The Complete Business Travel Packing List

The Complete Business Travel Packing List

Packing minimally is a sensible approach to business travel, but which items are so important you can’t afford to leave them behind? We highlight the most important requirements as Business Travel Week continues.

Picture by Jingles The Pirate

For any trip that lasts less than a week, I’m a great believer in only taking carry-on luggage. Ever since I did the Hand Luggage Only project a few years back, I realised that you can get a remarkable amount into a standard-sized carry-on bag. On Qantas and Virgin, you can generally get away with a carry-on bag plus a handbag or laptop bag; Tiger and Jetstar are fussier (Tiger even weighs carry-on baggage), so you might need to be more careful. But even if you do send your bag to the hold, you don’t necessarily need dozens of outfits and loads of equipment in your case.

Clothing Dress codes vary a lot between professions, so I’m not going to set prescriptive rules about what you do and don’t need. Make sure you take the exact number of outfits you’re going to need, and no more than that. (I have over the top tendencies in this area and will sort my clothes in my hotel room in the order I’m planning to wear them, but you might consider that over-the-top.)

My other suggestion in this area is to avoid packing multiple pairs of shoes if you can, as they take up a lot of space. (If you’re a fitness fanatic, consider barefoot running to avoid one potential packing dilemma.) In extreme circumstances, you can travel without even a change of clothes, but that’s not an approach many people are going to adopt. That said, if you’re staying somewhere for a few days, hand washing outfits, or taking advantage of the hotel laundry, can cut down on what you need to travel with. (For hand washing, you can use the shampoo.)

Appropriate technology. We covered this in detail in yesterday’s post about choosing when to use a computer, phone or tablet. The big picture lesson is this: for brief trips where you won’t have to do a lot of creative work, you can probably survive with just a phone or a phone and a tablet. But if you’ll be writing or designing a lot, then a computer will be worth the extra weight.

Powerboard. If you’ve only got a phone (and charger), this might not matter, but once you’ve got more than a couple of devices, travelling with a powerboard makes a lot of sense: you won’t suffer from a lack of power outlets, or ones that are located in an inconvenient place. if you’re travelling overseas, combine your board with a global adaptor and you’ll be powered up pretty much anywhere. Added bonus: if you go to a conference, having a powerboard will help you make new friends when everyone races for the handful of available outlets.

Two USB sticks. I routinely carry an 8GB stick so that I can exchange files with other people if need be, and a second stick with a bootable copy of Ubuntu — useful if my computer (or that of someone I meet) decides to play up and doesn’t want to start. If you travel with a 3G dongle, you can often also use that for file storage and transfer.

A sink plug. I never cease to be amazed at how many hotel rooms don’t have a sink plug. A full sink is essential for shaving and washing, so I keep one in my washbag. On that point . . .

The most minimal washbag you can manage. What you consider “essential” will vary, but don’t go overboard. Unless you’re staying at a Formule1, you’ll generally get soap, shampoo and conditioner, so there’s no need to pack those. As Lifehacker commenters often point out, you can use conditioner as shaving cream as well. Try and avoid packing aerosol cans in carry-on luggage, as you need to take these out for security screening. If you’re travelling overseas, remember that there are restrictions on the size of liquid containers — I either pack toiletries in my checked baggage or buy them at my destination to avoid those kinds of hassles.

A plastic bag. I place dirty clothes in the plastic bag as I go, so I can then empty it straight into the washing machine when I get home.

What I no longer take. For many years I used to carry a spare Ethernet cable, but I’ve given that up because Wi-Fi is so prevalent these days, and when it’s not available I usually resort to using a dongle. I’ve also stripped back the amount of stationery I take — these days, a pencil, a pencil sharpener and a binder clip cover most of my needs.

What items do you consider essential for business travel? Tell us in the comments.

Throughout Business Travel Week, we’re looking at strategies to make business travel more productive.


  • My essentials for when I travel are
    – Laptop, Charger and flat metal mousepad (for use while on laptop on hotel bed)
    – Phone and charger (phone becomes wifi hotspot as needed)
    – External HD and thumb drive
    – Work Clothes (I usually take an extra shirt because no way I am going to wash my own stuff)
    – Running shoes and running clothes
    – Toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant

    I skip things like shaving unless it is anything more than a week

  • The biggest space-minimisers for me: shoes and jackets. The aim is to find one that works for both work and semi-casual events, and wear them when you get on flights – you save a lot of space.

