Answering Readers’ Questions: Traveling for Months at a Time

According to Google search, the most common length of time for a business trip is three to four days. But what happens when you are gone instead for three to four months? I recently received an email from Reader L that said:

“I have just taken a new job that is clearly defined as a “Road Warrior”, it was even in the job description. I will start in a couple of weeks, and am starting to makes plans and arrangements, but am a little overwhelmed. The job itself is constant travel – as in away from home for up to three months at a stretch with a new place every few days. This kind of travel obviously takes a special kind of packing. I found your blog online and love it so far! I’ve read a number of your posts, but it seems most of them are geared towards three- to four-day trips with a stop at home in between. Any specific tips for this kind of business travel? I would love to be able to carry on.”

Congrats on the new job! It’s true that the majority of my own business travel is for 3-4 day trips, but there are certainly exceptions. Three months is a long time! It will definitely require a lot of planning and strategy. The most important thing is to be as efficient as possible. I know I talk about efficiency while packing a lot, but this time I mean it even more. Planning ahead, carefully measuring the flexibility and durability of every piece of clothing, using helpful items like packing cubes, and the rest of the tips below can make a long-term, potentially tricky travel situation much easier to manage. Here are my suggestions.

  • Packing cubes. Cubes will help you so much, allowing you to pack twice as much in the same amount of space. At the same time, make sure your suitcase isn’t so heavy you can’t lift it.
  • Neutrals. All of your basics—pants, skirts, jackets—need to be neutral. Black would be my first choice, because it won’t show stains as easily. Just in case you, I don’t know, spill coffee on your pants one morning. Not that that’s ever happened to me……
  • Capsule wardrobe!! You guys know I love the capsule wardrobe. Making sure that each of your pieces can be worn together means almost unlimited outfit possibilities, so you don’t feel like you’re wearing the same thing every day. Here is my capsule wardrobe for this summer, to give you some ideas.
  • Laundry/Dry Cleaning. Your company should provide for some sort of cleaning service if you are traveling for this long. Definitely take advantage of it! I would recommend taking your clothes to the cleaners for general laundering as well, so you don’t have to mess with washing and folding.
  • Stuff that wears well. Quality and durability is even more important when you’re going to be wearing the same 12-15 clothing items for three months. And remember, it’s not typically the wearing of clothes that wears them out—it’s the washing. So try to make your clothes last longer between washings—hang them up with space between the hangers, etc.
  • FedEx is your friend. If you can go three months without buying anything, you’re a better woman than I am. Ship stuff home on a regular basis if you buy something that replaces it. If you’re a knitter like I am, once you finish a project, send it home or to its intended recipient.
  • Toiletries. This is where things get really tricky. You want to carry-on, but there is no way a 3 oz bottle of shampoo is going to last three months. So there are a few options. First, replace your small bottles when you run out. Sites like 3floz.com and Sephora have travel sized bottles of almost every beauty product available. Another option is to ship your toiletries. If your company will pay for it, I think it’s worth it, and you can have larger bottles of your products with you all the time.
  • Invest in an e-reader. I can’t stress how much I love my Kindle. You can carry thousands of books with you at all times, without having to tote around the actual books. On many models you can get magazines as well. Also, a lot of hotels have book exchange programs—you can take a book or leave a book.
  • Be healthy. Although you asked specifically about packing, I want to add this one last tip. It is so easy to get into an unhealthy rut on the road—late dinners, heavy food, restaurant sized-portions, fast food, little to no time to work out…. Try to be as healthy as you can as often as you can. Look to places like Whole Foods for dinner, get yogurt or cereal for breakfasts, and try to stay away from fast food as much as possible. Also, plan ahead and work some form of exercise into your schedule. Even a ten minute walk around the block can make you feel better.

Whew! That’s a long list. I wish you luck, and am very interested to hear how it goes.

Readers, any tips that I missed? What is your advice for Reader L?

