslist, and HomeAway make it easy to find furnished housing for the short-term. I always had good success in the local classified papers finding things like inlaw apartments above garages (Skowhegan, Maine for that one). Just hop on the interwebs and find the local paper for wherever you are headed and you should be able to access their classifieds online. There remains this percentage of people who haven’t discovered the ease of online buying and selling – you will find apartments in the local classifieds that aren’t listed anywhere else.

It was just awesome living in the camper. I was so connected with nature that summer and had so little with me. Less is more.

9 Month Rule

You’ve got this car full of stuff that you’re dragging around the country. Some stuff is seasonal in nature – for me, ski gear^, but 9 months should account enough for the change of seasons and activities. If you haven’t used something in 9 months, you don’t use it enough to justify bringing it from assignment-to-assignment. Ship it home, send it to a friend, or consider establishing a gear cache (below).

Ditch the Electronics

There is so much you’ll be tempted to bring that you don’t need. You don’t need a better TV. You don’t need to bring video games with you. Leave the DVDs behind. Eliminate all the stuff you might see as a nice luxury for downtime. Your furnished apartment will have an adequate TV. With subscription services, you can order up whatever you want for entertainment while you are on assignment. Besides, hopefully, you are going somewhere awesome that will keep you out of your home most of the time. Maybe with less in-home distractions, you’ll go on more outdoor adventures and make more friends while on assignment. Games, TV, movies, Facebook – it’s all a giant time-suck that doesn’t enhance your life.

One In, One Out

Once you have pared down your belongings to a reasonable amount, you must maintain that small volume. Don’t accumulate! It’s easy to let stuff start showing up and staying – you will regret it the next time you have to move, which may be sooner than you think in the world of travel. Follow the simple “one in, one out” rule – if you bring something in, something must go out!

Need a new shirt? That means one has fallen out of favor in the rotation. If you’re going to buy a new shirt, you have to throw one away. Of course, the more stuff we can keep out of the landfills, the better – always resell or donate. The same goes for anything else you want to buy – want a new book? Then something comparable has to leave. Easy peasy. You’ve been living just fine with what you have. If you get something new, something old must go.

Gear Cache – A place to keep some stuff

I can’t tell you where this lean-to is, but it seemed to have everything I ever needed to live a fulfilling life.

Some stuff you want for “someday,” but you just don’t need it on assignment. Maybe you’ll want it when you’re not traveling anymore and are more “settled”. I have this waist-high gold colored box that I just moved to the new house. I haven’t opened the box in years, but I can’t bring myself to toss it either. The box has old baseball cards, pictures from high school, a class ring… things of that nature.

There’s some stuff you’re going to want to keep, but absolutely can’t travel with. You need somewhere to stash it. Maybe there’s a space at your tax home where stuff can stay, or maybe you need to rent a small storage area. It doesn’t matter where your extra stuff goes, but hopefully it’s cheap in case it stays there for a long time. And, hopefully it’s accessible in case you decide you need something from your storage.

For traveling, you have to lighten your load. Otherwise, transitions between assignments will become overly burdensome. Ditch the stuff you don’t need, travel light, and happy Marie Kondo-ing if you have the spare time.

^Footnote:
My first time up Aspen Highlands Bowl in 2008 – nearby where I live today. A truly inadequate ski selection that day. I was about 4 pairs short of an acceptable ski-quiver.

I believe every avid skier should have at least 5 pairs of skis for a variety of conditions and activities:

  • Rocks ski for the early season and questionable conditions.
  • Everyday ski for you standard mid-season, good-coverage ski day.
  • Powder ski for any epic pow-day, this ski should only be used with the correct combinations of conditions and skill-level.
  • A.T.┬áSet-up – Alpine Touring for back country skiing, traveling to snowy places by foot, or just to earn your turns.
  • Cross Country For exercise when you can’t be on the hill.

This list is meant only as a bare minimum of the skis one should own and is no way meant to limit ski possession. ….perhaps this might explain something about my gradual fall from minimalism…. but what am I going to do? Give away my Powder skis!? Blasphemy.

