How to Pack for a Business Trip
May 22, 2022
Business trips – you either love them or hate them.
Some people consider business trips a rare opportunity to shed the shackles of an enclosed workspace, seeing a new city on the company’s dollar. Others, understandably, would prefer to keep their travel ambitions and work life separate, viewing business trips as just “work, but with a few airport lines thrown into the mix.”
Whatever side of the divide you find yourself on, you still have to pack your bags.
The packing process can make or break a business trip. If you pack your suit improperly, forget your deodorant, or fail to pack a sweat-wicking base layer, you risk looking, feeling and smelling shabby in front of people you need to impress. And if you overpack, you’re saddled with an awkward suitcase that limits your movement and drains your energy.
So, before we delve into packing for a business trip, let’s establish some guiding criteria. We want our packing to facilitate:
- Lightness: We want to move freely, coolly and methodically, so we’re aiming to fit everything into a neat carry-on bag or suitcase.
- Put-togetherness: No wrinkles, no unsightly creases. We want to make a visual impression where we’re going.
- Freshness: For our own sake, and for the sake of any colleagues or hosts we might interact with, we want to look, feel and smell fresh.
- Work Readiness: We’re travelling for work, after all. It would reflect poorly on us if we forgot our laptop charger, phone charger, or any other work-imperative tool.
With our parameters set, we can start packing. Below, you’ll find tips relating to these criteria, including actionable advice that’s worked for us in the past. Naturally, a merino wool tee or pair of underwear will make an appearance, because we firmly believe that merino wool can help make any trip – business or pleasure – a lot smoother.
Check out other posts on this blog for more DIY travel hacks, including how to streamline your airport experience.
Packing Light, Lithe and Streamlined
Our goal here is to ensure that you a) don't have to wait at the luggage carousel for a half-hour after landing, b) don't need to squeeze an oversized suitcase into a taxi trunk, and c) feel comfortable walking around town with your luggage between meetings or work obligations.
Here’s how to do it.
Credit: nappy Via Pexels
Find the Right Luggage
In our article on how to pack your travel bag, we discuss picking the right luggage for carry-on travel. If you’re rushed for time, let’s summarize the salient points:
- 26 litres is the sweet spot for a compact travel bag with enough storage
- Find luggage with multiple compartments, which makes it easier to access electronics, documents, clothing and toiletries. Barring separate compartments, do your best to compartmentalize items in your suitcase by type.
- A bag or suitcase with a simple, streamlined design is best. It won’t clash with your outfit (or distract from your winning personality!)
- Durability and water resistance are critical, especially when carrying important electronics and documents.
If you don't have a piece of luggage that fits all the above criteria, at least aim for the first point – find a bag that's compact enough to fit under an airplane seat or in an overhead compartment. (You can read more about luggage size restrictions per airline in this Travel + Leisure article).
Roll Everything (Except the Suit)
Rolling clothes is a fantastic way to reduce friction (more on that below) and increase the usable surface area of your luggage.
If you’ve rolled a burrito, a spring roll, or anything involving paper (we’re not going to say it), then you know how to roll clothes. Fold in the sides to create a neat rectangle, then tightly roll the garment away from you.
The only thing you shouldn’t roll is a suit. But don't worry – you can skip ahead to the next section for a detailed rundown of packing a suit into carry-on luggage.
Pack Merino Wool Basics
Merino wool is sweat-wicking, breathable, insulating and antibacterial. In other words, it works well in a range of climates, and a single garment can stay fresh for a long time (like weeks, in some cases). Because merino is versatile and fresh, you only need one (maybe two) of everything. One merino polo shirt, one pair of socks and one pair of underwear – that’s it for your base layer.
Use Your Shoes
It’s common practice to pack two pairs of shoes for a work trip, even a short one. One formal pair and one leisure pair. Normally, this would annoy the minimalist in us, but we understand why it’s necessary.
That said, don’t let the space inside your shoes go wasted. Fit socks and phone chargers into your shoes. Not only will it save space, but the material inside acts as a makeshift shoe tree, helping your work shoes hold their shape as the luggage jostles around.
Lastly – importantly – be discerning with what you take. No one really needs six outfit options for a three-day work jaunt. It’s tempting to overpack just in case, but in reality, the extra clothing probably won’t see the light of day, only serving to weigh you down.
The same goes for toiletries. Unless you require very specific body wash and shampoo, leave the basics up to the hotel.
How to Pack a Suit into a Carry-on
As long as you have recourse to an iron or steamer at the hotel, you can’t do too much damage to a suit. That said, it pays to know how best to pack one into a carry-on. This method was specifically designed for soft backpacks, but it works equally well in hard and soft suitcases. The steps are as follows:
Step 1: Lay the suit flat with the back facing up.
Step 2: Fold the left shoulder over the middle seam of the suit.
Step 2: Turn the right shoulder inside out, and tuck the left shoulder into the right.
Step 4: Fold the suit in half vertically.
Step 5: Fold the suit in half horizontally to make a neat square shape
Step 6: For an extra hedge against wrinkles, store the suit in a dry-cleaning bag.
Step 7: Fold your pants at the vertical crease, laying them on a flat surface like the bed. Put your folded suit jacket (in or out of a dry-cleaning bag) at the centre.
