One of my absolute least favorite things about travel nursing is the chore of packing and unpacking every three months. My very first assignment, I was so paranoid of forgetting to pack something important that I overpacked and didn’t use half of the things that I brought with me! Chances are you will overpack and it’s okay. Packing is a learning process, and I probably still pack more than what some travelers do, but I have whittled it down in the year and a half that I have been traveling. Packing depends highly on where you are going geographically and what kind of space you are renting.
What Should a Travel Nurse Pack for a Furnished Rental?
The space that is always the biggest question mark to me is the kitchen. All of the places I’ve stayed in have advertised that they have a “fully stocked kitchen” and I have always taken them at their word and it has worked out (until this assignment). The kitchen that I arrived to didn’t even have an oven mitt. Now, I plan to ask for a fully itemized list on what is in the kitchen because I had to buy supplies here that I left packed at my home base and it really cut into my first week budget.
Regardless if it is a nearly fully stocked in the kitchen, I always bring a few items of my own! I travel with my Keurig and extensive K-cup selection (shocking from a nurse I know!). If a Keurig is out of your budget for the moment, there are a lot of different alternatives that you can try!
Another great kitchen item to have on hand is a Crockpot or an Instapot. When I am working long shifts, it is the easiest solution for me to have a meal ready for me when I get home. I also always pack additional tupperware for meal prepping. It seems like the places I rent never have enough. Whenever I move out, I tend to either throw out what food I have left or leave it for the next tenants. However, I always make sure to pack up my spices and transport them to my next assignment. Spices are insanely expensive, but they are small enough that they can easily be packed for moves between assignments (I put all of mine together in a small plastic container).
The next space that I pack up is the bathroom. I prefer to always bring my own towels and washcloths although almost all spaces will provide them for you. I also invested in a hanging bathroom organizer that holds my toiletries and makes the move easier because I can just zip it up and go. The same goes for all of my makeup. I bought a tabletop organizer to keep everything neat and handy, and when I move I put everything in Ziploc bags. When it comes to bathroom essentials, do not underestimate the power of Ziploc bags. Put everything in Ziploc bags. Sometimes I will even put bottles that are mostly full in multiple Ziploc bags just to save my belongings from being ruined when a bottle will inevitably bust. Finally, I always pack all of my hair care tools including a straightener, blow dryer, and curling iron. Some places will be able to provide some of these for you, but it tends to vary.
The bedroom also has many essentials that I pack as well. Some people prefer to pack their own pillowcases and linens for the bed, but I stick with what they have provided. I also always always always travel with an alarm clock that runs on batteries. I know this seems old-fashioned and ridiculous, but I have a paralyzing fear of electricity going out in the middle of the night and my phone alarm dying and not going off. Setting my phone alarm and my alarm clock gives me peace of mind to sleep well at night. I also recommend packing multiple power strips.
I tend to use one in the living room and one in the bedroom mostly to charge my daily electronic devices. I also travel with a lot of clothes hangers. Some places may provide you with a few, but I always tend to run out anyway. The easiest way that I have found to pack hangers is to store them as tightly as you can in your laundry basket.
Lastly, comfort when sleeping is of the utmost importance to travel nurses. If I get to a location and the bed is severely lacking, I will go to the store and buy a mattress topper. Always buy one that is at least three inches thick or you are wasting your time and money. Anything less really doesn’t do the trick! I also recommend a brand that has the cooling gel in the topper for additional comfort. I would also advise to invest in a heavy duty eye mask, especially for night shift nurses. It is a cheaper alternative than asking the landlord to provide black out curtains (which many do, thankfully!) or buying curtains yourselves.
The living room is typically where I do not pack much stuff. Some people like to bring mementos or picture frames to help make the space feel like their own. I bring one of my own blankets to snuggle with on the couch. The most important item I pack for the living room is my Firestick. It’s an easy and fairly cheap way to be able to watch Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services on almost any TV.
The last category of things that I pack just has to be called miscellaneous. I devote the entire passenger seat and passenger footwell to Mila’s, my rescue dog, pet supplies. This includes her pet bed, food, bowls, toys, grooming supplies,pet seat belt, and any supplies she’s picked up along the way.
