Going Somewhere? How to Pack for Business Travel
For key business-travel tips and advice, we took to the skies and found 3 guys with miles of successful packing experience between them. Learn from their experience and spend less time packing and a bit more on that presentation.
Packing for a business trip isn’t easy. There’s the fear of overpacking like a complete newbie and the ever-present-worry that you’ll forget something.
It’s easy to overlook something necessary when you also have to worry about traveling for actual work. Between remembering your laptop, portfolio and that killer presentation you’ve been working on… who has time to remember a phone charger and clean underwear?
We’ve created this guide because we know business trips can be a struggle. Whether it’s your first time and you’re stuck in economy or you’re flying first class on frequent flier miles, packing effectively is a skill that can always be improved.
The 4-3-2-2 Combo
Software developer turned marketing specialist, Nicklas Mortensen , suggests packing a versatile wardrobe that blends itself for business formal and business casual.
“The 4-3-2-2 combo is my go-to packing technique – 4 shirts, 3 pants, 2 blazers and 2 pairs of shoes. It’s not too much and still offers variety so I’m not stuck for style.”
Admittedly boring when it comes to slacks, Nicklas recommends “2 pairs of black pants and 1 pair of khaki. Black goes with everything and feels like you have a lot of options without packing a lot. A pair of khaki pants goes great with a blue shirt and brightens up any look after a day in black.
For shirts, I always pack 2 white, 1 blue and 1 patterned. White is pretty safe, and I make sure the patterned shirt matches my pants and blazers (1 grey and 1 dark-blue). I’m a fan of a double-breasted and a 2-buttoned blazer.”
No outfit is complete with the right shoes and Nicklas packs for versatility. “One pair of brown and one pair black. The belt I pack is brown on one side and black on the other. Easier than packing 2 different belts.”
Besides the essentials – leather laptop bag, charger, headphones and sunglasses – you’ll also find accessories taking up the small spaces in his bag. “The best way to feel fresh on a trip is to have variety. I pack 4-5 pocket squares , 2 pairs of cufflinks and 4-5 ties . I keep 2 tie bars (1 gold and 1 silver) to match metals . It’s easy to make a list and plan out your outfits for each day, but you’ll feel more like yourself if you have a small amount of freedom when you get dressed.”
Never travel without: “The one thing I can’t pack without is my steamer. You never know how great the iron will be at your hotel and there is no packing technique to guarantee a wrinkle-free shirt.”
Pack flat or roll up: “I always pack flat, just for the convenience of it, and to sort my bag in levels. Shoes are always in bags so they don’t stain my clothes.”
Best advice for business traveling beginners: “Pack the night before and wear something comfortable on the flight. Many tailors craft suits (known as super-stretch or travel-suits) with elastane. It’s a great investment and you’ll arrive looking as good as when you got on the plane. ….and won’t wrinkle when you have to sit for long periods of time.
If you’re traveling a lot, talk to your bank about a Mastercard with priority pass. This gives free access to many airport lounges and makes waiting easier.”
The Roll & Go
Brett Snyder, airline industry analyst and president of Cranky Flier and Cranky Concierge , believes packing in a duffel bag is the way to travel. “I always bring a duffel bag instead of a roller because it’s much easier to squeeze into the overhead bin or, if necessary, under the seat. The only downside is that I have to carry it over my shoulder. Not having to check a bag saves valuable time after landing… it’s worth carrying.
I make sure to pack at least 2 pairs of pants and 2 shirts, and I double-check that they all match before putting them in my bag. I pack one belt and a pair of shoes.
My laptop bag is where I store my phone charger, laptop charger, pens, and meds. This way I know where they are and can reach them easily to work on the flight or in the terminal.”
Never travel without: “When I travel, I wear long pants, shoes, belt, and a sweater. Wearing another business-ready outfit keeps me from needing to pack more and keeps my bag small and light.
Non-iron shirts are a godsend for business travel. But the first thing you do when you get to the hotel should be to hang up stuff and iron anything that needs ironing. You don't want to be ironing a shirt at 7:30 am when you have an 8 am meeting.”
Pack flat or roll up: “Usually, if it’s a short business trip, I pack my clothes flat. If I’m running short on space, I’ll roll to squeeze more in. I put pants on the bottom of the bag, shoes and then everything else.”
Best advice for business traveling beginners: “Time is your friend – so treat it kindly. Always leave yourself room for unexpected cancellations or delays. If possible, arrive the night before a meeting, so you’re rested and ready to go the next morning. The more slack you give yourself, the less stressed you’ll be.”
