a suitcase filled with travel items

The Essential Packing Guide for Travel Nurses & Therapists

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Are you a travel therapist or travel nurse about to embark on a travel assignment and don’t know what to pack? 

You don’t want to forget something important at home, yet you don’t want to overpack.

Packing can be one of the hardest parts about picking up and moving to a new location for work.

Spoiler alert, you need a lot less than you think you do! 13-weeks goes by quickly and you need to bring a lot less than you may think.

Here are my tips on what to pack for your next 13 – week travel healthcare assignment.

Determine What Your Housing Provides

Before I pack I try to determine what is going to be included in my housing and what is not.

If the kitchen is fully stocked then I can leave most home goods at home. If it is not, then I bring or plan to buy my kitchen basics. Such as a coffee pot, teapot, frying pan, Tupperware, silverware, bowls, mugs, glasses, and spatula.

Remember, you can always purchase things once you are on your assignment.

Target, Costco, Amazon, and thrift stores are all places you can go to purchase home goods and items that you forgot to pack. There is even Costco in Hawaii! 

Home Essentials

If you need to bring home essentials, here are some things I recommend:

  • Coffee pot
  • Teapot
  • Frying pan
  • Saucer pan
  • Tupperware
  • Silverware
  • Bowls
  • Plates
  • Silverware
  • Spatula
  • Spices (expensive to buy new at each place)
  • Cutting board
  • Coffee mug
  • Cups
  • To go cups/bottles
  • Wine bottle opener (If you drink wine, you’ll notice if you forget this one!)

Next: How Are You Getting There?

The other main thing that I need to consider if how am I getting to the assignment.

When flying to Hawaii, I will be taking a lot less and more considerate of every item that I am packing. 

No matter where you go you can always purchase things there. 

a white suitcase

Stay Organized While Packing

Packing Cubes are a great way to stay organized while packing for travel. Whether you use the cubes to put in your suitcases, your car, or in boxes, they can help you pack and be organized.

I like EZPacking cubes because they have a lay-flat, sturdy, top open design. They are also clear/see-through, which makes it easy to see what you have packed and where. 

Toiletries

  • Shampoo/Conditioner/Soaps/Face Soap/Razors
  • Toothpaste/Toothbrush/Floss
  • Hair Brush
  • Deodorant
  • Contact Lenses/Glasses
  • Makeup
  • Bug Spray
  • Sunscreen
  • Medications as prescribed
  • First Aid Kit

Pro Tip: I try my hardest to pack only for the season that I am going to but I also like to be prepared, so if I am going to California during a change of season in the spring I may bring mostly summer gear, but also some sweater, layers, and boots in case it gets more chilly.

Clothes:

  • Underwear/socks
  • 4-7 sets of work uniforms (pending schedule)
  • Work out attire
  • Casual/leisure clothes
  • Rain gear: Jacket, Boots
  • “Nice” outfits for hanging out, site seeing, etc
  • A formal outfit in case a work party/holiday party arises
  • Shoes for working, working out, leisure activities

Always pack rain gear!

It even rains even in the desert!

A small rain shell and umbrella do not take up a lot of room in a suitcase and can save you from a lot of discomforts.

After your first assignment really take stock of what you wear and what you do not.

I heard that every spring you should hang your hangers backward in your closet and only turn them around if you actually wear an item.  

At the end of the season, you should donate all of the clothes that you did not wear/turn over the hanger.

I think this translates well for travelers.  

If you go through an entire assignment and do not wear or use something then do not bring it with you to the next assignment.

You could donate unused items, sell them online, or send home for when you get back.

The basics for work

In the romanticism of travel it can be easy to forget that we are actually going to these new locations to work, so yes do not forget to bring your work stuff.

  • Clipboard
  • Pens/sharpie/dry erase/highlighter
  • Note pad 
  • Lunch box/water bottle/coffee mug
  • Any discipline-specific needs

Documents and Legal

Don’t forget your important documents!

First, I travel with a file full of hard copies, as well as back up PDFs. 

I scan all of my important documents into electronic storage via a phone app called “Scanner Pro”.  

There are many similar apps available online that do the same thing; scan documents/pictures and convert them into PDF files that you can save and email.

These are the documents that I make sure to have with me either electronically, hard copy or both.

  • Drivers License/ID/Passport
  • Credit/Debit cards and checkbook
  • Contract
  • Auto insurance policy
  • Car registration
  • AAA card
  • Copy of most recent physical and vaccine/titer history, drug test, fit test, BLS card 
  • Copy of your state and national work licenses

Technology

As I type from my MacBook with my iPhone next to me it is obvious that I do not skimp on bringing technology with me.

  • Computer
  • Phone and chargers
  • Tablet
  • External Hard Drive
  • Cords/Cables/Chargers
  • Camera
  • Go Pro for those underwater shots

Hobbies 

Don’t forget about your hobbies! You are not working 24/7!

sunglasses, a plant, and headphones

Comfort Items

Traveling can be lonely and you can get homesick.

It is important that you bring a couple of items with you that make you feel comfortable and at home.

Personally, that is my pillows and fleece throw.  

Some ideas of comfort items:

  • Favorite spices for your kitchen
  • Candles
  • Blankets
  • Pillows
  • Coffee mugs 

In closing, I think it is important for each individual to determine what it is that is important for you and what you need for your work and life balance.

Being a traveler has taught me to live like a minimalist and I now thoroughly enjoy that lifestyle.  It feels very freeing to be carrying minimal amounts of stuff from assignment to assignment and only bringing what I know I will need and use.

What do you pack for your travel assignments?

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8 thoughts on “The Essential Packing Guide for Travel Nurses & Therapists”

  1. Love this 🙂 I have been traveling locally for a year and a half, but my husband is getting ready to go with me and we are working on whittling down what we’re bringing. I have gotten rid of a TON of clothes, but it still seems like I have so much! I don’t feel high maintenance normally, but man packing everything into a car sure shows how high maintenance I could potentially be.

  2. Thanks Alex! I totally agree! Even as a minimalist I felt like I own sooo much when I try to put it in a car

  3. Loved this post. I think it’s a great idea having at least four pairs of scrubs for an assignment also. I was inspired by your blog and some others to create my own as well. Still lots to do as I’m sure you’re familiar with. Thanks for the great tips. I’ll be using them for my next assignment.Happy Travels! 🙂

    1. You could rent a car, take public transit (if available), or buy a car online and sell it when you leave. I mostly rent cars if I fly to an assignment through Turo.com or a local car rental shop.

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