How to (and not to) pack for a business trip

Last week, I had a really ambitious idea that I would share my full packing list for my recent business trip on my blog – every single item in my suitcase, day-by-day outfits, my skin care routine, etc. I was really excited about it. I made lists. I took 10,000 flat lay photos. I got a little behind in time when packing took longer than I expected, and so I decided I’d write it post-trip. I’d have so many more interesting insights for you! I would have photos of me wearing all my professional outfits! Instagram stories! The works!

And then I went on the trip. And, in fact, I do have some insights to share with you:

  • BUSINESS TRIPS ARE TERRIBLE
  • I PACKED ALL THE WRONG CLOTHES

Okay, okay – so this is really only half true. The trip was exhausting. Like, I don’t even understand how I was continuing to prop myself up by the end of it exhausting. And I made some rookie mistakes when packing that made some parts of the trip a little unpleasant. But overall, it was good. Our event was really successful, and I liked what I was wearing. A win-win, just with a few hiccups.

Rather than provide you with a full item-by-item list (which will probably be as exhausting for you to read as it would be for me to write), I’m going to share the photos of the outfits and supplies that I packed, and then talk about what worked and what didn’t. I’d never been on a business trip before this one, so if you are also a business-travel novice, I recommend that you read through this cautionary tale.

OUTFITS

Monday Day (travel via train – historic hospital tour – casual)

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-25,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-Y

Monday Night (staffing event registration – business formal)

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-25,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-Y

Tuesday (staffing meetings – evening reception – business formal)

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-25,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-Y

Wednesday (staffing meetings – train travel home – business formal)

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-25,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-Y

SUPPLIES

Makeup

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-25,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-Y

Skincare/Haircare

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-25,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-Y

Suitcase & Extras

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-25,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-Y

WHAT WORKED

  • MINI. STEAMER. I really can’t sing the praises of this thing enough. It is 100% worth the extra space it takes up in your suitcase, and honestly, it’s very light. I use this to get the wrinkles out of clothes and to refresh them a little bit on trips, but I also use it in place of an iron when I’m not traveling. I bought this one for $15 at a Walmart in Rhode Island last summer, and I haven’t traveled without it since.
  • KonMari packing. I highly recommend the KonMari method when packing a suitcase for travel. Basically, you lay everything out flat that you’re planning to take with you, and then you fold your clothes into these little rectangle tent things that stand up on their own (there are a lot of videos on YouTube that can show you how to do this – if I could do it with a wrap dress, anyone can do it), and you pack them into your suitcase such that you can see every item at the same time. It saves space when packing, and time when unpacking. Plus, it’s just nice to open your suitcase after a long day of travel and see everything neatly arranged instead of chaotically tossed around your bag. Per Marie Kondo’s advice, I also keep shoes, accessories, and toiletries in separate bags that get packed in last. I don’t know if it’s KonMari cannon, but I always pack a cloth bag to put dirty laundry in so that I can keep my smelly clothes separate from my mostly-okay ones on the way home.
  • Picking clothes I liked. This seems sort of obvious, but I think that those of us who are required to wear business casual or business formal attire at work often get into the mindset that dress codes and personal comfort are mutually exclusive. I’ve made that mistake for formal meetings before and regretted it. If you have to wear a suit, choose a suit that you like, that fits you well, and that you feel good in. It is worth spending the extra time and money to identify items that you’ll enjoy wearing and that will serve you for many occasions in the future, even if that means you own fewer of them overall. (Hi, I actually packed about 1/3 of these SAME EXACT clothes for a wedding in Richmond this weekend)
  • Not skimping on my skincare routine. I get caught up in the thrill of minimalism sometimes, and I know I’m not the only one. In the past, I’ve traveled with just a few skincare/toiletry items because I wanted to see how minimal I could go. But you know what? I have acne. Like, bad acne. Big, angry, painful cysts that require twice-daily doses of topical prescription medication and about 7 additional products outside of those. This time around, I decided just to toss in everything that I use daily, plus two masks just for fun, and my skin was so much happier for it. Minimalist aesthetic be damned. It’s not all pictured above, but I can assure you that it did all end up in the suitcase.

