29+ critical items to pack on a business trip

28 May 2015 Andrew Warren-Payne

While I have never lived the life of George Clooney’s character in Up In The Air and my Avios can only get me a return trip to Manchester, I have done a reasonable amount of business travel in the past couple of years.

Sometimes it has been glamorous (see the image above)… other times, not so much. Eating a calzone like a cornish pasty in Copenhagen on a king size bed while tweaking a PowerPoint at 11.30pm is not the highlight of my career. Neither is being stuck in a station waiting room in Corby with nothing to do when the trains go kaputt.

Anecdotes and drama aside, one thing you can do in advance is to bringing items that will lead to a much smoother trip. Here are the items I generally carry around when hitting the road.

To have on you or in your briefcase

I prefer wearing a navy sports jacket made from a casual cotton when travelling on business. The reasons being:

  • It’s comfortable, so I don’t mind wearing it for 12 hours of conferencing and hobnobbing followed by a flight back home late at night.
  • It looks much better with jeans or chinos than a regular suit jacket.
  • If it creases, it doesn’t look that obvious.
  • It’s both smart yet casual enough to go pretty much anywhere (I’ve even managed to get into dinner in London’s overly formal clubland by buying a tie at a nearby store and popping it on before going in).

Presentation pointer

I once had some professional feedback on speaking (I’d definitely recommend it) and one of the observations was that bending down to press the right key on my laptop keyboard really spoiled the flow of my presentation.

Stop this from happening again and buy yourself a clicker. Personally I use a Kensington clicker which I find really good – make sure you put your name or Twitter handle on it, as I found that half the people on the road have one of these exact models.

VGA and HDMI adapter

When I speak at a client site, about 80% of the time there isn’t the right adapter in the room to give my presentation. Therefore I bring my own to save everyone’s time.

Little cable bag

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I need a fair amount of cables to get by. In addition to the mandatory laptop cable and HDMI converter above, I carry a little cable bag containing the other cables I may require, including a micro USB (for charging my Kindle/GoPro/colleague’s phone), a mini USB (for everything else), a Lightning cable (for my iPhone), FitBit charger and the odd spare USB stick.

Putting these in a little drawstring bag can stop them from getting lost at the bottom of my shoulder bag.

Protein bar

Hunger often strikes at inconvenient times. Pack a protein bar to kill it so you don’t have to resort to that awful sandwich from the petrol station.

Trip folder

The excellent podcast series Manager Tools recommends having a trip folder made. I strongly agree with them. So what is a trip folder?

It’s a folder containing printed out information about your accommodation, travel (including taxis, shuttles and transfers), calendar appointments and contacts. There’s a lot more detail on the podcast which I recommend you listen to.

Print outs of any presentation you’re doing

The use of this is primarily your own. Personally I like to use a red pen and scribble notes all round the edges of the slides (six slides per A4 is how I usually work).

The print out makes it easy to swot up when you’re riding in the back of a cab to the meeting or anywhere where your laptop wouldn’t be the most convenient thing to use.

Something to contain your expense receipts

Personally, I use the envelope pocket at the back of my Moleskine to do this.

Headphones

To maintain your sanity as you travel.

Spare battery pack

To recharge your phone when it’s out of juice. Luckily, my last two laptops (a MacBook Air and Dell XPS) charge when closed, so I generally charge my phone off these and use the battery pack as a backup.

Universal electrical adapter

The key here is that it is universal (don’t forget about Switzerland).

At least four reliable pens and a good notebook

You don’t want to be scrambling for a pen (and if a client asks to borrow one, you don’t want to say no) so bring at least four. Also bring a good notebook such as a Moleskine to take notes in.

Blank A4 paper (put it in your trip folder)

For scribbling, drawing, brainstorming, printing.

USB stick

To transfer files whenever you need to. For example, when I’m en route to a venue in the morning, I will pop the latest iteration of my deck onto a USB stick. That way if the client already has a laptop and projector ready to go, I don’t have to faff around with swapping it to mine.

