How to Pack Light for an Overnight Business Trip

Tuesday 4 April 2017

One of the best ‘adulting’ skills that I’ve learned over the years is how to pack light. And when I say ‘light’, what I really mean is ‘smart’. You can save yourself a whole lot of headaches, not to mention baggage fees, if you manage to master the ‘smart pack’. I wrote previously about how to pack light for a week in Europe, and now I’m going to cover packing for an overnight business conference.

You could be one of those people that like lots of choices, and I am too. But with a smart capsule trip wardrobe, you can get that feeling of having lots of different options -  through being able to combine what you’ve packed in many different ways. I know I value the feeling of travelling without lots of heavy baggage more than I do 12 different shoe options(10 of which I won’t wear anyway…).

The rules vary according to length of stay, destination and purpose of visit, but there are few basic tips that stay the same wherever you’re going:

Plan Ahead 

Disorganisation is the enemy of travelling light. You’re going to need to make a list. It doesn’t have to be painful – is a customisable packing list that will sort you out in no time. Spend a few minutes thinking about what you are likely to be doing, the weather and what you’ll need to have with you.

Pick the right baggage 

Having the correct bags will save a lot of hassle. I often go away for a week in Europe and I always take my IT Luggage cabin bag – it’s a super lightweight mini suitcase that fits all the cabin regulations. I also love the Longchamp Le Pliage range – light, chic and foldable. And for a business overnighter? Get a smart, roomy tote bag that can do double duty.

Don’t Pack ‘Just In Case’ 

Now, I must admit I have to work extra hard on this one. I’m one of those people who likes to feel I have all eventualities covered. But most of the time, that 20% of ‘just in case’ scenarios really never materialise. Focus on the 80% that you know WILL happen, and pack for that. Unless you’re going to the most remote place on earth, most of the time if some strange scenario occurred and you desperately needed something, you’d be able to pick it up there. But I can almost guarantee you won’t ever need to find out.

Do Laundry 

Okay, not so much for a business overnighter, unless you’re planning to wear a lot of clothes. But I don’t pack spares. Instead, I pack a small bottle of laundry soap (I recommended Dr Bronner’s Magic Soap, which can do double-duty as face wash and shower gel too). If I need to, I can wash an item of clothing in the sink. Even if you got the hotel to do laundry if you have a big load, that would still be cheaper than checking a bag when you’re flying.

Layer It Up 

The key to coping with different temperatures and giving yourself options is lots of light layers that work together. Don’t go for bulk. Pick easy pieces that can combine in different ways. If I’m going somewhere chilly, I always pack the thin M&S Heatgen long sleeved tees and Uniqlo ultra-light featherdown jacket. They add warmth without adding bulk to you or your bags.

Stick to a colour palette 

It just means everything goes with everything else, so you don’t have to worry about outfit combinations. For business or city breaks, I always go monochrome. For summer holidays. I add navy, pale blue, and tan to the mix. Focus on bringing pieces, not complete outfits that only work in one combination. If you follow this, you should be able to squeeze sixteen outfits out of four tops and four bottoms. Fashion maths, people. A few well-chosen accessories can also completely change the feel of an outfit, too.

Wear your heaviest items 

This one is just common sense when working with restrictive airline baggage allowances or pulling your overnight bag on and off trains. I purposely look for items that will work from day to night as well. Especially when it comes to shoes, which take up a lot of room and weight for very little return. I’ve found a pair of flat, embellished gladiator sandals work wonders for a holiday. With business trips it's even easier – smart black flats or an ankle boot work well with most outfits.

Here’s how I put these tips into action and what I packed for an overnight business trip to London:

Outfit 1 

Day one involved travelling down to London on the train and then a full day of dashing about at a conference and meetings. So I needed an outfit that was comfortable enough to travel in, and smart enough to serve me when I got there, as I wouldn’t have time to change in between arriving at the train station and the conference starting.

Black skinnies always save the day for me. They bridge the gap between smart and casual, can be dressed up or down as needed, and they’re comfortable. I love this pair from Whistles because the stitching is also black, which gives a more polished look, and the fabric is super-soft cotton – they don’t feel restrictive when you’re stuck sitting down on the train.

On top, I added this white cutwork blouse. It works with jeans but also gives a work-appropriate look. Underneath, I’ve layered a thin nude coloured Heatgen long-sleeved tshirt from M&S. This adds warmth without bulk or detracting from the look.

On top I wore this grained leather jacket from H&M. Leather jackets are always a good choice for travel as they’re fairly warm and versatile. I added low-heeled grey ankle boots from Topshop. These go with the jeans but also the dress I have planned for day two, which really cuts down on things to carry.