WHAT DIDN’T WORK

  • Shoes. I only brought two pairs of shoes – my white linen heels and my Nisolo Mariella mules. I wore the white heels on the first evening when I was working registration, and I knew immediately that I had made a mistake. They looked great with my outfit, but I’m used to wearing them during regular work days, which are mostly spent sitting at my desk. They were completely wrong for three hours of unpacking boxes and running around a hotel and working on my feet to register 500 volunteers. They’re in the Tuesday photo, too, but I actually ended up wearing my Nisolo Mariella mules that day instead, just because my feet hurt so much from the night before. The mules weren’t even that much of a break, unfortunately, since the foot bed is pretty hard and the inside rubbed my skin while being on my feet all day. In summary, my feet STILL hurt from the beginning of the week, and I should pack more practical footwear for future meetings.
  • Layers. As in, I didn’t pack them. I didn’t really consider the fact that despite it being June, hotel ballrooms are still sub-arctic air conditioned wastelands that require warm layers even if you could literally fry an egg on the sidewalk outside. The blazer from Monday made additional appearances on Tuesday and Wednesday, but I wish I’d packed at least one alternative blazer or sweater that suited those outfits better.
  • Casual/comfortable clothes. As in, I didn’t pack those either. I brought pajamas, but I forgot about the fact that in addition to working and sleeping, I might also be grabbing dinner with my coworkers, hanging with my work besties in my hotel room, or just wanting to be comfortable on the train. I was woefully unprepared for relaxation, which probably contributed to the general exhaustion and discomfort I felt by the end of the trip. This mistake is probably also related to my obsession with testing how minimalist I can get on a trip – turns out, sometimes I just need stuff! Minimalism is really not about how few objects you own or how tiny your suitcase is – it’s about examining your relationship with materialism and consumerism and making thoughtful, intentional decisions when choosing what Stuff to keep in your life. I feel alright about bringing more pants next time.

Were these reflections useful to you? Have you made similar snafus when packing for a trip, or are you a business trip wizard? Let me know down in the comments or join the conversation over on Instagram!

-gs

9 thoughts on “How to (and not to) pack for a business trip

  1. 1. I adore the navy dress you wore on Wednesday!!
    2. Thank you for being honest on your blog- so many bloggers go on and on about how they effortlessly packed this perfect suitcase and flew through their trip no problem, even though work trips are pretty much the most draining. It gives me hope there are still honest bloggers left!!

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  2. Ahh I absolutely love your style! It’s so simple and lovely ❤ Sorry to hear your footwear choices for this trip was a flop, though. And what is it about the AC in some places?? It'll be the dead middle of summer, and I'll be inside somewhere wishing I'd brought a jacket, lol. This was a great post!

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  3. Love this post! I too have failed on the not bringing a sweater/not bringing the right sweater and that is the WORST. I’m sorry some of your outfits didn’t work out, but they do photograph beautifully 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have travelled a lot, and I still think that packing well is hard! Especially if there is a work function or fancy event complicating things. We recently had to pack for our wedding and honeymoon (a cycling trip in Europe, with sporadic rain) and it was SO HARD. I definitely did not pack enough, and laundry was hard to squeeze do because we switched hotels every day on the cycling trip.

    I’m sure you will do a phenomenal packing job for your next conference!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Haha this sounds like my recent vacation. I was so pleased everything fit in my backpack. But I brought all the wrong things and none of the right ones! I’m almost 31 and I wonder if I’ll just be this way the rest of my life or if I can ever learn to pack well. There are just so many variables you don’t anticipate!

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  6. I did at least one conference in a different city every year for a decade, and I dont think I got it right until the very end. I always ended up rewearing pants instead of cute dresses. Always needed at least one utilitarian (comfy and broken in, never brand new because you dont want to deal with new shoe blisters for four days like this girl did!) pair of shoes and an extra blazer or cardigan, even in Phoenix AZ in June. Conference centers are weird about their A/C. One woman we worked with even tucked a small blanket away to drape over her legs, which I thought was genius, so now I wont travel without a large scarf to serve that purpose. I will say that your continued wearing of that great white blazer was as good as if you’d planned it, and probably no one cared that it was the same one.

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  7. I can totally relate to the need to bring my entire skincare routine. I generally need at least two prescription topicals and other over the counter products just to keep potential angry cysts at bay. More recently, my skin’s gotten too sensitive for the over the counter BHA I used to use, so I’m down to just the prescription topicals (and spironolactone pills, which have been pretty good).

    My business trips actually end up being surprisingly easy to pack for! I’ve only done two, but both pretty much required business formal/a conservative suit for basically all of the important events, so that cut down significantly on the need for decision-making. I don’t carry around a mini-steamer, but I think I need to start doing so. The need for one came up on my last trip, as one of my suits was still creased from when it was shipped to me when I bought it. I tried to use the iron in the hotel room, but I don’t actually know how to iron, so… womp womp. I think a mini-steamer would definitely have been easier to work with.

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  8. “Minimalism is really not about how few objects you own or how tiny your suitcase is – it’s about examining your relationship with materialism and consumerism and making thoughtful, intentional decisions when choosing what Stuff to keep in your life.” LOVE that! I’m a bit packing-list obsessed, so it’s nice to have a reminder that it’s about more than just seeing how little you can manage to survive with.

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  9. I travel often for work trips myself, and I must say your packing is so much more efficient than mine! I usually end up packing too much. I once packed 5 pairs of shoes for a few days away – i ended up not even wearing 3 of the pairs I packed! But I do agree a mini steamer is a good idea…got to get one of those myself…
    nataliesdailylife.wordpress.com

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