What to Pack For Your Business Trip
tl;dr: What to pack (and not to pack) for your business trips.
No matter how short or long the trip, where you’re headed or why, you’ll have to pack some things to take with you on your business trip. But what should you take? What’s the best way to protect your travel documents and credit card? And what about luggage?
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the business of packing for business travel. We’ll teach you how to create a business trip packing list. And we’ll pass along some valuable packing tips from experienced business travelers to make your next trip better and easier.
Business trip packing list
Priority #1 for business travelers: always make a travel packing checklist. Whether it’s your first-ever work-related trip or you’re a globe-trotting frequent flyer, it is all too easy to forget something essential. And it’s even easier to over-stuff your luggage with extraneous stuff. You don’t need this frustration and hassle, especially when trying to make a smart impression on behalf of your company.
A business travel packing checklist has your back. You’ll be reminded of everything you might need, and you can check things off as you pack. Packing will go quickly and efficiently, and you won’t have to rethink the entire process every time you travel for work.
There are some things you should always pack when traveling for work:
- Credit card
- Travel documents (passport, boarding pass, copy of your itinerary)
- Business cards
- Water bottle
- Your presentation, on a flash drive or stashed in Google Docs (if you are giving a talk with handouts, ship them ahead or have them printed locally and delivered to your hotel or speaking venue)
- Toiletries including lip balm, lotion, and hand sanitizer as well as the obvious toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, makeup, etc.
- Prescription medications
- Trip-appropriate wardrobe (for the plane think comfort and slip-ons)
- Electronic devices (smartphone, laptop/iPad, Kindle, external battery pack)
- Portable charger, power cords and adapter
- Noise-cancelling headphones
- Pen (no, seriously)
How do you know what you'll need on a business trip?
Beyond the basics that pertain to every trip, what you’ll need to take depends on where you’re going, how long you’ll be on the road, and what you will be doing (not just business meetings and dinners, but on your own as well). Remember that dress codes differ. Will you need your power suit and dress shoes, or will business casual suffice?
Don’t forget to check the weather forecast for where you’re going. Will you need an umbrella, gloves, extra sunscreen? With a business trip packing list, you won’t overlook a necessity.
Above all, bear in mind that there is a difference between must-haves and nice-to-haves. When it comes to business travel, less is more.
The goal is to make your business travel easier.
One thing experienced business travelers all agree on: stick to carry-on luggage unless your trip will be a long one. You won’t have to worry about lost luggage or waste time hanging around the baggage carousel – and you’ll be forced to pack light. With practice and our packing tips below, you can do this. You’re a pro!
A few other hints to reduce the stress of business travel:
- Create two sets of necessities such as toiletries, cables, chargers, and so on. That way you can leave one set in place at home. Then, pre-pack the duplicates for travel and store the bags inside your suitcase, so they are always right at hand and ready to go. You won’t have to scramble around gathering these essentials, and you won’t forget something critical. Pre-pack other essentials such as business cards, too.
- Sign up for TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry if business travel takes you out of the country.
- Check in online and print your boarding before you head to the airport
- Get an airport lounge membership if your company doesn’t provide that perk. A quiet space with food, power and Wi-Fi can do wonders for your mood as well as your productivity.
- Pack some healthy snacks (or buy some at the airport), to keep your body fueled and your mind fresh. (OK, you can have a little chocolate, too.)
Packing hacks and tips for business travelers
Many of the best business travel tips focus on packing because you can save space, easily find what you need in your bag, and ensure your clothes arrive looking presentable. Clever road warriors suggest:
- Roll your clothes to save space and prevent wrinkles – except your suit. Fold that inside a plastic dry cleaning bag.
- Use packing cubes to organize clothing by type and, again, prevent wrinkles. Pack the larger cubes in your carry-on first, then tuck in the smaller ones. Fill shoes with underwear, socks, anything else “stuffable.”
- Ziploc bags are handy to corral jewelry and to contain anything that might leak. Bring some extra large ones to hold dirty laundry.
- Minimize your wardrobe. Choose mix and match items you can wear more than once, and stick with a color theme or neutrals that offer the most versatility. Personalize your look by accessorizing with a scarf or a fun tie. And about your shoes. They’re bulky and heavy so stick to 2-3 pairs (one dress, one casual, one optional). Ladies, stylish flats or low-heeled shoes are often just fine for business meetings, and you’ll be far more comfortable.
