22 Packing Tips And Tools For Travel Nurses

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Travel nurses are faced with a unique situation when it comes to packing for their travel nursing jobs. Sure, you’re traveling, but you’ll most likely be there for 3 months and you’ll most likely be living in an apartment, house, or extended stay hotel. As a result, you’re sort of in limbo between traveler and permanent resident. The comforts of home would be ideal, but packing everything you own each time you move is unrealistic. So, here are 22 tips to help travel nurses pack for their assignments.

Tips For Making Your Travel Nurse Packing List

We’re not going to make an actual list in this blog post, we’ll save that for another blog post. Instead, we’re going to provide some helpful tips for approaching the packing process. Additionally, we’ll provide some helpful tips, products and services that can help you master the art of packing for your travel nursing assignments.

With that in mind, everyone and every situation are unique. Therefore, one traveler’s list might be entirely different from another traveler’s list. Here are some things to consider and tools to use when developing your list.

1) Determine The Duration Of Your Travel Nursing Adventure Before Packing

Assignments have varying lengths, most are 13 weeks, but 4, 6, 8 and 26 week assignments are also possible . Additionally, you may extend or go straight to your next assignment before returning home. For many travel nurses, different travel times require different packing strategies, so do your best to estimate how long you’ll be away.

2) Consider The Location Before Packing For Your Travel Nursing Job

Assignment locations have different climates and may offer different activities which could lead you to pack different items. For example, there is probably no need to pack your snow skis for an assignment in Miami. Always consider the weather and potential activities when developing your packing list.

3) Consider What The Travel Nursing Agency Provides

If you take company provided housing, it’s important to remember that different agencies handle housing in different ways. Some agencies offer furnished housing with a housewares and cleaning package. This might include pots, pans, dinnerware, silverware, towels, linens, a broom, mop, vacuum and other cleaning supplies. Other agencies only offer the furnishings.

As a result, it’s important to inquire exactly what your housing accommodations will include. Don’t rely on ambiguous statements like “fully furnished” or “turn-key housing” as you may find that expected items are not included. For example, “fully furnished” may or may not include a television.

Once you know what the agency provides and have an idea about the weather and activities you’ll be engaged in during your assignment you can begin to form a list of items to bring with you.

4) Make A List Of What You Do And Use Regularly

We’re all different with respect to lifestyle and daily habits. For example, some nurses love the convenience of slow cookers to help them easily prepare meals that are ready to eat after a long shift. Others have never used a slow cooker and never will. Some of us exercise all the time and others of us don’t. Some read books regularly and others don’t.

As a result, it’s a great idea to make a list of things you use and things you do over a one to two week period. We’re all pretty much creatures of habit so this list should encompass the vast majority of what you’ll need to maintain your habits and lifestyle while on assignment.

5) Consider Second-Hand Goods, Thrift Stores And Discount Variety Stores

As you develop your packing list, there is a very strong chance that you’ll notice it becoming quite large, perhaps too large for your liking. One option to reduce the size of your list is to consider purchasing various items at second-hand stores, thrift stores and discount variety stores when you arrive at your destination instead of packing them. At the end of each assignment, you can determine whether the items get packed up for the next assignment or donated to the local Goodwill or Salvation Army. You can even put the items on Craigslist for free.

I worked with many travel nurses who did this for things like cleaning items, towels, dishware, and utensils among other things. It seemed to work perfectly well for them.

However, I also worked with several travel nurses who were opposed to this approach. Some of them didn’t like the idea of second-hand goods. Others felt that they were wasting time and money by going through this process every time they changed locations. Still others felt that they were creating too much waste for their liking. I had one traveler explain to me that 30%-50% of all goods donated to The Goodwill and The Salvation Army are discarded.

Of course, you can determine whether or not this approach works for you.

6) There Are Apps To Help Travel Nurses Pack!

It seems like there’s an App for almost everything these days. There are even packing apps! These Apps can be really useful to help you develop and refine your lists. You can conveniently save your packing lists and create lists for different situations and destinations. These Apps will even pre-populate with a list of recommended items that you can keep or discard at your convenience. They have the potential to help you save a lot of time in the long run.

The most popular Packing App that I’m aware of is called PackPoint. It’s available for both iOS and Android:

PackPoint for iOS

PackPoint for Android

7) Try PackingListOnline.com If You Don’t Like Apps

If you don’t like Apps or still don’t have a smart phone, then a website called PackingListOnline might be helpful for you. The site lets you enter a destination, weather conditions, duration of stay, accommodations and other details. It develops a list based on the criteria you enter. It can be pretty helpful and includes things like a list of loose ends to tie off before you leave.

