Remember that scene of the movie “Up in the Air” when George Clooney packs his carry-on in 20 seconds flat? His clothes are folded crisply and neatly, his neckties are stashed in a travel pouch, and he closes the bag in one clean (highly satisfying) pull of the zipper.
Luckily, you don’t have to be a celebrity to master the art of suitcase packing. With a little pre-planning, all travelers — business or otherwise — can learn to pack their bags just like Clooney.
Your Carry-On Is Your Best Friend
When you’re on a solo business trip, you’ll end up spending more time with your carry-on than with anyone else. For that reason, it’s important to choose the perfect companion.
Here are a few general carry-on guidelines:
• Pick the right bag.
Should you select a backpack, duffle, or wheeled bag? If you’re hauling it on and off subways, buses, or trains, choose a bag you can throw over your shoulders.
I personally prefer using luggage with swivel wheels. Bags like these will virtually walk by your side, while a bargain-basement deal will run away or fall apart before you’ve even left the tarmac.
• Keep it compact.
Whatever kind of bag you decide on, make sure it’s the right size. U.S. airlines generally allow bags to be up to 45 inches in total (length, width, and height).
Today, more airlines draw the line at a 20-inch length, and international carriers limit bag weight to 20 pounds.
• Make sure it’s secure.
Be sure your bag can be locked, and purchase a bag lock to keep your belongings safe.
Smart Packing Means Smooth Sailing
Once you have your carry-on, it’s time to figure out what you need to put in it. Start packing two days before your departure, and pack from a highly curated list.
Here are a few guidelines for efficient packing:
• Choose multitasking items.
Your choice of footwear should be comfortable and versatile. Pack business-appropriate shoes that you can comfortably walk around in.
(Hint: Wear slip-on shoes to the airport to get through security more efficiently.)
Small adjustments like this can make a huge difference!
• Use your space wisely.
You can and should tightly roll most clothes (which will prevent wrinkles). However, a few items such as jeans and suit jackets should be folded.
• Divide and conquer.
Sort clothes by type (e.g., shirts versus underwear) and occasion (e.g., running gear versus business clothes) into gallon-size resealable bags, then squeeze to compress. Doing this will save you space and cut the time it takes you to repack in half.
• Balance the load.
Pack shoes and heavier objects near the wheels of a carry-on or at the bottom of a duffle. Stuff shoes with socks.
• Pack accessories separately.
Small items such as brushes, chargers, and USB cords should be packed away in clear plastic bags so they don’t get lost in the abyss of your bag.
• Pack a few lightweight shopping bags.
You can use these to keep your dirty laundry separate from your clean items.
Leave It — You Won’t Miss It
You don’t need to take your entire wardrobe, even if you’re going to be gone for a full week. When in doubt, leave it out. The following items should go on the stay-at-home list:
• A heavy raincoat or umbrella:
Opt for a poncho in a pouch instead, which can double as a tarp, raincoat, or even a blanket.
• Extra toiletries:
Per Transportation Safety Administration rules, gels and liquids (e.g., toothpaste, lotion, and conditioner) must be in 3.4-ounce or smaller containers. The containers must fit inside one clear quart-size resealable bag. If you can, forgo the extra self-care products. Hotels offer shampoo and conditioner anyway.
You might not have the benefit of being a glamorous movie star, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pack like one. On your next business trip, channel your inner Clooney — you won’t regret it.
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Author: Tony Tie
Tony Tie is a numbers-obsessed marketer, life hacker, and public speaker who has helped various Fortune 500 companies grow their online presence. Located in Toronto, he is currently the senior search marketer at Expedia Canada, the leading travel booking platform for flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises, and local activities.