The Cons of Travel Therapy (And How to Solve Them!)

Don’t get me wrong – being a travel therapist is awesome. I don’t think I’d be half the therapist I am now if I didn’t pursue travel occupational therapy. And there are definitely lots of sweet perks. But sometimes these pros are the only aspect you hear about online. And unfortunately, there are people with financial motivation to make you believe that it’s all rainbows and sunshine. This is not the case – there are many cons in travel therapy. However, it’s not all doom and gloom – while there are negatives to travel therapy, (like any profession) there are also actions you can take to push back against them. 

Con 1: Travel Therapy Contracts are Confusing!

Lyon Street in San Francisco
Nighttime exploration in San Francisco

This is one of the first things I notice that new travel therapists struggle with. Travel therapy pay is so different than permanent jobs! It can feel overwhelming to look at a contract and even begin to understand it all, much less know whether you’re getting a good deal. 

How to Solve it:

Ask other travel therapists! You can do so by hiring a mentor, reaching out in online groups, or asking a friend who has traveled. Having someone who has been there can pay off in dividends. They can explain any aspect of the contract that might be confusing to you, as well as let you know if they feel the pay is fair. And honestly, even as an experienced travel OT I still have my partner look over my contracts – sometimes it just helps to have another set of eyes.

Con 2: Your Travel Therapy Contract can get Canceled.

beach in Aptos
Sunsets on the beach in Santa Cruz

Ah, the biggest fear of every traveler – having a contract canceled without warning. I’ll be honest: this does happen and it’s definitely a scenario you have to prepare yourself for. Getting canceled can happen while you’re already working or even before the contract officially begins!

How to Solve it:

Have a plan B. This can look a lot of different ways, but one of the best places to start is having a robust emergency fund. This way, even if your contract does get canceled, you’ll still be able to pay your bills until you can find a new one. But, I realize a lot of travelers begin this career so that they can get out of debt or make more money – so what do you do when you don’t have an emergency fund?

It’s a personal decision, but in some cases, it does still make sense to start traveling even without an emergency account. I would really only recommend this if you’re currently hemorrhaging money at a perm job and you have a dedicated plan to get on top of things. But without an emergency fund, you do still have to think of a Plan B for canceled contracts, because there are start-up costs to being a traveler. If your contract is canceled, will you take out credit card debt? A loan? Have to borrow money from family or friends? Will you be able to go home straight away or will you have to finish out a lease? Thinking this scenario through is key to preparing for the worst-case outcome. 

Another key thing to think about here is making sure you have a cancelation clause written into your contract. 30 days is ideal, but if you can’t get that, even 2 weeks is helpful to help you plan your next steps. This way, you won’t go into work one day only to find out that you don’t need to show up tomorrow. 

Con 3: Some Facilities that use Travelers Have Poor Administration.

tide pools in Santa Cruz
Exploring tide pools on the Central Coast

One of my key tenants of travel therapy is that a facility needs a traveler for a reason – otherwise they’d be able to hire perm staff. Sometimes that reason is just because the location is super rural. Sometimes it’s because the pay is lower than comparable jobs. But sometimes it’s because the administrative staff is disorganized, micromanaging, or even toxic.

How to Solve it:

I use a two-pronged approach for this one. The first is making sure to get the most out of your interview – this is your chance to interview them as well! Creating a list of specific and targeted questions can help you suss out what the culture is like at the facility – if caseloads are high or manageable, if they’ve gone through 10 travel therapists in the last year, what you’ll be expected to do if census is low, etc. If there’s anyone who gives you bad vibes, don’t ignore those feelings! Even though most travel contracts are only 3 months, consider if this is someone you can work under for that long.

Second, I make sure that above all else I make decisions that are ethical, patient-driven, and support work-life balance. I don’t do things I’m not comfortable doing – I practice saying no. I don’t work off the clock and I don’t give sub-par care in the name of productivity. If I have an issue, I speak up – both to my recruiter and to my manager. This does take practice and confidence, but I actually find it easier to do as a travel therapist. Think about it: you’re there short-term, so what do you have to lose? More than likely, you’ll be bringing up issues that perm staff agree with but are too scared to say. Travel therapists are actually in a powerful position to be the impetus for change. 

Worst-case scenario, if you have a truly terrible manager that you can’t stick out til the end of your contract, you can always put in your notice to leave. This is a big decision and I really only recommend it for situations where you are being asked to do something unethical. Luckily, in 2.5 years of traveling, I haven’t felt the need to do this yet. 

Con 4: Travel Therapists Move 1-4 times a Year.

driving through fog in Oregon
Moving isn’t fun, but the drives sure can be pretty

Ugh, moving. Maybe one of the biggest cons of travel therapy for me. People start traveling for lots of different reasons – to see more of the world, to make more money, to get more experience – but you’ll be hardpressed to find one that did it because they love moving. I’m a little luckier than most in that school contracts tend to be longer, but it’s still a PITA to pack up your stuff multiple times a year.

How to Solve it:

Downsize! This is my biggest tip for new travelers. You don’t need as much as you think – so take only what you absolutely need and leave the rest at your tax home. Especially if you are renting furnished apartments, you probably don’t need more than clothing, entertainment/hobby options, and a few sentimental items. My favorite resource on being more minimal and intentional with your possessions is a book called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. If it were up to me, it’d be required reading for all travelers!

devon breithart riding a bike in Napa
Riding bikes in Napa

I hope these cons shed some more insight on some of the drawbacks of travel therapy. And maybe these things are negative enough for you to know that travel therapy isn’t for you, and that’s okay too! But for me, the pros of travel therapy far outweigh the cons – so much so that I don’t have a plan to stop being a travel OT. If this sounds like it might be for you, drop me a comment below – I’d love to connect further. And if you feel like you need more hands-on guidance, I recommend my friend Julia’s comprehensive course on travel therapy. Wherever your travel path ends up leading you, go with the confidence that you are making a balanced decision.

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