Business Travel Survival Guide

Traveling for business can be a real challenge, especially if it includes international travel, and if it is for 7 days or more.  I am pretty much an expert at the international travel gig.  I have spent 20 years living in Asia, and for many of those years, I traveled 50% or more of my time. 

Many times I would begin in Asia, work from the West to East coast in the USA and the head over to Europe for a few stops and then back to Asia.  I would be on the road for 2-3 weeks at a time, and this might include a conference, client visits, and office visits at my company. 

Going in and out of different countries, being conscious of different cultures and norms (which impacts what you wear as much as how you behave), and having to often pack gear for the office, for outdoor events and for formal conferences all at the same time – well one learns a few tricks (one would hope!). 

The tips and advice included in this article is really designed for business travel which is more often than not solo travel. 

How Many Bags do I really need?

I typically carry 2 or 3 bags with me on the international trips:  One to check, one carry-on and either a briefcase or backpack.    

Depending on the length of the trip I might forego the carry-on but then I would take a larger briefcase or backpack.  Various factors play into the decision.

businessman with luggage

  • Ease of Travel – as security through most airports continuously becomes more rigorous, anything you can do to make the process easier and smoother should be welcomed.  You can lose the carry-on and that will greatly contribute to ease of passage.  However, this does not work for me personally if the trip is more than 10 days.  I need that extra space for clothes and other items. 
  • Length of trip – The shorter the trip, the easier it is to lose the carry-on.  On the longer trips I need that extra space.  I always used that 7-10 day time frame as a trigger point to take the carry-on. 
  • Purpose of Trip – you have to consider what you will be doing when traveling.  Will you be in the office, will you be attending dinners, will you have recreational events, does your hotel have a gym (assuming you may want to use it – I always did), and will you have formal events.  What are the clothing requirements for each type of activity.

If you do take a carry-on, I would highly recommend that you pack things that will not require you to pull them out separately at the security scan and belt:  No shoes, no belts, no electronics, no liquids.  Place those in your checked luggage or in your briefcase.   You want to be able to pull all your items required for scanning out of your briefcase, and just throw your carry-on on the belt and be on your way. 

What to Pack in your checked luggage?

They say you want to dress for success, well, the same thing really goes for preparation and presentation.  

packed bag
  • You want to present yourself in the best possible light – clothes, gear, preparation, knowledge, and good expectations of what each stage of the trip entails.

Pick clothes that can be used with each other to reduce the amount of clothes you are taking.  Less is more in the case of international travel.  Take a sport coat you can wear with jeans or slacks that is appropriate as casual or office wear.  Pick one pair of shoes that will work with either as well and then a more casual pair of shoes for any off hours. 

luggage folding infographic

For your checked luggage, pack smart.  Less is more.  Packing cubes really help.  Compression cubes reduce the amount of ironing you may need to do for each leg of the trip.

If you take a carry-on, it becomes an extension of your checked luggage.  Just make sure to pack as I recommended above, don’t include any gear that is going to require you to pull it out at security.

Packing your briefcase or backpack

Being a type A personality, I really like to be organized so that I know where everything is which makes it both easier to get to when needed and also easier to keep track of as you move from one leg of the trip to the next.  

man with briefcase

Here are my tips for trip organization:

  • Expandable briefcase

I always carried a travel briefcase which is expandable.  Mine had a shoulder strap which I preferred and easy access to tablets, phones, laptops or other gear.  

  • Travel Wallet

Within the case I always kept a Travel Wallet for documents:  passports, tickets, itineraries, currency, and yep I also keep a lot of family photos there so my kids, wife, and folks were all right there with me.  

  • Small toiletry bag

Toothbrush, floss, toothpaste, toothpicks, carmex or lip balm 

  • Medicines

Prescriptions, antacids, antihistamines etc in a small bottle in my briefcase

  • Mints and gum (unless traveling to Singapore where gum is not allowed)
  • Eye glasses & case (take a spare pair)
  • Sun glasses
  • Organizer for Tech Gear
  • Wall plug adapter, usb battery pack, multi-prong USB charging cord (USB to multi-USB)
  • Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones

I always bring noise cancelling headphones for any overseas travel, or travel that is more than 6 hours.  It makes a huge difference.  The noise of a plane can wear you down and you might not even be aware of it.  Wearing these types of headphones, for me personally, reduce the intensity and duration of jet lag.  It also just made the flight more comfortable.  I put Bose there as for me, it is the best pair of headphones on the market.

  • Phone & Charger
  • Business files/papers/thumb drives
  • Pens
  • Wet Wipes
  • T-Shirt
  • Wallet

I always use a front pocket wallet everywhere but especially when traveling.

international flight

Tips for the International Flight:

  • Don’t take a carry-on luggage if you don’t have to – take a nice, briefcase or bag that will easily fit under the seat or in the overhead bin
  • I prefer putting a bag under the seat in front of me, but if you have longer legs that might not be comfortable.  If I had to put a bag in the overhead bin, I always either put it above me, or at least in front of me so I had eyes on it at all times.  I never allowed them to move it behind me or in another section for a couple of reasons.  First, you don’t want folks messing with it.  And second you may very well be the last person off the plane if you put it behind you
  • Don’t wear a belt for the flight if possible
  • Wear slip on shoes
  • Wet Wipes
  • Tissues
  • Research airlines to find out how to power your gear while in flight
  • Take a book
  • If you need a laptop then make sure you have a light, thin one that can easily come out of your case for security and does not weigh a ton
  • Layer clothes – planes can be either hot or cold but they are rarely an optimum temperature.  On average, in fact, planes tend to be pretty cold at some point during the trip   
  • Aisle or Exit Seat
  • Order a special meal (you will be served first and you can pick something that is healthy)
  • During the flight, stretch often, especially your legs. 
  • Wash your hands often during the flight or use antibacterial gel. 

General International Travel Tips:

  • Valid Passport – make sure your passport has at least 6 months of validity left during the entire trip.  Many countries require 6 months of validity or they will turn you back.
  • Take a broad spectrum anti-biotic, and a Z-Pak.  Talk to your doctor.  I always asked them to help me with a prescription for both of the above in case I got sick while traveling.  The one time I did not do this (when I flew from the US to Beijing for an interview) I had the need for it.  I ended up spending a lot of time trying to get to a doctor and then at the doctor to get an abcess attended to.  Even after getting the anti-biotic I was not 100% certain what it was
  • Check Visa requirements well in advance
  • Travel Insurance is a must
  • Use your Airlines mobile app to check in and get a mobile boarding pass
  • Use your Hotel Apps to organize your bookings
  • Travel with light small devices and gadgets
  • VPN access is a must
  • Credit Cards – make sure they are informed you will be traveling so they don’t reject charges
  • Phone – make sure your phone is set up for international roaming
  • Phone – set up skype and whatsapp to use their free calling features.  Make sure you have all the phone numbers for hotels, contacts, etc input into your phone

No Funny Business Please!

In the interest of transparency the below list contains affiliate links.  This means we will make a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking the link - though it does not cost you anything extra and it helps support the site.  I have used each of the items below and they happen to be my favorite for each category.

Some of my favorite gear as discussed in this post!