Business cards

For exchanging details. Keep them in some kind of holder so they don’t appear tatty.

Breath mints

Because no one likes bad breath. Choose a brand that doesn’t rattle when you walk.

Baby wipes (travel pack)

These are really useful if you end up needing to freshen up, or if you spill something on your clothes.

It won’t rescue you from a whole cup of coffee down a white shirt, but the odd bit of a Pret sandwich on your jacket will be easily removed.

Tissues

Pretty essential.

Bobino cord wraps

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I hate loose cords, so I use cord wraps for both my headphones and for my laptop cable. Keeps my bag ordered, and they are much better than any velcro straps or plastic hooks that come with conventional laptop chargers.

Kindle or other reading material

In case you have some downtime to read.

Small, collapsible umbrella

In case the heavens open while you’re walking from place to place.

In your carry on suitcase

Because the pros never check in luggage.

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Aside from my regular clothes (and the sports jacket mentioned above), this is what I take.

Instant coffee sachets or caffeine tablets

I have been to far too many hotels without tea and coffee in the room, or charge an amount for room service that would involve a protracted argument with your finance officer when you submit your expenses (I’m looking at you in bitter anger, the W!).

Most mornings when I travel, I’m up before 5am regardless of time zone. If you’re like me, you’ll need a kickstart if the hotel doesn’t offer it on a complimentary basis.

Zipseal bag

For carrying them liquids through security. I’m sure as hell not paying for bags at security or chucking my toothpaste away because of an overly zealous security agent.

Pro tip: if you go through an airport where they give these out for free (thank you, Gatwick), grab a handful of them and put them in your carry on for next time.

Washkit bag

I have mine packed and ready to go at home with the mandatory toiletries in one of the zipseal bags above.

Painkiller, throat lozenges and Alka Seltzer

Late nights, early mornings, impromptu drinking with clients and aircraft cabins with less moisture than the Atacama Desert lead to a whole host of aches and pains. Pack some tablets for headaches, throat lozenges (I recommend Tyrozets or something else with benzocaine in it), and Alka Seltzer to settle an uncomfortable stomach.

Earplugs

Seriously, earplugs. I have wasted a few too many nights sleep in hotels where the pub next door starts its open mic night at midnight, as well as sitting uncomfortably close to a screaming cherub on a budget flight.

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The best earplugs I have found are a German brand known as Ohropax. I haven’t been able to find a better earplugs than these – even when I once attempted to wear military ear defenders due to a neighbour playing music with heavy bass.

Under Armour or Uniqlo Airism shirts

Travel can be an unglamourous experience that leaves you hot and flustered when you would rather be fresh. To prevent this, I use a thin performance undershirt (either Under Armour heatgear compression t-shirts, or Uniqlo Airism shirts) to keep me a bit fresher than normal. You can also wash these in a hotel sink and they’ll dry in a couple of hours.

Go for the v-neck option so no one can see it when you have an open collar.

Travel iron

Those who have experienced the bottom end of independent business hotels in the UK are familiar with the sight of a semi-rusted ironing board clamped to the end of a sepia coloured corridor. While not ideal, at least we know it’s there.

However, too many hotels don’t offer an iron – or the laundry service doesn’t have a quick enough turnaround. Even with non-iron shirts, after 18 hours in a suitcase you may find them a bit too creased to sport to your pitch. Consider packing a travel iron to deal with this.

(P.S. I’ve tried the steamy bathroom and hairdryer method and was disappointed with the results).

Eagle Creek Pack It Folder and Cubes

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These are great for organising your suitcase into different compartments.

Training kit

Ok, so this isn’t super critical, but it’s great to be able to unwind in the hotel gym if you have some downtime. My only rule is that everything has to fit inside the trainers I pack. I pack a pair of running shorts that double up as swimming trunks.

What do you pack when travelling?

Any seasoned traveller has a go-to list of items they always bring with them. So what are yours?

Let us know below!