Traveling for Work: Our Top Tips

Traveling — whether for work or pleasure — can be a harrowing experience. We thought we’d try to summarize some of our best tips that, we’ve found, make everything go a bit more smoothly, from planning, to packing, to enjoying the experience.

Illustrated packing list1. Draw what you plan to pack. If you’re anything like this author, in the days leading up to a trip you’ve got a zillion thoughts racing around your head for what to pack. I should bring that great dress! Oh, can’t forget my laptop cord! And yet, if you actually start packing a bag several days ahead of time, you have no idea what’s actually IN the bag when it comes time to close it up and head for the airport.  So I picked up this great tip from one of my best friends, who blogs at — she draws what she plans to pack. This solves so many problems — you can add to the drawing over several days. You can see how things work together and where you can reuse different items of clothing. And yet, when it comes time to physically packing the bag, you can do it in one fell swoop, so you know exACTly what’s going in there. Pictured:  This is one of our friend’s packing lists from a trip to Paris. They can be less fancy than this, though; one of my own I-have-no-artistic-ability illustrated lists is here (weirdly, also from a trip to Paris).

2. Know how to pack.

a) Heavy things should always go on the bottom of your bag — so for example, if you have a rolling bag, your shoes, books, and whatever else should be closest to the bottom wheels as possible.  This way, none of your clothes will get smooshed by heavy things.

b) Roll your tops, skirts and pants instead of folding them — if any of the pieces have lining you may want to turn them inside out before you roll them.

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c) Suit jackets can be the trickiest thing to pack, though. We have forgotten where we got this little gem, but it actually does work.  We try to walk you through it in the video below, but if you’d like a written explanation, here goes:  take one sleeve of the suit jacket and turn it inside out.  Then, take the second sleeve, and push it through the first sleeve.  Get it as smooth as possible.  The jacket should be almost entirely inside-out now, with both sleeves on one side.  Fold the jacket on the vertical so the uber-sleeve lays as flat as possible.  Then, fold the jacket on the horizontal until it’s the size you need it to be.  Wherever possible, keep the suiting material from touching the suiting material — for example, the collar should stay on the “outside” of your little folded package so it isn’t touching anything else.

3. Keep your toiletries with you, as well as one change of clothes in case you are separated from your checked luggage. A corollary: on overnight flights it’s a good idea to pack your toothbrush in your purse — when you arrive at your destination you can brush your teeth in the bathroom and feel like you’re starting the day afresh (no matter how little sleep you got on the plane).

Apr5_mini4A few lightweight additions can really make a difference in your trip. For example, flip flops are great to go wherever because it gives you something to walk around in your hotel room if the carpeting is gross; they’re also great to use if you end up using the hotel’s pool.  Travel candles can give you a real sense of home and get rid of any weird hotel smells.  Also, if you’re staying at a lower-end hotel and doubt you’ll have one of those comfy spa robes, a lightweight robe can be a great way to feel more comfortable in your home — for example, Hammacher Schlemmer offers a lightweight robe that was rated “best overall” by the Wall Street Journal.  (The Lightweight Travel Robe., available for $69.)  We also swear by our LeSportsac weekend duffle — we keep it in the front compartment of our rolling bag, and have found it to be incredibly useful in two different situations.  First, you’re on a trip and end up buying far too much stuff while on vacation — if you end up having to check a piece of luggage, this onApr6_minie is incredibly durable and has a lock on the zipper.  (We actually just leave the keys on the bag so the TSA can get into it if they need to, but the locks help assuage our fears of our luggage splitting open while it’s being handled by the airport.)  Second, it can also be great if you’re confronted by someone from TSA who insists that you can’t carry your rolling bag, your purse, AND your magazines on all at once — we’ve just stuffed our reading material and our purse into the Weekender and been allowed through.  The distinctive colors on the bags (and they come in basic black as well as a wide variety of colors and prints) also make it super easy to identify as yours.  (Pictured: LeSportsac – Large Weekender Bag (Zewow) – Bags and Luggage, available at Zappos for $112.)
5. Finally, keep an envelope in your purse for travel receipts. This way, during your trip you know exactly where all of your receipts are going, and you can even write on the outside of the envelope what the receipts are that you’re sticking in there. Then, when you get back to the office, you can just hand the envelope to your secretary and have her put together your T&E.  (Pictured:  our own lists from our recent trip to Louisville.)

Bonus tip: Be sure to ask, when checking into your hotel, if they partner with any airlines for rewards points — staying at most chain hotels will get you more frequent flyer points.