Step 8: Like pulling a band-aid around a finger, fold the pants over the suit, starting with the bottom.
Step 9: For extra credit, place the entire folded suit in another large plastic bag to keep it fresh and protected.
In our article on packing a suit, we have a handy infographic if you need a visual tutorial. We've also included short tutorials on packing dress shirts and dress shoes.
Credit: jcomp Via Freepik
How to Avoid Wrinkles
To avoid wrinkles, you have to understand wrinkles. To that end, let’s explore a brief (we promise it’ll be quick) science lesson in wrinkles.
Clothing wrinkles boil down to two things: friction and pressure. If you loosely pack items into a bag, they rub and jostle against one another as you move, creating a small amount of heat that breaks down hydrogen bonds in the fabric’s polymers. As these bonds break, they reset into new positions – hence the wrinkles. The same goes for top-down pressure, which presses clothing, acting on hydrogen bonds in much the same way.
The solution, then, is simple: remove friction and pressure to avoid wrinkles. You can do this by ensuring that everything in your luggage is tightly fit together, and that no heavy items are placed at the top of the luggage. Think of each article of clothing as a glass bottle, and the aim is to minimize that clinking sound. You want to pack your rolled clothes with as little wiggle room as possible.
It also helps to have wrinkle-resistant clothing – like our merino wool travel clothing – which contains elastic-like fibres that reset into a similar position after being disturbed.
How to Stay Fresh on the Road
Lastly, let’s tackle how to stay fresh during work trips – by that, we mean smelling, looking and feeling clean. The goal here is twofold: let's ensure that you feel confident, and that others feel confident shaking your hand.
Here are a few basic hacks we use to feel our best when we travel.
Who knows what enterprising backpacker first came up with this idea, but it's a good one. To keep your packed clothes smelling fresh, even through stuffy airports and damp weather, nestle a couple of dryer sheets in your luggage.
Dryer sheets contain gentle lubricants and inoffensive fragrances that slowly release as they meet friction (or static electricity). As your bag bobs and bumps, the sheets will release that signature “fresh laundry” scent, ready for you to enjoy when you unpack.
There isn’t a lot to say that hasn’t already been said. After years of living through a global pandemic, we’re all well-acquainted with hand sanitizer. We’ve included it on this list because it’s an expedient way to cleanse your hands and tackle germs – which, on a business trip rife with handshakes and shared conference tables, is a considerate gesture of communal wellbeing.
On-the-Go Breath Freshener
Beyond packing a toothbrush and toothpaste, we like travelling with some sort of on-the-go breath freshener. And since chewing gum is still considered impolite in most business circles, we usually go with breath strips or sprays. They’re small enough to fit inconspicuously in a dress pocket and compact enough for a minimalist carry-on.
A Sweat Wicking Base Layer
As mentioned above, one of the remarkable things about merino wool is its antibacterial property. But it’s also adept at wicking away sweat – rapidly transferring the sweat from your skin to the outer surface of the garment, where the moisture can evaporate. A sweat-wicking garment leaves you feeling dry and light. And the antibacterial property of merino wool keeps you smelling fresh.
We recommend travelling with a merino base layer, including a merino wool t-shirt for women or men that you can wear under a blazer or sport jacket for a semi-formal look.
Credit: rawpixel.com Via Freepik
A Collapsible Water Bottle
This item gets at the issue of freshness obliquely, but bear with us.
One of the central culprits of that “icky” travel feeling is dehydration. When your body lacks water, your skin can dry out or overcompensate by producing more oil. You’re also more likely to get headaches and feel lethargic when dehydrated. Since airplanes are notoriously dehydrative environments, you should stay on top of drinking water to feel fresh when you land.
We recommend investing in a collapsible water bottle. The best ones pack down to about the size of a hockey puck, so they’re easy to cart around in a day bag, briefcase or laptop bag.
What to Pack for Business Travel: A Sample Checklist
No two suitcases look entirely alike, but we can offer a sample checklist of what’s (often) in our bag during a work trip. Use this as a guide when you pack, or cherry-pick it for ideas. For an average three-day work trip, we like to include:
- For men: One suit, including a jacket, merino wool dress shirt and slacks. For women: dress pants, a button-up shirt and blazer. Or: an equivalent “formal enough” outfit for the context.
- One or two pairs of merino wool underwear (remember, they stay fresh for far longer than a day).
- One or two pairs of merino wool socks.
- One merino wool t-shirt or long-sleeve (depending on the season)
- One pair of casual pants, like jeans, chinos or leggings
- One pair of dress shoes
- One pair of runners
- A condensed suite of toiletries, including: A toothbrush, travel-sized toothpaste, deodorant, hair styling product, hand sanitizer and breath strips.
- One work laptop with charger
- One work phone with charger
- One collapsible water bottle
- One passport, slipped into an easily accessible front pocket
- An optional bathing suit (if you’re a hotel pool kind of person).
That’s it. In all likelihood, that's all you'll need for a three-or-more-day work trip. If you have spare room in your carry-on after fitting everything above, by all means, add more – add that extra button-down shirt for a semi-formal dinner, or that personal bottle of shampoo because you don’t trust the hotel stuff.
We’d love to hear what you take on a business trip. If you have any tips to share with the community, leave them below in the comments section.