As an ultralight packer, I had become accustomed to traveling with next to nothing on personal trips.
But as I started traveling for work, I wondered if I could apply my ultralight philosophy to packing for business travel, where I had the additional concern of remaining professional.
I analyzed what pilots, flight attendants, and frequent business travelers packed. While the standard suitcase or rolling laptop bag for business travel was considerably lighter than the average recreational suitcase, it was not the ultralight pack I desired.
I set out to design my custom, ultralight packing list for business travel, and now I want to share some tips on how to pack light for business travel with you.
Table of Contents
My Personal History of Ultralight Packing
I became addicted to ultralight traveling after graduating from college while on a three-month trip around Europe.
I started my journey with the standard backpackers’ backpack – a bright red 62-liter bag that could hold a couple of weeks’ worth of clothes.
I was worried about finding laundromats, washing my clothes in the sink, and having the right clothes for the right situations.
After two weeks of lugging the bag up narrow staircases and down the aisles of crowded trains, I decided I’d had enough.
I traded in the behemoth for a small day pack, promptly threw away half my possessions, and enjoyed a much more carefree trip without carrying the weight of a ten-year-old child on my back.
As the weeks wore on, I continued to ditch items that I realized were weighing me down. By the end of the trip, I returned home with flip-flops, two shirts, a pair of shorts, underwear, a toothbrush, and a stick of deodorant in my now-almost-empty day pack.
Since I traded in my big, bright red backpack, I’ve never regretted traveling light and have never looked back.
However, when my job called for me to start traveling, I wondered if there’d be any way I could pull off my ultralight packing on business trips.
Related: Travel Safety 101.
Packing for Business Travel (The Standard Method)
Business travel threw new challenges at me as I determined how to maintain my ultralight packing ideals.
First and foremost – I needed to look professional in the office. No more lightweight-wicking shirts, all-purpose shoes, or other standard items on any ultralight traveler’s packing list.
I had to conform to the dress code of a button-up long, sleeve shirt, slacks, and dress shoes. Additionally, on a Monday – Thursday travel schedule, I had to have four individual outfits – I wouldn’t be able to get away with repeating shirts while seeing the same people at the office every day.
Finally, I couldn’t smell like an ultralight traveler (I’ll be the first to admit that I sacrificed a little in the scent department while traveling ultralight). With these guidelines in place, I developed my packing strategy.
Looking around the airport on a Monday morning, I saw hundreds of business travelers carrying the same piece of luggage: a 20″ roll-aboard suitcase, something like this.
It’s what most pilots and flight attendants carry and is favored by most weekly business travelers.
It has become the industry standard, and with good reason: It’s a small, lightweight bag that fits in all the overhead bins, yet provides plenty of space for clothes, toiletries, etc.
Weekly business travelers are pros at light packing; if so many people use these bags, it must work.
Based on the need to look professional and on the advice of other business travel pros, I bought a light roll-aboard suitcase and began designing my packing list. It included:
- Four dress shirts
- One down jacket
- Four undershirts
- Travel purse
- Four pairs of slacks
- Four pairs of socks
- Four pairs of underwear
- Two dress belts (black and brown)
- Two pairs of dress shoes (black and brown)
- Two casual shirts (for evenings)
- One pair of jeans (for evenings)
- Electric toothbrush
- Body soap
- Coffee maker (sometimes I do)
- CO2 detector (optional)
This packing list allowed me to maintain professionalism while fitting everything I needed into one light roll aboard.
However, after growing accustomed to walking through airports with nothing else, I knew I could take it one step further: from light to ultralight.
Before I laid down a chunk of cash on a nice suitcase, I wanted to see if I could design an ultralight packing list that would still meet all of my conditions for maintaining professionalism at the office.
How To Pack Light For Business Travel (The Ultralight Way)
To travel as lightly as possible, I challenged myself to do the following:
- Eliminate all unnecessary items
- Minimize, decrease, and consolidate wherever possible
- Identify all redundancies and eliminate duplications
I already had a pretty light suitcase compared to some of my coworkers. I didn’t pack casual clothes for the evenings and had already minimized my toiletries to fit in the one-quart plastic bag.
I began working my way down the list to determine what was critical to maintaining my professional appearance.
I decided to keep all four dress shirts because these were the most recognizable item of clothing I had. To maintain a neat, professional appearance, I had to maintain variety over four days.
As for the four undershirts, I decided to get rid of them. While I prefer to wear undershirts with my dress shirts, they weren’t critical; I don’t sweat much and launder my dress shirts frequently, so I figured I could do without this.
I cut the number of slacks I carried in half. Two pairs of slacks rotated over four days allowed me to vary my appearance and maintain professionalism.
Clean socks and underwear daily were non-negotiable, so I kept four pairs each. While I could have spent time washing these items in the hotel each night, their added weight was minimal, so I traded them for comfort.
I like to rotate black and brown belt/shoe combos, but I realized this was not critical, so I only decided to carry one belt and one pair of shoes. I eliminated the casual clothes realizing I could still go out to dinner or sit in my hotel room in my work clothes.
I cut or consolidated almost all of my toiletries (except my deodorant), recognizing that while the hotels didn’t carry my preferred shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, I could work with what they provided.
Finally, I picked up this toothbrush, which in addition to carrying its tube of toothpaste in the handle, provided a cap to keep the brush head separate from any nasty elements that may find their way into my bag.
My final packing list now looked like this:
- Four dress shirts
- Two pairs of slacks
- Four pairs of socks
- Four pairs of underwear
- 1 Dress belt
- One pair of dress shoes
- Toothbrush/toothpaste combo
All this fit comfortably into this bag, which weighed considerably less than any roll aboard and was small and flexible enough to fit into almost any cranny in an overhead bin or even underneath the seat in front of me.
While I could certainly pack lighter for a recreational leisure trip, I was satisfied with the results of my effort and continue to use this packing method whenever I have to hit the road on business.
3 Benefits of Ultralight Business Travel
Ultralight packing decreases weight and increases maneuverability while rushing through the airport to catch a flight.
I can hop out of cabs with my bag in hand, hurry down escalators, and squeeze through closing train doors. I had boarded some flights with just seconds to spare before the boarding doors were closed, and I owe this in part to the reduced weight I was carrying.
As someone who isn’t particularly fashion-forward, ultralight packing reduces the potential shirt/belt/slacks/shoe combinations I can choose from – which to me, is great.
Because of how I pack, I know any shirt goes with any pair of slacks, and my belt and shoes will always match. I need to grab what’s on top, and I’m ready.
On an airplane, my bag can fit just in about any nook or cranny in an overhead bin or even underneath the seat in front of me, and I’ve never had to gate check it due to the overhead bins being full.
Drawbacks of Ultralight Business Travel
I lose flexibility with what I can wear in the evenings (no casual clothes, workout clothes, etc). Additionally, I am limited to one pair of shoes and one belt I brought. If they break, I’m stuck with buying new ones.
If problems arise (either work or weather-related) and I stay an extra day, I won’t have any reserved clothes to wear. On rare occasions, this occurs, most hotels offer laundry service.
What Are Your Thoughts?
Even with the loss of flexibility with ultralight packing, I still choose to pack this way because I prefer simplicity and maneuverability.
What do you think? Do you travel light when traveling for business? Would you want to?