Routine is Key
Having a routine and system helps you pack well for business trips and be ready for various scenarios. Generally, clothes that work well are those that do not wrinkle and are comfortable, so try synthetics and stretchable fabrics. Choose clothes that can be cross-purposed, such as black pants and cardigans, and shoes that are comfortable yet professional. Pick theme colors for the trip or for your business travel wardrobe as a whole. A black-and-grey theme plus color accents tends to work better than brown-toned neutrals. It matches bags and multiple outfits most easily, blends in the best, and is the most available for separates.
Be mindful of appropriateness at all times in the place to which you are traveling. A great book to keep on hand to scan before trips is Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands. It covers all world regions. Choose your wardrobe to fit the climate and culture. For example, when on business in the much of the Middle East, good choices include quarter-length silk tops paired with pants, or longer skirts that are loose in fit. These work with the weather and sufficiently cover your elbows and knees. Even if others wear more fitted, revealing clothing in places of varied norms, err on the conservative side. What is there to gain by potentially offending local culture? While the men or women you are doing business with may be accustomed to foreigners’ dressing styles, show respect by honoring their culture as best you can. You can wear the other clothes on a vacation or back at home. There is no need to create awkward situations by dressing in what may be considered a provocative way.
For long-haul flights, choose comfortable, breathable pants that look business casual but feel as much like pajamas as possible. It is a long time, and you may be working, talking, dehydrating, sleeping, and eating, multiple times, plus running through airports and sitting in lounges. Some flights are really hot, while others are cold. Layers are important for this reason and because your level of activity will vary as well—you will be on the move during transfers and still during rest periods. It is not productive to be hot or cold, so be prepared. Short-sleeve shirts plus cardigans work well. Few people wear business suits on long-haul flights, even in Business Class. Ideally, your plane outfit also doubles as a casual ensemble later during the trip. Keep a spare shirt and undergarments in your carry-on bag in the event you end up with a lengthy delay or have to go straight to a business meeting.
Slip-on flats or loafers are best. You will be walking a lot in transit and getting up and down on the plane. Do not waste time doing laces or zippers. Do not be uncomfortable or slow down colleagues by wearing heels. Black or grey sleek sneakers are fine worn with a modest casual outfit. Our very favorite travel shoes are these Clarks. Lifestride and Trotters make well-priced comfortable shoes that can be worn with business clothes that hold up well for travel and walking long distances. Feet swell at altitude and in warm locations, so choose shoes wide enough for your feet at their largest to stay comfortable. And it never hurts to have a pair of foldable flats to bring along in your bag during outings.
Stay appropriate and consider that you could run into any contact on the plane. I have run into numerous executives unexpectedly as well as been seated next to famous people. Tight leggings are not acceptable in any professional setting. Modestly fitted stretch slacks or jeans are a better choice. I have seen women change into yoga or athletic pants after mealtime on long-haul flights. A friend reports seeing guys do this as well. I do not do this because of the fit factor and I have had no problem finding comfortable yet professional pants, but it is a trend. Choose clothes that are not actually pajamas: think comfortable, but nothing you would be embarrassed to be wearing if you find yourself sitting next to a CEO or a head of state. Nothing silly or too tight. With careful shopping and planning, you can be comfortable and look decent.
Undergarments and layers
Bras that are seamless are best. Barely There and other brands make comfortable yet supportive bras. An under layer can be as simple as a dark-colored double-weave cotton T-shirt. Synthetic fabrics travel well, but can constrict body temperature and become itchy. Natural fabrics such as cotton work best for underwear and underlayers. My favorite top layer is a thick cardigan, the kind with an open front shawl collar. This looks nice, almost like a blazer, and is warm.
Even in Business Class, where blankets are standard, I usually pack a pashmina in my carry-on bag for use as back support, a blanket, a pillow, warmth, or a scarf. Bring minimal jewelry, such as one watch, necklace, and bracelet. I often wear the same jewelry on the plane as throughout the trip. I pick a simple necklace or two that will match each outfit. You may have a collection of fun statement jewelry, but it is added weight and theft temptation, especially in dangerous locations. It is easier and less stressful to keep it simple on business travel.
Bags and luggage
Use a carry-on only whenever possible. After a 12-hour flight with a team of colleagues for a three-day trip, avoid being the person everyone must wait on because you checked a bag. Sometimes the baggage claim comes right as you finish customs during international travel, but other times it can cause delay. Ensure that everything fits in well with a bit of room for added files or gifts. Ensure that your small carry-on bag, also your briefcase for daily business, attaches well on top of your suitcase, so that you can cruise through the airport well. This may require double-looping a strap or even buying a small hook.
Muted colors are best so as not to attract attention. Four wheels are best for ease of movement. Hard cases travel well. The Brookstone Dash is our favorite and is widely available in airports in carry-on size. It is affordable, hardy, and does best with a dash of lock oil on the wheels after several trips. Delsey is another popular hard case brand widely available. Amazon has got its own version now too. Some businesspeople invest in lifetime warranty luggage, but comes at a higher cost and does not seem necessary given the relatively low investment.
It can help to leave with clean hair so that you have time upon arrival before washing is needed. If it is long, bring a ponytail holder or clip to secure it simply at the nape of the neck when needed, such as during mealtimes or sleeping on the flight, or walking to a meal in gusty weather.
Wear minimal makeup on long-haul flights. Men will not notice, and your skin will be better off over the course of a long day or night having had a break.
Carry on items
Pack solid perfume– it comes in a small tin in the consistency of lip balm that you can dab on-, saline spray in case of nasal irritation, lip balm- our favorite is EOS because it is organic and has great flavors- and lotion. Trying to work or rest while feeling itchy, chapped, or smelly is not necessary. We love getting multi-packs of these to stash in various bags and give away as fun little gifts to friends. And a good medicine wallet stocked with basics like painkillers and antihistamine is key, whether it’s a weekend road trip getaway or long haul business trip. Be ready for whatever may come up without having to search for a pharmacy, translate your symptoms, or be stuck without relief. This wallet is our favorite for many years- it is subtle & small yet can fit in over 20 kinds of medicine.