As a travel nurse, packing can be daunting. You basically need to fit your life into a suitcase, preparing for new cities every few months. But packing strategically doesn’t have to be stressful.
This comprehensive guide is designed to serve as the ultimate packing checklist for travel nurses, ensuring that you have everything you need to thrive on the road and at the destination of your choosing.
We’ll cover all the essentials – from documents to self-care items – so your focus can be on your nursing adventures ahead. Let’s get started!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Essential Documents
- Clothing and Uniforms
- Shoes and Accessories
- Tech and Electronics
- Work Tools
- Toiletries and Medications
- Kitchen and Food Items
- Bedding and Linens
- Health and Wellness Tools
- Miscellaneous Essentials
- Making it Feel Like Home
- Travel Tools and Comfort Items
- Safety and Security Gear
- Staying Connected to Loved Ones
The first step is getting your paperwork in order. It’s wise to make copies and scan essential documents so you have them on hand both physically and digitally:
Here are some important medical records and documents you should have with you while on a travel nurse assignment:
- Proof of immunization – This includes records showing vaccination for diseases such as measles, hepatitis B, influenza, TDAP, and COVID-19. Many facilities require proof of certain immunizations.
- Vaccination records – In addition to immunization proof, have documentation of any past vaccinations.
- Health insurance card – Keep this on you to verify active coverage in case medical care is needed. Not all travel nursing contracts come with insurance.
- Prescription info – Have a list of all current prescriptions including dosages and prescribing doctors. Also bring copies of actual prescriptions.
- Medical history – A printout summarizing past and current medical conditions, surgeries, allergies, medications, and doctors can be handy for quick reference.
- Physical exam records – Facilities may require proof of a recent physical, so keep a copy handy.
- Lab results – For any routine bloodwork, PPD tests, chest x-rays, or other labs required by the facility, have copies available.
Having key medical documents organized and available while on travel assignments ensures you can comply with facility requirements and handle any medical situations that may arise smoothly.
Keeping your medical documentation up to date is also crucial for making seamless transitions from one contract and location to the next. Various travel nurse agencies have different requirements for what medical records you’ll need to submit and when. To be on the safe side, always have your vital medical records at the ready. That includes everything from flu shots and immunizations to tuberculosis skin tests and proof of vaccines.
Besides the necessary medical paperwork described above, here are some administrative documents and additional records that you should take with you while on assignment.
- Licensure documentation – Nursing licenses for current and upcoming states – Have ready access to your nursing license information for the state you’re working in, and the next place(s) too.
- Certifications and diplomas – Keep proof of certifications such as ACLS, BLS, CCRN, CEN, NRP, PALS, TNCC, etc. easily accessible.
- Emergency contacts – Keep a list of emergency contacts and know their phone numbers.
- Contracts for housing and upcoming assignments – Avoid the frustration and stress of arriving in a new city and not having your housing records.
- Passport and driver’s license – These are two forms of ID that are acceptable for any purpose anywhere in the U.S. Your passport also serves as identification if you go abroad.
- Social Security card copy – This is a backup item, just in case someone ever requires it.
Having all your critical paperwork readily available prevents headaches if anything gets misplaced during transit. Don’t forget to store copies on your phone and on a secure cloud drive as a backup!
Clothing and Uniforms
Comfortable, functional clothes will make those long nursing shifts fly by – or at least become more pleasant. The following checklist of items can help:
- Scrubs – Pack at least 5-7 sets of scrubs so you’re prepared for the week. Choose breathable fabrics like cotton that are machine washable. Stick to dark colors to hide stains.
- Underscruts – Wearing fitted tanks or leggings under scrubs prevents any wardrobe malfunctions as you’re bending and moving quickly.
- Compression socks – Boost circulation in your legs and feet with clinical-grade compression socks. Opt for ones that reach your knees.
- Jackets and sweaters – Hospitals can run cold. Pack a cardigan, jacket, or scrub jacket you can layer on top.
- Closed-toe shoes – Keep a spare pair of casual yet comfortable sneakers or slip-ons to change into after shifts.
The key is having spare uniforms and hospital-appropriate layers, so you’re prepared for anything during your contract.
Shoes and Accessories
Skimping on shoes is a big mistake when you’re a nurse on your feet all day:
- Nursing shoes – Invest in supportive, slip-resistant nursing shoes with arch support and shock absorption. Quality matters. Don’t hesitate to spend more on shoes that will last through multiple contracts. Brands like Dansko, Brooks, Hoka, and Nike make specialty nursing sneakers.