Outfit 2 

On the evening of the first day, everyone goes out for dinner and drinks together, so I wanted to have a change of top and shoes with me. Changing your top can take the look into evening easily. The shoes were a bit of a luxury – if I was being ultra-harsh I could have just kept my ankle boots on – but after being on my feet most of the day, it felt nice to change my shoes and let the boots air out overnight!

I added in a black lace-trim slip vest and a pair of floral flats -  to my black jeans. A simple necklace was the only jewellery I brought with me.

Outfit 3 

For the second day of the conference. I chose a black long-sleeved jersey midi dress from H&M. It’s a style and shape I really like and feel comfortable in, plus jersey is hard to wrinkle, so it's perfect for travelling. It’s also super comfortable, and as I was getting back on the train home after the conference, this was ideal.  I added a grey boucle biker style cropped cardigan on top, and wore my grey ankle boots again.

In my bags 

Alongside my spare clothes – a black dress, a blazer, and a pair of flat shoes -  I also packed the following items:

Weekend Bag 

My change of clothes, toiletries and overnight stuff I carried in the Louis Vuitton Keepall Bandouliere. I like to travel with this because its hard wearing and has a cross body strap.

The coated canvas fabric is also fairly light, so you’re not gaining a lot of weight from the bag itself – some suitcases and holdalls add far too much bulk!

What I packed 

To keep my travel bags organised, I always use packing cubes. These ones are from Damero (via Amazon) and not only do they keep everything together, easy to sort and unpack, but they're also waterproof, just in case disaster strikes!

  • Black jersey dress 
  • Grey cardigan/blazer 
  • Spare t-shirt  - I ’ve taken this oversized Joy Division t-shirt to sleep in 
  • Grey cashmere sleep socks - I can’t sleep if my feet are cold, so I make sure I have big socks! 
  • Eye mask - You never know what conditions will be when you're staying in a hotel, so I always take a sleep mask  
  • Change of undies – self-explanatory! Not really something you can go without… I like to use the fabric pouches that come with Birchboxes for this. 
  • Change of shoes

  • Small toiletries bag - My toiletries all fitted into this little black see-through case from H&M 
  • Small make-up bag – Make-up is probably the area where I find it hardest to streamline. I took my daily essentials which are currently all living in this small (ish) rose gold bag from BareMinerals 
  • Make-up brushes and hair tools – I packed all my Zoeva brushes into this smaller black mesh pouch, from Chanel Beauty. Its also got my hairbrush from The Detangler, a couple of hair ties, kirby grips and my little light up magnifiying mirror. 
  • GHD Platinum stylers – Another thing I can’t do without are my stylers, which I use for curling and straightening. A while ago, I did invest in some Carmen Cordless Mini Straighteners, which I hoped would do the job when I’m away as they are a lot smaller. Sadly they didn’t work for me at all, so I still rely on my GHDs. 
  • EasyAcc Mini portable Bluetooth speaker – I do like to have music when I’m getting ready in the morning, so I also took my travel speaker with me. It’s really small but the sound quality is absolutely great. 
  • Patterned zip pouch – This is to put dirty clothes in, so I can empty it straight into the washing machine when I get home. 


Instead of a handbag, I also took my Longchamp Le Pliage rucksack. I could have fit everything I needed into the weekend bag, but I don’t like to be digging through all my stuff in the middle of the train station if I need to get something out, so I needed to have my immediate essentials like purse, phone, keys packed separately too.

The choice of a rucksack means I can wear this and carry my weekend bag.  Most of the contents will be familiar to people who’ve seen my What’s in my work bag? post:

  • Rebecca Minkoff Mini Mac cross body bag – I like to keep my really key essentials in here. Its easy to wear and keep essentials close to hand. You can also easily snap the strap off and use it as a clutch bag for going out to dinner in the evening. Its such a useful little bag! In here I kept my iPhone, mini Chanel wallet and my house keys and car key. 
  • Travel pass holder – As I'll be on and off train and tube, I use this little holder to keep my train tickets and Oyster card handy 
  • iPad Air with keyboard – For any meeting notes, and also for my entertainment in the evening! 
  • Tech pouch – I also carry a small zipped pouch with a charger lead and plug for my iPhone and iPad, plus my headphones. The pouch is from H&M and the leather headphone tidy is an Etsy find. 
  • Foldable nylon tote bag - Always good to have a foldable tote for any overspill or last minute shopping. This one is from Oliver Bonas. 
  • Portable charger – I wouldn’t travel without this as I’m constantly using my phone for maps, directions, work calls etc and can’t run out of juice! 
  • Umbrella – I live in Britain, so this is a must! 
  • Sunglasses – Equally, we're just as likely to have blinding sunlight (frequently a moment after the rain) so I like to also carry some shades, my RayBan Erikas. 

In Part 2 of this post, I'll share what's in my travel make-up and toiletry bags. I love finding neat travel solutions, little minis and other products. I'm a self-confessed 'packing nerd' so if you're the same, take a peek...

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