After a decade of globetrotting, here's my packing list and 20 tips for packing light without sacrificing too much comfort or convenience. Everyone will make different trade-offs based on their preferences, but I hope you'll find at least a few of these ideas useful while sorting out your own ideal travel kit.
FYI: Some of the links below are to Amazon. We might receive a small commission if you purchase an item, but rest assured I am only recommending items I personally use and find valuable! (you can see them in my personal travel kit above!).
1. Start with the Right Bag
I suggest a backpack. They're a lot more comfortable to carry on long walks than messenger-style shoulder bags and they offer more range of motion while they're on while keeping both of your hands free.
What I look for:
2. Get the Right Laptop (or Ditch It for a Tablet?)
Many business travelers will be constrained by their corporate-issue technology. The standard laptop could be fine for toting it from a flex work space to a meeting/huddle room, but not so great for travel. If this fits your situation, consider asking your IT department for a travel-friendly laptop. I'd look for 12-13" model if you want any chance of being able to open it in a coach seat. If you need to work, try to snag an exit row seat, especially in the second exit row (because exit row seats don't recline, the passenger in front of you won't be reclining into the space you need to open your laptop to a comfortable angle). If your company issues tablets, take one and add a hinged keyboard case for a very laptop-like experience in an airplane-friendly form factor (as a bonus, you can use that tablet during takeoff and landing, unlike a traditional laptop).
If you have control over your own technology, consider whether you need a full-fledged laptop for creative, professional, or technical work. If so, I'd apply some of the above rules. If not, I'd consider ditching the laptop for a tablet, many of which are now suitable for office-type tasks. Tablets are lighter, generally have long battery lives, and combined with keyboards and pointing devices can enable some real productivity. As a bonus, they're allowed during takeoff and landing. You'll also be able to get away with lighter and smaller chargers due to the lower power requirements. One key downside to be aware of is that tablets tend to outweigh their keyboard cases (even the heavy duty ones), so they can be top-heavy and tend to fall forward (and off uneven surfaces, like your lap).
3. Find Multipurpose Charging and Backup Power Solutions
Newer laptops generally support charging over USB Type C, but often still ship with a 'brick' charger. If you have a laptop that supports USB C Power Delivery (PD) charging, you can likely switch to a smaller charger, like our Universal + International 65W USB C PD Charger. Then, instead of a brick you can carry a quick charge backup battery.
Ditching the laptop for a tablet can allow you to downsize further on the charger to one like our Ultimate Tablet/Phone Fast Charger
If you need backup power for your phone, but don't want the hassle of remembering to charge up a power bank, get a charger with the power bank built in. Here's ours.
Finally, if you do a lot of international travel and basic USB charging will satisfy your needs, consider an international adapter with USB charging built in.
4. Splurge for Noise Cancelling Headphones
These can make air travel much more pleasant. An "around ear" or "over the ear" set of headphones (where the cups rest against the skin around the ear) with active noise cancelling can block out quite a bit of noise. I suggest avoiding "on ear" (where the cups rest against the ear, i.e. an irregular surface) as these will not tend to be as effective.
Suggestion: the Bose QC 25 headphones can operate as normal headphones without batteries, providing a simple backup. They're also around half the price of the QC 35 wireless models.
These are a bit of a luxury and can make good gifts for the frequent flier. Backpackers will want to skip these unless they fly a lot.
5. Pack a Pocket Umbrella
These take up little space and can be pocketed when you don't have a bag.
Don't spend too much on one, because these are one of the most commonly lost items in travel. Here's ours.
6. Stash a Reusable Folding Tote or Backpack
Reusable bags that fold into pouches work as laundry separators or an extra tote.
Or better yet, a packable backpack:
7. Bring a Car Vent Phone Holder
Rental cars tend to have no in-dash navigation or poor ones, so you're probably going to be using your phone for GPS. Car vent phone holders help to limit the time spent looking down toward a phone (and maybe avoid a ticket for distracted driving).
8. Recharge Your Electric Razor via USB
Ditch the electric shaver charging cable and recharge via USB chargers you're already carrying. The Philips Norelco Beard Trimmer Series 1000 is the smallest and lightest I've found, and it includes combs of various lengths.
9. Find Other Tiny Stuff
10. Pack Light (but Protected) Sunglasses
I recommend titanium polarized sunglasses for minimum weight and great glare resistance.
And be sure to pick up a hard case to keep those glasses in one piece while your bag is stuffed, dropped, kicked, etc.
11. Get a Good Water Bottle
I recommend the YETI Rambler in 26 oz. size (a bit under 1L) with the YETI Colster Rambler Chug Cap, which makes it easier to drink from. The twist cap(s) always form a nice seal and the broad carrying handle is nice. Insulated bottles do take up more space, but I think the benefit of keeping cold water (e.g. from drinking fountains) colder longer is worthwhile.
12. Stash a Little Backup food
You never know how long delays are going to be, so road warriors tend to grab what they can: a bag of airline snacks, an apple from the lounge, and so on, but if you have the luxury of time to plain your snack replenishment, I recommend:
13. BYO Flatware (Just In Case)
Ever order take out (say, a salad) and realize after leaving there's no silverware? Pack a spoon + fork + knife combo.
14. Mend Garments on the Go
Pack a micro sewing/mending kit, especially for business travel as formal clothes have more tailored seams and buttons.
15. Pack a Stain Wipe
Again, more important for the business traveler. Shout Wipe & Go are just a little more portable than stain pens.
16. Use Heavy Duty Zipper Seal Bags
For your TSA 3-1-1 compliant toiletry bag go reusable with ours. If you go with disposable bags, I recommend Ziploc Freezer Quart Bags as freezer bags tend to have a bit thicker plastic (and your 3-1-1 bag must be quart sized, however Ziploc Freezer Gallon Bags can also be useful for storing wet, perishable, dirty items or as a small refuse collection bag in a pinch, so I do carry a couple of those and they've proven handy many times).
17. BYO Toilet Paper
Because sometimes absolutely nothing else will do. You'll thank yourself when you rush into a stall and settle in before you remember to check that there's T.P. in there, and I've been some places where it's not provided on purpose. You can get 'to go' packs, but I find it's pretty easy to wait until there's about a quarter of a roll remaining and then crush it flat in a disposable zipper lock bag.
18. Pack a Prestrung Flosser
These are good if you tend to get food stuck in your teeth.
(also a toothbrush; I haven't included toiletries here and tend to keep the toothbrush with those)
19. Recover with Oral Rehydration Salts
I recommend Trioral. These packs replenish electrolytes lost from physical activity, hot climates, gastrointestinal illness, hangovers, and other causes of dehydration. These packs are sized for 1L of water, which matches decently to the YETI Rambler above.
20. Pack Minimal Versions of Basic Medicines
Many basic medicines are available in small bottles, sheets, or pouches. I suggest Pepto Bismol for general stomach issues, Imodium anti-diarrheal, NyQuil for cold/flu symptoms, Advil (Ibuprofen) for inflammation and pain. You'll thank yourself later, because after you get sick or after you sprain something you won't feel like getting out to get these. If you'll be physically active outdoors during travel where you might get cuts/abrasions, I'd also consider Neosporin Neo To Go. If you get motion sickness, I suggest Bonine, which I find to cause less drowsiness than other brands.
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