How to Pack the Perfect Carry-on for Business Travel

By Amanda Wowk

October 28, 2018

Jetting from place to place on business has its undeniable perks. Collecting airline miles, dining in delectable restaurants, perfecting your carry-on packing game—what’s that, you say? You’re still struggling to fit everything you need for a work trip in the overhead bin? Then you’ve come to the right place. Here’s our how-to guide for packing the perfect carry-on for business travel, once and for all.  

Step away from the suitcase

If you’ve ever read a ‘how-to’ packing guide, they likely left out the precursor step to packing success: the advice to pack with intention. That is, before you start tearing your closet apart, sit down and list out what you have planned during your upcoming business trip. Formal dinner with a client? Morning workout before the conference? Getting clear on your plans and goals will help streamline what you need to bring with you. Then, make a list of: (1) what you’ll need to wear for planned activities, (2) what you’ll need to dress appropriately for the climate, and (3) items that you’ll need to comply with the office dress code or local etiquette.  

Create your business travel capsule wardrobe

So, you haven’t heard of a capsule wardrobe, or didn’t think to create one for your business travel life? You’re certainly not alone. For those who are unfamiliar, a capsule wardrobe is generally comprised of a few timeless essentials that can then be mixed and matched with other (seasonal) clothing items. To create a capsule wardrobe for business travel, start by pulling mostly neutral items from your closet. Then, throw in one or two accent shades, for instance, in the form of scarves or pocket squares. Depending on the length of your business trip, you can likely get away with taking one staple item each—i.e. for women, one skirt, one blazer, one pair of pants, one pair of shoes—and mixing and matching those neutral staples with a colorful new top and accessories each day, for the entirety of your trip. Creating a capsule wardrobe will also take the mystery out of what to wear on business trips going forward. Knowing your staples will reduce planning and packing time, and make styling your outfits on-the-go easy—freeing up your time to focus on what’s most important, your business meetings and clients. Now, to get packing. Rolling is the new folding—not only does rolling maximize your carry-on space, it also reduces wrinkles by keeping clothes in place. Pack your largest wardrobe items first, bearing in mind what items you may not need until the end of your trip (sorry, running shoes), as those should go in first.  

Look out for little items

After you’ve packed your capsule wardrobe in your carry-on, place any smaller items into shoes. This also serves to add an extra layer of protection for fragile items. Also, keep your chargers, extra headphones, and any other wires rolled up and placed in an extra sunglasses case. This way, they’re easy to access and small enough to transfer from your carry-on to a purse or briefcase once you’re back on the ground. Put anything that you need to easily access on top—or better yet, in your personal item—so you don't have to rummage around mid-flight.  

Touch up with these tips

As business travelers, we sometimes find ourselves tight on time once we’ve reached our destination. And when a well-executed business trip is make-or-break in closing a deal, you always want to make a good first impression. Remember to also pack these essential beauty and grooming products in your carry-on if you’re going straight from the plane to a business meeting. When it comes to facial care, pack moisturizer, lip balm, and eye drops to stay hydrated and looking fresh. For touching up hair, dry shampoo works wonders for removing oil from your scalp, reviving your style, and adding texture to flight-induced limp hair. Also, a good texturizing pomade is great for reshaping short hair into a boardroom-ready look. Finally, to refresh your outfit after your flight, pack a stain stick for those unexpected spills or a travel-sized fabric refresher spray—both can help extend the life of your capsule wardrobe so you’ll be looking and feeling your best for the duration of your business trip.