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Comments

  1. A few quick thoughts to add. Although you touch the subject with an E-reader, you really need to cover electronics more.
    1) Travel router. This will always come in handy. It gives you a secure network, takes up little space and sometimes a hotel will have free wired internet access (or included with status) but not free wireless access so you can save money. If you are single this is the only router you need for home and travel.
    2) Plan how to minimize cords for all of your devices. My LG phone, shuffle and ipad can all be charged with a USB connection even though each device has a different power receptor on the unit. Sometimes you may need to buy an additional accessory to charge with a USB connection but it is worth the few dollars. I then carry one USB wall charger and 1 USB car charger. Or you can look into some type of solar pack.
    3) Noise cancelling headphones are invaluable when traveling, especially when alone and flying (granted I am a guy and generally see men using).

  2. Wow that’s a lot of travel! Most of mine are short trips too. But keep in mind, while having a capsule wardrobe with main colors is key, it doesn’t have to be black, or khaki. For example, I took a long vacation where most of my clothes were olive (or army green) and teal! Color might be more fun than black, if slightly more difficult.

  3. If you have to wear the same clothes over and over again, don’t underestimate the power of accessories. Scarves and costume jewelry are inexpensive and small, yet have a lot of visual oomph. I have about 20 silk scarves and they take up the same amount of room as a single sweater. 20 is kind of overkill, but if I was traveling for 3 or 4 months, I’d bring them all and tie each one a different way.

    If you like to shop for entertainment, relaxation, or just to get out of your hotel, give yourself permission to replace your accessories fairly regularly. Bonus if you can find something that captures the spirit of that city: a sophisticated art print scarf from a museum side trip, or silver shell earrings from a coastal town.

    Space-saving garments:
    1. Cashmere sweaters. They are just as warm as regular wool but considerably thinner. Macy’s house brand, Charter Club, makes decent cashmere sweaters, and they aren’t too expensive.

    2. Silk long johns, tops and bottoms. Take up almost no room, but will save your bacon if the weather gets cold. Practically invisible under most business clothes. You can sleep in them, too.

    If you don’t care for the hotel’s freebie shampoo on your hair, you can still use it to gently hand wash fine items like cashmere and silk in the sink. No need to carry Woolite.

    If you need to carry a bulky clothing item like a raincoat “just in case,” compress it in a heavy-duty ziplock bag. They come in tons of sizes. Fold up the item into the bag, zip it 90% closed, then sit on it to squeeze out the air and finish zipping. It will be wrinkled, but you can iron it later or have it pressed.

  4. I like these long-term travel tips — is there any chance we can get a followup from Reader L on what they learn about these long-term trips? Perhaps a monthly check-in post about what they found works (& what doesn’t) ? That would truly be awesome.
    Thanks!

  5. Veering in a slightly different direction, I want to encourage Reader L to find room for a couple of ‘home base’ items – a photo, a small dish you put your jewelry in each night, and if you are religious – a small item that represents your faith – these will keep you grounded somewhat and be what you come home to all those nights you are on the road.

  6. In addition to all of the other recommendations here, I’d also recommend shipping at some point. If your schedule is already mapped out, there’s no reason to not have some “new” clothes shipped out to you on a regular basis (maybe monthly?). You can have them ready for your home warrior, or you can have the local UPS store ship on a schedule (they charge extra for this). Gives you a chance to “freshen” up your wardrobe, and you can ship your “old” stuff home/office/etc – along with anything you might have bought.

    I mean, you *can* live in the same clothes for 3-4 months, but will you want to? (I’ve done it – but that was backpacking through Europe, not work travel 🙂 )

  7. I always recommend packing a variety of sizes of ziplocks, and even a small tupperware container. It helps me eat healthier when on the long trips.

    Great post.

  8. If Reader L is going to be visiting some of the same places on a regular basis and staying at the same hotels, she should see whether the hotels are willing to store a container with a few items in it for her between visits (like large bottles of toiletrees that can be used to refill 3 oz bottles, seasonal clothing like snow boots or jackets, etc). Hotels are usually willing to accomodate frequent guests.

    Also, consider what you are packing your liquids in for those long trips. There are two products that I LOVE for travel toiletrees. (1) A reusable TSA compliant clear PVC bag where both the top and bottom are flat (something like this http://www.amazon.com/Travelon-Tsa-Regulated-Toiletry-Bag/dp/B0043YHSFO). It seems to hold way more than a standard ziplock and is way more durable. (2) Goo tubes. They’re squeezable, they’re colordul, they come in 1, 2 and 3 oz sizes, and they have HUGE openings that make them easy to refill.

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