When you travel other people always have an opinion on your luggage, be it “that’s so heavy” or “is that all you’ve got with you”. So I put together some international business travel packing tips for women (the principles are just as valid for men) as a checklist when thinking how to pack for business travel. Part 2 covers your main luggage.
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Table of Contents
Packing for International Business Travel is Easy
That might sound a touch controversial for anyone who has never travelled for work before but in fact the basic principles of what you need can be applied to any kind of trip, whoever you are.
In the end, you just need to carry 2 types of things with you:
- The items you need to do your job (eg laptop etc)
- Your personal belongings
There we go, end of post ????
OK, that would be too simple, I know…& there are a lot of variables that affect what you will need with you. Let’s start at the beginning and work through what I carry and why. You can find the first part of this post where I talk about hand luggage here.
Decent luggage is worth the money
The amount you are willing to spend on your luggage is probably going to vary according to the amount of business travel you expect to do. I’d say it doesn’t matter though – go for a good brand right from the start as you don’t want to arrive somewhere to discover your case was completely trashed and your underwear trailed across the baggage belt…
Yes, that can happen with any brand, but a good quality suitcase will often last for years. I have a softsided small trolley that I’ve used heavily for over 20 years now (a Samsonite) for shorter trips and it’s still ok, although quite battered. The brand you choose is up to you, but cheaper brands often get destroyed quite quickly so go with a reputable product.
Same for my larger case: I have a 65l Samsonite Spinner – that supposedly would survive being run over by a truck. Not tested that aspect, but it’s had a lot of flights as well as a lot of km on the wheels. Samsonite typically guarantees wheels for 20km which is actually nothing – my case has probably been rolled more than that during my recent 10 day multicountry trip!
Things to consider:
- how robust is it?
- how heavy is it? (a major factor affecting price as well as comfort when using it)
- do you need something cabin baggage sized or larger?
- is the handle good quality? (I like to have one with a double support rather than single pole)
- 4 wheels are better than 2
- how is the space divided inside?
I actually put a sticker on mine to make it easier to recognise on a baggage belt, but of course you can use a belt or tie something to the handle to distinguish it from further away.
Purely Carry On or Checked Baggage?
I see a lot of travel influencers and some business professionals advocating for always only taking carry on, and I’ve done trips of up to two weeks with just hand baggage in the past. Of course, one of the most important international business travel packing tips for women is to travel as light as possible, but that is quite a relative term.
I’m not a fan these days though for several reasons of convenience unless it’s a really short trip with all variables under control:
- it’s quite exhausting trekking your stuff around an airport with you all the time – much easier to just check a case in (I’m usually glad to see the back of it and my hand baggage is still heavy enough when I have a laptop)
- it’s much easier to make a quick transfer if you’re not encumbered by a trolley
- you don’t have to open your case with everything in front of the world at security #dirtywashing
- many aeroplanes within Europe will not have space for a “max cabin sized” piece of luggage in the overhead bins and make you leave it at the airport steps (meaning you need to rescue your laptop & perhaps other electronics)
- even if the UK is removing restrictions on liquids in hand baggage, it doesn’t mean that the whole world has embraced that concept yet…
- You might need more space coming home to bring samples (or things you bought)
- unless you’re flying business class, it can be almost impossible to find enough space in the overhead bin for your case
Of course, it means that you run the risk that your bag might be lost or miss a connection, and you have to wait for it at the other end. For the most part though, you’re unlikely to have any problem and it doesn’t take long at most major international airports to get your luggage these days (although if flying to Tashkent, I’d try and just do hand baggage only unless you want to spend HOURS at the airport ????).
If I’m flying away from my main base in a country for say 1 night, before coming back (eg doing a provincial market visit), then I will use the tote bag I carry in my case (see below) and leave my main luggage in the hotel.
If you’re flying for business, and the cost of checking a bag is prohibitive to your international trip, then you really need to reconsider your international strategy…
International Business Travel Packing List for your Trolley
When talking about how to pack for business travel, it’s important to be methodical. If you’re travelling really frequently for work then it pays off to invest in duplicates of some items, so that you can just leave them in your trolley. I do this with my wash bag for example and just check that shower gel, shampoo, toothpaste etc are all still there in sufficient quantity before I close the case.
If you are someone who tends to forget things, print a list out and stick it on the inside of your trolley in a clear sleeve – this is perhaps the most useful of my international business travel packing tips for women!
Clothes & Shoes
Keep it to a minimum by counting everything out & planning your outfits. eg if I am travelling Tues – Thurs I will pack 2 shirts, 2 sets of underwear, a blazer or suit & a pair of trousers. I’m not going to rhapsodise here on the glories of a capsule wardrobe as I am truly the last person on the planet who would be qualified to give anything approaching fashion advice.
What I would say though, is to think when you shop:
- Is this material suitable for the climate I visit regularly?
- will this crease easily? (Linen is comfy but creases like crazy)
- can I combine this with other clothes I own?
- how comfortable will this be to sit in on a 3 hour flight/drive/train ride?
- can I wear these shoes all day and do up to 20000 steps in them across various shopping centres (eg if you work in consumer goods)
For longer trips, you probably need a couple of spare shirts, but try to keep say jackets and shoes to a minimum. It also pays to be prepared for getting dressed up, depending on your client. You don’t want to be embarrassed by being totally underdressed for the occasion, simply because you didn’t realise it would be so formal, or that you’d be invited to some kind of event in an evening. Believe me, it’s easy to feel uncomfortable if you get an embassy dinner or cocktail party sprung on you.