- Compression socks – Wearing clinical-grade compression socks improves circulation and reduces swelling in your lower legs and feet. Have at least 2-3 pairs. Wash after each use.
- Lanyards – Personalized lanyards jazz up your ID badge and keep it visible at all times. Retractable options are convenient.
- Watches – Have a watch with a second hand to precisely time pulse readings and more. Waterproof models can handle frequent washings. Digital versions allow you to sync timers and alerts.
Protect your feet with pro-grade shoes and accessories made for nurses like you. Don’t take chances with your foot health.
Tech and Electronics
Technology makes it easier than ever to settle into each new home away from home:
- Laptop – Essential for completing certifications, staying in touch with loved ones, and entertainment during downtime. Look for long battery life and portability.
- Tablet – Useful for reading e-books, streaming shows, and as a second screen for multitasking. The Kindle Fire is a top affordable option.
- Noise-canceling headphones – Whether you need to drown out external noise or just immerse yourself in a guided meditation app, a good pair of over-ear noise-canceling headphones is essential. Brands like Sony and Bose lead the market.
- Portable chargers – Top up your devices anywhere with a pocket-sized power bank charger. Consider a model that can charge multiple devices at once.
- Digital alarm clock – Don’t rely on your phone for wake-up calls. A battery-operated backup alarm ensures you’re never late for a shift.
- WiFi hotspot – Secure your own portable WiFi device so you don’t have to hunt for connections. Skyroam and GlocalMe make global hotspot gadgets.
Stay fully powered up and ready to go with the right combination of gadgets and gizmos.
Speaking of gadgets, don’t forget to pack these essential healthcare technologies that will make you an efficient, high-tech travel nurse:
- Digital stethoscope – This enhanced version amplifies sounds and reduces ambient noise, helping detect subtle changes. The ability to record is also useful.
- Portable ECG/EKG – A compact cardiac monitor lets you take fast, accurate readings anywhere. Transmits results wirelessly.
- Telehealth kit – A quality webcam, headset with mic, and ring light enable clear virtual consultations.
- Scanner – Digitize forms and records to upload online. Reduces paperwork clutter.
- Medical apps – Stay updated with subscriptions to journals and handy tools like drug guides, calculators, references, and manuals. Seek out apps with offline access.
- Laptop/tablet – Your mobile workstation for charting, medical records, e-learning, and communication. Get one with long battery life.
- VR headset – Supplement skills with immersive simulated training for procedures and techniques.
Having the right clinical tech tools readily accessible in your bag ensures you can provide the highest level of care and be a modern, highly skilled nurse, regardless of where your assignments take you.
Toiletries and Medications
Trying new drugstores in every city would be exhausting. Stock up on these health and hygiene basics instead:
- Prescriptions – Keep at least a month’s supply of any prescription medications and birth control. Have digital copies of scripts in case you need a refill.
- OTC meds – Allergy pills, pain relievers (Tylenol, Advil), antacids, anti-diarrheal medication, and basic first aid items.
- Toiletries – Pack travel sizes or full sizes (if you have space) of your hair, skin, dental, shaving, and feminine hygiene care basics.
- Multivitamin – Maintain your immune system with a daily multivitamin, especially with frequent travel.
- Probiotics – Supplement with a travel-friendly probiotic to support healthy digestion. Pills or powder packs are convenient.
- Supplementary items – Consider bringing trusted supplements like melatonin, magnesium, iron, or Vitamin D based on your individual needs.
Don’t forget the medication and self-care products that keep you feeling healthy and human while on the road.
Kitchen and Food Items
Providing your own snacks and meals will save you time and money.
- Reusable water bottle – Stay hydrated and reduce waste with an insulated bottle. Look for generous capacities of 25-32 oz.
- Coffee/tea – Bring your favorite ground coffee, instant packets, or whole-leaf tea
- Electric kettle – Boil water fast with a sleek electric version that won’t take up space.
- Protein bars/snacks – Stash nourishing snacks like protein bars, nuts, and dried fruit.
- Oatmeal/cereal – Buy single-serve portions or make your own DIY packets.
- Spices – A mini spice kit (salt, pepper, garlic powder, etc.) can add flavor to any simple meal.
