May 15, 2020

Living Minimally as a Travel Nurse—Is It Possible?

Being a travel nurse is an exhilarating and exciting experience that oftentimes is paired with feelings of stress and anxiety. As a travel nurse, you are constantly packing up your life and moving around the country every 13(ish) weeks. Not to mention that every time you move, you are faced with the responsibility of finding short term housing in a city you may know very little about. The stress of it all can be enough to cause some people to throw in the towel. But the truth is, there are ways to reduce this stress! By packing minimally and utilizing trusted housing websites like Furnished Finder, you are already on your way to living out your dreams as a travel nurse.

When I first became a travel nurse, the learning curve was steep and I didn't quite know what I was doing. The two biggest mistakes I ever made came to packing and housing. When faced with deciding what to pack for 13-weeks I chose to err on the side of caution (not practicality), which caused me to overpack. Regardless of where I was headed or what time of the year it was, my entire summer and winter wardrobe came with me. My cookbooks, coffee cups, water bottles, purses, shoes... even my crock-pot.

After my first travel nurse assignment, I realized that I was hooked on travel nursing. But I also realized that it wasn’t feasible to pack my car every 13-weeks with unnecessary appliances and clothes that didn’t fit the season. To continue being a travel nurse, I had to learn how to start packing minimally. While I quickly learned how not to pack, I needed to learn how to appropriately pack so that I could continue this lifestyle for years to come. Fast forward three years and I now choose to travel minimally!

Living Minimally as a Travel Nurse

In the past 3 years, I went from packing every single thing that I owned into my car and driving to each destination, to ditching my car and only packing one checked luggage and shipping 1-2 boxes. Here's how I did it...

Step 1: Decide how many boxes or suitcases you are willing to travel with – if it doesn’t fit, leave it behind

The first step in deciding how much to pack is deciding how much luggage and how many boxes you are willing to travel with. If you choose how much you want to travel with first, you know that you have hard limits. Sometimes when you just throw a bunch of clothes and accessories together, you don't realize how much room those things take up. By setting a limit on how much you want to move from place to place, it is easier to rationalize why you can't take everything with you. Then when you start packing, begin with the most important things and stop once your boxes or luggage is full.

This also applies if you are traveling with a car. Because a car is much bigger you can pack more and you don't always realize how much you have packed until you are unpacking. Also keep in mind you will be moving any bags and boxes solo. I would still choose how much you want to travel with and pack the same way whether or not you have a car.

Step 2: Always pack for the season

This may go without saying... but pack for the season! If you are headed to Hawaii, only pack warm weather clothes. If you are heading to Alaska in the dead of winter, only pack cold-weather clothes. If you are headed to a city where the weather varies or the seasons are changing, this may be more difficult. The way I deal with this is by only packing one of each thing. For instance, I'll only pack one swimsuit instead of multiple swimsuits. One pair of flip flops, one winter coat, and so on.

Step 3: Remember, you will be wearing scrubs 3 days out of the week

I gravitate towards overpacking so to keep myself in check I do simple math! If I am on assignment for 13 weeks I start with 13 weeks x 7 days = 91. I have 91 days that I will be gone. I then realize that I will be wearing scrubs 3 days/week so, 13 weeks x 3 days = 39. 39 days I will be wearing scrubs. I then take the total number of days and subtract from it the days that I wear scrubs: 91 days total - 39 days in the hospital = 52. There are 52 days in my contract that I potentially need clothes for. I then take it a step further to reduce the number of things that I bring by taking into consideration that I probably won't be getting fully ready all 52 days.

If you estimate an additional day each week that you choose to wear yoga pants or sweats, that is 13 extra days you don’t need an actual outfit. So 52 - 13 = 39. It is more feasible that I will probably be getting ready and need clothes for only 39 days of my assignment. If you want to take it a step further because you want to pack even less... divide this number by 2 knowing you will be wearing everything you bring twice. Keep going if you want to pack even less! By looking at the numbers it may be easier to “rationalize” the actual amount of clothes you need to bring rather than packing based on what you are estimating you may need.

Living Minimally as a Travel Nurse
Step 4: Pack an extra suitcase or box in case of an emergency

The very last thing I do before I leave on assignment is pack an extra suitcase or box for an emergency - TO LEAVE AT HOME. What if I decide I want to extend another 13-weeks but don't have time to go home? What if my next assignment only takes me one state over and again... I won't be going home? Or what if I truly didn't pack enough and I feel like I need more? To be prepared for these instances, I keep a suitcase at home packed full of stuff I may want or need in the middle of my assignment or at the end. This way someone can quickly mail my stuff to me and I don't have to worry about going out to buy things I may need.

If I do utilize my "emergency" box, I make sure to ship a box of things back home that I have already used or maybe won't be using. This ensures that I'm not gathering too many things on assignment and I am still living minimally.

Step 5: Find trusted housing that is fully furnished

My biggest takeaway of all and the most important thing to minimal packing is finding housing that is fully furnished from a reputable source. When I am looking for fully furnished housing I make sure to ask the landlord if sheets, towels, and kitchen appliances are included. This way I can truly gauge what "fully furnished" means to them, and this ensures that I won't have to pack or buy anything extra.

Because Furnished Finder is tailored to travel nurses, I utilize their website to find trusted housing that is, most importantly, furnished and stocked with basic linens and kitchen items.

Now that I have learned to pack minimally and find trusted housing, I don't foresee myself slowing down anytime soon. Travel nursing is a crazy adventure that I hope to continue on with for years to come.


Author Kylee Nelson

Kylee Nelson, RN, BSN

Kylee splits her time between being a NICU nurse and solo traveler. Spending half her time at the bedside, Kylee has been caring for premature babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for five years now. She began Passports and Preemies in 2017 to reach nurses and advocate for the prevention of nurse burnout by traveling. Kylee is the original creator of the “8 Day Vacay” – A vacation geared towards nurses aiming to take advantage of the 8 days off between work weeks with no need to use PTO. You can also follow along with her adventures on Instagram.