Another miscellaneous item to consider is weather related items. When I was driving to the pacific northwest in February I had to make an emergency stop for snow chains. Being a small town Indiana girl, I had absolutely no clue what snow chains were or how to put them on, but thankfully a good Samaritan in the tire shop was able to help me out!
Always plan your route in advance and take into consideration what you might need as well as what weather related items you might need for your assignment duration. For example, if you are going to Seattle, you are definitely going to want an umbrella and raincoat. I also have started to pack a cheap full-length mirror that I got at Walmart. Some places I’ve been don’t have one, and it’s something I’ve found useful and worth the space in my car. Finally, I invested in a fireproof safe. I keep all of my important documents with me including my passport, birth certificate, car title, and social security card as well as all of the credentialing documents that I maintain for my travel assignments in my safe.
What Should a Travel Nurse Pack When Choosing Company Housing?
In addition to the items mentioned above, you will have to pack more if you chose to take company provided housing, as they are not able to provide everything in my experience. One reason why I prefer to use Furnished Finder over company housing is that their units are turnkey, and I don’t have to worry about building a furnished unit from the ground up. Sometimes companies will provide fully furnished units, but many times they’re simply unfurnished units thrown together at the last minute which leaves a lot to be desired.
In this scenario, you may have to bring ALL the housewares that you want. This includes but unfortunately isn’t limited to plates, cups, bowls, wine glasses, drinking glasses, pots, pans, baking sheets, silverware, measuring cups… you get the picture. All of those supplies can easily start taking up boxes and boxes and a lot of space in your vehicle. Sometimes with company housing, it may also be necessary to set up Wifi and cable in your own name. This is the biggest pain point for me as most of the time the company will not provide this. If so, you may want to bring your own router and modem if you have one to save on cost. Also, don’t forget, linens may not be provided with company housing so be sure to double check as that would make for a bad first night. Additionally, you may need to bring things like trash cans, trash bags, an iron, detergent, and cleaning supplies. One last thing that I needed was a shower curtain as it was not provided.
Company housing can absolutely be totally inclusive down to the linens, but I’m sharing my experience because when I went in-house, mine wasn’t organized and I had to fill in the rest, which was expensive and time-consuming. This is why I recommend to simply find the best travel nurse housing options through Furnished Finder so you don’t have to hassle with all that stuff.
Packing for RV traveling
If you hate packing as much as I do, it may be smart to look into traveling in an RV for your travel nursing assignments. When RV travel nurses are done with an assignment there is minimal packing required. They just load up and take off for the next great adventure. It’s not something that I personally am able to do for financial and practical reasons, however it is a great option for many travelers out there!
How to Pack
I want to conclude this article with a few tips I’ve discovered on how to pack. I’ve always driven across the country, and I drive a Chevy Malibu which doesn’t have a ton of space. Some people fly to and from assignments, which is a challenge which I have yet to try, but let me know if anyone has any tips or tricks for that situation. If you forget something once you have arrived at your assignment, chances are that either you do not need it or you can cheaply pick up a similar item at a dollar store or Walmart!
I pack my clothing in a suitcase set so that if I happen to take a trip while I’m on assignment, I already have my luggage with me. Everything else gets packed into totes. Always pay attention to how you are utilizing the space in your vehicle. It may seem like a game of Tetris to get everything to fit, but do a trial run and find out the best way to get everything in its place. I try to keep things that I might need on the road at the top of my piles in the car so they are easier to get to.
I use a lot of Ziploc bags and small boxes to keep items within my totes organized to make unpacking much quicker. While on assignment I keep a small bin designated for donation and another small box designated for things to leave at my home base. When I leave my assignment it is easy to drop the donation items off at a Goodwill and to leave items that I’ve acquired but don’t need at my mother’s house for safekeeping.
And again, the first few assignments, you will over pack and it’s totally okay! It’s hard to part with belongings when you are parting ways with everything else in your life, but each assignment it gets easier to pack lighter and smarter! Happy travels and good luck packing!