I have been doing a fair amount of traveling in the past several years, and packing continues to be a challenge. When packing for my most recent business conference two weeks ago, I decided I needed to come up with a system - and possibly a series of checklists - to make packing for these trips easier, particularly since I often attend the same types of conferences over and over.
This post is the beginning of that process; it's the general packing list, which may need to be tweaked for specific conferences, or if there are activities planned that may require something not included in the general list. Hopefully this post will be as helpful to you in planning for conferences as it was to me.
Planning ahead is key, particularly if you want to travel without having to check any bags (which is becoming more and more important, with fewer and fewer direct flights and higher and higher checked bag fees). This is even more important if you're presenting at the conference - and I had a scare once when I was presenting in New Orleans and my checked luggage didn't arrive...
I find it helpful to actually write down what I’ll be doing each day and what I can wear to do it, especially if I anticipate needing to change for evening activities, etc. This also helps with "specialty" activities, like going to the pool, working out, etc. On my last trip, I actually created a quick chart to print out and use for this purpose. If you're interested, you can download it here:
I like to plan that I can wear pretty much everything twice (or at least two ways). It’s a good idea to try everything on before you pack it to make sure it’s good to go (it fits, is comfortable, has no stains, missing buttons or rips, and no other repairs are needed) and everything goes with everything else.
It’s usually easier if you bring neutral bottoms and colored or patterned tops or shirts, but if you're an expert outfit planner, there's no reason you can't mix and match. Just keep in mind that to get the most punch from your travel wardrobe while keeping it minimal enough to carry on, everything should coordinate with everything else. This helps with the "two ways" rule, because if everything coordinates, it's easier to layer different pieces. Try to pack pieces that aren’t prone to wrinkles. I find synthetics are more breathable and more wrinkle-free than cottons. Clothing with a little stretch makes it more comfortable, too.
Choose pieces that fit with the style and culture of the conference. If you'll be presenting, you may want some pieces that are a bit more structured or business-like. If you're just attending, you may wish to tend a bit more toward the casual side. But don't forget that conferences are as much about networking as they are about learning, and you never know who you might meet, so be prepared.
Basic 4 day conference clothing list
- 5 tops (including one dressier top if there's a dressier dinner or other evening event)
- 2-3 bottoms (ex: 1 pants+1skirt+ 1 jeans or shorts)
- 1 dress (these are easy because they can be worn on their own or with some of the other pieces for a different look)
- 1 jacket
- 1 sweater/wrap/cardigan - most hotel conference spaces are cold (you could replace this with a button down that you can wear on its own, as a ‘sweater’ over a tank or as a coverup at the pool, or you could bring the button down as one of your tops and bring the sweater, too)
- 1 scarf – good for the plane, chilly conference rooms, or to liven up an outfit
- 1 pjs
- 2-3 pairs of shoes – 1 flats +1 heels (or 2nd pair of flats) +1 additional of your choice - could be sneakers or other comfortable shoes for walking/traveling
- 1 belt (great to help change up outfits and add interest)
- 1 hat - I usually bring one just in case for the pool or touring around on sunny days
- 1 bathing suit+Swim coverup (if the pool is an option)
- workout gear
- Socks and/or hose if you need them – depends on your shoes and the weather
- I usually throw in a camisole or 2 for good measure; they take up no room and can come in handy to wear as pjs, under a top, or to layer for the plane
- Jewelry – I usually keep this to a minimum on business trips so I don’t need to worry about it, but sometimes it’s nice to have something that will help add some interst, or if the conference has dressier evening activities. I like a long necklace that can be worn long or doubled up for a second "look."
- 1 small purse or clutch - so I don’t have to carry around the big tote that I use during the day with my laptop; the small bag might be easier for your non-biz days or if you go out to dinner at night. Just big enough for $, phone, credit cards, etc.
If you want to be really minimal (or have a really small bag) you can limit this even more, because the above list will give you more mix and match outfits than you need for a 4 day trip, but I like to have options - and I often like to change things up a bit for the evening, depending on the planned activities.
Although this list is obviously for women, it can be 'tweaked' for men - the essential basics are the same - tops, bottoms, shoes, jacket and/or sweater, using layers to re-use pieces, etc.
- iPad/Tablet/e-reader (You may or may not need it if you’re bringing your laptop)
- Phone and other charger(s)
- Laptop cord
- Extra eyeglasses case or zip bag for cords, chargers – I find it’s easier to keep smaller ones together this way - especially if there are ones I might need en route
- Power strip (you may or may not need it)
Necessities to Keep Accessible
- Business Cards
- Hand lotion
- Lip balm
- Wet wipes
- Snacks (especially for long flights)
- A refillable water bottle comes in handy and helps you stay hydrated
- Ear plugs and an eye mask can be great for the plane or for noisy hotel rooms
Toiletries: of course, you'll need the basics, including your toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, hair brush, razor, makeup, etc. In addition to these, depending on your activities and destination, you might consider bringing sunscreen, a stain stick and a travel sewing kit.
I usually try to pack my toiletries in 3 separate pouches – 1 for liquids (which need to be separate anyway for security if you’re not checking bags), 1 for makeup, and one for everything else. In 3 separate containers, it’s also usually easier to fit them in the suitcase. I've also taken to preparing a complete set of travel toiletries that I keep in my suitcase since I travel so much; when I return from a trip I try to replenish what's missing or getting low so that I'm all set to go the next time I travel.
If you pack right, you should be able to get all of this in a carry on and your ‘personal item’ so you don’t have to check luggage. I like to “bundle” my clothes when I pack – you can fit more in and it really reduces wrinkles - but it means you'll need to unpack everything when you arrive at your destination. You can learn more about it (and there’s a handy diagram) here: http://www.onebag.com/pack.html#bundle.
I like to use packing cubes to use as the "core" of the bundle or to pack separately with less wrinkle-prone items like t-shirts, undergarments, swimwear and other accessories. I like the packing cubes from e-bags - they are durable, inexpensive and there are plenty of options. To keep electronics under control, use grid-it or similar organizers.
I've found that it's definitely worth the investment to get a suitcase with 360 spinner wheels - it's so much easier to pull and I've had far fewer shoulder problems since switching my bag.
I'd love to hear your travel and packing tips!