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Standing in a networking event, 11 hours after I began the never-ending day, completely exhausted and wondering how my makeup has held up; just then, I receive an invite for a formal dinner that starts in a couple of hours. This right here is why packing for a business trip is a whole other playing field. Not only do you have to pack light because it reflects negatively if you are picked up at the airport with two huge suitcases, but you need to have heavy-duty reinforcements. 

Before going on my first business trip, I Googled and YouTubed business trip packing for women, and other than a few helpful tips about getting everything to fit in a tiny bag, I found nothing that suits my style. I am neither a simple one-suit woman nor an influencer with 17 outfits and a separate LV bag for my accessories. I had to find out on my own what works for me as a Middle Eastern professional. Here is what I learned through trial and error:

For men, the process is simple: One neutral suit, backup suit pants, three shirts, three ties, a comfortable travel outfit, and one additional t-shirt. Add basic hygiene products and you should be ready for a seven-day business trip.

For women, however, a week’s worth of packing is a bit more challenging. You need to look elegant and professional with minimal effort.  Here are a few tips on how to pack a whole world of essentials in one suitcase.

BASICS

For apparel, muted tones mixed with one striking piece will do wonders. In terms of bottoms, ideally aim for two neutral bottoms: black and grey pants; black suit and grey pants; one skirt and one pair of pants, etc.

Don’t skimp on tops. Aim for four pieces: at least one basic white shirt, a couple of muted-colored tops, and one stronger top (red, yellow, strong print, etc.) for when you want to stand out in a crowd. 

Wash-and-wear clothes are your best option in general. They are fuss-free, easy to get stains out of, and more importantly, you won’t need to deal with wrinkles.

One essential tip is to pack a cocktail dress, no matter how casual the business trip is. Better to have one on hand and not need it than to run to the nearest mall one hour before all shops close trying to find anything suitable for dinner at the consulate (thankfully, not my story). The dress should be quite enough for an upscale dinner at a restaurant and elegant enough for meeting with the president. I always aim for a black knee-length dress, as it’s easy to dress up or down.

Another thing, it is common to follow up a workday with some informal networking. Make sure that you can transform your attire without going back to your hotel. This can be as simple as taking off your blazer or adding a scarf.

To better illustrate, at a conference in Rome, I ran into a German investor who had a lot of questions about Egypt. Our conversation quickly turned into a mixture of journalists, developers, and a few investors going out for drinks to discuss AI in emerging markets. An Indian colleague of mine slipped away for a few minutes at the conference and came back wearing a knee-length envelope dress. Turns out she packed the dress earlier in her tote bag and simply slipped it on over her pencil skirt. 

I, however, was less prepared. After frantically searching in my bag I found some loud earrings I had forgotten about and my trusty red lipstick. I took off my blazer, hiked my hair up in a ponytail, wore the earrings, and freshened my lipstick. 

DRESSING IT UP

While your clothes are on the quieter side, you can easily dress up with bold scarves and jewelry. The great thing about these smaller items is that they are space-efficient, which means you can pack one set for each day. I usually have one small bag for earrings and a couple of statement-making necklaces. I, however, pack my real jewelry in my handbag.

ESSENTIALS 

The two things I never skimp on are my creams and makeup. I need the best with me on those long days of meeting new people. Get the 100mL bottles and fill them with your larger lotions, shampoo, conditioner, and so on.

Of course, pack your regular face creams as they are; they are rarely more than a couple of hundred milliliters. I always have a ready-to-go bag that’s slightly larger than my palm with everything I need from a tiny toothbrush to those eyedrops that hide the fact that I barely slept.

If you use them, hair straighteners are a must-pack, even if they take up space in your bag. Don’t rely on the hotel having any – more importantly, any that work well enough to ensure you always look you fresh and professional.

MAKEUP 

This is a personal thing; simply pack your usual long-day version. However, make sure your morning business make-up can be turned into a night look with a swipe of lipstick and some eyeliner. Personally, I only pack waterproof mascara and a bold red lipstick that can withstand a hurricane.

SHOES 

Unless you live your life in heels, pack flats! A pair of neutral-coloured flats will suit you well on a 12-hour business day, on a night of dancing, or a casual shopping day. They will never fail you. I usually travel with two pairs of flats in case something happens to one of them. Sometimes, I pack one pair of comfortable heels as well just in case. But if you are anything like me, heels will slow you down.

Finally, there is no one formula for packing for a business trip. A trip of important meetings with C-level executives demands a different list than a few meetings with your team in another country. Find what works best for your personal style and individual needs. The only two rules to always follow are to pack low-maintenance attire and to fit everything in one bag.