By Alex McCoy, Contributing Writer, Owner of Fit Travel Life
Editor’s note: Stocking Up is a three-part miniseries 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 one by clicking here, or jump to part three by clicking here.
Finding housing can be one of the most stressful parts of working as a travel nurse. At the beginning of my career, I always looked for a place that had all the bells and whistles: furniture, linens, and dishes seemed like “must-haves” for a short term lease.
I started to realize that this was actually costing me money as I have moved back and forth across the country. I could pay for the convenience of having everything I needed ready and waiting or I could spend a little extra time and cash up front and save myself hundreds of dollars a month at each assignment.
Aside from corporate rentals or Airbnb, I have found that most apartment complexes that offer furnished options do not usually offer a “fully stocked” option. This means your apartment will have all of the big pieces of furniture, but smaller items such as dishes and linens will not be provided. I have found these rentals to be much cheaper than move-in ready versions, and for our last three assignments, we have gone this route instead. In the process, I have learned several shortcuts to get all the necessities we need without breaking the bank or overflowing the car.
1. Get familiar with Dollar Tree and other discount stores.
My first stop is Dollar Tree whenever we have to purchase small household items including kitchen utensils, dish towels and bathroom accessories . I usually make a list of things we need and go their first and see if I can get lucky and find most of the items I need.
After that, I go to Big Lots. I can usually find some of the larger items here like shower curtains or small kitchen appliances for $10 or less. By purchasing cheaper versions of some necessities, I can usually keep my first-day expenses under $150 and donate anything that won’t fit in my car at the end of the assignment.
2. Remember that you likely won’t be entertaining large groups of guests.
I think one of the reasons we stress about having certain items in our home is because friends and family might be coming to visit and “need” something like a matching hand towel or an extra blanket if they get cold.
When you start to think about what you personally use on a regular basis, the need for extra “stuff” will start to dwindle. Even when we do have friends come out to visit, we simply make a joke about the travel life and hand them our plastic silverware and a paper plate.
3. Pare down linens to the bare minimum.
When it comes to bulkier items like blankets and towels, space gets taken up wdqquickly. As a traveler, you have to analyze what you actually use on a regular basis, and weed out items that you might have at home for “show” rather than usability.
For example, traveling with a good quality fleece blanket or heavy afghan will take up less space than a comforter. Try to bring no more than two towels per person—one for everyday use and an extra in case you go to the pool, gym, etc. Use dish towels that can double as hot pads when cooking.
4. Opt for disposable options.
While producing extra waste is not my favorite way to live, often as a traveler, we have to take a few shortcuts here or there. One way I have learned to save space when packing is to utilize disposable silverware, plates, and bakeware when I can.
One way I do this and cut back on overall waste is to reuse these items as I can. By buying the heavy duty plasticware, you can actually get quite a bit of use of them by re-washing. I have also rewashed plastic cups and aluminum pans that are meant to be disposable and then I try to recycle as much as I can when they are worn out.
5. Be willing to do dishes and laundry more frequently.
If you only have one towel or just a couple sets of silverware it is inevitable that you will have to wash these items quite frequently. I often hand wash my dishes as I use them because I know I will be using them again soon. I also do a lot more laundry as a traveler than I did when I had a permanent home.
This may seem like a little bit of a pain, but the other option would be to create more space in your vehicle for extra items or splurge on a few things you want to donate at the end of your stay. I personally am fine with washing my towel every couple of days to save a little money and space.
6. Don’t stress—you’ll get more efficient as you go along.
Any long term traveler will tell you that as your career progresses you will find yourself getting better at streamlining what you need and cutting back on what you don’t. I used to spend way too much money stocking up on “needs” at the beginning of each assignment and quickly realized how fast three months goes by and what we really use in that time frame. Now, if I end up needing it, I can always go back for it.
Whether you decide to aim for the convenience of a move-in ready rental or to save a little cash by bargain shopping your first few days, you will find the routine that works best for your lifestyle and take a little stress off of finding your own perfect housing as a travel nurse.
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