Packing for 4 days in a small bag

Is it possible to pack for a four day business trip in a bag that fits under an airplane seat? Reader L asks,

I always carry-on now & so far, I haven’t had to gate check my bag. However, on the way home from a recent trip to Vegas for a trade show, the flight was overbooked & it seemed everyone had decided to carry-on. The only reason I was able to carry-on was because I boarded early with my client (he’s on the road all the time & has great perks! I don’t travel enough to have any perks.)

So my question is this: Do you think it’s possible for a woman to pack for a four day business trip in a carry-on bag that will fit under the seat in front of her if the overhead bins are full? And if so, do you have any recommendations for the best type of bag in that situation? Something that still looks professional?

I love this question. Reader L is absolutely right—if you don’t board early in the process, there is a good chance that there won’t be room in the overhead bin for your bag. If you pack smart and have the right bag, there is no reason why you couldn’t fit what you need for a four day trip in a small suitcase that will fit under the seat in front of you.

Tips for packing light:

Plan to rewear. Wearing items more than once will allow you pare down to the necessities.

Use a packing cube. I have easily fit clothes for four days in a packing cube (pictured).

Bring two pairs of shoes. While normally I say three pairs, shoes take up a lot of room. Two pairs will probably be fine.

Split up toiletries. Instead of putting your toiletries into one big bag, split them into two or three smaller bags. This way they can squeeze into small spaces.packing cube empty

A sample packing list:

  • One dress.
  • One pair of pants.
  • Two cardigans.
  • Two shirts.

Then wear:Packing cube comparison

  • Day 1: Dress+cardigan
  • Day 2: Pants+shirt+cardigan
  • Day 3: Dress
  • Day 4: Pants +shirt

Finding the right bag

One of my favorite packing websites, Travel Fashion Girl, has packed for five days in her Lo and Sons OG. While I admire that, it’s a bit trickier for business trips because you have to carry all of your work stuff in addition to your clothes. So while you could do it in a large purse (and more power to you if you go that route!) I would use a rolling briefcase. The key is to look for a bag that has a place for your laptop and then a separate, larger compartment for clothes.

The travel bag of the week from this week, the Women In Business Croco Rolling Briefcase, would actually be perfect. Another option is the London Fog Luggage Chelsea computer bag. Before purchasing a bag, check the dimensions to be sure it fits airline guidelines (here is a handy list from USA Today). Pack all of your clothes in the packing cube, and leave that at the hotel during business hours. I strongly suggest bringing a small purse that you can use when you’re not working so you don’t have to lug your big bag around.

Readers, would you try to pack for four days in a bag that fits under an airline seat?

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  1. I don’t travel for business but I’m fully confident it could be done! I just packed a family of four into two carry ons for a 5 day trip to Hawaii (and two are in diapers so we packed those AND swim diapers).

    I feel like if that is possible, anything is.

  2. As long as I’m not taking workout gear or too much paper/other work stuff, this is easily doable. At least for my business casual self.

    I think packing-wise, you can get away with wearing one pair of shoes and packing the second. Same with pants – wear one pair on the plane. For me I don’t think a cardigan changes the look of a dress enough that I would wear it twice in four days, but I would pack one dress, one pair of pants, and three tops/cardigans that worked with either pair of pants. Black/grey is usually my preferred color scheme for something like this. So wear black pants on the plane, grey pants on Day 1, dress on Day 2, black pants on Day 3, and grey pants on Day 4.

  3. @Amber When I wear a dress twice in a trip I will try to make it look totally different. For example, wear a cardigan buttoned up with a belt over it–that way it looks like it’s a skirt. Make sense? That works best with solid colored dresses though–not so much with patterns.

  4. I usually do:
    2 skirts
    3-4 shells (depending on weather)
    2-3 cardigans (depending on weather)
    1 pair shoes

    all matching, and wear:

    Day 1: skirt 1, shell 1, cardigan 1
    Day 2: skirt 1, shell 2, cardigan 2
    Day 3: skirt 2, shell 3, cardigan 1
    Day 4: skirt 2, shell 1, cardigan 2

    1 casual outfit, which is worn on the plane and whose bottoms can be worn with the daytime shells and cardigans as needed.

    This works best for warm-but-not-hot climates.

  5. All have mentioned clothes for day time, but nothing about pajamas. This will take up some space in a bag to fit under the seat. I travel for work a lot, I’ve tried to minimize and re-wear clothes for short trips, but it’s very difficult to do in a hot climate without washing.

    Also, mentioned in an earlier post about wearing the dress with a cardigan and belt to make it look different, that belt will take up space as well. My difficulty is toiletries and a travel dryer. The hotel dryers are not powerful enough to dry my thick hair without it taking longer than usual.

  6. Yes, it is absolutely possible, but tricky. Abandon wheeled luggage as the wheels and associated hardware take up precious space. Computer may be handled 2 ways: 1) Computer bag with extra pocket for clothes or 2) Use a computer sleeve and pack a purse in your bag.
    Also slide the bag under the seat with the computer on the bottom (toward the floor). Clothes compress under the seat, but the computer won’t.
    I suggest a suit jacket with matching sheath dress and pants. Bring an additional cardigan, 1-3 tops, and a scarf. Wear the suit jacket and pants on the plane because they are bulky.
    Travel: Suit jacket, top 1, pants
    Day 1: Suit jacket & Sheath
    Day 2: Suit jacket & pants and top 2 w/scarf
    Day 3: Sheath w/ white blouse (top 3) under it (jumper style)
    Day 4: Cardigan, top 1, pants
    Pajamas: I’ve had great luck with Target’s “Gilligan & O’Malley” sleep shirts. very light and compact. Better, bring leggings and a tee which double as workout gear. I have a pair of barefoot runners that take up little space but work in the hotel gym.
    Tops and undies may be laundered in the sink at the same time you take a shower. Make sure you decant toiletries to the smallest possible size to save space.

  7. I have started traveling with lightweight jersey knit dresses especially in warmer weather. There are lots of brands on the market that roll up easily and unpack virtually wrinkle free. I can easily pack four (or five!) in a packing cube with a couple of knit tops or tees and another over-sized tee for sleeping. I wear slacks or lightweight denim trousers on the plane with a button-down shirt (try any Foxcroft wrinkle free style) and a blazer or cardigan that coordinates with all of the dresses. The dresses make getting ready super easy. I try to take two solids and two prints for variety.

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