Packing your life for 13 weeks on the road for your travel nursing assignment can cause a great deal of anxiety for a lot of travel nurses, myself included. I have a history of being a heavy packer for leisure vacations and this habit spilled over into my travel nursing journeys. For my upcoming assignments and as I moved across the country I have become a better, lighter, and more organized packer.
There are a few variables that will affect what you need to pack.
Transportation to your next assignment
If you are traveling by car there is a little more room to stuff things in and organize your belongings. Details to consider include the size of your car, and whether it can tow a trailer.
If you traveling by air, you need to decide how many bags you want to check. Airlines often have a limit on the number of bags you can check so if you think you may need to bring more than two 50lb bags- call the airline and ask before you commit to that idea. Be prepared to pay for each piece of luggage you want to check, regardless of the number. Unfortunately, the days of airlines including luggage in basic economy fares are long gone.
Know What Your Travel Nurse Housing Will Provide
Other factors that affect packing are things like whether certain items are included in you accommodations such as kitchenware and linens, or if the housing has laundry in the unit. Pack for the activities you enjoy outside of work, and consider if there will be a seasonal change in temperature while you are on assignment.
Also, if you don’t plan on coming back “home” in between assignments to repack, you will have to decide what is most important and functional to bring along.
Items that every travel nurse should bring along:
Scrubs: This may seem like an obvious suggestion. Make sure to check with your facility and ask if they require any certain color uniform or shoes. Bring 4 pairs of scrubs. Most likely, you will not be working more than 4 consecutive days. If for some reason, you are doing five 8 hour shifts, bring 5 pairs.
If you don’t have laundry in the unit or building where you are staying- I would suggest bringing an extra shirt or two. I find my scrub pants are more re-wearable than shirts (if absolutely necessary). You only need one pair of work shoes. (Personally, I will not wear my work shoes anywhere other than work, but some people combine gym sneakers and work shoes to save some space.)
PRO TIP: If you currently work in a hospital that provides you with things like patient specific stethoscopes, clamps/forceps, and scissors- this is not the case everywhere. More often than not, I have been asked to provide or purchase these items on my own. You can always borrow from a coworker but it’s much easier to have your own.
“Real Life Clothes”- Whether you like to dress up and go out or spend time in the wilderness, you need to prioritize important items and make sure your clothes are weather appropriate. Bring tops and bottoms that you can easily mix and match. Remember, you will have to do laundry- You don’t need to pack for the whole 13 weeks. That would be a nightmare. Pack as if you are going away for a little less than a month and you would be able to do laundry halfway through.
This is a generic minimalist packing list for travel nurses, not taking personal preferences into consideration and assuming the travel nurse will be gone for longer than the course of 1 assignment (13 weeks).
– 2-3 tee-shirts
– 2-3 dress or graphic tees
– 2-4 casual/underlayer tank tops
– 2 pairs of jeans
– 1 casual pant
– 3 pairs of leggings/bottom layer pants
– 1 button up shirt
– 2 casual dresses/2 men’s casual wear shirts
– 2 pairs of shorts
– 2 pairs of athletic bottoms/2 athletic tops
– 1 pair of sneakers
– Hiking shoes
– Water shoes/sandals
– 1 pair of dress shoes
– 1 pair of flip flops
– 1 pair of walking sandals
– 15 pairs of underwear
– 2-3 bras neutral colors
– 2 sports bras
– 4 pairs of ‘work socks’ (I prefer compression stockings!)
– 7 pairs of wool/no show socks
– 1-2 Sweatshirts/mid layer
– 1-2 Sweatpants/pajamas
– 1 Warm sweater
– 2 baseball caps/winter hats
– 1 light jacket, 1 rain jacket, 1 heavy jacket
– Bathing suit/swim trunks
Electronics– Laptop, e-reader, tablet, phone, camera, etc., and associated chargers. It is helpful if you can share a charger among a few items and reduce the amount of cords you need. If you are driving, a car charger and mount that allows you to look at your phone hands-free are both useful items to have. Avoid bringing larger electronics (like a TV) and rent if necessary.
Medications- Any over the counter or prescribed meds. Make sure to obtain copies of your prescriptions. Sometimes you can ask your current insurance company to provide you with more than one round of medications for an additional price. It may be comforting to know you have them all set for the first month or two of your assignment while you are trying to sort out insurance and what pharmacy to use.
Paperwork- We live in the digital age but always bring along hard copies of key things like nursing licenses, certifications, birth certificate, passport/ID, and social security card. I would also make sure you have the hard copies or originals of your high school and college diplomas (frequently a last minute request that travel nurses usually aren’t expecting by a state nursing board or facility). Keep all paperwork on your person (not packed away) no matter your mode of transit. Don’t forget non-nursing related things like copies of your car insurance and registration, any health insurance documentation, and paperwork you may need for taxes (if your assignment falls during that season). Also keep any paperwork you are using to document your permanent tax home. Check out how to organize your travel nursing documents.
Pets and pet related items- You obviously aren’t going to forget your beloved pet. But, remember to bring items that will bring them comfort in a new place. Any medications and flea/tick prevention should also be packed. Ask your vet for a copy of your pet’s records to have with you in case you need to make a visit to a new provider during your assignment.
But…. Caffeine!- If you adore your coffee maker (or tea kettle) as much as I love mine- bring it. Purchasing coffee/tea every day can get expensive- and you don’t want to get stuck with a crappy coffee maker. Check out an AeroPress if you are looking for something portable and easy to use. If you have a favorite brand or flavor of coffee at home, bring a bag! It will be a nice treat when you wake up for the first time in your new home!
How to Pack for Your Travel Nurse Assignment
Specifics of packing will depend on how you are traveling and what you want to keep at your permanent tax home (if you are claiming one).
I highly recommend vacuum sealed space saving bags, especially if you are driving. I never believed in them before this last cross country trip- but wowzies, was I missing out! They fit considerably more than the big plastic tubs or large boxes, are super easy to use, and pack much better into a car. Warning: If you use this method to pack a suitcase, be cautious about going over the weight limit or prepared to pay extra.
Packing cubes are another great method for organizing your clothes as you pack. I lived out of cubes on my recent 40 day van adventure and it was easy to find what I needed quickly. If you are flying, this is a great choice to efficiently pack your luggage. I find the small/medium cubes are best, the large ones leave me feeling less organized. Roll your clothes to maximize the use of each cube.
Plastic tubs and boxes are still useful for bulkier non-compressible items (like that priceless coffee maker) and can be used in conjunction with the vacuum bags to organize a car.
SPACE SAVING TIP: Use some clothing and/or towels to wrap fragile items in the boxes and tubs. You have to transport it anyways, newspaper is messy to deal with, and this saves you the cash you were going to spend on bubble wrap!
When you pack your car make sure to put anything you need in the front seat for easy accessibility. You don’t want to have to dig around or move big items for access to toiletries, paperwork, chargers, and clothes you’ll need during your transit.
Always pack your ‘must-haves’ first just in case everything doesn’t fit so that you avoid unpacking the whole car if you need to re-prioritize. Try to distribute weight evenly on both sides of the car when packing to preserve your tires and reduce the wear and tear on your car.
Wishing you safe and happy travels!