Traveler Tips: Creating the Perfect Travel Nurse Wardrobe
By Alex McCoy, Contributing Writer, Owner of Fit Travel Life
My first travel assignment was in central Wisconsin and spanned August until November. As I sat down and started to pack and sort through which clothes I would need for the three months, I had a slight panic attack when I realized I would be hitting almost every kind of weather imaginable. We would be enjoying several warm weeks before transitioning to fall, after which temps would drop into the negatives by the end of our assignment.
Now I am not what you would typically refer to as high maintenance when it comes to clothing. I typically shop at places like TJ Maxx or Target so my wardrobe before traveling was pretty simple. I do however like to feel comfortable and confident in my clothes, and it’s always fun to dress up for a date night here and there. Plus I do not like being cold, so the weather-appropriate gear was a must.
Needless to say, I ended up overpacking just a smidge my first travel assignment. If I remember correctly, I brought approximately two sets of plastic drawers, a massive suitcase, and about 37 hangers full of clothes.
Then my car broke down mid-assignment. I downgraded in size and realized that since I had only worn about a quarter of the clothing I had packed that this was the best area to start making space. I went through all my clothes again, donated a ton, and packed the rest into plastic bins for storage back home. To do this I followed a few simple rules:
Get rid of anything that doesn’t fit quite right or I feel may be unflattering
All the ladies realizing this can understand what I mean when I say there are always a few “skinny” pieces in your wardrobe. These are the clothes that you only like how they fit if you are carrying zero water weight, ate perfect for the week, and followed your workout routine to the T. Get. Rid. Of. These. If you don’t feel 100% comfortable or confident in your clothing there is no point in toting it back and forth across the country with you.
Avoid patterns that can only be matched with one or two other items
Versatility is super helpful when you are narrowing down your travel nurse wardrobe. While I love a good pattern for flair, it just doesn’t make sense to have a bunch of pieces that can only match one specific shirt or pair of shoes. Stripes can sometimes be a little more flexible than other designs, so I did keep some striped items to mix up the solids in my wardrobe.
Statement earrings can add a pop of color without taking up too much space.
Jewelry is a great way to spice up a more limited variety of clothing. I actually found this great craft box and it worked perfectly for organizing and transporting all of my jewelry. Add a big necklace or some bauble earrings to different outfits to help keep from getting bored with your options.
Stick to basics on the bottom
For shorts and jeans, I have one denim pair and one black pair of each. The ripped jeans trend has me contemplating buying a really cute distressed pair, but right now I am holding out.
Pack one or two dressy outfits
I have found that even when I need to feel “fancy” nine times out of time a nice pair of black pants or jeans and some flats will cut it. Very, very rarely on assignment are there times where you will need a nice fancy outfit. Usually, a dress or two will suffice for nights you want to feel a little more dressed up. If you are a guy, one pair of dress pants and a couple of button-ups should be more than enough.
Cut down on shoes
Like I mentioned before, my pre-travel wardrobe was low maintenance and I still found it difficult to cut back on my shoe collection. What ended up working best was breaking down shoe categories and covering the two most common color needs: black and then brown or white. This worked for boots, sandals, and flats. Then I have one pair of gym shoes, work shoes, and hiking shoes. Add in a couple of pairs of flip flops and that rounds out just about every type of shoe you could need.
This may sound very Marie Kondo of me, but honestly, it was a huge relief. Not stressing over space is nearly impossible as a traveler, but cutting down my unnecessary clothing was surprisingly easy after my first couple of assignments. The more you move, the less you want to spend time packing and hauling items you rarely use.
I always keep in mind that if I really need something while on assignment I can always purchase things as necessary. If you find yourself in need of something really nice there are also great rental services like Rent the Runway that could be an option so you don’t end up adding to your wardrobe needlessly. Luckily the pay increase that travel nursing offers makes it less stressful to purchase a new pair of shoes or jeans if I absolutely need something.
My last piece of advice would be to give yourself a set limit on what you are bringing. Set aside a tote or suitcase that will fit easily in your car and only bring what can fit in this space. Go through your clothing, and then go through it again. Store what you don’t want to part within an airtight tub, then see if you still need it next time you are home! Before you know it your wardrobe will be only the necessities and your car will feel a lot less overstuffed. And your back will thank you as you are moving into your next place.
Alex McCoy currently works as a pediatric travel nurse. She has a passion for health and fitness, which led her to start Fit Travel Life in 2016. She travels with her husband, their cat, Autumn and their dog, Summer. She enjoys hiking, lifting weights, and trying the best local coffee and wine.
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