If you're struggling with how to pack the exact right items in the exact right amount for work travel, these business travel essentials for women just may change your life.
This is a quick, easy, and painless system I developed over years of packing for business trips, primarily to accompany my husband several times per year, although I did also use a similar system for my own business travel when I was a lawyer.
The biggest difference is that my travel with my husband is a mix of casual and business casual events for a few days attending a conference, and my own work travel as a lawyer was generally much shorter and purely business, like attending a deposition or a court hearing, then immediately returning home.
I'm going to focus on how to pack for a few days of a work trip that requires you to wear both casual and business attire. I'm also going to assume you are going on at least one flight to get to your destination, since that type of travel has the most restrictions, and seems to be the most anxiety-inducing. But, you can adjust these tips to suit your own work travel needs. The principles are universal!
After you finish reading this post about business travel essentials, you will be able to pack less and do so both faster and better.
This guide to business travels essentials for women is not just a list of luggage items and travel accessories, but also what type of clothing to pack and how to pack it so that it's minimalistic but still provides everything you need, and never too much or too little.
Business Travel Essentials (for Women)
General Business Travel Tips
First, since this blog's motto is "where books meet lifestyle," before we begin, I want to recommend the book How to Pack: Travel Smart for Any Trip by Hitha Palepu for even more business travel essentials for women. She's a former consultant who has traveled more than 500,000 cumulative miles around the world, and it's also a very quick read. Many of the tips she recommends easily pair with my business travel essentials for women.
Below are a few more general travel tips to make these business travel essentials even easier to implement:
- Wear the bulkiest clothes you are bringing onto the plane instead of packing them, and travel in layers to both keep you warm and save space in your luggage.
- No matter your destination, keep weight and functionality in mind. Lighter items of multifunctional use, like a scarf that can be tied as a sarong, make travel so much easier, even if it's not the top choice you wish to wear.
- To save the most space and prevent as many wrinkles as possible, roll smaller items like shirts and dresses, and fold bigger items like jackets. Also, try to unpack as soon as you get to the hotel room to prevent extra wrinkles. It's time-saving in the long run!
- Invest in time-savers like TSA pre-check, Global Entry, and CLEAR, which allow you to "skip the lines" (or, at least some of them) at the airport. Time is generally of the essence when you are traveling for business, and this has saved us hours of time, especially when we needed it most to catch a flight.
- We have also saved a lot of time by paying a few extra dollars to check our bags curbside at the airport, instead of waiting in line inside. I have heard that you can also try to offer a $5.00 tip curbside to get your bag marked as "priority baggage," so that it will be the first unloaded at the final destination. I have not yet tried this, but after waiting an hour for my bag after my last flight, I am very tempted to do so.
- Even if you "think" you know the weather for a location, check it just before you leave, so you can be sure to pack any last-minute weather essentials, like a windproof travel umbrella. The last thing you want to be at a business meeting is WET!
Next, let's talk about what luggage to pack your business travel essentials in.
DELSEY Paris Chatelet Hardside Luggage with Spinner Wheels, Chocolate Brown, Carry-on 21 Inch, with Brake
- Amazon's Choice
- My Choice
I generally end up checking a suitcase because my toiletries exceed the carry-on limits (beauty lover problems!), but I still try to use a four-wheel, hard case, carry-on sized suitcase because it's both lighter in weight and forces me to pack lightly to fit everything inside of it. So, that's my recommendation for you too, whether you check it or not.
The four wheels and hard case are also just so much more functional overall, no matter what carry-on you select.
I recommend the trusted luggage brand Delsey because they are high quality, and I have had really good luck with their luggage over the years. The wheels on my prior suitcase were broken during my first flight!
So, the extra expense of Delsey has been worth it over the long term, PLUS sometimes you can get really good deals on their luggage. I have lucked out shopping for Delsey luggage on sale at Kohl's, but you can also try these retailers to look for a good deal:
Of course, if you are checking your bags, you may also want to get a unique colored suitcase and/or luggage tag. Even if bright colors and prints aren't for you, for either business or personal reasons, you can use a unique luggage tag that removes easily. (This was helpful to me when I had to bring my luggage to court as a lawyer.)
To keep your suitcase organized and clean, I also swear by packing cubes that come with laundry bags (to contain the odors from clothing you have worn). I also find that they can be very space-saving. To keep things even more organized, I use pink packing cubes, and my husband uses blue.
Longchamp Le Pliage Large Shoulder Tote Bag
- My Choice
For my "personal item" on the plane, I usually carry a Longchamp tote, which I pack with:
- my laptop
- Apple AirPods
- wallet (I use this super organized travel wallet for international trips)
- TSA-approved toiletry bag (with 3.4 ounces containers or less)
- a book or Kindle
- a travel pillow (or packable jacket that doubles as a pillow) for flights over 4-5 hours (I use the Bernardo brand from Nordstrom)
- a portable charger
- anything else that's a "must-have" for the next 24 hours in case my luggage is delayed
I am a HUGE fan of Longchamp tote bags. They come in a variety of sizes and colors, and they fold up really tiny and flat for travel. They are also extremely durable, and they can double as beach bags and/or laundry bags. So, you can easily bring more than one in a variety of sizes and/or colors if you choose.
Clothes System for Business Travel
This is the packing list I SWEAR by as my own business travel essentials, in order to have the exact items I need with as few items as possible. I really feel like I "nailed" this system and packing is now a breeze for me.