- Purchase wrinkle-resistant clothing for business travel.
- Dryer sheets keep your clothes and luggage smelling fresh, reduce static cling, and work great as screen wipes.
How do you pack for a better business trip?
Millennials are the most frequent business travelers, hitting the road for work an average of 7 times a year. All that millennial business travel has generated some great tips to boost your overall business trip experience:
- Take along a couple of tennis balls to massage your feet on the plane.
- If you have trouble sleeping on the plane (or in unfamiliar hotel rooms), pack noise canceling headphones, a pillow and/or eye mask.
- Tuck a small bottle of CAP Beauty Captivator into your carry-on luggage, for a refreshing mid-flight mist.
- Add a swimsuit to your packing list, just in case. It’s small and light, so why not?
A few more of our favorite packing hacks
- Charge every device before you leave home for less worry about drained batteries in transit. (And always pack extra chargers.)
- Use your personal item (purse, briefcase, daypack) to carry your laptop, chargers, travel docs, sundries like lip balm – everything you will need at hand on the plane or to hand over separately at security.
- Use a padded sleeve for your laptop if your daypack or briefcase doesn’t have a dedicated space for it.
Things you don't need on a business trip
Your business travel packing list includes must-have essentials as well as nice-to-have items you can include if you have room. But there are also things you just don’t need on a business trip, no matter what. By avoiding unnecessary items, you literally lighten your load. Or you can add one more goodie from your nonessential-but-nice list.
Some items are just too bulky for business travelers
Heavy, bulky items hog space, which defeats your goal of efficient trip packing. Clunky shoes (or too many shoes), puffy coats, and that behemoth of a laptop you love to use in the office have no place on your packing list. In winter, wear your boots and coat -- there’s no way they will fit into your carry-on luggage. And speaking of luggage, a bulky suitcase, especially one without wheels, is no way to start packing.
If you must take a hair dryer or other styling tools, invest in smaller, lighter styles designed for travel. And if you’re an avid reader but really tight on space, consider using a Kindle or the Kindle smartphone app or taking just one paperback and replacing it as needed. Leave it behind for someone else to enjoy.
What should you leave at home during your business trip?
Find out what your hotel provides in the way of amenities. There’s no point in duplicating any of those things. That includes toiletries -- do you really need your own brand of shampoo and conditioner?
Avoid redundant technology, too. Can you get by without taking every device you own? The more items you leave home, the fewer power cords, backup batteries, etc. you’ll need.
Unless you’re in the fashion business, traveling for business is not a fashion show. You want to look professional but your packing list should emphasize efficiency. So leave the stilettos at home, along with the two extra outfits.
Don’t take more than minimal jewelry, either. You’d be heartsick if it got stolen or lost, and wearing expensive jewelry marks you as a target for thieves.
What are the essential items to pack for business travelers?
Obviously you’ll need clothes, electronics, files or other items pertinent to the work you’ll be doing on the road, carry-on luggage and your personal bag. If you consider a pillow, headphones, a book, etc. essential to your business travel well-bring, then pack them, too. But here are a few more essentials you may not have considered:
- Mobile hotspot. Connecting anywhere is good, but connecting securely is critical to protect your personal and business data.
- A notepad. You never know when a brilliant idea will come on you, and you’ll want to capture it right away. Besides, you need some place to keep track of all your business expenses so you can get reimbursed. Of course, if your company supports business travelers with Lola.com you’ll be able to record (and submit) your expenses with just a couple of clicks. And with your work travel policies built right in, you won’t have to wonder if your meal expenses, etc. are within budget.
- A pen. You’ll need it to jot down your brilliant ideas and expenses, and chances are good you’ll have to fill out a form at some point (certainly if you’re passing through customs).
Best luggage accessories for a business trip
Business travel that works starts with the right luggage. Forget the three-suiter of old, which was the size of your car’s trunk and into which you could happily load everything you could possibly want or need. Today’s business travelers need a suitcase that is svelte, feather-light, and designed for efficient packing. With planning and finesse, traveling for work requires nothing more than carry-on luggage and your personal item.
Quality construction matters for durability, but overly expensive luggage, like jewelry, can catch the eye of potential thieves. Trolley wheels are crucial for those long hikes down concourses. Compression dividers hold the contents snugly to reduce wrinkling and allow you to sort through one side without disturbing the other.