Readers, what are your top tips for traveling?

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  1. Any thoughts on what I call airlines career women discrimination. People can only carry on 2 items, a bag and a computer bag or purse. This is usually not a problem for men but I find it is for me as my laptop bag is usually not big enough to hold my purse and I find it very inconvenient to have to use my laptop bag as a purse so I am usually trying to get three items on a plane. My laptop unfortunately is big and heavy and rarely leaves me space to squeeze personal items into the bag. Plus if I’ll be going to dinner, I can’t imagine having to drag around a huge laptop size bag but as it is usually work related I’m also not bringing a clutch so I generally always need my everyday purse.

    • L from Oz :

      I often travel European airlines where you can only take one piece of hand luggage (and my local Ryanair hub weighs your hand luggage too!). As a result, I nearly always check my back and have a handy black backpack for hand luggage – it has a side handle so I can carry it like a suitcase, but can wear it for those moments when my hands are completely full. It usually fits my laptop, emergency toiletries and undies, and some papers etc. Then I have a purse/handbag that packs completely flat (mine’s from Hedgren but there are certainly others) that I pull out on arrival for work days, going out etc. It can just squeeze my laptop in if I use a sleeve. The handbag usually goes into my suitcase, but sometimes I put it in my hand luggage depending on how many books I’m lugging around.

      At least on budget airlines everyone’s equally uncomfortable!

    • Blonde Lawyer :

      I put the contents of my purse in my laptop bag and then fold the empty purse up into my luggage sized carry on.

    • I bring a big leather tote stuffed to the max with my laptop, shawl, reading material, snacks, toothbrush etc. and then also a small black leather clutch that fits my wallet, phone and small camera.

    • They only care if you have more than 2 items while you’re boarding the plane. I bring a roller suitcase that’s the maximum carry-on size, and tuck my purse and other in-flight essentials into it. Then I pull them out when I get to the seat before I put the suitcase into the overhead bin. It’s no problem to have a purse, laptop bag, magazine, suitcase, makeup bag, etc once you’ve boarded.

    • That’s why they invented those little wristlets. Enough room for ID, passport (if necessary), cell phone and money … Pop it in a briefcase. I would never travel on a business trip and bring both a purse and a briefcase. Seems like major overkill when a wristlet carries all you need.

    • I’m a big advocate of trying to find a travel purse that can double as your laptop bag. That way you have just one bag (in addition to your suitcase), and it fits all of your stuff. However if your laptop is huge then the wristlet or clutch suggestion may be the way to go.

      I agree that guys have it way easier on a lot of levels while traveling. Packing is easier, they need fewer toiletries, etc. I can’t get started on that rant!!

    • If I am travelling for work, I bring a nice large tote (big enough for purse contents, snack, leisure book, memo pads & work) and then laptop bag. Some of the laptops are so small now that you can really put them in the tote bag and dispense with the laptop bag itself. Then I will have a small purse I might use if I go out to dinner that I’ll pack separately, but otherwise I only use a tote. (Honestly, though, I normally only bring my ‘work bag’ and not a purse to work anyway. Why have 2 bags when 1 will do?)

      • My laptop is small enough that if I put it in of those padded sleeves it easily fits in a generous tote. My wallet is large enough and has a wrist strap so that it can double as a purse when I’m out (I’m not one of those people who carries a ton of stuff, and I’m always putting things in my coat pocket — not totally elegant, but oh well)

  2. I hate checking luggage and I love the challenge of having to pack light. For those trips where you just have to take a variety of clothes, I love these Spacepaks from Flight 001:

    Another alternative would be to use the vacuum-sealed plastic bags, which I bought from Bed Bath & Beyond. (They can be rolled up and compressed even if you don’t have a matching vacuum hose.) These types of bags don’t make my luggage any lighter, as they’re meant to help you pack even more. But they help keep the inside of my carry-on organized and not overstuffed. Love them.

    • How do you repack at the hotel? I can just see myself with an overwhelming amount of stuff that I can’t re-vacuum into the bag going “oh crap, wish I’d thought of that beforehand!”

  3. Just FYI re: the keys on locks. TSA folks usually have keys to open ALL the locks that get put on, you don’t need to leave your keys on the lock.

  4. Almost bought that lesportsac but double-checked carry-on specs– about 22 * 14 * 9 inches… this selection is a no-go, but the idea was so perfectly workable and cute that I found three carry-on options form the brand– the Small Weekender, Weekend Carrier, and Sidney Overnight. Went w the latter. My specs are for both Delta & Air France, just be sure to check your fave airline before falling in love with a bag!

