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."
"In our store, we sell these items in a blend material, so they're washable, and very breathable, and when they pack they fold to nothing," Schreckinger adds. Females might also want to pack a complementary skirt for further variance in wardrobe.
7. Two pair of shoes. An extended trip might require you pack even more footwear, but keep in mind that you'll need at least two pair for even a short stay. Those two would include a comfortable set for walking around during the day, and a slightly more dressy pair for important dinners with clients. For ladies, "I'd suggest a pair of flat shoes that can be worn each day, and then ones with a medium heel to wear at night," Schreckinger says.
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8. A phone cord and extra battery. Admit it, you're not going to forget to pack your cell phone; it's glued to your palm. But when away on business, your phone becomes even more valuable. It's the fastest, easiest way for your boss or business contact to get in touch with you. So make sure to also pack your phone cord and an extra phone battery, just in case you don't have time or access to an outlet to charge up.
9.Your laptop. Feel free to insert "iPad," "Android tablet," or "Windows tablet" into this slot, if you use one of those as your mobile computer of choice. The point is, you need to have one on you. Don't get caught having to rely on whatever philistine computer and operating system the business center provides. Not only might the hotel's machines not have the software you need, but you won't have the freedom to use them around the clock. Save yourself the hassle.
10. A wireless card. Wi-Fi access in hotel rooms is a great privilege, but it's not always free. This isn't the end of the world if you're away at play, but it could be a costly inconvenience when traveling on business. All major phone carriers sell Internet cards that are usually compatible with both Windows and Apple operating systems. Another bonus: A wireless card will often provide access for more than one Wi-Fi enabled device, whereas the hotel might charge per computer.
11. A USB flash drive. Keep presentations and reports at your fingertips by stowing a flash drive in your pants pocket. Or, according to Misner, you could also use a USB device when networking. "This is such a handy tool," he says. "Let's say again that I'm talking to someone and need to transfer some information that I have to them or vice versa."
12. Portable tools of your trade. Photographers must pack film, filters, and tripods. Architects might need protractors, poster tubes, and drafting paper. Whatever your trade, you should invest in a few easy-to-carry versions of your most-used tools. Either that, or bring along items that will help you display your work to potential clients. For example, Misner is the co-author of Business Networking and Sex and also does both text and video blogging. Some of the portable items he travels with include a flip video (to showcase his videos on the fly), a camera, and a laser pointer (for giving presentations).
13. A multi-charger. Your smartphone, laptop, and electric razor aren't powered with air. But there are only so many electrical outlets in any given hotel room. Consolidate your charging by plugging up a multi-charger that can regenerate several devices from one socket.
14. Carry-on luggage with four wheels. The above items probably won't take up too much space, so you might be able to cram them all into a carry-on bag. Who wants to pay extra baggage fees anyway?
There's another reason to go the carry-on route, however. You'll save time in and out of the airport if you don't have to wait on checked luggage, which could be invaluable if you're only in town for a brief business meeting. Schreckinger suggests opting for a carry-on suitcase with four-wheels to save even more time and make you even more mobile. Also consider investing in high-quality luggage, so that it can withstand the bumps and bruises from being jostled in an overhead bin.