I’ve traveled a fair bit over the past few years for research projects and to speak at conferences. I strive for something akin to minimalism when packing, though not to the degree that I go without a few creature comforts.
After reading the best practices and pro-tips from sites like Carryology, Packsmith, Snarky Nomad, and The Wirecutter, I thought it would be both useful and fun to create my own “business traveler” gear and apparel packing list.
Before we get to the list, I have two gear and packing guidelines:
Spend more now to save more later
I invest in durability, comfort, and features. Yes, this comes at a price, but good apparel and gear will last eons.
Plan with abandon; pack with restraint
Really, really think about your schedule, and pack accordingly, not aspirationally. It’s easier to buy one new item on the road than it is to lug ten items you don’t need. From my friend Sean’s blog, I picked up the mental exercise that I must forfeit any clothing I pack but don’t use. That simple mindset keeps me honest when packing.
I don’t check my luggage for business travel, and neither should you. I stick to two bags, max: a rollerboard and a backpack. Between both, I can pack clothing and gear for days upon days of travel.
I use a Delsey 19” suitcase that I carry aboard with me. It’s small enough to fit into the overhead bins of every major domestic and international airline. It also features a polycarbonate shell, which both helps to keep its shape (no need to stuff it into the overhead bin) and protects my goods (which can include a laptop or Kindle).
The Delsey Helium suitcase.
After ample user testing, I settled on the Timbuk2 Command backpack. It’s not the platonic ideal of backpacks, but it hits a lot of my checkmarks: expandable, TSA compliant, protective, and understated. If I had to do it again, I’d go with the Mission Workshop Sanction, but the Command is holding up nicely after two years being shoved under airplane seats and thrown into cabs. Every couple of months I spray it with Scotchgard as an added layer of protection. The Timbuk2 Command backpack.
I employ a mix of both Eagle Creek compression and eBags standard packing cubes. I resisted these for so long, but they make a world of difference for both organization and fitting everything into my bag.
I hand-wash my clothes at the hotel, but eventually things get dirty. That’s where the Outdoor Research Ultralight Z-Compression Sack comes in handy. I picked this up after reading about it on the Wirecutter. It’s great for taking a couple of day’s worth of clothes and compressing them down to the size of a coffee mug.
- Power supplies and a surge protector
- Ethernet cable and adapter
- HDMI adapter
- Homemade first aid kit/sewing kit
- Eyeglass repair kit
- Kensington presentation remote
- A travel spork. (I highly recommend this—there will come a late-night meal in your hotel room when you’re tired, half-dressed, and lacking a utensil. When that time comes, this will be your moment of glory.)
The mighty travel spork
I work as a UX researcher, which means I often travel with the intention of capturing moments and mutterings. I’ve used a variety of devices over the years, but here’s my current set-up:
- MacBook Pro 13”: Powerful, lightweight, and gorgeous.
- Kindle Paperwhite. Why bring a book when you can bring the library? And speaking of libraries, you can download classics (like most of the Sherlock Holmes books) from Project Gutenberg for free.
- Zoom H2N audio recorder, because everyone misses something during an interview.
Some apparel rules of thumb:
- Any visible article of clothing must be wearable with any other visible article. In a nutshell, everything works with everything. I stick to black shoes, navy or black pants, and simple check or plaid patterns to ensure that no matter what I put on, the combination will look professional (and dope).
- I only pack hand-washable, quick-drying, wrinkle-resistant clothing. I don’t iron, and I want to be able to wash and dry my clothes in my hotel bathroom.
- I pack four changes of clothes, max, plus one set of whatever I need for a run or the gym. With what I wear on the plane, that’s three changes of clothes in my suitcase. Once I’m at my destination, I have something I’m wearing, something hanging to dry in the hotel shower, and two changes of clothes at the ready.
Shoes make or break a trip. The right pair is flexible enough to work for meetings, socializing, and exploring. They need to work in all climates and conditions and still provide comfort.
- Tretorn Skymra (black on black): These are the shoes. They’re Gore-Tex, waterproof, comfortable, and stylish. I wear these on the plane, through the city, to meetings, and to the bar for a cocktail. They go in and out of stock, hence the lack of a link. But if you find them, pounce. Tretorn Skymras = Footwear Happiness.
- Dr. Martens Alfie boot or Callum shoe. These canvas shoes are perfect for dry climates and lots of walking, and they’re super durable and comfortable. Note that they’re not waterproof. I sprayed mine with Scotchgard, which worked in a light mist but failed in a storm. Dr. Martens Alfie boot
- Uniqlo Easy Care Slim Fit dress shirts: no wrinkles, no worries.
- Dickie’s Slim Skinny work pants: Don’t judge by the brand name—these are tough as nails, stain-resistant, and fit like a glove. They’re also dirt cheap.
- Uniqlo Airism boxers: lightweight, durable, hand-washable, fast-drying, perfect.
- Darn Tough Socks: Merino wool is both odor-resistant and quick to dry, which is really all you need in a sock, right? Not to mention, they’re guaranteed for life.
- Uniqlo Short-Sleeve tee: The cotton-poly blend is both comfortable and quick to dry.
- I also pack one or two white cotton-poly undershirts (for meetings), track pants/shorts (for pajamas/lounging), and one running combo (shorts/tights, shirt, shoes). I’m steadfast in using my running shoes only for running, which means I pack two pairs of shoes on all trips.
- Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket: This is the lightest-weight, warmest, most packable jacket I’ve ever worn. The jacket stuffs into its chest pocket, making it eminently packable.
The Patagonia Nano Puff jacket.
- Other things I pack, depending on the trip: a Merino cardigan or Uniqlo travel blazer for layering over my tee or dress shirt, a Merino beanie for cold environments, and a packable rain shell.
Odds and Ends
The Pelican Micro Case.
- Streamlight LED flashlight: The power will go out. That beach will be fun to walk on late at night. That alley is dark. You’ll find a reason.
- A sharpie, a travel screwdriver, a notebook, and an indestructible pen. Just have these on hand—you’ll use them all.
- If you wear eyeglasses, always pack a spare. I keep mine in a Pelican Micro Case, which is crush-proof.
- For toiletries, I use the Eagle Creek Specter. It’s small, but holds the essentials.