September 10, 2020

Finding Short Term Housing vs. Living in an RV as a Traveling Healthcare Provider

One of the major concerns for many healthcare providers looking to pursue travel careers is how they will set up housing. There are many housing options out there for those of us who travel for work, from using sites like Furnished Finder to secure short-term furnished housing, to having the travel agency set you up at an extended stay hotel, to choosing some form of tiny living on wheels like an RV.

During my five years as a traveling physical therapist, I have utilized a few of these housing options and have had the opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of each. (And let me tell you, any option is going to have pros and cons!)

So let’s dive into some of those pros and cons to considering these different options for housing, and maybe some of my insight will help you along your own travel healthcare journey

Logistics and Considerations

Logistics and Considerations

When you’re considering what option to choose for housing, you will first need to take into account your own personal situation. Are you traveling solo, with a significant other, with children, or with a pet? Do you feel comfortable sharing accommodations or would you rather have your own place? If you’re thinking about tiny living/RVing, do you feel comfortable with the maintenance and upkeep involved with owning a home on wheels, plus towing it around the country?

In addition, you need to consider the location of your potential travel contract(s). Are you interested in traveling to big cities or more rural places? Some quick internet searches can reveal a lot in regards to how easy or difficult it’s going to be to secure short term housing on your own vs. having the travel company assist you with the process. It will also give you an idea of whether finding campgrounds/RV parks in the vicinity of where you might travel will be feasible.

For me, I am a traveling physical therapist and travel with my significant other who is also a traveling physical therapist, so after weighing lots of options, we decided to buy a camper and lived in it for about 3 years. This worked well for us overall as a pair, rather than finding short term housing for the both of us; however, we did end up renting a short term furnished place on a couple of assignments. More on our journey below and how we chose between short term housing and the RV life!

Company Provided Housing

This is actually the only housing option I have not utilized. Generally speaking, it seems that most travel healthcare providers choose to accept the housing stipend from the travel agency and then set up their own housing, rather than letting the company handle housing. There are still some travelers who choose to let the company set up housing for them though.

I think generally the best time to let the travel company set up housing for you is if you search for housing in an area and are having a hard time finding something, or if you are short on time to find your own housing. Also, some travelers may just find it easier to have this weight lifted off their shoulders and let the company handle it.

The pros of letting the company set up housing for you would be that you have less worry and headache in getting the housing set up. You also probably won’t be on the hook for any rent/lease issues, in case your contract gets cancelled early. However, the cons are that, you may have less control over your accommodations, and you may end up losing money on your weekly pay because they take out a lot for housing instead of giving you the housing stipend.

Finding Short Term Housing On Your Own

Finding Short Term Housing On Your Own

I would say this is the option that the majority of travel healthcare providers choose. In your pay package, you will have the company allocate part of your pay as a housing stipend (hopefully tax free if you qualify by maintaining your tax home-- hooray!). Then you will utilize different strategies such as checking websites like Furnished Finder, asking around in online forums and groups, and calling realtors and apartment complexes until you can identify some good short term housing options.

The pros here are that you can usually find housing that’s cheaper than what the staffing company would take out of your paycheck, so after you pay your rent, you should come out ahead by keeping the extra money. Who doesn’t like extra money? You also have more control over choosing your accommodations, such as proximity to work/attractions, as well as how many bedrooms/bathrooms, and other amenities at the accommodation!

Cons are that it is sometimes difficult to find places that offer short term rentals near where you’re going to be working. I’ve definitely run into this in the times that I had to search for short term housing. A lot of apartment complexes and personal ads for housing do not allow any shorter than 12 month leases. Also, lots of the places you find won’t be furnished or have utilities included, which leaves you with another problem to solve.

Furnished Finder has solved a lot of these problems for us. They only list places that offer short term leases (or even better--month to month) for us as healthcare travelers. And all of their listings are already furnished. I can’t stress how much hassle this removes in terms of setting up leases, getting stuck in leases if your contract is cancelled, setting up utilities, and furnishing a place for only a couple months.

In the off chance that there is not a Furnished Finder property available for the location and dates that we need, we must sometimes use the other options like Craigslist, Airbnb, VRBO, apartment complexes, extended stay motels, realtors, etc!

In my experience, I’ve rented two different places we found on Craigslist. Both were semi-private, meaning that they were part of someone’s home, but we had our own “suite” if you will. One was an over-the-garage studio apartment, but we had to share the kitchen and laundry in the main house. The other was a fully furnished basement with our own kitchen, but we had to enter through the main door and share the laundry upstairs. Overall these were good experiences, and we were very lucky to find furnished, short term rentals, with utilities included in the price on Craigslist. Luckily I travel with my significant other, so I didn’t have to worry as much about being stuck alone in a sketchy apartment if it hadn’t worked out.

