One of the most common conversations among business travelers have among each other is to discuss how to pack optimally for your next trip. As someone with more than two million miles of experience under my belt, I have developed several tricks and hacks to pack light, and give myself the most flexibility to deal with whatever the airlines might throw my way.
Here are a few of my tips that I think can help improve your travel experience:
1. Pick A Color.
Before a business trip, I pick a color theme ahead of time: blue, gray, or black. My goal is to choose clothes of similar colors that I can then mix and match to create multiple outfits out of just a few pieces of clothing. I might have two pairs of gray slacks to go with a gray jacket, along with a few shirts (more on that below), and I'm good to go.
Some people even take this to the extreme. I have one friend, Mitch Joel, who only wears black from head to toe. It makes it incredibly easy for him to pack since everything is the same color--it's even become part of his image and brand as a popular business speaker.
Now I realize that this can be difficult to act on if you are a color person and need variety and color in your wardrobe. But if your goal is to travel light and maintain flexibility, consider picking a color theme before you pack. By the way--this works for women travelers as well. You can pack a pair of slacks and a skirt of similar color you can rotate tops with gives you a lot of flexibility without loading down your suitcase.
2. Double up.
Business travel these days means you also need to bring along plenty of technology--everything from the chargers for your phone and computer to USB cables and headphones. But rather than having to unplug everything from your home office when you need to hit the road, I suggest having a duplicate set of everything you need--think of it as your "tech kit"--which you already have in your briefcase or backpack specifically for when you travel. That way you don't have to worry about what you need--it's all ready to go whenever.
Similarly, you should have a separate toiletry kit in your suitcase rather than having to pull things like a toothbrush or toothpaste from your regular use. If you're like me, you've also learned that you don't need to pack shaving cream as you can shave in the shower and save that extra weight.
You should also consider adding a plastic pillbox to your toiletry kit that you can add whatever meds or supplements you might need to bring with you. Never bring the whole bottle.
3. No Liquids. Period.
I never ever bring any liquids with me on a trip. But, if you need to bring something like a saline solution with you, then make the effort to get TSA Pre-approved so that you don't have to take out your toiletries in the security line. If all else fails, be prepared by putting all your liquids in a single plastic bag that you can reach easily in an outer pocket of your luggage so you can easily plop it through the security scanner.
4. Wrinkle Management.
When you travel, wrinkled clothing always poses a risk. Nobody wants to break out the iron in their hotel room. But I've learned that you can avoid a lot of wrinkles by investing in modern wrinkle-free or micro-fiber shirts that simply cannot wrinkle--which can save you a lot of hassle.
But if you have cotton shirts that you get dry cleaned, my tip is to keep them in the plastic bags you pick them up in. When you're packing, carefully fold your shirts with the plastic on them as a way to help keep them from wrinkling. Then, once you get to your hotel room, take out the shirts and hang them up.
When it comes to pants, you can just roll them up or lie them flat to keep them as wrinkle free as possible. My rule for slacks is to bring two pairs that match my color theme - one to wear and one in the suitcase.
While wrinkles aren't an issue with underwear or socks, make sure to roll those up too and stick them in shoes or nooks inside your bag to help preserve room. And while I know it's boring, I only have black socks for business.
5. Pick the Right Suitcase.
Most experienced business travelers will actually have two bags that they can use depending on the length of their trip. Your goal should be to pick the right club for the right shot as a way to minimize what you need to haul with you.
One bag would be a 22-inch carry-on roller than you can stuff into a plane's overhead bin. You'd use that bag for a longer trip, say 7 to 10 days. You'll also have a much smaller overnight bag that you can use for two or three night trips.
Either way, it's always critical to never ever check your bag through to your destination.
6. How Many Socks and Underwear?
When it comes to deciding how many pairs of socks and underwear you'll need, my general rule is to take the number of days that you'll be traveling and divide that by two. For a 4 day trip, that's 2 pairs - one I wear and one in case.
That usually works out to about a pair for every two days. I know: some of you have probably raised your eyebrows at that. But unless you have an accident, you can get away with this--especially if you avoid any kind of cotton underwear.
If you have socks and underwear made of synthetic materials, it's also easy to use a little soap and wash them in your hotel sink and then hang them out to dry.
7. Always Have A Backup Plan.
Accidents happen. And that might include spilling a plate of marinara sauce on yourself or even getting caught in a rainstorm that soaks you last pair of clean clothes. That's when it's important to remember that you can always go and buy new clothes if you NEED to. Now I realize this might not work in all cases, but if it's an important business trip, you might not have a choice. If you have really damaged some clothing, you might need to replace it when you get home anyway, so just think of it as getting ahead of the curve.
8. Pack Your Bag--The Night Before.
I can't tell you how many times I have had breakfast with a client or colleague before heading to the airport only to have that person tell me they need to run up to their room to pack their bag. What happens then is that they are rushing and will likely forget something back in their room as they hurry to gather everything up. My pro tip is to pack everything the night before, just laying out what you need for the next morning. That way you'll be relaxed and organized and ready to head back home.
I've learned these simple lessons over a lot of trips and miles and they work. So when it comes to your next business trip, take a few minutes to prepare and you'll find it well worth your while.