Packing tips for a 5-day business trip

For a new business traveler, fitting all of your necessities for a week into a carry-on is a difficult skill to master. travel hair dryer conairReader B asks….

I’ve gone on a couple of business trips and usually check my bag. However for an upcoming cross-country trip I will be traveling with coworkers and need to carry on instead of checking. How on earth am I going to fit five outfits into a carry-on suitcase? One thing that makes packing even harder is that I can’t use hotel hair dryers (my hair is too fine) and I have to bring my own hair dryer.  Do you have any suggestions for me? Thank you!

Reader B, I have full confidence that you can make this work. It can sound intimidating to go from a large suitcase to a rollaboard, but I will ease you through it. Here are my packing tips.

First of all, I promise you need less clothing items than you think. The simplest way to pack for a five day trip is to use a capsule wardrobe (like this one I put together for spring), where all the pieces can be worn together. I would pack:

  • 2 bottoms, either pants, skirts, or one of each
  • 1 jersey dress
  • 4 tops
  • 1-2 completer pieces, either cardigans or blazers
  • No more than 3 pairs of shoes (2 would probably be fine)

With these items you have at least ten outfit combinations to get you through your five days.  (Be sure to choose your travel outfit from the list above.) Add your PJs, undergarments, and accessories and you will be good to go! All of these items should fit in one full sized packing cube.

You didn’t mention toiletries, but I definitely recommend decanting all of your larger sized toiletries into 3 oz refillable bottles, or even something smaller. Many of my liquids—face wash, moisturizer, primer, and hair crème—are actually in contact lens cases.  Even with these small amounts I can usually go three or four trips without refilling.

Need more help? Download the Road Warriorette Business Travel Packing Checklist!

As for your hair dryer, I have a couple of thoughts. I would guess that if you can get all of your clothes into a packing cube you will have plenty of room for your regular hair dryer. However, if you’re going to be traveling regularly I recommend trying to find a travel-sized hair dryer that you like. This one by Revlon comes with a diffuser and a concentrator and has 4 stars after 3k reviews, and this one from Conair folds to be super compact and has 4.5 stars. Both are under $20 and may be worth a try.

Readers, do you have any packing tips for Reader B?


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  1. I second the capsule wardrobe thing….I used to travel every single week for work and I had two alternating ones….each based on a color…ie black, grey or brown…

    the key is making sure the bottoms and so forth are all that tone…then you liven things up with the tops…(because you dont wear two tops together, but a rogue green pair of pants means an extra top just for them)

    the other thing….lightweight silk scarves can perk an outfit up and make it seem different than the day before’s outfit, even if it’s similar.

  2. Although my opinion might sound cynical, it’s really intended to helpful and realistic. By Thursday everyone will have forgotten what you wore on Monday and on Friday they’ll have forgotten Tuesday. Reuse clothes – it’s not necessary to wear different clothes every day of the week. Save space, save time, save over thinking the outfits. Everyone will be concentrating on work, not apparel.

  3. @Ed not cynical at all! I totally recommend re-wearing clothes. There is no reason to bring along a new outfit for each day.

    @Denise great tip about the scarves. I love traveling with my pashmina–it’s incredibly useful plus it helps change up my outfits. Win!

  4. One of the key principles for capsule wardrobes is to keep the major pieces in neutrals. That means that One topper and both pants would be in neutrals. People forget about the neutrals and remember the brights such as scarves, statement jewelry, and printed tops.
    The wardrobe you’ve suggested has plenty of outfits for even a longer trip. I’m counting at least 27 outfits there so I think it should be fine for a 6 day trip!
    On shoes – go for neutrals that go with all of the outfits. I like a pair of black heels or a pair of taupe heels for business.

  5. Crazy as it may sound, I actually map out and write down what I am going to wear each day – down to the jewelry/scarves, etc. And I always limit myself to one pair of work (dress) shoes and one pair of casual shoes, which I wear on the plane.

    I just returned from a week in Europe – done with a carry-on rolling bag and underseat Lo & Sons OG. I brought variations on black: black sheath dress, black slacks, black/blue jacket that I wore over each, and a black suit. I also brought a few different tops that I could wear with the slacks, suit, and jeans (that I wore on the plane.)

    But I am the voice of dissent on the packing cubes for my work outfits. I have experimented a few times, and I have found that my clothes fit better if I fold them directly into my bag. I have a great rolling carry-on from LL Bean. It has 2 sides, and on the shallower side I fold all my good work clothes. I actually layer them with tissue paper. In the deeper side I put my toiletries, 1 pair shoes, flat iron, casual clothes, and whatever else I need. It has been working very well for me.

  6. Nice tips! Traveling for a business always requires better selection of clothes and accessories. No matter for how many days your trip is going to be you have to be very well prepared!

  7. Hey, there, I really like your writing style and your information that you provide. I think most of the traveler forget to carry the simple things like, Phone Charger
    Phone charger
    laptop power cord
    and something else. I think these are must carry items. So add these items to your checklist.

  8. What about clothing for after work i.e., jeans, sweat pants, etc,. For after hours? How do these outfits fit in?

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