Woman loading the car with suitcases
Travel Nursing June 29, 2021

The Definitive Packing Guide for Travel Nurses

By Melissa Wirkus Hagstrom, contributor

Are you getting ready to hit the road as a travel nurse? If so, you may have already started to stress about the decisions you’ll need to make regarding what to take with you and what to leave at home.

The task of packing for travel nurses is unique. You’re not moving for good, but you’re not going on a short vacation either. Finding that middle ground requires some pointers from the experts and those who have gone before you. And it may take some practice to get it right.

That’s why American Mobile has put together this travel nurse packing guide—to help you pare down to the essentials, streamline the process and make sure you don’t underpack or overpack.

Know before you go

Before you dig in to the details, you’ll need to know what is provided in your travel nurse housing. So connect with your recruiter or housing specialist about what is furnished in the free, company-provided lodging. If you opt for the housing stipend and plan to find your own accommodations instead, you can work directly with the property manager to verify what they do and do not furnish.

Some questions to ask:

  • What furniture and kitchen items are included? Most housing includes basic furniture and appliances, but many do not include cooking utensils and pots and pans.
  • Is a microwave included?
  • Is there a TV or DVD player?
  • What size is the bed (if you are bringing your own bedding)?
  • Are there any amenities such as pools, a fitness center or tennis courts?

Knowing the answers to these questions can ensure you have what is needed, yet can travel as light as possible. You can also decide to purchase some items once you arrive.

You’ll also want to consider the length of your assignment and your location to help plan your must-haves. Most travel nurse assignments are 13 weeks, so you can help determine what is essential by asking yourself, “Am I okay without this item for a few months?”

Once you know what is provided and have outlined your basic needs and wants, it’s time to pack it up!

Packing List for Travel Nurses: The Essentials

Personal items:

Your personal items are some of the most important things you’ll pack as a travel nurse, especially since some special-to-you items simply can’t be purchased at a store. Here are the basic categories of what you’ll need:

  • Scrubs or work uniform (per facility guidelines), including personal stethoscope
  • Clothing (casual, dressy, sleepwear and workout clothes), undergarments, socks, shoes
  • Hats, visors and other accessories
  • Favorite jewelry, and a travel jewelry box
  • Toiletry kit (shampoo, conditioner, face wash, body wash, hairspray, deodorant, makeup, nail grooming supplies, sunscreen, lotion, toothbrush and paste, razors, hairbrush)
  • Hair dryer and other grooming tools
  • Mini first aid kit, plus prescription and over-the-counter medications
  • Cooler or insulated tote for food and beverages during your road trip or flight
  • Sporting equipment and attire/shoes
  • Select books, puzzles or other hobby items

Some quick tips to help you travel light in this department:

  • Pick clothing items and shoes that work with several other pieces
  • Roll clothes instead of folding
  • Nest smaller items inside of larger (think socks and underwear stuffed into your shoes)
  • Utilize packing cubes and compression bags
  • Consider a foldable / collapsible bag or backpack that you can fill with items and then use for other needs at your destination
  • Think outside your luggage; many travelers swear that packing in clear storage bins can help you fit more, and some containers can do double duty (like a laundry basket)
  • Remember you can buy refills for many toiletry items at your destination

Paperwork and documents:

  • Your travel nursing contract, traveler handbook and any other paperwork required by your facility, including first-day instructions
  • Nursing license, credentials and documentation requested
  • Contact information for your recruiter, assignment facility and nurse manager
  • Driver’s license, insurance and registration
  • Social Security card and birth certificate
  • Personal photographs and mementos

“Home, sweet home” items:

  • Pots and pans, kitchen utensils, plates and cutlery (Target and Ikea have kitchen basics at affordable prices if you want to purchase at your destination)
  • Comfy bedding and bath items: this includes comforter, sheets, pillows, towels, extra blanket, dish towels, etc.
  • Laundry basket
  • Dish, laundry and hand soap
  • Portable vacuum and clothing steamer or iron
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Coffee maker / tea kettle
  • Paper products including toilet tissue and paper towels (having a couple with you can avoid a last-minute run to the store when you arrive)

Electronics:

  • Cellphone (with plenty of storage capacity for travel photos)
  • Laptop / tablet
  • E-reader, if you use one
  • Small mobile speaker
  • WiFi router or hotspot (if not included)
  • Charging cords for all aforementioned devices

If traveling with a pet, you will also want to remember the following: food and treats; food and water bowls; bed; favorite toys, paperwork (for microchip, health records, license, etc.); local vet information; clean-up bags, litter and box (if needed); collar with ID/contact tags and leash. Crates are recommended for road trips, and you can bring special travel water bottles for pets with an attached drinking cup that can later be used on hikes and other adventures.

Definitive Packing Guide for Travel Nurses.jpg

Get help from packing apps and gurus

Even armed with our travel nurse packing list, it’s still helpful to get some insight from the experts. There are several packing apps worth considering, as well as master organizers with “how to” packing videos and blogs to inspire you – we’re looking at you, Marie Kondo and The Home Edit.

One tip we love from Ms. Kondo was from a recent interview with Travel & Leisure. When asked about packing for extended trips, she said, "If you tend to overpack things that you believe you 'might' use, try traveling once with only the most essential items. The more experience you gain traveling with fewer items, the better you'll be at identifying what you truly need, and you will no longer stuff your suitcase with things that you don't."

As far as mobile apps go, one of our favorites is PackPoint. Download it to access a free, customizable packing list that helps you organize and plan what you’ll need based on length of travel, weather at your destination and any activities planned during your trip. What a boon for travel nurses who are frequently moving between assignments!

Ready to get on the road?

Remember that your recruiter and housing specialist are your best resources when it comes to packing for your travel assignment, since they work with travel nurses every day and know what you’ll need to have on hand.

Don’t have a travel nurse contract yet? We can help with that, too! In fact, we have thousands of travel nursing jobs across the U.S., and can help you find the one that is right for you.

So contact American Mobile, and get packing for your next travel nursing adventure!

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