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Packing for a Business Trip: A List for Traveling Professionals

October 12th, 2016 /

I actually enjoy packing. It helps prepare me mentally for each trip, and my wife and bathroom cabinet can both attest to my love of mini toiletries.

Packing for a work trip is admittedly less fun—I always worry I’m going to forget something crucial—but preparing properly is an opportunity to create good first impressions with clients, and so, over the years, I’ve come up with a few strategies that make business packing almost easy.

packing for a business trip

Image Credit: Flickr user frankieleon (CC BY 2.0)

Step One: Gather Your Wardrobe

If you travel often, I’d suggest collecting a few business staples that are always ready to be thrown into your bag. Some professionals go so far as to customize their closet layouts to facilitate easy access to everything they need. If you’re not in a rush, you can also lay everything out on your bed. Your goal is to get everything in one place. Don’t worry about how you’re going to fit it all into your luggage yet.

The suggestions below are for a one-week business trip but can easily be adjusted:

  • 3-4 shirts or blouses. Bring two professional shirts in a similar color palette (shades of blue or beige, say), plus one casual option, and one shirt that can serve double-duty.
  • 1 blazer. A dark blazer typically goes with multiple shirts and can also be worn with jeans in your off-time.
  • 2 pairs of slacks or suit pants. Go with one color palette for your entire travel wardrobe: Blues/blacks or browns/khakis. Your goal is to have both pairs of pants match all of your shirts as well as your blazer.
  • 1 sweater or cardigan. No matter the weather, bring a sweater. Indoor venues are inevitably chilly. Again, aim for a neutral color that matches all pants and shirts.
  • 1 belt. Choose black or brown accord to your color palette.  
  • 2 pairs of shoes. Men should bring one pair of dress shoes, one casual. Women should bring a pair of dressy flats or boots suitable for both work and off-time, plus a pair of heels.
  • Large shoulder bag or purse. You want something that can fit your computer and is appropriate for work and for exploring.
  • Jewelry, cufflinks, tie bar, and watch. Bring simple jewelry and cufflinks that match multiple outfits. I’ve found this is the best way to maximize luggage space and minimize the risk of leaving items behind.
  • Socks, pantyhose, and undergarments. Bring one pair for each day of your trip, plus one extra.
  • Pajamas. Fairly self-explanatory.

For Women:

  • 1 dress. Bring something versatile, like a black dress that’s suitable for evening wear but can be paired with a cardigan by day.
  • 1 skirt. Pack a skirt in a dark, neutral color that matches your blazer and blouses.

For Men:

  • 2 ties. This will provide several mix-and-match options with your three business shirts.

Non-Essential Items:

  • Workout attire. Only bring this if you’re sure you’ll have enough time to use it. I’d also suggest checking with your hotel, first—some hotels offer workout clothes as an amenity.
  • Casual off-time clothing. This is typically only worthwhile if you have significant free time, like a full weekend.

Step Two: Gather All Grooming/Hygiene Products

Nice hotels offer many of these products, but I’ve found, through trial and error, that it’s safer to pack them anyway. If you don’t need them, just keep them in your luggage. Essentials include:

Dental Products:

  • Toothbrush and toothpaste.
  • Floss. Pre-portioned floss or floss picks are great when traveling.

Hair Products:

  • Hairbrush or comb. I’d suggest a folding option to save space.
  • Styling products. Gel or hairspray. Buy travel-sized, and look for products with the ability to lock so they don’t spill in your bag. If you have long hair that needs to be styled, you may also want to invest in travel-sized straighteners and curling irons. My wife tells me that the extra space is worth the price.
  • Accessories. Hair ties, clips and bobby pins. To keep them from getting lost in your luggage, keep them in a small pouch or Ziplock bag.

Body Products:

  • Deodorant. Deodorant doesn’t count toward your liquid limit, so bring your favorite, full-size brand to save money and ensure it’s a scent and quality you like.
  • Face wash. If there’s a travel size of your favorite face wash available, great! Otherwise, pour your own into a reusable, travel-sized container. I’ve had good luck with humangear’s GoToob since the locking mechanism guarantees nothing will spill.
  • Razor. If you’re bringing only a carry-on bag, you could get stopped if you’re carrying a razor. It’s rare, but it happens. If you’re only traveling for a couple of days, shave the morning you leave and don’t bring your razor. For a longer trip, pack it, but if it’s not in a checked bag, be prepared to buy a new one on arrival.
  • Perfume/cologne. Stock up on a few samples the next time you walk by a beauty counter. You won’t have to worry about size restrictions, spilling, or glass breaking in your bag.  
  • Makeup. I defer to my wife here, who suggests going with one look for the whole trip, something professional and neutral. Bring a darker eyeliner and bolder lipstick for evening if you’ll be mixing work and pleasure.

Step Three: Gather Technology and Work-Related Supplies

While you probably won’t walk off without your cell phone, there are several other details that, once forgotten, make your trip much more hectic. Here’s the checklist I use:

  • Cell phone.
  • Laptop or tablet.
  • Laptop accessories. Headphones, mouse, USB drives, and a cooling pad or tray.
  • Chargers. Bring a charger for everything that requires one. A business trip is not a good time for your electric razor to run out of power mid-shave. In fact, I’d suggest investing in a multi-charger.
  • A portable charging option. If you’ll be in a car during the day, bring a car charger. If you’ll be on foot, invest in a portable charger or an extra phone battery.
  • Business cards. Obviously, you should bring your own business cards, but bring cards for your closest colleagues as well. Casual conversations frequently lead you to reference people you work with, and one of the best ways to network is to help others.
  • Breath mints and chapstick. When you spend the majority of your trip talking to new people, these items become essential.
  • Antibacterial gel. Just try not to whip it out immediately after shaking someone’s hand.
  • A pencil and pad. Old fashioned, but practically fail-proof in the event of technical malfunctions. Just make sure to keep these handy and not buried deep in the bottom of your purse or briefcase.

Step Four: Organize and Pack

Always, always save the physical packing for last. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked down at the pile of items on my bed and realized by simple association that I’d forgotten something. Setting everything out also allows you to organize your bag more efficiently. To make the most of your space:

  • Choose your luggage wisely. If you want to avoid checked-bag fees, I’d suggest investing in a professional-looking messenger bag or backpack for your personal item. You’ll want to use this for anything you need to take out during security checkpoints (toiletries and laptop) plus anything you’ll need during the flight (headphones, for example). Your carry-on should provide maximum storage so that you can fit everything else, but it also needs to be lightweight and flexible enough for overhead bins. Hardshell luggage is a good option if you travel often and want your bag to last. Samsonite and Victorinox both make excellent, lightweight hardshell bags.
  • Start with heavy items. Shoes and other bulky things should go against the wheels of your carry-on, with the lightest items toward the handle. Anything you’ll need to access frequently (again, your laptop and toiletries) should go in your personal bag.
  • Avoid folding. Rolling your clothes takes up less space than folding them. You’re also less likely to wind up with wrinkles. If you’ve got dress shirts that are particularly sensitive, I’d suggest adding tissue paper between layers of clothing or storing your outfits in dry cleaning bags. The less friction that separate items have against each other, the less likely wrinkles are to form.

It might not be hassle-free, but packing does get easier with the right tricks and techniques. And to minimize the stress once you arrive at your destination, consider staying at a luxury hotel with concierge service—you might be able to get someone else to unpack for you.

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