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What to Pack for a Business Trip in the U.S.

What to Pack for a Business Trip in the U.S.

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Samantha Shankman

23 Sep 2019
9 minute read
Blog Image // What to Pack for a Business Trip in the U.S.

We believe being there in person is powerful. It enables employees to build relationships, close deals, and drive growth. But let’s face it, business travel can be rough. From being away from home to the frustration of packing for 2- to 14-day trips, it's no wonder many employees dread work trips. Here are some recommendations from Navan on what to pack for business trips in the U.S. so, coupled with our booking platform, you can focus on being there, not how you’re going to get there or what to wear once there.

What to Pack for a Business Trip

There are dozens of factors to consider when deciding what to pack for a business trip in the U.S.

What’s the weather expected to be? Is there a risk of heat waves or snow storms?

How does a client’s or colleague’s team dress? Are there any special dinners or events planned? What presentations will the business traveler be a part of and what do they need to have prepared? Is there be time to hit the gym or take an evening hike in the park?

The best method when deciding what to pack for a business trip is taking a calculated approach that accounts for everything you’ll need as a business traveler. Nothing more or less. Flexibility and creativity go a long way when deciding what to pack for a business trip in the U.S.

For trips that last less than one week, fit everything in a carry-on bag. This cuts out precious time spent waiting in lines to check a bag, worrying about luggage getting lost, and waiting at baggage claim after arrival. For trips that last longer than one week, a larger piece of luggage might be necessary to account for all the variables that a business traveler might confront.

Business travelers need the fashionable basics that work for 9 AM coffee dates and 9 PM celebratory drinks. They need technology that is charged and ready to go from before the first interaction until after the last. And they need luggage that rolls easily and looks clean.

Buckle up -- we are going to cover everything needed when considering what to pack for a business trip in the U.S. with Navan's step-by-step recommendations.

The Hardware

The basics of business travel is the luggage used to get from point A to B. We believe in being prepared so this means carry-on luggage with a personal item that ideally fits on top of the carry-on for super smooth transitions at the airport.

Away released a new piece of luggage — the daily carry-on with compartments — in September 2019. The compact carry-on is designed for minimalists who know how to select their essentials and leave the rest at home. For travelers who want the luxury of a little more space, we recommend carry-on luggage from Away, Rimowa, or CalPak.

Pushing a rolling bag that glides is a luxury worth investing in and business travelers never know when they will have to bring their bags to a client meeting. A person’s luggage is a small detail but worth looking sophisticated or at least organized.

Besides the luggage, the personal item -- as defined by airlines -- is an overlooked but important piece of hardware where in-flight entertainment and work can live for the entirety of a business trip.

We have two schools of thought when it comes to checking or not checking a bag. It has everything to do with how long the business trip is. Never check a bag on trips that last less than a week or include multiple stops. It isn’t worth the extra time to check a bag if you will be moving around often, or only staying a few days. Plus, you’re better positioned to hop on an earlier flight with carry on luggage -- in the U.S. checked luggage isn’t allowed to travel on a different flight than the passenger. Our perspective differs on trips that last two or more weeks in a single or two locations. These longer stays deserve some extra outfits without the need to do laundry every few days. A larger suitcase also means the business traveler can pack some fun, although not necessary, items to make a new place feel more like home on an extended stay -- all while having fresh clothing for each day of the trip.

This is the very personable and pliable strategy around what every business traveler needs for a productive and pleasurable trip. We’ll start from the moment one walks out the door.

For the bag that goes with you on the plane:

Every business traveler needs a pair of noise-canceling headphones. Our favorite pair are the Bowers & Wilkins PX noise-cancelling headphones or the Bose QuietComfort Wireless Headphones.

We also love reading on the road or having an audiobook fired up and ready to go. It is a great way to make use of passive time, listening, and learning without expending too much valuable brain energy. Our favorite device for consuming books while on the road is the Kindle, which recently came out with three new/updated models whose batteries last for weeks and will survive a spill in-flight. Audible is great for audiobooks.

Business travelers can also prepare for upcoming flights by saving all the interesting articles they come across on Pocket. Update the Pocket app before take off and have dozens of interesting and relevant articles to read during a transoceanic flight.

Many airlines now offer on-demand entertainment in flight, but typically you must download their app in advance of take off. So be sure to check the entertainment options of the airline(s) you are flying and download any needed app(s) from your home or office so you have WiFi speeds that enable a fast download.

Sometimes the most obvious items are the ones that are easiest to forget. Business travelers should designate a small bag specifically with chargers for every type of electronic devices they carry. Tech companies have made it easier by making most chargers adaptable to the block with a USB output. Hotels have also gotten onboard by providing USB chargers in most rooms now.

