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.

Traveling Therapist Taxes – It’s Complicated

I haven’t shared an email in a while, so here’s one I received recently that I thought offered some insight into the complexities of traveling therapist taxes.

Traveling Therapist TaxesTraveling Therapist: My wife and I traveled for a while but then had accepted permanent jobs, we are considering the traveling therapist life again and this brought up some questions in our minds. We are currently renting in Kansas, but when we go to travel again, we are trying to figure out what we need to do as far as claiming a tax home. I was originally living in my parents’ retirement house in Florida and was paying rent to them. My concern is that I might not have a place to claim as my tax home when we go back to traveling. Have you bought a house? What is the best way for us to claim a tax home?

HoboHealth: Oh man. Good questions, complicated questions, more complicated answers.

A while back, Kate and I bought a cheap condo up in Maine that we thought would be our tax home. We figured it would be an easy return on our money: 1. The market was way low, and we bought the place dirt-cheap 2. We were paying monthly storage fees that would be eliminated by moving our spare furniture into the condo 3. We’d have a nice, solid, unwavering permanent address as our tax home to collect all of our tax-free bene’s.

Unfortunately, at the same time we purchased the apartment, we had racked up a few years in a row returning to the same job in Colorado seasonally in the winter. Apparently, this is one overriding exception to the standard rules for maintaining a tax-home. If the majority of your work is done consistently in one place year-after-year, that becomes your tax home. The example I get from my tax guy is always pro sports players. If a player maintains his permanent home in Green Bay, but plays for the Texans, the majority of his work is consistently in Texas, and Texas is his tax home despite Green Bay being his permanent address.  You see, Texas is his work place, that’s where he consistently makes his money, it doesn’t matter that he lives in Green Bay. This doesn’t apply to most travelers, because they move often enough to avoid establishing a consistent place of work.  Confused yet?

The other thing that completely blindsided us was that Maine was taxing us at 4% income tax on everything we made, everywhere we worked – despite Colorado being our tax home, Maine considered us permanent residents by their law. We owed Maine over $5000 at the end of that first year with a condo there! Bush league, we got hosed. Just thought I would share my convoluted situation to demonstrate some of the complexities of the tax-home issue before actually answering your question.

So, to summarize your situation: You had a tax home established at your parents and were paying them “fair-market” rent to maintain a home there, but then went to live and work in a different state and have been renting a place there. You’re wondering how to establish a new tax home for when you return to traveling shortly. Has it been less than one year? …I’m thinking you may just be able to pay your parents back-rent for the year and file your 2015 taxes at their address, then you can just carry-on with the situation you had.

The other thing I have heard of, but not ever from anyone that I actually know first-hand, is purchasing super-cheap housing in a 0% income tax state like South Dakota or Florida and establishing that as your tax home. If only it were really this easy. My understanding is that there’s a lot of other factors that the IRS looks at to strengthen your claim for a tax home – driver’s license, vehicle registration, memberships (gyms, clubs, etc), bank location – the more things in your life you can put in one place, the better your argument for that place as your tax home. It is not black-and-white.

Now, let’s say you either re-establish your parent’s home as your tax home, or you somehow establish somewhere else as your tax home. Remember this mantra that has helped me keep my life more sane: You live at your tax home, you are only working temporarily at your travel destination. This is an important distinction. Some states want you to get a driver’s license in their state or register your vehicle there after living there 30 days or less – in your case, you are not living there, you are only working there temporarily. If you are pulled over, you should be clear with the officer that you are only in that location working for several months, you live at your tax home location. Clear?

Staffing agencies will try to make these issues very clear-cut. They’ll frequently give you a checklist for tax home and if you are able to check off a certain number of boxes, you are OK in their eyes to receive tax free money. They may tell you if you work 60 miles from your tax home, you are OK to collect tax free money. There are no laws related to travelers that are this precisely defined. The real laws are much more vague and open to interpretation. Do the best you can to strengthen your case of claiming any one particular place as a tax home so you can confidently defend when/if the IRS comes knocking. And when a recruiter assures you that your tax home is legit, remember that the end responsibility is YOURS and yours only.

Your best bet to get your taxes right is to talk to a tax professional who specializes in travelers. Searching for “travel RN taxes” on Google will give you a variety of options. Good luck trying to understand all this stuff, it’s complicated.