    • Zappos says that the “large” weekender is 20 1/2″ wide x 10″ deep x 14″ high, and the LeSportsac website says 13.75 x 20.75 x 10.5 in. Although I do see that some websites have slightly different numbers, this shouldn’t matter unless you’re STUFFING it to the max because overall it’s 45 linear inches, or exactly what American and Delta both have as max (although in reality the max these days has more to do with it fitting into that little luggage device they have at the airport, which has fairly narrow width).

      The Sydney Overnight is nice, but I think would not work for as well for stuffing into your larger carry-on (the main use for me).

      I still haven’t “pulled the trigger” but I’m considering it most of all for our honeymoon …

    • L from Oz :

      Indeed. I’ve carried some strangely shaped things onto BA and Qantas, but if you’re flying with fussier airlines, it pays to check. (KLM was suprisingly rigid about number of pieces, even when one item was a plastic bag with duty free cheese!; Easyjet doesn’t weigh but checks the size; Ryanair will weigh and measure…)

      Also, please know when arguing will not help – I’ve been stuck behind too many people trying to persuade airline staff that they really need 21kg in their checked baggage plus eight carry-on items, and it grates on one’s nerves after a while.

  5. I always, always travel with my hair up. It’s tidy and easy to manage, doesn’t get rumpled or full of static from rubbing against seat backs, and wears well the next day if the flight is an overnighter. A low chignon or french braid works best, because I can still sleep on it just fine.

    A lot of cosmetic companies will sell their skincare lines in travel-size sets, so there’s no need to worry about mixing and matching or squeezing things into little bottles. The Body Shop has a nice version that comes in a little pouch. I did a lot of flying this past year, and that skincare pouch saved me on more than one occasion.

    Sticking a sachet, dryer sheet, cedar block, or some other scent freshener into the suitcase will help avoid any transfer of suitcase smell to your clothing, which is especially helpful on longer trips where some items may need to be worn once or twice. .

  6. This is a threadjack,but I could really use the wisdom of Corporette readers:

    I am heading to my ten-year college reunion in a little over a month. I am also in the process of trying to find a new job. I attended a fairly elite east-coast college ( I say this for clothing-related background), and there is a good chance that some of my classmates will be working in the field I am interested in. So, in addition to the usual concern of just wanting to look good at a reunion, I also really would like to make a good impression on the people around me, many of whom have been quite successful since graduation. So I’m definitely feeling the pressure — I’d like to know I look good enough that I can just forget about what I’m wearing, and enjoy catching up with people and work on making new contacts. Most of the events are casual, except for an opening cocktail party. I am wondering what on earth to wear, both for the cocktail party, and for the rest of the events. I mildly panic every time I think about this. Any suggestions you or the readers have would be greatly appreciated.

    • When in doubt I would go conservative – think khaki slacks,polo shirts, etc., no flashy logos… for the cocktail party the little black dress is usually my go to for when I’m not sure what to wear.

      Good luck!

    • One can never go wrong with a simple black or gray sheath dress. Add peep toes and a cardigan for day events; strappy sandals and pearls for evening. If there are casual events, a denim pencil skirt, flats or low-heeled sandals, and a cardigan or pretty tee is always a good look.

    • I just went to my ten-year last year, and I wore a J crew simple polished cotton sheath dress, coral colored, with pockets, and nine west casualish pumps with buckle and wood heel. Most of the guys were wearing khakis/blazers/ties and the women had on dresses. For a party I might switch out the coral dress for black or a more dressy material, and different shoes. For the casual events, trouser jeans and a nice top (eg short sleeve sweater or twinset, etc.) would probably work well. Or khakis, but make sure they’re nice and not sloppy. :)

  7. Department store or specialty store cosmetics will often fill a sample size for you if you just ask. I use bare minerals foudnation and have a sample-size dispenser (that I refill from my full-size one) and use to travel – its easily enough for a long weekend. I’ve had other brands (Clairol, I think) give me samples of liquid makeup when I used to that as well.

  8. I have used a variety of the Eagle Creek Pack-It bags in different sizes for travel, and my clothes (including silk blouses, suits, dresses, etc) always arrive wrinkle free:

    I use the Garment Sleeve for suits, and the Folders for blouses, skirts. Then I have a few of the cube bags for workout gear, PJs, t-shirts and other items that can be rolled up, and a few shoe bags to protect clothes from dirty shoe bottoms.

