How to pack for a travel nursing assignment

August 01, 2013
Don't let packing for your next travel nursing assignment get you stressed out.

As seasoned traveler Brad Crawford discusses, one of the very few downsides to travel nursing is the arduous task of packing and unpacking: There’s a reason entire businesses are built on providing packing/moving as a service. If you actually enjoy packing, I think you should reassess your life choices, but you’re more than welcome to do my packing for me. For the rest of us that don’t enjoy packing, here are some tips to make it a little more bearable:

Finding Space
One of the biggest challenges to packing as a travel nurse is the limited amount of space available. Unless you’re cruising around the country in a Winnebago (some travelers do), you’re probably limited to the space in your car, truck, van or SUV. As a side note, if you are planning to travel and also planning to purchase a new or used vehicle soon, seriously consider a SUV or van. The extra space will be well worth the reduction in fuel efficiency. If a vehicle upgrade is not in your foreseeable future, you do have a few options for adding space.

  • Roof-top storage - There are lots of great options for rooftop storage that will fit just about any vehicle, even if you don’t have a roof rack. Prices range from less than $50 for the soft bags to over $300 for the hard-shell carriers. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money, you can find some great water-resistant bags that work just as well as the more expensive hard shells. Just keep in mind that if you stay in a hotel, all of your belongings will be up for grabs unless you buy a hard shell that locks.
  • Hitch mounted cargo carrier – While many cars are not capable of pulling large loads, they are more than capable of supporting a cargo carrier on an installed hitch. If your vehicle doesn’t have a hitch, you can install one yourself for about $150 or have U-Haul or a similar company install it for an additional $50 or so. The amount of space you gain will surprise you. With a handful of straps and good stacking technique, the sky is the limit to what you can fit on the back of your vehicle. To protect your items I highly recommend storing them in a waterproof cargo carrier bag or in plastic totes.

Maximize your space
Now that we’ve found some extra space, we need to get the most out of it. This is where space saver storage bags come to the rescue. For about $25 you can find a set that should be enough for your entire wardrobe. Space saver bags work great on linens and blankets too. We’ve even used them on an unopened package of toilet paper. They also water proof everything, which makes them great for storing in roof-top and hitch cargo carriers and bags. This added protection comes in handy if your outer bag is only water resistant. If you don’t travel with a vacuum, you can buy an air mattress pump and use the reverse side to suck the air out. Try to avoid the battery operated pumps as they die quick and do not have very good suction.

Minimize your baggage
Until you have a few assignments under your belt, you might struggle at first with deciding on what you’ll need and won’t need. After some trial and error, you’ll have it down to a science. The important thing is to prioritize your packing. Expensive items and belongings you know you can’t live without should get packed first, along with breakable items and electronics you wouldn’t want to pack in an exterior cargo bag. As you begin to run out of space, it may come down to donating or throwing away whatever won’t fit. You want those things to be inexpensive and easy-to-replace items like food, drinks, trash cans, etc. Try to deplete as much of your grocery stock as you can during the last few weeks of each assignment. It can be frustrating to give away $50 worth of groceries because you don’t have enough room.  

The life of a travel nurse is one that is full of adventure but not without burdens. Packing just happens to be a burden we must deal with often. These tips should ease the pain and hopefully give you some ideas on adding more space, making good use of that space, and packing more efficiently. If you have any packing tips, please feel free to share them in the comments below. I’m sure there are some creative ideas out there.

As the husband of a travel nurse, Brad Crawford sees the travel nursing experience from a different perspective. While his wife, Stasha, focuses more on the “nursing” aspect, Brad is more concerned with things like the crime rate, what the weather is like, and what sort of fun things there will be nearby. Together they have created TravelNurseHelp, a website designed to combine much of the info a travel nurse needs in one place.