Tips for managing a long business trip: Packing

The most common length of time for a business trip is three to four days. But what happens when you are gone for 10 piece wardrobelonger periods of time? Packing for longer trips requires a lot more planning and strategy, and it’s critical to be as efficient as possible.  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.

(Here are my suggestions about managing a long business trip that aren’t related to packing.)

  • To carry-on or not.If you are traveling to multiple locations during a trip you may want to consider carrying-on.  It’s not easy, but if you invest in packing cubes you’ll be able to pack nearly twice as much in the same amount of space (as long as you can lift your suitcase!).  For the vast majority of my trips I carry on. And honestly, about the only time I have to check my bag is when I’m bringing wine on vacation. But if you are traveling to one location for an extended stay I don’t think there’s anything wrong with checking your bag. This isn’t a backpacking trip across Europe; you’ll be in one place the whole time, plus you need to look professional.  It’s still not a license to bring everything and the kitchen sink! You still need to be smart about your packing (and packing cubes help even if you’re checking).
  • Capsule wardrobe!!  I love a capsule wardrobe. Making sure that each of your pieces can be worn together means almost unlimited outfit possibilities, so you even though you repeat individual items you don’t feel like you’re wearing the same thing every day.  Focus on a few main colors to build your wardrobe around, and bring plenty of accessories to change things up. Here are some examples to get you started: Spring Capsule, Multiple Climates, Conference Capsule, Winter Capsule (pictured).
  • Neutrals. It’s simplest, if not the most fun, to have all of your basics—pants, skirts, jackets—in a neutral color. 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 on trip…… ) But if black isn’t your favorite then there are plenty of other options—gray, taupe, brown, navy. Of course, if you would rather plan your wardrobe around a couple of brighter colors—cobalt and mustard, for example—that’s an option too. Just make sure most of your clothes can be worn together.
  • Laundry/Dry Cleaning. Find out ahead of time what your company will cover. You can take advantage of your hotel’s laundry facilities, but check out nearby dry cleaners. They can wash and fold, will save time, and may be cheaper. It’s likely you’ll want to quickly wash a few things in your room, so bring along some travel packets of detergent.
  • 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 extended periods of time. 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, take work clothes off as soon as you’re done with them, etc.
  • Toiletries.  If you’re traveling to multiple cities during an extended stay this is where things get really tricky. When traveling to multiple cities you may want to carry-on, but there is no way a 3 oz bottle of shampoo is going to last for two months. So there are a few options. Option 1: replace your small bottles when you run out.  There are sites that have travel sized bottles of almost every beauty product available (Amazon, Sephora, 3FLOZ, to name a few). Option 2: ship your toiletries. If your company will pay for it, it’s well worth it, and you can have larger bottles of your products with you all the time. If you are traveling to one place I would recommend either checking your bag and bringing full size bottles or buying the toiletries when you get to your destination.
  • Utilize FedEx.  Regardless of your amazing packing choices, I can totally see getting tired of wearing the same thing for two months. One option is to pack a box of clothes before you leave, and have a loved one FedEx it to your location during your stay. Then pack up the clothes you are tired of and send them home. Your company may even pay for this.
  • Shoes. For a long trip, I just don’t think my normal “three-pairs only” rule applies. I would bring four pairs, and maybe buy another pair at some point. Consider putting a pair in your box of items to be shipped during your trip so you can rotate out (especially if you plan to only do carry-on).
  • Fun stuff. Will you have any free time during your traveling?  If so you may want to swim so don’t forget your bathing suit.  Or if you like to run don’t forget your running shoes.  And so on.  Just remember this stuff will take up precious space to so choose wisely.
  • The “just in case” stuff. There are a few large items that you wouldn’t need for a 3-4 day trip, but would likely come in handy during a long stay, for example a rain coat. Again be sure you utilize packing cubesto condense the bulk.
  • Electronics.  Beyond an E-reader you will also need some other electronics.  There are the obvious ones, laptop and phone.  But I would definitely also bring my top five power devices for business travelers: a portable charger, travel surge protector, USB multi-adapter cord, USB car charger, and (for international travel) a universal power adapter. And of course you’ll need headphones and a flash drive or two.
  • Bring something from home. Whether it’s a favorite candle, a framed picture of loved ones, or something else that comforts you, it can really help to have something that makes you feel at home. On longer trips I like to bring a digital frame that rotates pictures of my family and my favorite tea.

One last note: if you are bringing a lot, make sure your company will pay for additional luggage or an oversized bag. If you are carrying on, make sure you don’t go over the weight allowance.

Readers, any suggestions for road warriors going on extended business trips?

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  1. Great suggestions here – I’ve just come back from my first long work trip (3 weeks) and I used a lot of the excellent advice on this blog. I managed to do carry on which was great because I was in several locations. I over packed slightly in a few areas – my 3oz shampoo, shower gel and body lotion bottles lasted longer than I thought they would! I packed some back up soap and solid shampoo, but I didn’t need them. I absolutely agree with you on packing cubes – they make a huge difference.

  2. I’m not sure if you work out while you travel, but any suggestions for running shoes that are compact? I’ve tried bringing along my crossfit shoes which take up about half the space of my running sneakers, but they don’t seem to do the trick for running. In the meantime I’ve been walking, not running, while traveling.

  3. I spend about half my time on the road and I have never bought more than 2 pairs of shoes. If you go to the same place every time you might be able to stash duplicate things at that office or with a coworker there.

  4. I like that you mentioned bringing a little something from home with you. My brother is looking to do an extended stay out of town and wants some tips. I’ll be sure to talk to him about taking something special from home.

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