    An unintended benefit is that it makes it really easy to repack your bag if you happen to be unlucky enough to be pulled off the line and searched by TSA (happened to me twice last week). You’re just repacking a few cubes, a folder and a garment sleeve rather than all your items packed separately.

    I also have these in different colors when I travel with the family – one for me, one for hubby and one for daughter – so I can quickly pack and unpack everyone’s gear upon arrival.

    • I pack too, I use victorinox packing cubes, one is large enough for my shorts AND pants, the otehr is good for my underwear – I somehow get grossed out at the idea some TSA agent would be fumbling with my undies… so I put everything neatly packed in the cube and they can sneak a peak and knwo everything inside without touching.

  9. I never get on an international flight without 2 liters of water (purchased for exorbitant prices in the airport), undereye cream, gentle astringent or face wipes, lubricant eye drops, and hand cream. It is amazing how dehydrated one, and one’s skin/eyes, get on a long flight, and also amazing how dirty one’s skin gets – my astringent pads are usually brown and grimy.

    I also normally wear black on a flight because it covers spills and grime the best. I wear yoga pants that can “pass” for regular pants, a black long-sleeved tee, my most comfortable bra and my trusty Dansko Professionals, which are like heaven for swollen and sore feet.

    • Oh, I forgot – I also always fill a travel-sized bottle with Woolite before I go. That way I can wash my essentials in the sink and don’t have to worry about the expense of hotel laundry. Also handy for when I inevitably spill on a silk shell.

      • Oh, and also – if you brush your teeth on the plane, do NOT use the water from the lavatory sink. It is not potable. Ask the flight attendant for a glass of drinking water to brush with.

    • Eponine, we must have been separated at birth! I do exactly the same stuff, right down to the yoga pants that can pass for regulars (especially for intercontinental flights).
      I also keep a small bottle of hand-sanitizer (love Body Shop’s tea tree one) on flights.

  10. Use crayons (I like Laura Mercier myself) that do double duty as concealers, blushes, eyeshadow. Stick a few in a pocket of a briefcase and you’re set. Use the wax crayon scents (Clinique Happy makes them) so you can wear a touch of scent and not have to deal with security.

    If you make a lot of overnight trips, as I do, frankly I wear nice yoga pants that look appropriate, comfy shoes, t-shirt and cute jacket – I sleep in the t-shirt, then put the pants back on to work out, then shower and get ready for the day. I think it’s silly to bring pajamas for one night in a hotel. And frankly for several nights, I bring workout clothes and work out in them after they’ve been slept in.

  11. I wish the airlines would do away with the policy on carry-on bags. IMHO, everyone should check their luggage. Allowing carry-ons slows the boarding and deplaning processes. Should you be able to bring your briefcase – yes, diaper bag – yes, small bag with a few essentials – yes, but I am tired of the people who pack for their long weekend in a larger than allowable carry-on bag, then drop it on my head while looking for a place to stuff their bag (since it is oversized anyway).

  12. One more suggestion for long haul airplane rides: wear support socks or hose. They make a huge difference in how your legs feel and you can get them in black or neutral where no one will be the wiser as to what kind of socks they are.

  13. If you’re carrying a laptop of any size, you can get a padded mailer (that you use to ship books or whatever) and use that as a laptop case. It’s light, will protect your laptop and will fit in whatever carryon/tote you bring along. Tugging a laptop case is never my idea of fun. I did that on my recent trip to London, just stuck my netbook in a padded envelope and put it in my crossover bag.

  14. lady justice :

    One particular item I love for travel is the DKNY Cozy (the wrap with sleeves). I have the cashmere/silk version: not cheap but you can get a milion uses out of it..Great for planes – keeps you nice n warm, can we worn with jeans and a T-shirt, or dressed up with a skirt, slacks, and a blouse. You can use a bangle to tie it to make it dressy as well. I have found it to be a terrific item on travel…both business and personal…and it lays flat and takes up little space.

  15. All your tips on packing involves sheer common sence, and most of us are lacking it. Hopefully, this reminder works for many of us, because they are worth noticing, not only from the traveling point of view, but also from the relocation point of view.

  16. I’m actually going on a 2-3 week trip to Europe next year (and as a typical woman I’m already planning) and my husband wants me to pack really light…as in all my stuff in a backpack light. He went to Europe several years ago, so he already has a bigger backpack for the trip. He had me try it on for size and I hate it! I’m very petite and it was just awkward on me. I was actually thinking of purchasing a Lesportsac large weekender (like the one you mentioned above), but I’m worried it might get uncomfortable. What are your thoughts on the Lesportsac and do you have any other suggestions?

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