Packing for vacation is exciting. Just folding your swimsuits and stowing your flip flops can get you revved for the leisure days ahead. But packing for a business trip teems with a different type of excitement: anxiety. What should you bring and what can you expect?
There are 14 items you should always have on your packing list, to help prepare you for a variety of networking scenarios and remote-office challenges:
[In Pictures: 14 Must-Have Items for Any Business Trip.]
1. Business cards. This one might seem obvious—you should always have a few of your own cards at the ready when away on business—but Ivan Misner, founder of the business networking organization BNI, recommends that you also pack spare cards from your colleagues and the people you work with the most. "You should have the contact information for your referral partners," he says. "One of the best ways to network ... is to find ways to help someone. [When networking] most people try to sell to someone instead."
2. Breath mints. Don't pass along a strong odor along with your business card. To ward off a foul mouth, carry breath mints to chew at regular intervals and particularly after meals. "I can't tell you how many people I've met who's breath is less than desirable," Misner says.
However, you should try not to use mints right before meeting new people, because then they might concentrate more on your awkward sucking noises than on your elevator pitch. And stick to mints, not gum, so that you don't make smacking sounds while talking.
3. Antibacterial gel. A small vial of germ-busting gel—one that's within the 3.4-fluid-ounce allowance for airplane travel—is a necessity given all the people you'll meet and new hands you'll shake. "I carry hand sanitizer," Misner reveals. "It might make me sound like a monk. But what I found was I shook so many people's hands that I was coming down with colds a lot. When I started using the hand sanitizer, I got fewer colds."
Learn to be a little stealth with its application, though. You don't want to offend your new associate by immediately dousing your fresh-from-a-handshake fingers in gel. Misner recommends slathering up at 30-minute intervals when in intense networking situations such as a professional conference or career fair.
4. A pre-made name badge. Create and laminate a generic badge for yourself, that way you know you'll always have one. Make sure to include your name as you like it to appear, plus your title and company. "What tends to happen when you travel on business a lot is that you won't have a badge waiting for you unless you're attending a conference. And even then, they might have spelled your name wrong, or worse, they may have a handwritten badge waiting for you," Misner says.
5. A pencil and pad. "[Carrying these items] is what I call a BFO," Misner says. "A blinding flash of the obvious. But I can't tell you how many times I forget to have a pen or pencil. You've got to have one at all times so that you can write something down quickly that you've learned from someone."
Be sure to have your writing utensils readily accessible, and not deep in a briefcase, for meetings. Having to ask a new associate for something to write with will lead to an awkward pause in conversation (while they root through their belongings to do something you should have done for yourself), and it could also be perceived as unprofessional on your part.
6. Pants, a jacket, and several shirts. In some outlying circumstances of travel, you might need the strictest business attire. But for most work functions, you may make do if you bring along at least one pair of nice pants and at least one nice jacket, along with several shirts to wear underneath for variance both between work days and between day and night events. Laura Schreckinger, the buyer and manager of a Lexington, Mass.-based business travel store, Savvy Travel Shop, calls this "soft dressing," because it contrasts from the look of a structured suit. "I would suggest these items because they'll work for a variety of business travel requirements," she says. "And the jacket is good to have even in the summer, because a lot of conventions are held in rooms that are very well air-conditioned."