Pro Tips: How to Pack for a Business Trip

Did you remember to bundle pack that shortwave radio?

By Jason Bargas August 4, 2017

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"How am I gonna fit this freaking pantsuit in a carry-on?"

Image: Shutterstock

Packing for travel is a fine balance between bringing what you need and bringing what you think you need, and then cramming it all into a suitcase. And what you need varies from person to person. For instance, your teenager may think it’s necessary to bring one, 62-linear-inch suitcase filled with 84 pounds of “essentials” for a 13-day trip to Florida while you may bring only a toothbrush, swim suit, and a Hawaiian shirt (true story).

When it comes to business trips, packing guidelines are a little more straightforward. Below, our suggestions—assuming that you’ll be packing and transporting your suitcase each week and not using a “leave behind bag” (an increasingly popular option for those who travel frequently for work).

What to Pack

Business Attire

Pack enough mix-and-match wardrobe pieces to cover the number of days in your trip plus another contingency outfit. Chances are high you may get routed to a new destination while you are on the road. At the very least, you may encounter a spill or inclement weather. Your minimum contingency should be one extra set of undergarments.

Expert Level: Returning to the same city soon? Drop off your dirty clothes at a nearby dry cleaner before flying home, then pick up your freshly laundered attire en route to your project the following week.


Learn to live with one pair of business shoes and one pair of casual shoes. Wear the heavier pair on the plane to save weight—but also remember that you want to wear your most stable shoes in the event you need to evacuate the aircraft due to an emergency. Said another way: Wear shoes you can run in that also protect your toes; ditch the heels and sandals. If space allows, pack a simple pair of flip-flops for strolling to the hotel lounge for late-night snacks.


Buy refillable, travel-sized containers for liquids and prescriptions. You’ll save big time on volume and weight. Save even more space by leaving your appliances at home.

Expert Level: Stockpile hotel amenities when you find a quality brand you love.


The following items are handy to have and should fit in a gallon-sized plastic storage bag:

  • Sleep blindfold: Airplane interiors can be bright and hotel room curtains don't always block out light.
  • Clothes pins: Use for hang drying in a pinch, and clamping down curtains.
  • Spot remover: Use this to blot out drips from Ragu, wine, latte, etc. (Bonus tip: guard against coffee drips by aligning the seam of your paper cup across from drinking hole, i.e. put the seam at 12 o’clock with the spout at 6 o’clock.)
  • Ear plugs: Because sometimes it's loud.
  • Sink/bathtub stopper: Some sinks always drain.
  • Eight-foot extension cord: Electrical outlets are frequently in obstructed locations; I’m calling you out, W Hotels.
  • AM/FM/shortwave radio: The chaos surrounding the 2003 blackout resulted in adding an old-school radio to my packing list. Use what you’ve got; if you need to buy something, go for a unit that includes a shortwave receiver.
  • Disposable lighter: Rubbing No. 2 pencils together is an exhausting way to light a candle when the power is out.
  • Head lamp: Stifle your inner style police and pack a head lamp just in case you need to hold a handrail, drag a roll-aboard, and light your way while evacuating a subway, train platform, hotel, or airport.
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Yeah, you're gonna want to refold and repack those shirts.

Image: Shutterstock

How to Pack It

Fitting It All in a Carry-on

I use a hybrid approach of the packing techniques listed below. Find a method, or methods, that work for you and refine as you go.

  • Bundle packing: Creating a bundle of clothes as described on minimizes wrinkles in your attire and results in a compact nugget of clothes that you may shape to fit any bag. Stow delicate items like silk ties in the center of the bundle. Easy-to-wrinkle items should compose the outer layer of the bundle as the larger circumference provides a smoother surface. Create a bundle for each destination on multi-leg trips to avoid unbundling, rebundling, and creating wrinkles.  
  • Rolling: Roll your clothes to minimize flat edges and linear wrinkles. Combine rolling and bundling for easy packing. For example, bundle the bulk of your attire. Roll a few contingency pieces for quick access should you need to swap out an item due to a spill.
  • Nesting: Cram undergarments and nightwear into the negative spaces left by your bundle as well as the cavities of shoes.
  • Packing full suits: Carefully fold suits and stow inside dry cleaning wrappers as described in this video when required to pack formal set-ups.
  • Suit coats: Use the technique shown here to pack your suit coat for luggage or overhead bin storage with minimal wrinkles.

Incorporating a Leave Behind Bag

Leave gear at your hotel or office each week to make your commute easier. Pack toiletries, workout gear, casual clothes, and sundries in a bag that you leave with the bellman, lock in your office or filing cabinet, or stow hidden in your cubicle (never leave behind valuables, duh, and always lock your client laptop in your desk). Eventually with some planning and practice, you may be able to board your weekly commuter flights without any gear aside from your everyday carry-on items.

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