Packing Tips And Tools To Organize And Save Space For Travel Nurses

Most travel nurses will want to pack more than the average traveler. After all, you’ll most likely be away for at least 13 weeks. At the same time, you don’t want to break the bank shipping things all the time. You’ll also have a fairly limited amount of space to pack. Meanwhile, it’s good to keep everything organized and easy to repack considering that you might be going through the process frequently.

8) Ask Your Travel Nursing Company For More

Don’t be afraid to ask your travel nursing company for more when it comes to the housing package they offer. For example, if they don’t include cleaning supplies in the package, ask them if they can. The furnishing service we used when I was recruiting only charged $35 per month for this and we would routinely throw it in for free if asked. A larger TV was only $25-$50 more per month. And a housewares package was only $125 more. The prices may have changed, but it never hurts to ask and it could save you tons of packing space if you’re successful.

9) Consider eBags Packing Cubes For Organization

The Packing Cubes made by eBags are very popular for keeping things organized and accessible. The bags have mesh tops that allow you to see the contents. They also come in different sizes and colors. The different colors allow you to color code the contents for even better organization.

You can place items in the Packing Cubes and then place the packing cubes into a suitcase or a storage container. This way, you don’t have to go digging through all of your stuff to find what you’re after. Simply find the Packing Cube it’s stored in and you’re done.

eBags For Travel Nurses

10) Consider Compression Bags For Saving Space

If you’re really looking to save some space when packing clothing and other cloth items, then you might want to try compression bags. These bags are sometimes referred to as “stuff sacks.” They let you stuff them full of clothing or related items and provide a mechanism for compressing them to save more space.

This type is typically used by backpackers for their sleeping bags, but works just as well for clothing.

Compression Bags For Travel Nurse Packing

This type is commonly used to save space when packing suitcases.

Travel Nurse Packing Compression Bags

11) Consider An Electronic Accessories Travel Organizer

The problem with packing electronic gadgets is that they’re often small and awkwardly shaped. As a result, they can end up getting packed in a way that takes up too much space and makes them difficult to access when you need them. This is why an accessories travel bag designed for electronics comes in so handy. These bags save space and offer better access.

Travel Nurse Packing Electronics

12) Consider A Cosmetic and Grooming Travel Bag

Toiletries are another thing that can be small and awkwardly shaped which can cause them to take up too much space and be difficult to access. Using a bag specifically designed to carry toiletries will save space and greatly improve accessibility.

Packing Travel Nurse Toiletries

13) Try A Tackle Box

Many of the travel nurses I worked with loved tackle boxes as a way to store smaller items and stay organized. I have to admit that I’m not a big fan. The compartments aren’t flexible enough and tackle boxes don’t make the best use of space. However, if you’re looking for something durable and convenient, then a tackle box might be a good choice.

14) Consider Storage Containers Instead Of Luggage

If you’re traveling by car like most travel nurses, then you might want to consider storage containers. They’re more durable than standard packing boxes and if you purchase clear containers, then you’ll have the advantage of seeing what’s inside. These containers from Rubbermaid are a good option. Also, these containers come in all shapes and sizes, so be sure to shop around for the best alternative for your particular vehicle.

Packing Containers For Travel Nurses

15) Consider Pack-Towels To Save Space

Good bath towels are thick, fluffy, and cotton. They are certainly a highly desirable comfort of home. However, bath take up tons of space! No matter how you pack them, bath towels are massive. And if you decide not to pack them, you might find yourself in a bind while on the road.

Consider Pack-Towels as a replacement alternative while traveling from place to place. These are the towels that backpackers use to save weight and space on long treks. They’re highly absorbent and quick drying. These microfiber towels are another great option.

Pack Towel For Travel Nurses

16) Consider EXOFFICIO Clothing Products

Exofficio is a clothing company dedicated to the needs of travelers. How is this possible? Well, they use some really amazing materials. Depending on what you purchase, the garments might be wrinkle-free, antimicrobial, bug repellent, moisture wicking, stain resistant, quick drying, and/or offer sun protection.

One of the main selling points of their products is that they let you pack less. They say you can travel the world with just two pair of underwear! Whether or not you’re up for that, reviewers rave about the comfort of their underwear for long road-trips.

