By Alex McCoy, Contributing Writer, Owner of Fit Travel Life
Editor’s note: Stocking Up is a three-part mini series that covers the essential travel items and furnishing methods Alex McCoy uses to make it feel more like home at each new travel assignment without breaking the bank. You can read part two here.
You guys—I love to cook. Like, a lot.
Before travel nursing, I had all the gadgets. Pressure cooker, Ninja blender, wine glasses for each style of wine…the list went on.
But when we had to pack up our life into our small SUV and Nissan Altima for our first out-of-state travel assignment, I knew there was simply no way I could fit all of my precious kitchen items into our new lifestyle.
After almost two years on the road it is safe to say I have our kitchen box down to a science. I have made a few alterations as we’ve gone along, and I also have some “disposable” items that I can donate and then buy again at Goodwill if needed. By keeping a few quality items on hand I have made sure we still eat healthy, home cooked meals on a regular basis and that everything I need for the kitchen fits into one 30 gallon tub.
My number one tip would be to start with the box you know is feasible for your vehicle, and dedicate only that space to kitchen supplies. If an item doesn’t fit in the box, try 13 weeks without it. Worst case scenario? Amazon will deliver just about anything you could need.
My Top 5 Travel Nursing Kitchen Must-Haves
- A lot of people swear by their Instant Pot, but I left mine behind in favor of my trusty slow cooker. I love it for long work days because I come home to a ready-to-eat meal, whereas with a pressure cooker I would still have to throw it all in and wait 30 minutes or so for dinner to be ready.
- Fun fact: I left my Crock-Pot behind for one assignment where we had to pare our belongings down to one car and I thought I could make it three months without it. It took me one week and I ordered a new one on Amazon. I will never ever leave it behind again.
2. A high-quality kitchen knife
- While it would be nice to have the perfect knife for every occasion, I have found that keeping one high quality knife and sharpener in my box does the trick. I usually buy a medium-sized knife so I can use it for lots of different tasks (think cutting open a spaghetti squash or eating a steak you grilled at home).
- Another option is to buy a mid-range knife every couple of assignments. Depending on how often you cook, the blade may stay sharp enough for several months and then you can purchase a new one when you start feeling like it isn’t safe to cut your sweet potatoes any longer.
3. Dutch Oven
- Initially, I thought I could get away with my crock-pot for all of my bulk meals or entrees that needed a larger pan. I quickly realized I needed something with a little more room to cook some of my favorite recipes like taco chili soup or salisbury steak.
- This is not an item you have to buy high-end. I was already on assignment when I realized how much I needed some sort of soup pot, so I made a trip to the nearest thrift store and found a plethora of large pots to choose from. This is also an item that you could probably donate and re-purchase if needed, as most of the thrift store options were under $5.
4. High-quality skillet
- People might argue you can make do with whatever is supplied at your rental house, or you can purchase this from a thrift store. However, after our first assignment where the cheap, nonstick coating from the provided pan started scraping off into our food, I decided keeping my own skillet was worth the extra space.
- I personally have a nice Calphalon pan that can also go into the oven up to 500 degrees, so it doubles as a casserole dish when needed! This is an item I would splurge on a little bit as it is hands down the most utilized cooking tool in my box.
5. Pizza cutter
- Yes, I run a health and fitness coaching program and no, I am not above a homemade pizza night or a good ole’ take-and-bake every once in awhile. For those occasions, there is nothing worse than trying to cut a hot pizza with your medium-sized kitchen knife without burning your fingers or sliding the cheese all over.
- This is another item we did not bring at first and ended up buying early on. Since then, we make sure our pizza cutter makes the cut (no pun intended) every time we start packing up.
While there are some other kitchen items I would love to bring along—my favorite wine glass and my French press are top of the list—I have found that with everything else we can usually make do. Most of my other kitchen utensils come from Dollar Tree, which makes it easy to get rid of them if we need to make space.
I also like to reach out and ask if there are specific items provided by the rental I have chosen. Things like a toaster or coffee maker might seem standard, but I have found most landlords have differing ideas of what’s considered a necessity.
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