It’s not always easy to pack light and still look the business, but, with some wise-buys and forward planning, it’s easily achievable. Packing light is an art form - and one that it pays (literally, given the cost of excess luggage charges) to master, especially if you’re a frequent business traveller.
Packing a bag or suitcase that contains sufficient items to ensure you look smart and presentable yet can be carried as hand luggage is the holy grail of the experienced business professional. And, thankfully, it’s achievable with a little know-how.
PICKING THE RIGHT BAG
Packing light starts with choosing an appropriate bag (or case). Obviously, you’ll want to choose as large a bag as you can while adhering to the airline’s carry-on luggage guidelines.
The most popular carry-on style is a compact suitcase, which has the advantage of two or four wheels for easy transport. Hard-shelled models have the additional benefit of offering protection for their contents.
Practical alternatives include sturdy holdalls, hanger bags, military-style duffel bags and oversized messenger bags (flat and rectangular with a shoulder strap), all of which have their own advantages and disadvantages. Duffel bags, for example, are light and easy to pack, but offer little protection, tend to crumple the contents and lack the polished aesthetic of, say, a smart rolling carry-on case. What design you opt for will largely depend on your needs and budget.
KEY CONTENTS - WHAT TO PACK?
The perfect business trip bag is one that’s filled with a small number of practical but, crucially, interchangeable items that can be mixed-and-matched, or dressed up or down as appropriate.
What you pack will, obviously, depend on the duration of the trip and your itinerary, but the key garments for any business travel include the following:
If you’re on business, you’ll need a suit. Neutral colours such as grey or navy are ideal: formal enough for the boardroom and slick enough for a smart restaurant or evening cocktails. Better still, the component pieces of a sharp suit can be worn separately – the jacket with a pair of chinos or the trousers with a crisp pressed open-neck shirt for more informal appointments.
There’s no simpler way to broadcast your impeccable style and business credentials than a crisp white shirt. Look for one in a smooth cotton poplin (or Oxford cotton in summertime), ideally with a slight stretch for comfortable movement and, crucially, to minimise any wrinkles.
Even if it’s just an overnight trip, a backup shirt is always recommended. Steer clear of another white design (you don’t want people thinking you’re wearing the same shirt again) and, instead, consider something a little punchier – a thin blue-and-white stripe with a semi-spread collar covers all bases and merges the lines of formal and smart-casual brilliantly.
What it may lack in visual oomph, a plain, knitted tie more than makes up for in its versatility, making it a go-anywhere option for the style-savvy business traveller. Sure, you can be more adventurous with anything from, say, a discreet polka dot print to club-style stripes or a dapper check, but anything with a pattern is less adaptable than a monocoloured knitted design.
A blazer or sports jacket is unlikely to be essential but, if you have space, it’s always good for informal events to pack one that’s clearly not part of a suit.
Smart denim is not an oxymoron. Pick the right pair of jeans – classic fit, indigo blue, free of any obvious detailing, rips or fabric treatments – and you can team it with your shirt and blazer for a relaxed-yet-sharp look, or wear it for a more casual look on the flight home.
Shoes are one of the heaviest, bulkiest items that you’ll be needing, so, where possible, stick with one pair - black leather Oxfords, for example – which you can wear travelling.
If you have room for and will require, a second pair, consider a pair of dark brown leather or suede shoes. These are slightly more casual but will still look the part if you need to dress up.
A few key accessories are always useful as a means of personalising your outfits and making an understated but impactful impression. A pocket square, for instance, is always a great addition (ultra-light and easy to pack). Also consider an elegant watch, some classy cufflinks and, for your smart-casual outfit, an understated leather belt.
Master the art of packing light for business travel and you need never check a bag in again. As with any skill, it gets easier with time. And once you’ve mastered the basics, you’ll soon realise how little you need. See? Less really can be more!
Check out our dedicated “How to” section to get tips on everything from Caring for your Suit to Dressing for an Interview.