As mentioned, my business travel is generally with my husband, and it is a mix of pool attire and workout/casual attire for daytime and business casual attire for cocktail hours, banquets, and dinners at night.
STEP 1: To make packing super easy, I first pick out:
- one pair of casual shoes
- one pair of dress shoes
- one additional shoe (usually a sneaker, but it depends on the exact nature of the trip)
- one neutral layer (usually a cardigan, but it can also be a multifunctional travel wrap)
- one neutral purse that can function as casual and business casual
- one or two pairs of earrings (one dressy, one casual) that go with the rest of the above accessories (pearls are the easiest)
This is absolutely essential to my packing method!
I personally focus on packing only one brand of clothing and accessories (Lilly Pulitzer) because it can all be mixed and matched without even thinking about it.
However, if Lilly Pulitzer isn't your style, I think you can also do well by focusing on neutrals in fabrics that travel well, such as:
- Ponte pants
- Sweater blazers (my absolute FAVORITE blazers ever)
- Stretchy jersey or cotton materials, like wrap dresses
This minimal packing list may seem scary at first, but it works REALLY easily when you focus on one brand like I do (Lilly Pulitzer). And I definitely think it can work well otherwise if you build out a few packable neutrals in your closet.
STEP 2: Only after I have picked out my shoes and accessories, do I then grab clothes that match them. I think this is the biggest space saver and also, doing it first really focuses your packing strategy on the most minimal items you really need.
BONUS TIP: And I try to always pack dresses over separates because it's so much less in quantity. It also enables you to think less while you are packing and pack quicker. When we went to Italy for ten days, I simply grabbed ten daytime dresses and ten nighttime dresses that matched my shoes, and that was that! Easy peasy.
Next, when I also need to pack workout wear, I just grab a few of the most neutral items, like solid leggings and white or gray t-shirts.
I can usually do this entire process in just 5-10 very painless minutes!
Sample Business Casual Travel Capsule Wardrobe
Now, to drive home these points even further, let's take a look at exactly what I would pack for a four day, three-night trip to a beachy resort with relaxation during the day and work events every night:
- One piece of luggage to carry on or check
- One tote bag to carry on the plane
- Gold Lilly Pulitzer heels/wedges
- Gold Jack Rogers jelly sandals (can be worn to the pool, casually, AND dressy)
- Sneakers (wear on the plane)
- Gold Lilly Pulitzer purse
- Gold Lilly Pulitzer cardigan
- Three Lilly Pulitzer dresses
- One Lilly Pulitzer bathing suit
- One Lilly Pulitzer beach coverup ("fancy" enough to also be worn over a suit to a casual lunch, etc.)
- Lilly Pulitzer activewear: three to four leggings or shorts and three to four tees or tops (all in neutrals, and one set of which will be worn on the plane, decent enough for a casual meal, outing or shopping trip)
- One hat, either packable (my absolute favorite packable hat is customizable and sells out every Summer) or worn on the plane
Below is a sample of some exact and some very similar similar items I have actually packed for work travel:
See how it all works together so effortlessly?!
I swear, this post is not sponsored by Lilly Pulitzer -- it just really works for me to focus on this one brand. Even if you don't want to use Lilly Pulitzer and/or focus on one brand, it will still help you to start with minimal accessories, then move to minimal, packable items that match. That's really the key.
Keeping It Fresh & Clean
You will also want your business travel essentials to look and smell good, so consider packing:
- The Laundress Crease Release Spray (I use this ALL the time, even at home, to avoid ironing)
- The Laundress Fabric Fresh Spray
- Travel steamer
- Travel lint roller
I personally think ALL of the above items are essential. We have gotten stuck without an iron or steamer so many times and/or we have had to re-wear items or get wrinkles out really quickly upon arrival to make a work meeting in time. They are absolute lifesavers and game-changers for business travel.
Beauty System for Business Travel
Since I am a beauty lover, I can also offer you a few business travel essentials that have made my skincare routine manageable on the road.
First, I only travel with one tool anymore -- my DryBar Blow Dryer Brush, which is smaller than a regular hairdryer and functions as a styling tool as well. (Of note, Revlon Blow Dryer Brush is similar, a #1 best seller, very highly rated, and cheaper.) Or, you can check whether your hotel offers a hair dryer and then only pack a straightener or curling iron.
To maintain my skincare routine, I save up or purchase samples and/or travel-sized items from Biossance, which is the clean beauty brand I use for everything on my face. Again, I like the process of sticking with one brand whereby everything just goes together, and I don't have to think about it.
For makeup, I focus on multifunctional products (like my favorite Ilia multi stick) and all-in-one compacts that contain eyeshadow, blush, bronzer, and/or highlighters in one pack (like this Tarte palette). And I ALWAYS pack a travel set of Eco Tools brushes, which are my absolute favorite brushes overall and super cheap and easy to travel with as a bonus.
Dry Shampoo is an absolute must for me to save time and/or extra space for shampoo, conditioner, and styling creams.
Wipes that can be used on the face AND body are also really helpful in a pinch.
And lastly, you can leave a small stash of emergency items like bandaids, nail clippers, bobby pins, hair ties, safety pins, q-tips, and earplugs, in your toiletry bag at all times.
Those are all the business travel essentials that female business travelers need, based on the quick and easy system I have developed for painless work travel over the years.
Related Travel Tips Post
For international travel, check out my tips for traveling abroad, which include more unique business travel essentials you may need, like a travel adapter.