- Dining set – At least a plate, bowl, mug, and cutlery so you’re set for late dinners between shifts.
- Reusable utensils – Carry a portable kit with a fork, spoon, knife, and chopsticks to reduce waste.
- Grocery tote – A sturdy, packable tote bag comes in handy for carrying healthy hauls.
Bedding and Linens
While housing may come with basic sheets and towels, you’ll probably sleep better with these comforting touches of home added to your packing checklist:
- Pillows – Bring 1-2 preferred pillows for comfort and hygiene.
- Blankets – A cozy throw can make an unfamiliar place homier.
- Mattress pad – Add a cushioning layer between you and a well-used mattress.
- Blackout curtains – Block light and sleep better during the day after overnight shifts. Choose clip-on versions for easy installation in temporary housing.
- Sleep mask and earplugs – Achieve total darkness and silence for uninterrupted sleep.
- Towels – While often provided, bringing your favorite bath towel is a small luxury.
- Sheets – For maximum cleanliness, pack a spare fitted sheet and pillowcases.
Prioritize rest with familiar bedding that promotes your best sleep in any new environment.
Health and Wellness Tools
Caring for your mind and body helps you bring your A-game to every shift:
- Yoga mat – Unroll your mat and do YouTube yoga sequences or Down Dog app workouts in tight quarters.
- Resistance bands – Tone and strengthen with a compact set of stretchy bands.
- Foam roller – Release sore, tight muscles with a light, portable roller.
- Massager – Recover faster with a handheld massager to target sore spots.
- Meditation app – Calm or Headspace offer guided sessions and mindfulness exercises.
- Fitness tracker – Monitor your steps, sleep, and self-care habits. Leading brands include Fitbit, Garmin, and Apple Watch.
- Gym clothes and sneakers – Pack lightweight exercise apparel and proper athletic shoes to hit local gyms.
Caring for your physical and mental health helps ensure you can handle the demands of travel nursing in top form.
Some final necessities and problem-solvers to consider packing:
- Portable laundry detergent pods – Clean scrubs easily without buying jugs of detergent.
- Clothing steamer – Freshen up wrinkled garments quickly.
- Sewing kit – For emergency clothing repairs.
- Earplugs and sleep mask – Block out disruptions from noisy neighbors or bright hallways when you need rest.
- Portable safe – Lock away valuables securely; ones with TSA-approved locks allow checked luggage use.
- External battery pack – Recharge devices on the go when outlets are scarce.
- Umbrella – Compact when folded, essential when the weather turns stormy.
- Magazines, books, e-reader – Entertainment for downtime between shifts.
- Travel water filter – Purify tap water if the quality is iffy. Lifestraw and Brita make portable versions.
When you’re navigating a more transient lifestyle, it pays to have a few extras that allow you to tackle any situation and dispense with minor challenges before they become major problems.
Making it Feel Like Home
Add special touches to your packing checklist can make impersonal temporary housing feel warm and welcoming. Throwing these items into your suitcase will upgrade your travel nursing experience considerably:
- Photos – Display cherished photos using mini frames and album books. Digital frames are another option for rotating pictures.
- Plants – Add life with low-maintenance succulents, air plants, or an herb garden kit.
- Scented candles – Light aromatherapy candles after work to set a calming mood.
- Wall art – Pack a canvas print or set of framed art prints to hang. Choose uplifting affirmations or floral themes.
- Soft throws – A cozy fleece throw can add comfort and decorate bedding.
- Favorite recipes – Bring recipe cards or a cherished cookbook for preparing nostalgic meals.
Surround yourself with familiar objects and scents that bring joy. This transforms every place into your own personal sanctuary.
Travel Comfort Items
Settle in seamlessly at every new destination with these travel aids:
- Neck pillow – Avoid neck stiffness with an ergonomic memory foam travel pillow.
- Eye mask – Block out light en route to your next assignment.
- Earplugs – Combine with an eye mask for oblivious inflight sleep.
- Noise-canceling headphones – Drown out airplane noise or noisy neighbors.
- Tissues – Because you never know when allergies or a cold might strike.
- Hand wipes and hand sanitizer – Clean hands easily on the go.
- Phone mount – Attach your phone to the seat-back for hands-free viewing.
- Portable phone charger – Never have a dead phone battery thanks to a backup power bank.
- Water bottle – Stay hydrated without paying airport bottle prices.