We also recommend carrying expensive items such as laptops and jewelry, as well as sentimental items not easily replaced, in your personal item or carry-on. If there is one absolutely necessary outfit, pack this in the carry-on so nothing can prevent a stellar appearance. For example, if there is a black-tie gala make sure to keep the gown or suit in a carry-on.

To always be prepared:

  • Breath mints or peppermint essential oil: It always pays to be fresh.
  • Hand sanitizer: Keep it clean, especially when transitioning between hand shakes and dim sum.
  • A pen and notebook: We believe in being there, which sometimes means closing the laptop and writing down the most important points of meeting. We also believe in inspiration, and jotting down thoughts and streams of consciousness could turn into an insight or idea that changes business in a big way. An app like Evernote is also a worthy alternative.
  • Business cards: Even if a business trip is not heading to a networking event, remember the cardinal rule -- Always Be Selling. Even if you’re not in sales. There might be a friendly face at the airport, or a friend-of-a-friend at dinner, and business cards are the transaction point at which run-ins become contacts and possibly something more like a closed-won deal that puts you over quota for the quarter.
  • Extra charger: The worst possible feeling on a business trip is watching the battery on a phone or laptop inch towards zero without a backup plan.
  • Envelopes for expense receipts: Paper receipts are a reality of every business trip. If you’re old school, drop every receipt in the envelope as they’re handed over and write the date, amount, and reason on the front. Or fast-track expensing by taking a photo of the receipt as soon as it’s delivered. The photo lasts forever and can be easily loaded into an expense management tool or email.

For travelers who never want to be caught unprepared or wet, remember to pack a small travel umbrella in a carry-on or the outside pocket of the suitcase, so it is accessible at any moment.

For keeping it clean:

Toiletries are a personal choice, and everyone’s selection is specific to their needs. Among the most common toiletries to pack are shampoo, conditioner, hairspray, facial cleanser, toothpaste, toothbrushes, razors, make-up, and styling creams. But also consider other, smaller items often needed in a pinch, to complement your toiletries, including tweezers, bandaids, pain medicine, allergy relief, and antacids.

Carry-ons come with restrictions. All liquids and gels must be smaller than three ounces and packed in quart-size plastic bags. Pack these bags in an outside pocket or the top of the suitcase so they’re easy to remove throughout the security checkpoints. For pro business travelers, sign up for U.S. Global Entry which comes with TSA Pre Check. This will allow you to leave liquids and electronics in your bag through most security lines.

On what to wear:

Focus on fashion that works for boardrooms and bars after a deal is signed. Think clean lines, block colors, and fashion that transcends time of day. Try a few solid color shirts or blouses, plus a few items that can be easily mixed and matched. Business trip outfits can be organized by selecting 3-4 pieces that always go together.

If faced with a decision, always go for more formal instead of casual. It is better to pack layers for colder temperatures, either AC or a chilly day, than not pack enough. Layers makes sure that something can always be taken off while still being appropriate.

Although people recommend packing wrinkle-free clothing, we believe that business travelers should pack what they’re more comfortable in and always plan to iron before wearing it.

Here are the basics that we recommend for every trip:

  • One light or heavy jacket depending on the destination
  • Underwear to last each day of the trip, plus one extra
  • Two pairs of pants and/or skirts
  • Four coordinating tops
  • A suit jacket or light sweater to pair with all outfits
  • No more than three pairs of shoes, ranging from sneakers to high heels or dress shoes
  • Accessories including jewelry, belts, and socks
  • Sunglasses
  • Pajamas

We love curating that one go-to travel outfit. There are modern brands like ADAY which crafts technical, seasonless, and sustainable outfits that are both professional and comfortable for long-haul travel. We also always pack some basic gym gear: Even a fast 20-minute walk in the morning and some short stretching can completely shift a day. Be sure to check if an offsite is on your trip agenda.

It is, of course, impossible to prescribe a single appropriate wardrobe for a country as vast as the United States with business districts as distinct as Miami and Palo Alto. But there are a few tips to keep in mind.

Fashion and sense of style for work gear will be noticed more in major cities such as New York and Los Angeles. These cities also have a greater emphasis on evening culture, where an elevated style might be appreciated for after-work activities. Colleagues in markets that align themselves with a more relaxed outdoor environment, such as Austin, Denver, and Seattle, will appreciate a look that puts function and sensibility first. Sneakers have become a universal symbol of the hustle and are respected in most offices when paired with smart, clean fashion. The best way to assimilate to each market is to get a sense of the weather and culture.

Finally, this last tip might add a little weight when deciding what to pack for a business trip in the U.S. but is definitely worth it. Pack a small gift for your host -- a gesture that signals respect and thoughtfulness. A host will remember the special touch for longer than most business travelers realize. You take care of the packing -- our modern business travel platform that combines AI-driven personalization with unrivaled inventory and 24x7 human support will handle the rest.

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