The Essential Packing Guide for Travel Nurses


By Claire Brocato, contributor

You've landed a great travel nursing assignment and you're eager to head off to your new destination. Now that the prerequisite interviews and paperwork are behind you, the only thing that stands between you and your new adventure is the task of packing up the things you'll need for the next 13 weeks. 

Although it sounds simple enough, knowing what to pack, what to leave behind and what to source in your new hometown can make a big difference to the ease and efficiency of your trip and how quickly you settle into your new home.


The Housing Essentials for Your Travel Nursing Assignment

Before you start packing, talk to your recruiter to determine what amenities your new housing complex provides. If you accept the free, company-provided housing, your accommodation will likely include basic furniture such as:

  • Bed
  • Nightstand
  • Dresser
  • Dining table and chairs
  • Sofa
  • End tables and lamps

This list can vary from one location to another, however, so be sure to find out ahead of time. In most instances, travel nurses are responsible for supplying their own linens, towels, cooking utensils, cutlery and dishes.

"I always explain to my travel nurses what is included in their housing package and what isn't," said Heather Frederick, a senior recruiter at American Mobile Healthcare. "One thing that can differ from one housing complex to another is the availability of a microwave." 

Another option is to choose the housing stipend instead of the company-arranged housing, which means your amenities and furnishings will depend on what you can find.

Once you know what is included in your housing package, make a detailed list of the items that you'll need while you're on assignment and check off each item that you pack, noting which things you can buy once you move. This will help ensure that you don’t forget anything important. 

Research Your Destination's Climate

One of the key rules with packing is to know what kind of weather to expect at your destination. If you’re going to be traveling through two or more seasons, the rule of thumb is to bring layers of clothes--T-shirts, sweaters, jackets, coats--that can be added or peeled off as the temperature changes. 

To find out ahead of time what kind of weather to expect, visit sites like The Weather Channel or AccuWeather where you can research seasonal averages and rainfall for your new locale.

To help you determine the most important items to take with you, see the "What to Pack" list, which includes the items that travel nurses most frequently take with them on their assignments.

Travel Light, Travel Right

Travel experts agree that there are two kinds of travelers in the world: those who pack light and those who wish they had. While it may be tempting to pack up everything you own, traveling with a large load only makes moving from one place to another more difficult and time-consuming.

"In order to pack light, travel nurses need to prioritize what is most important to them and to determine what they can't live without for 13 weeks," Frederick explained.  "For example, if a traveler isn't someone who cooks a lot, then it's not necessary for them to bring all their cooking utensils. Just the bare minimum will be sufficient.  Also, if the nurse is traveling solo, he or she doesn't need to bring place settings for more than one or two people. Just bring the essentials."

"If there is something you forgot or if you want to supplement your household items, you can always find a Target, Wal-Mart or Ikea in your new town to pick up the things you need, and you can donate the items at the end of your assignment for a tax write-off," she added.

American Mobile travel nurse Rebeca Segrest, RN, keeps things simple by packing plain white dishes from her college days. "If one of them breaks, it's easy to replace and they still look like a set," she said.

Instead of packing large, bulky items such as a TV set or DVD player, some travel nurses have discovered that it's easier to rent these items once they arrive at their destination or to buy them from a local pawn store and then sell everything back when they leave. This not only saves money but also keeps packing to a minimum.

Feeling at Home on Your Travel Nursing Assignment

No matter where your travels take you, it’s important to feel comfortable in your “home away from home” and to feel connected to the people or places that you have left behind.

Segrest feels close to her family and friends by plugging her computer into her television set and using the TV as a large digital frame to display photographs of her loved ones. “I feel like they are there with me when I see their pictures throughout the day,” she said.

Other items that are easy to transport from one place to another, yet add a feeling of comfort and familiarity, are candles scented with your favorite fragrances, colorful throws and pillow shams, framed photographs of loved ones that can be used as wall art, refrigerator magnets of places you’ve visited, and baskets in different sizes that can be used for display and storage.

Although Segrest likes to travel light, she does afford herself one luxury that makes her feel right at home. “I always make sure to pack my espresso machine,” she laughed. “It’s an essential “feel at home” item for me.”

Here are a few of the essentials you’ll want to pack for your travel nursing jobs:


What to Pack for Travel Nursing Assignments
(Before you start, ask your recruiter exactly what is provided.)

Household items:
• Sheets and towels
• Blankets, comforter/duvet
• Shower curtain, if not provided
• Laundry basket
• Cooking utensils
• Dishes and glassware
• Pots and pans
• Dish towels
• Coffeemaker/Tea kettle
• Small vacuum
• Flashlight
• Batteries and chargers

Personal electronics:
• Cell phone/smartphone
• Alarm clock
• Camera
• WiFi router, if not included
• Laptop, tablet
• Small stereo/radio or digital speakers

Rent or Bring (if not provided):
• TV
• DVD player or streaming devices
• Microwave

• Uniforms per facility
• Dressy and casual clothes
• Workout clothes and swimwear
• Sleepwear, bathrobe
• Shoes
• Sweaters, coats and other layers • Umbrella, other weather needs

Work and personal items:
• Your traveler handbook and Workplace Safety & Patient Care Standards manual
• A copy of your travel nursing contract
• Driver’s license
• Car registration and insurance papers
• Social Security card
• Copy of birth certificate
• Copies of nursing license, credentials and documentation requested
• Major credit cards, debit cards
• Phone numbers for nurse manager, new facility & your recruiter
• Any first-day instructions
• Timecards
• Professional and personal books
• Personal photographs and mementos


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Originally published in 2016, updated in June 2018. 


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