Purchase a small digital scale that will easily fit in a side-pocket, to avoid overweight charges. There are even bags on the market that have an internal scale.
Trade in your briefcase for a backpack designed for business travel (women can tuck a small purse inside). Backpacks hold everything you might need to access during your flight so you don’t annoy yourself and everyone around you by getting up to rummage through your carry-on. You can throw a backpack over your shoulder, wear it on your back, or hitch it to your carry-on for hands-free movement around the airport.
Whatever you use for a personal item, be sure it has a trolley strap so it will stay put when you slip it over the handle of your carry-on.
Inexpensive luggage accessories can enhance your business trip
What really sets modern business travel apart is the availability of luggage accessories, many of them quite inexpensive. These items conserve space, preserve clothing, keep everything neatly contained inside your luggage, and make it easy to find things.
- Packing cubes are a must-have. Different sizes and colors hold all types of belongings neatly. You’ll never have to pay through your suitcase again, rumpling as you go.
- Ziploc bags are great for separating dirty clothes and holding other things because you can compress the air from them and seal them tightly.
- A Tide pen or Shout wipes are handy to erase little spills.
- Fold-flat nylon totes give you an extra bag on arrival for shopping, etc.
What are the best travel wallets?
The last thing you need when traveling for business is to have your wallet stolen. Or your passport or boarding pass. A travel wallet holds critical travel documents, your identification, credit card and money, all in a compact, secure enclosure. There are myriad styles available for men and women. The best travel wallets keep things organized and handy, provide both physical and electronic security, and look nice, too. Here are some key features to look for:
- RFID-blocking material or lining. This prevents would-be thieves from scanning your credit and debit cards.
- Traditional safety features. Secure snaps, extra-strength zippers, slash-proof material and straps keep the contents safely inside.
- Size. Some travel wallets are not large enough to hold your passport as well as money and cards.
- Weight. Nylon composite fabrics are popular because they are super-tough and very light.
Travel wallets are not necessarily cheap, but buying one could be the smartest investment you ever make in business travel.
What travel accessories should you have for a business trip?
Luggage accessories that improve packing are wonderful. But there are even more travel accessories and tools that business travelers consider de rigeur. You may not want or need all of these – personal preference is as important as functionality -- but each of them can boost the comfort and/or productivity of your trip. Try them once, and we think you’ll be hooked.
- Noise cancelling headphones (earbuds are more pack-friendly) – don’t leave home without them!
- Travel pillow or neck pillow
- Eye mask
- Fleece travel blanket
- Power bank for recharging all your devices (road warriors advise you take two)
- Adapters (the lightest you can find)
- Socket board, or trailing socket – with this little product you can take just one adapter, then connect 4 or 5 different devices
- Mini-surge protector
- Wi-Fi Hotspot (secure connection from virtually anywhere, look for one that can handle all your devices)
- Mini-projector for presentations – Innocube projects images and videos as far as 100 inches and weighs less than your smartphone
The more you travel for business, the more you come to appreciate the value of travel “perks” – accessories and tools that may not be essentials but can sure enhance your business travel lifestyle. Some examples:
- Tudor’s Black Bay GMT watch has a 24-hour bezel and displays the time in two different time zones.
- JBL makes waterproof Bluetooth speakers with an integrated clip. That means you can tune in to your favorite tunes in the shower, at the pool or in the hot tub.
- We’ve noted how important it is to carry a pen. You could go pick a Bic, or you could show your distinctive side (and your efficient packing prowess) with a Kaweco Classic Sport rollerball pen that is a miniscule 4” in length.
- Packing all your in-flight essentials in your personal item is smart, but you can take it one step further by putting all the small items (pen, earbuds, candy bar, lip balm, your CAP Beauty Captivator essential oils mister) in a separate pouch. Montblanc makes a transparent version so you can see what you need to grab, even on night flights where the lighting is low.
Consider free mobile apps that can boost your business travel experience. Popular recommendations are Waze to check directions and traffic updates, White Noise Free to block out noise with or without headphones, and the Kindle app/free library book downloads so you can cut back on bulky devices.
The US Travel Association predicts that business travelers will make more than 472 million trips in 2020. Sometimes it can feel as if you are personally making every one of those trips. However, with a business trip packing list in hand and these tips on packing efficiently, you can make traveling for work easier, better, and more enjoyable. Look out, world, you’re coming to do some business!