Traveling SLP Questions Part 2: Guest Post with Julia Kuhn from The Traveling Traveler
Blog takeover from SLP traveler and entrepreneur, Julia Kuhn! She's the REASON I chose to begin my adventures as a traveling therapist. I'm so excited to have her over here answering some of the many questions I get about travel therapy. She has taught me SO much, and I know this will be an incredible resource if you're considering (or maybe just thinking about!) taking the plunge. I'm still thankful every day that I chose this path.
(Here she is in HAWAII! ...FOR WORK)
Hello Type B SLP’s! I’m Julia, a type B SLP, who has turned my love of wanderlust into being a full-time traveling SLP. As a travel SLP, I work 13-week contracts across the United States to cover temporary staffing needs. My specialty as an SLP is adult neurogenic rehab, particularly dysphagia, speech-language treatment, and cognitive-linguistic treatment. I primarily work in acute care facilities, although I have worked in skilled nursing facilities and inpatient rehab facilities.
When I started traveling in 2010, my goal was to take off of work in between contracts and travel the world. I thought I would be a traveler for maybe 2 years MAX. Now, here I am, nine years later and still going. Travel has become my lifestyle and has opened up doors that I never thought could be possible as a speech-language pathologist. I’ve worked across the country, including MA, CT, TX, CA, and HI. My contracts have introduced me to a variety of different clinical settings and co-workers who have helped to expand my clinical knowledge and professional skill set. In between contracts, I have been able to take extended amounts of time off to travel the world, pursue my passions, and spend more quality time with family and friends.
You’ve been in this field for a long time! What would you say are the top two pros and top two cons in the travel world of speech therapy?
For me, travel is all about lifestyle. The top two pros for me are flexibility and travel adventure. When I say flexibility, I mean the flexibility to choose when you are working and the ability to take time off in between contracts. For the past couple of years, I’ve averaged working about 9 months a year and taking three months off. As a medical SLP, that is UNHEARD of. Rehabs may offer 2-3 weeks off per year to therapists. The adventure of traveling is my other favorite. Being a traveler has taken me to places that people only dream of going to. I’ve been able to hike mountains all over the country, taste cuisine of so many different cultures, and explore this beautiful country.
My biggest cons are the inconsistency of work and the work hustle. As a traveler, nothing is guaranteed. You may finish a contract and not be able to get one lined up right away. Or, you may have a contract lined up and find out that it just got canceled. The inconsistency of work can be stressful and costly if you’re not prepared.
The work hustle can also be a major con. Many places hire travelers because they are DESPERATE. You may be going into a school or rehab that has been understaffed, poorly managed, or has a high caseload. There is often no orientation with travel and you are expected to “hit the ground running”. It can definitely be stressful if you are in a tough work situation. Luckily, I’ve been able to learn how to detect those buildings and avoid a lot of bad positions. However, because I am more of a picky traveler, it leaves fewer job options for me and I have to be prepared for the inconsistency of work.
Let’s talk money. I get TONS of questions about the stipend for housing (I’ve often been asked: is it really enough?), and how it can doable when you also have to pay for a tax home (*gasp* paying for TWO homes). What are your two cents?
Traveling can be lucrative, but not for everybody. It is definitely a high-risk high reward type of job. As a traveler, you will need to keep a tax home if you want to receive reimbursements for housing and travel expenses. This home base may be costly, pending your situation. You then have to pay for temporary accommodations wherever you are traveling to.
I don’t particularly see the majority of travel as being high paying when you factor in everything that goes into it, including paying to maintain a home and temporary residence, not getting paid time off, and the risk of not having work. However, it really is dependent on how much you make at a perm position and what your expenses will be while traveling.
On average across the country, travel SLP jobs pay $1450-$1650/week net (after taxes). There are higher-paying jobs, particularly in California, that pay well over that and pay even more than $2200k + weekly. Those numbers include your housing stipend.
What has kept you in travel therapy for so long? What do you like about travel therapy as opposed to a perm position?
I have a wanderlust soul and get antsy when I’m in one place for too long. I crave the unknown and exploration. It’s a challenge to walk into a new building and learn a new system, work with new patients, and I like that.
Finding a recruiter: what made you pick the companies you work with as opposed to others out there? Do you feel that some companies are more suitable for certain settings (i.e. school, SNF, peds, etc)?
Initially, I started working for the agency that I primarily work for, CoreMedical Group, because their annual bonus is a chance to win an all-inclusive trip to the Carribean. Now, I’ve been on seven FREE trips and am definitely not complaining! However, to be honest, I work in medical settings and the companies that I work with are ones that I found to get more acute contracts than others. Lately, I have been going deep into a rabbit hole to find out specifically which agencies staff certain hospitals because I am targeting specific places that I want to work.
There are definitely agencies that specialize more in medical versus those who work more with schools. It is in your benefit to research the job listings agencies that agencies have and to find one that works with your area of interest.
Do YOU really get to choose where you go? How much control do you have with this?
You are your own free agent and can choose to go where you want. However, you have to be able to find a position that will accept you in that place. When you work with recruiters, they will present you with jobs that are available and you decide if you want to apply for that position or not. Once you apply, you will have to interview with the facility directly and both sides have to agree that it is a match in order to get hired.
I get a lot of questions from SLPs who seem a little weary about getting started in travel therapy, and SO MANY who don’t know where to turn for help. What are your recommendations for getting started?
I definitely understand that feeling. When I got started as a traveler in 2010, I felt like there were not any communities or resources that I could turn to for help. I made tons of mistakes and learned the industry through a lot of trials and errors.
To help others, I’ve created a TON of resources to help therapists become travelers.
For a step by step guide through the process, I recommend my course, The Guide To Travel Therapy. This is a six-hour course, broken into short, 30-minute modules, that takes you through everything you need to know to be a traveler.
For more casual reading and information about the lifestyle of travel, check out my blog.
To find community and answers to some of your burning questions, you can also check out Travel Therapy Therapists Facebook community, which has over 10,000 members to date.
Following and reaching out to other travelers is also super helpful. I love following The Type B's journey on Instagram, and I put up a lot of content over on my Instagram.