In a previous life, I used to travel for business a lot. By the end of my seven years with Big Law Firm, I was a pro at packing for a trip. I recently went to Delhi for a week for business, and I’m happy to report that not only are my packing skills still pretty good, but they’re actually better than ever thanks to my expat training.
The tips below are meant to help you (if you are female – sorry guys) pack efficiently and with the most options for a weeklong business trip, assuming a Sunday afternoon arrival and a Friday evening departure.
Now, let’s get on with it.
Tip #1: Choose a basic neutral. Mine is black – you might be more of a brown person, or tan, or navy, or even olive. The key is to pick a neutral color that flatters you and will enable you to build a variety of outfits with them as the base.
Tip #1: Find your white. Mine is bright, stark white. Yours might be eggshell or ecru or perhaps even a grey-tinged white. It should go well with your skin tone and basic neutral.
Tip #3: You need a primary accent color. Look in your closet and it will probably be obvious what it is, because I guarantee you, you’ve already bought many different pieces in this color. This also means that it will go well with your basic neutral. What? You say you have a couple of “majority colors” in your closet? True, I’m supposing you do, so then it’s time to be honest and think about which one of those colors you get the most compliments in – is it the pink dress the color of a tea rose, or is it the fire-engine red blouse that you feel like a million bucks in? For this trip, I chose turquoise.
Tip #4: Now, pick a secondary accent color. Having already picked out your primary, you get to give your runner-up a bit more consideration. The only thing to remember is that you want to make sure your primary and secondary accent colors go well together. I chose bright blue.
Tip #5: Pack some stuff to work out in. Nope, you might not get to, but you just might and you’ll sleep a heck of a lot better and feel a lot sharper if you burn off a little energy instead of spending that extra hour in the hotel bar. I’m not saying you should skip the socializing, I’m saying you can show up fashionably late, feeling virtuous, and still get your drink on.
Here’s my packing list for one week:
- 2 pairs of shoes – one should be in your basic neutral, one should be in an accent color if possible. I like to have my neutral one be a pair of heels.
- 4 sets of jewelry. What I mean by a set is something that goes together (not necessarily bought together) and involves earrings, necklace and perhaps a pin or a bracelet. Each one should be distinctly different, and I’d recommend that one of them involve pearls. This is business, people. You can’t go wrong with pearls.
- 4 shirts. One in your basic white. One in each of your accent colors, solid, and one in a print involving your basics and accent colors.
- One scarf/dupatta/shawl in an accent color. Not a skinny, tiny, thing that a flight attendant would knot around her neck, something you can get some drapage real estate out of.
- One cardigan. I recommend it in your primary accent color.
- 1 blazer in your basic neutral.
- 1 pair of jeans or capris in your neutral white. Keep in mind that I’m dressing for the tropics, or warm weather, so if you live in, say, the Ukraine, this might mean a pair of wool slacks or something herringbone.
- The suit pants from your basic neutral.
- The skirt from your basic neutral – you DID buy both the pants and the skirt, right? Right??!!?
- A patterned skirt involving your basics and one of your accent colors. I went with the secondary accent color.
- A plain sheath in your neutral basic.
- A patterned dress involving your neutral basic, maybe your white, and one (or maybe both) of your accent colors.
That’s going to form the basic “looks” that you create for your working wardrobe. As I was playing around with my choices, I came up with at least 16 different outfits, and while no – they weren’t as radically different as the costume changes Lady Gaga has during a concert, they each hit a different mark with respect to formality, style, and comfort level. Meeting with the Big Boss? Go for the heel and the blazer options, throw in classic pearls. A day of team-building exercises with co-workers? Bring on the jeans, a shirt, and some flats, maybe the cardigan or scarf to keep the A/C chill away.
Here’s a selection of the outfits I came up with:
I’ve already mentioned jewelry as an accessory, but I know some of you are waiting for a more complete list. Yes, bring a purse that compliments all your outfits, in either an accent color or your basic neutral. As a rule, I don’t recommend white purses, but if you’re better at keeping ballpoint pen scunge off them than I am, go for it. I personally don’t do belts, but if you do, you’ve certainly got room for them. When I was finished with all my basic work outfit packing, I got it all down to this:
I even had room to throw in a more casual pair of slacks in my neutral basic that gave me even more outfit options. Fantastic.
As for the jewelry, I recommend one of these:
I inherited it from elderly relatives, and if you can find something like this, I recommend it without reservation. The zipper pouch is great for smaller pieces or chains. Hand carry this, ladies. I really shouldn’t have to tell you this.
I did pack other things, obviously, but I’m not photographing them for you, because I think a list should suffice without showing you my undergarments. I also packed:
- 6 pairs of knickers.
- A nightgown (or whatever you change into to sleep)
- 3 pairs of sports socks
- 1 sports bra
- swimsuit, goggles, and swim cap
- 1 bra
- 1 pair workout shorts
- 2 wicking workout tops
Not only does this provide you with appropriate foundation, it covers workouts no matter if you want to swim, run, or hit the fitness center.
Add your toiletries. Although you may have run over from carry-on to smaller, checked suitcase, you still don’t want to weigh down your bag. Bags marked “heavy” are last to come off the band, and you don’t want to stand around waiting for it if you can help it. I recommend investing in a sturdy plastic or plastic-lined toiletry bag (so you don’t keep having to use plastic zipper lock bags). Don’t pack shampoo or soap – the hotel has that, and you don’t need the extra weight. You may want to throw in a small sized conditioner if you use it. Toss in your toothbrush, whatever makeup you use, hair bands, Q-tips and cotton balls (I recommend a separate little pouch for those) and a curling brush.
As far as other toiletries such as face wash, toner, wrinkle cream, and toothpaste go, I recommend using travel sizes. Certain travel sizes such as toothpaste and conditioner, maybe mouthwash, can be purchased at a drugstore, so stock up on those when you get the chance, or do the earth a favor and buy the little bottles you can refill with what you use at home. If you use a certain brand of product, such as Kiehl’s or Estee Lauder, the next time you go to the counter and purchase your products, ask for the samples and travel sizes. I’ve got my Kiehl’s guy at the local mall so trained for this, he now just automatically throws in packets of stuff I use when I make a purchase.
You’re just about ready to close the suitcase now. But before you do, throw in something comfy to remind yourself of home.
Now for your plane outfit. Those of you who were freaking out at the idea of only one bra all week can now rest easy – you have two, because you’ll be wearing one on the plane. Unless you are meeting the Big Boss for drinks/dinner the second you get off the plane, you should dress to fly in comfort. The flight attendants will treat you like crap unless you’re in business class anyway, so there’s no point in dressing up. Notice I did not say, “dress like a slob”. Go ahead and wear jeans, and definitely wear whatever sport shoe you will be using for workouts during the week – you don’t want to take up valuable packing space with giant shoes anyway, and it’s easier to run in between connections when the plane is inevitably late if you don’t wear impractical footwear. Wear a dressy casual blouse, and no, it need not be in any of the colors you’ve packed. I also recommend another large scarf/pareo for the chilly plane – this can also be in a different color. Wear some casual jewelry – maybe some hoop earrings and a simple chain. I do encourage you to think about how the jewelry, scarf or blouse might go with your neutrals and whites just in case you want to get crazy and sport something different during the week.
There you go! We’re finished. Obviously, you should feel free to play a little with the list and add in or delete items as they work or don’t work with your usual style or wardrobe. I hope I’ve given you a head start on how you can pack for any type of business meeting or event, and that these tips on “packing like a boss” free your mind to think of other things so you can BE the boss.
Have a good trip!