Often, I will breakfast in a Tshirt or yesterday’s shirt and then change into whatever I’m wearing that day simply because toothpaste on a dark top or spots of noodle soup (or egg) down the front of a shirt isn’t an ideal client look…
What about your fitness gear? I will usually throw gym kit into my case if I have space, and I always have a swimming costume, hat (nasty but required in many countries) & goggles in my cases.
I know that many people swear by packing cubes, but I personally am not a fan. In the side of my case that I pack clothes, I will fold suits, trousers and shirts before stuffing underwear around the edges (if I’m short on space).
Laundry on the Road
Most hotels will offer the option of laundry and dry cleaning, so if you know that you will be staying in one place for long enough, you could also cut down on the amounts of clothes you carry and get some things washed whilst you’re away.
I often am not in one place for long enough though & prefer to ruthlessly plan what I need before I leave home and thus keep things down to a minimum. I mostly will only get something washed or cleaned if it got something spilt down it that I think will stain (red wine, tomato soup etc).
What can be useful though is to be able to iron a shirt before a meeting or to dry off something you’ve just removed a spot from. I will often carry spot remover or a small portion of hand wash detergent.
Cosmetics, jewellery etc
Try and keep these to a minimum. Of course, you shouldn’t skimp on self care on a trip, but try and take travel size bottles or refill into reusable bottles like the silicone ones I have.
For jewellery I try to take 1 or 2 items along that will fit with whatever outfits I have planned (don’t check in anything valuable). I have a couple of cloth envelopes to transport jewellery in my hand baggage.
Take plenty of whatever you normally use with you. Hygiene articles can be hard to find in some countries (depending on what your preferences are) and may be really expensive even if you can find your choice.
Travel can throw off your normal bio-rhythm and you don’t want to have to explain to male business partners exactly why you can’t go for lunch but need to go shopping…
Odds n Ends
In the other side of my case, I’ll place my toilet bag, cosmetics, a small bag with device chargers & adapters, shoes and any gifts I might be carrying (unless they are bottles in which case I’ll wrap them in plastic bags and in Tshirts). Make sure you have the right plug adapters for whichever country you’re visiting – remember that in some parts of Asia you might get a room with 3 different kinds of sockets.
I transport my shoes in cloth bags (a bit like primary school plimsoll bags) and I also have a larger drawstring bag that I put dirty washing in. I’d tell you how I carefully handcrafted these, but actually the shoe bags have come from various airlines over the years and the washing bag was one “I acquired” from a hotel.
Usually I also carry a couple of plastic bags (since having a tin of granulated fruit tea explode in my case around 20 years ago I never transport product samples unless in a bag), a spot remover (see my point above about dropping your food or toothpaste down your clothes) and a small travel pharmacy.
That includes painkillers, something for stomach problems, allergy tablets (antihistamine can be useful even if you have no allergies should you get bitten by anything nasty), a cystitis treatment, English and Chinese tea (yes, medicinal essentials!) & something to relieve cold and flu symptoms if needed. Right now I’ve also got a couple of lateral flow covid tests in there too. Apart from the tea, most of the other items end up getting chucked out & replaced at some point when expired but I feel better for having them.
I also often have an exercise band as well as this is a great light way to get some movement in if your hotel doesn’t have gym hours compatible with your schedule and the hotel isn’t in an area where you want to go out for a walk or run.
Additionally I have a large cloth tote bag that folds up small but can be used for going down to the hotel pool, carrying gifts to a meeting or as an extra piece of hand luggage if necessary on the way home. I often use this to put a set of clothes in to change in to at the airport or before leaving if I’m in Asia with a night flight where I don’t want to be in business clothes on the plane.
International Business Travel Packing Tips for Women
If you are systematic with your planning, you don’t need long to pack for business trips. I can pack for a 3 week business trip in 20 minutes simply because I know my system and it’s routine for me.
It helps probably that I go for smart and serviceable yet comfortable in all of my clothes and shoe choices so I don’t have to think too much about whether or not they’ll be suitable. I just go through the agenda for a trip and pick out what I want to wear, knowing I can combine pretty much everything I own so I just need to plan individual outfits for special events.
Packing for International Business Travel is Individual
I once arrived in Hong Kong to discover that a bottle of insect repellant had somehow “escaped” my toilet bag and leaked down the side of my stacked shirts. That meant that every single clean shirt had a small stripe of this oily liquid on it that smelt really delightful. Since then I always wrap bug spray in a plastic bag.
There are also trips where it feels like your luggage has problems everywhere you go – late, sent to the wrong airport, scratched … whatever, but these are generally not so often. Of course it’s really annoying when it happens, but I still prefer to check my luggage. (Maybe that would be different if I were flying domestic in the US a lot, but for Europe and Asia I don’t mind to check a bag mostly).
What helps me to pack faster and avoid forgetting things is to always put things in the same place in my case, so that (to me at least) it’s obvious if something is missing).
Remember that the advice included here is what I work with – it doesn’t mean it’s perfect for your needs. There will also be times when things go wrong, or something completely unexpected comes up, so you may need to buy something whilst away to cover a gap. You might need specific meds or contact lens fluid, or prefer to carry cosmetics for an elaborate skin care routine.
In the end it all comes down to you working out what you need to take on business trips in order to be efficient on the one hand, but also to care for yourself on the other.
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