Another consideration when choosing to set up short term housing as a traveler you will be packing and moving your belongings between every assignment. This was a big thing we were trying to avoid by buying an RV. In an RV, you always have all your stuff with you, so you don’t have to constantly pack and move in and out of places. However, the travelers who do choose short term housing (again- the majority of travelers) end up becoming pretty good at packing their cars and being a minimalist! And although it can be a headache sometimes, it’s just part of the traveler lifestyle and you get used to it.

Tiny Living or RV Life

Tiny Living Or RV Life

Tiny living, van living, and RVing are definitely becoming more popular options for traveling healthcare providers. There is certainly some appeal to having your own home on wheels with you all the time, and traveling from place to place. To be honest, a lot of RVs now are just like little apartments, and you are by no means “camping outdoors” when living in an RV! However, tiny living is very much a lifestyle choice and not to be pursued by just anyone. It’s difficult to even compare it side by side with the alternative short term housing options, because it’s so different. I recommend not looking at this like option number 3, but like taking a left turn and pursuing a completely different path!

We chose to buy a camper pretty early in our travel PT careers, and there were several reasons why we thought this would work out better for us.

  • First, we thought it would make life easier to leave all of our stuff in the camper and just move it from place to place, without having to always pack, move in, and move out of places every 3 months or so

  • Second, we thought finding campgrounds/RV parks would make the housing location search a lot easier than finding short term housing accommodations

  • Third, we thought we would save a lot of money by buying the camper, staying cheaply at campgrounds, and then selling the camper when we were done

  • Fourth, we thought it would be a cool adventure

All of those were true, to some extent. However I don’t think it was exactly the all-around-perfect life choice that we envisioned when all was said and done.

Not having to pack and move all the time while keeping our stuff in the camper was for sure a huge perk! We only had to do minimal “packing up” each time to make sure things didn’t fall down inside the camper. We could usually load up and move to a new place (if it was within driving distance) on a weekend, then get set up within an hour or so at the new place, and be back to work on Monday if we wanted.

The process of finding a campground or RV park was easier than finding short term housing to an extent. However, it does sometimes limit the locations you can travel to. For example, it’s not as common to see RV parks that allow long term (month to month) stays near bigger cities. We had pretty good luck finding them in suburban and rural areas, but it definitely limited our options for assignment locations. The way we maneuvered this was by doing a Google search any time a job came along. If there were campgrounds or RV parks nearby, we knew it was a job that would work for us. That part of the RV life was a little more convenient because finding an RV park is a lot quicker than digging through apartment listings to find one available for your contract timeframe.

Financially, having the camper usually saved us on our monthly rent costs, with most campgrounds we stayed at running $300 to 900 per month. Depending on the area, short term rentals could run you anywhere from $500-2000 per month!

But, with an RV, you still have to account for the upfront cost of buying an RV, the costs for maintenance and repairs, and the depreciation on the vehicle if you plan to sell it afterwards. Plus, you need a vehicle large enough to tow an RV and a place to store it if you travel overseas at all. When all was said and done, after factoring in these costs once we sold it, we probably came close to breaking even over the course of three years. If you planned to keep it for shorter than 3 years, you’d most likely come out behind financially based on our calculations.

Tiny Living or RV Life

As far as adventure goes, it was certainly a fun experience and something we will be able to talk about for the rest of our lives! But it’s not for everyone. The part we didn’t really take into account were the maintenance and repairs. It’s like owning a house, but one that’s on wheels, with little parts that can break, and you can’t always easily find the part to replace or a repair person who knows how to fix it like at a normal house.

All in all, we are glad we chose to do the RV life for 3 years, but it did not come without its hassles and headaches. In the end, we were glad to sell it and not have the responsibility anymore. So this is a huge thing you need to take into consideration for yourself. Are you going to be the type of person who wants to maintain and upkeep your home on wheels? Or would you rather just rent short term housing and not have a place to worry about all the time?

What Type of Housing Is Best for You?

So what’s the best choice for housing as a traveling healthcare provider? I don’t think there’s one answer to this question. You really have to consider what type of person you are, and what you are comfortable with. As I mentioned, most travelers will choose to go with short term housing and set up their own accommodations. But there’s always the option of letting the company set up housing for you for an assignment and seeing how that goes. Or if you’re feeling really adventurous, or already know you like the camper lifestyle, maybe you decide to jump into RVing/Tiny Living, but just make sure to do your research before making any big purchases!

I hope this information has been helpful to you in terms of deciding what types of housing will be best for you as a traveling healthcare provider! Happy Travels, and enjoy the journey!


Katie Fitts

Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

Whitney has been a traveling physical therapist since 2015 and travels with her significant other and fellow Travel PT, Jared Casazza. Together they have a personal blog titled “Fifth Wheel PT,” which got its name from their 3 years traveling and living full time in a fifth wheel camper! Whitney and Jared have traveled for PT work up and down the east coast, and in their time off between contracts have traveled all over the world! Together with Jared, Whitney also mentors current and future travel therapists at their website TravelTherapyMentor.com. You can follow their travel journey on Instagram or Facebook @TravelTherapyMentor.