1 Long Business Trip, 1 Carry-On Bag: You Can Do It!

800px-Luggage_compartments_AirbusAs a business traveler, I’ve made a major commitment to packing light. And, no matter how long my trip is, I never take more than a single carry-on bag with me.

Some of the benefits are obvious: I never check extra bags, my bag never gets lost, and I never have to wait in baggage claim. Sweet!

I also appreciate the benefit of flexibility: I can change to a different flight at a moment’s notice. Hopping on an earlier flight, or changing to another flight when my flight is cancelled, is sometimes critical to making important business meetings or just getting home sooner. And this is only possible when I have my luggage with me and the airline doesn’t have to hunt for it.

So, how can you pack everything you really need for a 2- or even 3-week trip in a single carry-on bag?

The trick is to know exactly what to pack and how to best utilize hotel laundries. Your laundry bill will be higher than paying for the extra bags. But, if your company will cover the expense (or even if it doesn’t), this strategy is well worth it.

Here are some tried-and-true tips that work for me and some other male business travelers I know:

1. Take one suit, if you can. When I buy suits, I usually buy them with two pairs of pants. A dark blue, black, or dark gray color is best. With two pairs of pants, you only need to take one suit with you. I switch pants every other day, letting the other pair air out in the closet. If you have a small suit brush, then brush down the fabric when you hang your suit up to remove any dust or dirt. I religiously remove my suit jacket at every meal and hang it on the back of my chair so I don’t spill anything on it. Also, I try not to wear it in cars so it doesn’t get crumpled. Then, on Saturday mornings, I give the suit and the two pairs of pants to the hotel laundry and I am ready to get back to business on Monday morning with a fresh week of clothes. Take a few extra ties so that you can vary your dress. Ties don’t take much room. My shirts, underwear, and socks go down to the laundry a couple of times a week.

2. Wear your “dress casual” on the plane. For your outbound flight, wear the outfit you generally wear on the weekends. A pair of khaki pants—preferably cotton—will do nicely, since they are more comfortable to wear on the plane. I also wear one of my long-sleeve cotton dress shirts with it (not one of my plain white ones, usually one that’s blue or striped). If you are warm, just roll up your sleeves. There’s an extra advantage to dressing nicely when flying—the flight attendants will treat you better. If you are on a particularly long flight and your pants look bad when you get to your hotel, just send them and the shirt you wore to the laundry.  They will be ready for the weekend. I also have them cleaned for my trip home on the plane.

3. Pack strategically to avoid wrinkled clothes. First, put your shoes in bags to keep your clothes clean. Then put underwear, socks, and workout clothes in the bottom of the bag with your shoes. Shirts go on top. And, when you fold your shirts, put a piece of tissue on the shirt back before you fold it. The tissue will keep the shirt from wrinkling. After this, put your suit on a hanger and then fold it in your bag. Finally, place a pair of socks in each of the shoulders of your jacket to keep them from getting crushed.

4. Pare your packing down to just these items. Here’s a list of essentials (including clothes for a business traveler who likes to work out):

• 5 pairs of underwear

• 5 pairs of socks

• 4 dress shirts (wear one on the plane)

• 1 belt

• 1 suit with two pairs of pants

• 5 ties and a tie clip (to keep the ties out of your soup)

• 2 handkerchiefs (critical in the Far East when you have no napkin)

• Toiletries

• Blow dryer and brush

• Sewing kit

• 1 pair of gym shorts

• 1 t-shirt to work out in

• 1 pair of white socks

• 1 pair of running shoes

• 1 pair of dress shoes (wear on the plane)

• Folding umbrella

(If you don’t have a suit with two pairs of pants, you can pack a second suit. The bag will be a bit more crowded, but everything should still fit.)

I’ve often found that traveling lighter also lightens my spirits. With so many business meetings lined up and challenges to face, it’s nice to know that I won’t be weighed down worrying about too much—or even lost—baggage.