Dress to Save Space
Casper Felskov , Assistant Retail Manager of a men’s fashion brand, suggests wearing one complete outfit to save space. “When traveling for work, I wear a grey blazer. The flight attendants will always hang it for you when you board, so you don’t need to worry about wrinkles. I do this so I don’t have to pack it.
In my bag, you’ll find 3 shirts and 2 pairs of chinos. I know the black and khaki ones I pack match the white and blue shirts. They’ll also complement the grey blazer.
I pack only what I know I will wear. Some business travelers like to pack options, I prefer to plan and pack accordingly. With that in mind, I take 2 ties (1 in a solid color and 1 with pattern) and a pair of black leather shoes and a black leather belt.
I wear one watch and pack another one. Something as simple as changing my watch can make a big difference after sitting in meetings or touring other stores all day.”
Casper prefers to skip the baggage claim line and head straight for the hotel upon arrival. “Learn how to pack in a duffel bag. You’ll avoid the lost bag dilemma and it’ll help you learn how to strategically pack instead of carrying your entire closet for a 2-day work trip.
The bag should match your look. Think of it as a way to complete your outfit – not just hold stuff. Leather always looks professional and evolves a patina over time that shows you’re well-traveled.”
Never travel without: “I always travel with a power bank for my phone. If something goes wrong while traveling, you’ll need a phone to notify work and get rebooked.”
Pack flat or roll up: “For me, packing flat gives more space in the bag. Shoes (in a shoe bag) go in first, then accessories, pants, shirts, charger for my laptop, laptop, phone charger and lastly my toiletry bag. The final thing that goes in my bag is my ticket and passport. They’re on top and easy to access.”
Best advice for business traveling beginners: “Maybe it’s pessimistic, but always assume something is going to fail – either the train is delayed or drive to the airport is bombarded with traffic.
Show up early at the airport. I always arrive 2 hours before my flight. And don’t let the time get wasted, either. Use it to work or as a much-needed break before the business part of the travel begins.”
How to Fold & Pack a Suit Jacket
- Begin by laying the jacket flat.
- Flat is key to staying wrinkle-free. You can use a pin to ensure the front and back stay together (and flat). It’s optional and not recommended on fragile fabrics.
- Turn the jacket over and fold one side in. Line it up with the center back seam.
- Flatten the sleeve along the fold line. Aim for smooth and flat. Repeat on the other side.
- Your jacket should now look like this. Now, fold it in half (starting from the bottom).
- Your folded suit jacket or blazer should resemble this.
- You’re now ready to pack it away. Remember to hang it up as soon as you arrive at your destination.
How to Fold a Dress Shirt for Travel
- Begin by laying the dress shirt flat with the buttons facing down.
- Fold one side in. Line it up with the center of the shirt.
- Flatten the sleeve along the fold line. Aim for smooth and flat.
- Repeat the steps on the other side.
- Flatten the sleeve over the first sleeve as pictured.
- Fold the shirt in half by folding from the bottom.
- Your folded dress shirt should look like this. Ready for packing! Be sure to hang it up when you reach the hotel.
How to Roll a Dress Shirt for Travel
- Begin by laying the dress shirt flat with the buttons facing down.
- Fold the shirt completely in half by bringing one sleeve over to meet the other.
- Fold both sleeves down as pictured.
- Starting at the bottom, carefully roll the shirt toward the collar.
- Your rolled dress shirt should look like this. Ready for your luggage. Remember to hang it up upon arrival and iron if necessary.
10 Travel Tips from Expert Travelers
- Avoid checking luggage in at all costs. Invest in a bag you can carry on the plane.
- For short trips, pack one suit and a fresh shirt each day.
- Always pack a casual set of clothes and shoes. Something you can wear to run to McDonald’s at 2 in the morning if you need to. Plus, changing out of a suit after a long day and business dinner into something comfortable is worth the space it consumes.
- Hang and iron your clothes as soon as you get to the hotel. Test the hotel iron on a towel first to check if it’s stained or broken.
- If you’re going to travel a lot, have a fully-stocked toiletry bag on hand. Complete with airplane-approved sizes. Toss it in your bag and go.
- Pack a laundry bag to separate dirty clothes. It makes packing to return home easier.
- Always have digital copies of your passport and travel documents on your phone.
- Look for suits and clothing with elastane and designed for traveling. Many items are wrinkle-free and dry quickly if you do have a spill.
- If you’re going from the plane to a meeting, make use of the airport bathroom. A quick freshen up can take from miserable to ready.
- Never leave home without moisturiser and lip balm. The air gets dry up there.
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