By packing the items above, you’ll transition in comfort with travel gear and other items designed to ease headaches, enhance sleep, and refresh on the move.
Safety and Security Gear
Your personal safety should always come first, especially in unfamiliar cities. To boost your health, safety and welfare, include the following list of items in your travel checklist:
- Pepper spray – Compact canisters fit in a pocket or bag for quick access and peace of mind.
- Personal alarm – Deter troublemakers and call for help with a piercing 130+ dB personal alarm.
- RFID-blocking wallet – Avoid digital pickpocketing with an RFID/NFC-shielded wallet.
- Luggage locks – Deter tampering by locking zippers on your checked bags and suitcases. Get TSA-approved locks that agents can open.
- Passport holder – Secure your passport in a pickpocket-proof travel pouch worn under clothing.
- Backpacks – For hands-free security while exploring new places. Anti-theft bags have lockable zippers and cut-proof material.
- First aid kit – Be prepared to treat minor injuries with bandages, gauze, ointments and more.
The goal, especially when you’re traveling solo, is to take precautions without sacrificing confidence and freedom.
Staying Connected to Loved Ones
Life as a travel nurse can sometimes feel lonely when you’re away from relatives, friends and loved ones. Combat loneliness during lengthy contracts in distant cities with these high-tech helpers:
- Digital photo frame – Load it with an endless photo stream displaying your favorite people and memories.
- Voice recorder – Trade voice messages with family back home. Hearing familiar voices is comforting.
- Webcam – Invest in a high-resolution webcam for clear video calls on Skype, Zoom, etc.
- Smart displays – Alexa and Google Nest smart displays with video call capabilities let you easily call home hands-free.
- Photobook – Curate a sentimental book with favorite pictures to flip through when missing loved ones.
- Photo prints – Display individual prints using mini clip frames and magnetic frames.
- Shared albums – Upload your adventures to a shared album so everyone feels involved.
- Couch co-viewing – Synchronize movie nights with family via share screen apps.
Stay involved in loved ones’ lives through thoughtful gifts and technology that connect you even when physically apart.
Still have questions? Here are answers to some frequently asked packing questions:
- How big of a suitcase should travel nurses get? Look for soft-sided checked bags with around 50 liters capacity to have ample space. Durable wheeled models like Travelpro Maxlite 5 hold up well.
- Can I bring my own scrubs? Yes, pack at least 5 sets of your preferred scrub tops and bottoms. Stick to versatile dark colors that conceal stains.
- Which shoes are best for nurses on their feet all day? Look for supportive nursing clogs, sneakers, or compression-fit shoes with non-slip soles, shock absorption, and breathability. Brands like Dansko, Brooks, and Asics specialize in nursing shoes.
- Should I pack a portable printer? A compact printer lets you print paperwork on the go, but isn’t 100% necessary if you’ll have computer access at housing. Consider convenience vs. added luggage weight.
- What cleaning supplies should I bring? Concentrated laundry detergent pods, disinfectant wipes, mini Febreze, and a portable steamer allow you to freshen up your belongings and scrubs between wash loads.
- Can I ship belongings between locations? Some nurses opt to ship boxes via FedEx/UPS ahead of upcoming locations. This allows more flexibility but takes coordination and costs.
- Am I allowed to decorate housing? Most agencies allow you to decorate within reason but may request you restore it to neutral colors before leaving. Be prepared to undo major changes like wall paint jobs.
- Is public transportation accessible for travel nurses? It depends on the area – large metro areas generally have solid public transit. Be prepared to Uber, walk, or rent a car in less dense cities.
- How can I reduce luggage fees? Try consolidating belongings into one or two checked bags. Join airline loyalty programs for fee waivers. Notify agencies you’ll incur fees due to required gear.
When in doubt, focus on versatility, convenience, and keeping your most vital belongings close at hand in a carry-on bag.
Ultimately, thoughtful packing for travel nursing is about curating a mobile version of your life – including creature comforts plus healthcare and career essentials.
Use this guide to inform your packing strategy and create a packing checklist that is based on your needs. Stock up on versatile layers, supportive shoes, helpful tech, and personal touches to create a sense of home.
Most importantly, remember necessities like nursing credentials, contacts, and conscientious organization. Once you have systems and checklists in place, it becomes much smoother over time. Before you know it, you’ll be a packing pro ready to settle in and thrive in any new destination.
No matter where your next contract takes you, best of luck with your travel nursing adventures!