    I tend to counteract that by throwing a bunch of generic computer-repair parts in my bag (a pencil-case of adapters and short cables, some thumbdrives, a few install CDs, ram, screwdrivers, multicharger, etc). It’s not vital, but I do end up using them out on most trips.

  • additional to the above I always travel with:
    – Comfy track pants so I can relax in the hotel room after work.
    – Whiteboard markers because I hate getting to a presentation to find I am struggling with rubbish markers.
    – A good book.

  • Drugs. Legal Drugs. My regular list of legal drugs I pack include:

    For throat pain: a tray or four pack of medicated throat lozenge;

    For head pain: A tray of paracetamol or aspirin;

    For the flu: A cold and flu med with pseudo-ephedrine will fight sniffles, snuffles and snoozles that come with a cold. There is something about pseudo-ephedrine that can make a jet-lagged, flue ridden, early morning meeting manageable;

    For sleeping: Work colleagues and friends swear by Ambien, Stilnox and other sleeping pills. I manage to get by with lower grade (non-prescription) drowsy pills like Unisom or Restavit. I don’t know the chemical terms or inputs but these are the drowsy parts of antihistamine or flu drugs without the anti-sneezing or anti-flu parts;

    For the rest of you: band aids (or insert brand name for strips of fix all gauze and medical padding) are a must;

    For just in case: something like Immodium/Buscopan in case a business meeting cant be skipped

  • Life’s too short. Pack what you might want and check in your luggage if you have to. If you’re going for more than a day, pack spare shoes in case your shoes get wet, shampoo and conditioner (many hotels don’t provide conditioner and the shampoo commonly offered will dry your hair out after a couple of days), hat and suncream if you might need them, bathers if there’s a chance you’ll want to try out the hotel pool, either a laptop or an adapter cable for your tablet lest you need to do a presentation, pyjamas and bedsocks lest the air-con is too cold or the fire alarm goes off at 2am… Whatever makes you comfortable.

    If these means you need to check in luggage, just check it in. Better than wishing you’d brought something you don’t have.

  • A light windproof jacket. My favorite is sufficient to keep out light showers and cold winds. It also has big deep pockets. I bought it after a trip to Melbourne in spring. I left Lismore where everybody was wearing summer clothes and arrived to 11 degrees and a bitter wind that went straight through the heavy jumper I was wearing. So now I always carry the jacket.

  • Buy a decent carry on bag, made of canvas or waxed cotton, it’ll contract and expand depending on the contents.

    I can get away with a 3 week overseas business trip on a single carry on bag and a brief case.

    Yourself: Wear one of your suits and warm weather wear if you are going somewhere cold, it’ll be cold on the plane anyway and you don’t need to use the silly blanket. Wear you normal business shoes, don’t look like a dork in a suit and sneakers. Plus you are probably more likely to get an upgrade.

    Briefcase: Computer, gadgets, stationery, essential documents, etc. I recommend the crumplier all and carry to keep all your little bits together.

    If you have a Apple product, I highly recommend you go and buy the worldwide adaptor kit. Take the adaptors for the place/s you are going, plus the USA adaptor for the plane. This saves a lot of bulky adaptors that never seem to fit in the plugs available anyway.

    Carry on: Second suit, learn how to pack this without creasing it. 5 shirts, 5 changes of underwear, socks, dopp kit (pack this in a way you can get it out by just undoing part of the zip, this saves time). Another pair of shoes and one piece of casual wear if you need it.

    Also in your brief case you want to have some spare space so before you through customs and after you land you can take off all the things you need to get through the scanners and have them in your briefcase.

    Any place you stay at for business will have laundry services, use it.


  • I always carry probiotics and berroca – that combination keeps the flu and bugs away! I also always carry an umbrella – after collecting about 10 navy blue umbrellas because I kept having to buy them when caught out in rain – I finally decided it was easier to carry one with me all the time!

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