Business travel standard clothing items (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Business travel standard clothing items (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Do you find yourself raging around in your closet the night before a business trip (or very early in the morning….not that we’ve personally experienced the 4 a.m. Shoe Panic) trying to decide which clothes to pack?

When I made the how to pack a carry-on suitcase video a few years back, I had no idea that it would become one of the most popular posts on this blog. I was just trying to show people that after much painful flailing, I’d set up a packing system that worked for me and maybe others could copy it. The video is at the end of this post if you haven’t seen it before.

But even if you feel confident about HOW to pack efficiently, there’s still the problem of WHAT to pack.

The answer is that you need a business trip uniform. I don’t care if that sounds boring; the point is that you’ll be comfortable, look good and can stop freaking out about what to pack. If it’s “boring” to be calm and actually sleep the night before a trip, I’ll take it.

Yes, this post is mostly geared to women, because, well, I am one so that’s what I know best, but also there doesn’t seem to be as much angst among the guys about packing. Couple pair of shoes, some pants, a few shirts, underwear, toiletries and they’re done.

Here’s the secret, women: you can pack that way, too. Have a uniform. Have a system. Free your brain to think about more important things, including researching restaurants and unique places to see in your destination.

Notice that the top, pants and shoes in this black/brown combo….

Black and brown business outfit (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Black and brown business outfit (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

….could be swapped and worn with the other items. I could do black top and black or brown shoes with the jeans, or the white top with the brown pants and a scarf with different colors.

The watch and arm cuff go with either one. A variety of necklaces, earrings and scarves, and you can easily make a plain Tshirt more interesting.

Dressy jeans outfit (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Dressy jeans outfit (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

This is my carry-on bag packing list for a standard business trip to attend or speak at a conference. The goal is to never pack one-trick-pony items; everything must be able to be switched around and worn with something else.

**  Black trousers

**  Black shoes

**  Brown trousers

**  Brown shoes

**  Jeans, darker wash so they are dressy enough for most outings. Wear with either the brown or black shoes.

**  White top, usually a plain white Tshirt because it rolls up better for packing

**  Black top, usually also a Tshirt

**  A few patterned tops/blouses, preferably ones that go with at least 2 of my trousers. Right now I’m packing teal/gold patterns (goes with the brown pants and jeans) and anything with cobalt (goes with the black pants and jeans.)

**  One jacket and 1-2 cardigan sweaters to that work with the pants. Wear the bulkiest one of these on the plane.

**  Light windbreaker-type jacket if you’ll need one

**  Some scarves, couple of rolled-up belts, jewelry that works with multiple outfits (when in doubt, gold & silver hoop earrings)

**  Sleep Tshirt, bathing suit (doesn’t take up much room and the hotel pool sounds appealing sometimes)

No, there is no workout stuff in here. Running shoes are very bulky, then you have to add more tops, bottoms, running bras, socks….sheesh, are you REALLY going to use all that? Don’t kid yourself.

If you really are going to work out, then fine, add all that to the list. I’ve found that I’d rather throw on my jeans and go for morning walks from my hotel, and take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible. Yes, this means that at least one pair of your brown or black shoes need to be able to take you for a 30-40 minute walk. If they can’t, you need better shoes.

Here’s the video of how to pack the items above – direct link to the packing video if you can’t see the embed box below.

What’s your business travel “uniform?” Share your tips in the comments!

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I'm a writer and speaker specializing in tourism, travel and social media. NHRA drag racing fan. Co-founder of Tourism Currents. U.S. Navy veteran. Caffeinated.