17) Tips For Packing Shoes As  A Travel Nurse

It’s well known that shoes take up tons of space when packing. There’s almost no way around this. At the same time, travel nurses need at least their work shoes, a pair of dress shoes, a pair of workout/walking shoes, a pair of casual shoes and a pair of sandals or flip-flops. Beyond that, if you’re struggling to decide which shoes you should pack, then check out these tips from TravelFashionGirl.com.

To save space, stuff socks inside your shoes. This will also ensure that your shoes don’t get smashed or damaged during the move. You can also pack them in shoe bags for added protection and organization. You might also consider a shoe storage bag like this one to help save some space.

Travel Nurse Packing Shoes

18) “Interfold” Your Clothes to Save Space

One of the best ways to save space when packing clothes is to “Interfold” it. Rather than describing how this is done, we’ve provided a link to an article on LifeHacker with photos that help explain this approach. Also, below is a video that illustrates the method. However, it’s important to note that “Interfolding” makes it difficult to access your clothing. So be sure to use this method for items that you won’t need access to until you settle in.

How To Interfold From LifeHacker.com

Interfolding Video:

19) Consolidate Electronics If Possible

Electronics devices have a lot of overlap these days. At the same time, they each have situations for which they are best suited. This makes it difficult to do without them. But, if you’re looking to save a little extra space and keep track of fewer items at the same time, then consider these consolidation tips

  1. Leave The Camera Behind: Most mobile phones have amazing cameras these days. In fact, many of them come with all the bells an whistles that moderately priced cameras include. So unless you have a really nice camera, then it’s probably just as good to use your mobile phone.
  2. Leave The eReader Behind: Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Google Play all have apps for iPhones and Android devices. You can download your books to your phone just as easily as you can with an eReader.
  3. Leave The Desktop Behind: If you have a desktop and a laptop, there is no need to bring both. Opt for the laptop.

20) Consider A Wireless Speaker

There is no need to pack a bunch of stereo equipment for travel nursing assignments, unless you’re a DJ or musician on the side. There’s also no need to do without a quality sound system for music and podcasts! Consider purchasing a wireless speaker that works with your mobile device. There are inexpensive options that work just fine. There are also more expensive options that deliver high quality sound like my personal favorite from Bose. If you decide to purchase a wireless speaker, then make sure it’s compatible with your BlueTooth device.

Travel Nurse Packing Speaker


21) Consider Mini Containers To Save Space

Mini containers are an excellent way to save space for a couple of reasons. First, it’s inefficient to pack containers that are not full. The unused space in the container is essentially wasted space. Second, it’s difficult and sometimes impossible to find travel sized packages of your favorite grooming and cosmetic products. And you’ll definitely want your favorite products given the length of time you’ll be away.

Mini containers can solve these problems. You can go to Amazon and search for “small containers”. You can also find small containers at outdoor supply stores like REI.

Small Containers For Travel Nurses

22) Consider A Leatherman

As a travel nurse, you may consider the need to bring a limited set of tools with you just in case a need arises. Tools are bulky though. So, consider a Leatherman or similar device. These “multitool” products can replace anywhere from 15 to 50 different tools and are tiny by comparison.

Leatherman for travel nurses

Packing It Up

There are certainly many other angles to consider when packing up for your travel nursing assignment. For example, the road-trip has its own unique set of needs. There are also loose ends that need to be tied off before leaving home. And of course, an actual list of items would be nice too! We’ll work on blog posts for those topics in the near future!!

In the mean time, we hope you found this list of tips and tools helpful. We’d love to hear about your favorite tips, tricks and tools as well. Please share them along with any questions in the comments section below!

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3 replies
  1. Vanessa says:

    I rarely go “home” and when I do, I am flying. This leaves me having to keep just about everything with me at all times. After 4.5 years, I’m learning, but it is not easy! Thanks for some extra tips. Also, camera and kindle are musts for me! I love to photograph my experiences, and I have plenty of unique trips as that’s why I travel. Aleo, I love to read, but books are heavy, and I know I shouldn’t be staring at blue light. Othetwise, great advice.

  2. Vanessa says:

    Thanks for a couple new ideas. I’ve been a travel nurse for over 4 years, but it’s only been about 2 since I stopped driving home between assignments. I’m trying to learn ways to live comfortably, but also not be bogged down with stuff.

    • Kyle Schmidt says:

      I’m glad to hear there are some useful options in this article for an experienced traveler! I imagine it’s difficult to find the right balance between keeping it light and living comfortably. 13 years ago, I moved to Japan for a year to teach English and I took two huge suitcases full of clothes and shoes. I probably used a carry-on bag’s worth of what I brought. That said, travel nursing a whole different ball of wax!


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