Travels Well With Others

Physical therapists find ways to live this crazy travel-life in a bunch of different ways and have to overcome a variety of obstacles to find the flexibility in their lives that can allow them to up-and-go to different jobs at any time. People travel with their friends, with their spouses, with their pets, and with their families. Any of these obstacles adds a little complication to travel, but by no means should these be reasons not to travel.

Traveling in an RV has always seemed to me to be the best way to overcome housing struggles. Having your own, mobile space solves many of the difficulties of shuttling kids around from state-to-state or finding a short-term apartment that will allow pets. In 2014, we lived in a camper on Martha’s Vineyard to solve the issue of not being able to find affordable housing. The camper was a major part of what made that one of my all-time favorite travel assignments. There are pieces of our lifestyle that summer that I wish I could make more consistent staples of my everyday life. If Kate and I ever did continue to travel with our daughter, it would be in a camper again – like the Partridge Family of Physical Therapy.

Travel PT Camper Martha's Vineyard
Our pretty sweet set-up on Martha’s Vineyard.

A couple resources:

  • I have been enjoying reading PT Adventures and some of their recent posts on traveling with a baby – some on traveling with a dog too.
  • Highway Hypodermics is a facebook page for healthcare travelers living in RVs. The page has over 5,000 members and is definitely the best resource if you have any questions about living the travel life in a camper.

Travel PT With a Significant Other

If I know anything, I know how to find two travel PT jobs at once, because Kate and I were travel PTs together for about 10 years. I can’t think of a time that we weren’t able to travel to where ever we wanted because we couldn’t find two jobs – though, we did have to be flexible and inventive at times.

Travel PT Kona Waipio Valley Hawaii
One independent contract I worked was in Kona, Hawaii. This is from a day trip out to Waipio Valley. That was a great summer.

Normally, our first line of attack would be to find two jobs close to one central town. This approach would typically work. We never put any effort towards trying to work in the same clinic, but often a recruiter would find us two jobs at the same workplace. The agency would present us as a “travel team” which is advantageous for a facility trying to fill multiple positions – one stop shopping for multiple therapists. This easy solution was sometimes nearby where we wanted to be and not necessarily exactly where we wanted to be (i.e. commuting to work in communities just outside a major city we wanted to live in).  The most frequent settings we would find work together in was in smaller community hospitals (CAH) or working for a home care agency.

Even if you’re not romantically involved with another traveler, you might consider traveling with a friend. Two travelers working contracts together can be a great way to get ahead financially – getting two housing stipends and having only one rent is a great way to keep some more cashola in your pocket.

In the rare occasions that we couldn’t find two jobs in the same area, we would start calling around the area to private practices looking for independent contracts. One of us would have the “official” travel job with benefits, and the other would find an independent contract. Here’s a more detailed post on the process for finding an independent travel PT contract.

Living with a significant other who isn’t a Physical Therapist should not be the lone reason not to travel. I have met many couples along the way who have figured out how to make travel therapy work for them. One good friend (PT) met a Speech Therapist while traveling. They eventually got married, settled down, had kids, the whole nine yards. But, for a while, they took year-long travel assignments – her as an SLP in schools, him in a variety of settings as a PT. Additionally, I know several PT/OT couples who have had the same positive experiences we did – there’s a lot of facilities out there looking for PT/OT teams. I’ve also met many couples traveling as a PT with a non-healthcare worker (even one PT/recruiter couple!). If the non-therapist doesn’t have an easily portable job, he typically has to be more flexible in his work – odd jobs, seasonal work, Ridesharing driver, Amazon delivery, etc. With a little determination to get on the road, it’s easy to work odd-jobs for a few months at a time in many regions of the country.

Traveling when you have add-ons (family, pets, etc.) ultimately comes down to the final conclusion that so many things in travel therapy do – flexibility helps! The more flexible you can be with where you’re willing to travel, what setting you’re willing to work in, or what you’re willing to live in, the more opportunities you’ll have. A little flexibility goes a long way in finding happiness through traveling therapy.