help a moderately experienced business traveller pack for a long trip and keep her Zen
May 27, 2007 4:55 PM   Subscribe

I travel regularly for work -- at least one week out a month during down time and three weeks out during peak time. But, my schedule is usually domestic, and always gets me home after 5 - 6 days, 10 at most... till now. I'm departing Wednesday on a four-week trip: first leg = two-day stops in all four US time zones, second leg = two weeks in one European city, with zero time home. I'm feeling anxious about my preparation.

I'm not a road newbie, and already try to use a lot of the best practices recommended here and here. The travel itself will be made as pleasant as possible: my schedule is optimized as I've selected all my own flights and hotels... I plan to meet with friends where I can to maintain normalcy... I'm travelling with various colleagues most of the trip which will assuage loneliness... my company is wholly understanding about expenses, reimbursements, or taking an afternoon for sightseeing for mental health. It's easy for me to stay connected to home and family.

What's really got me freaking out is the packing and luggage. Four weeks out means I can't possibly not check (and please don't try to talk me out of it. I have lots of reasons that I need to take my big bag, so the One Bag Way won't work for me on this trip). I'm not averse to buying the cheapie casual bits while in EU, but I've had very little success with that in the past -- not having much time to drive around to shops and malls, forgetting how the EU sizing works, the exchange rate... I'd rather not purchase over there if possible. I'm prepared to handwash and to avail of ironing / hotel laundry where necessary, but I don't have to do either very often so I'm inexperienced. And the idea of hauling all the stuff I'll need for the transatlantic leg through the eight airports I'll be in on the first leg is making me slightly mental. No amount of Admirals Club can make it easier to move between terminals with my carry-on tote, laptop bag, a 29" overseas hard case, and possibly a fourth bag for business files. My Eagle Creek packing folders will help, but I'm looking for even more of your tips.

So, my questions for you MeFi road warriors:

- How do you maximize your packing even further for long business trips? (Again, I'm already a fan of Eagle Creek, rolling the smalls, plastic dry cleaner bags, etc. Looking for the advanced tips)

- I'm concerned about the heat. Temps of 75-80°+ in all my US stops means that I can't stretch out my looks with layers of cardigans, blazers, etc. How can I maximize my attire while minimizing actual pieces?

- Tell me about road laundering, both DIY and outsourcing. Where do you hang your things? What if there's no clothesline in the shower? Is it a waste of energy to try and specify care to the hotel service? Should I just spend an afternoon in a local laundrette or find a local dry cleaner? What's different in the UK?

- What has your experience been with shipping your clothes or files ahead? I'm considering a couple of options here: putting my non-sensitive business files and materials (not laptop) in a box and shipping it ahead where possible, just so I don't have to lug them... or packing a "replacement box" with non-work clothes before I depart, shipping that to my last US hotel, changing out the clean with dirty and shipping the box home before I leave for the UK. The cost shouldn't be prohibitive... but maybe this is more hassle than it's worth?

Will also happily take your anecdotal stories of long-haul packing gone wrong (or right!), or anything else that might help. (esp because I fear that the issue is more my anxiety than any actual prep I might accomplish) Thanks in advance!
posted by pineapple to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm concerned about the heat. Temps of 75-80°+ in all my US stops means that I can't stretch out my looks with layers of cardigans, blazers, etc. How can I maximize my attire while minimizing actual pieces?

A lightweight breathable linen blazer, without a lining, or a thin lining, is still very wearable in those temperatures. Light color is better, of course. There are also very thin summer sweaters which, worn over a light weight blouse, would not be unduly hot. Remember too, that in the drier, western parts of the US, nights can be very chilly, even after a hot day, so another layer would be good to have. Here in Montana, we can have 80 degree days, and 50 degree nights.

You may have some aversion to repeating outfits (as I do) but keep in mind that you will be seeing new people all the time, other than your traveling partners. As long as the outfits are cleaned, your partners shouldn't mind. They are in the same situation.

- Tell me about road laundering, both DIY and outsourcing. Where do you hang your things? What if there's no clothesline in the shower? Is it a waste of energy to try and specify care to the hotel service? Should I just spend an afternoon in a local laundrette or find a local dry cleaner? What's different in the UK?

I don't travel a lot, but don't rely on clotheslines at all. I rarely see them in hotels I stay in. Take a few rubber-coated wire hangers, and you can hang things on the shower curtain rod, however. You may be at the mercy of the hotel cleaning service for a lot of things.
posted by The Deej at 5:22 PM on May 27, 2007

Best answer: The "replacement box" is a cool idea, but I worry about the condition of the clothes after shipping and the cost of a time-sensitive arrival.

Road laundering is your friend, but there's an easier way to do it than in the hotel bathroom. Ask the concierge of your hotel (or check your guidebook or the local yellow pages) for a local, staffed fluff-and-fold (I think the UK calls these places "laundrettes"), and just drop your stuff off. Pick it up the next day. I think you'll pay very, very little compared to your hotel's prices. Pack an cheap empty duffel bag or something to tote your laundered duds back to the hotel.

I did this in Barcelona with a laundry place I found in the Let's Go guidebook, and got all my clothes washed and perfectly ironed for 2 euros or something insanely cheap. The UK will almost certainly be more expensive, but I imagine that many apartment dwellers wouldn't have laundry facilities anyway, so it would still be reasonable compared to the hotel.

It's also really easy to buy clothes in the UK - if you're somewhere central like London's Oxford Street or something, you'll have a big selection of well-known international chain shops to check out, and you won't be the first American to go in there and look for US-equivalent sizes; here's a little conversion calculator to see what you'd be in UK sizes. Furthermore, if you are going to be in London, driving is probably totally unnecessary, so you wouldn't need to "drive around to malls" and things. Most British cities have a "High Street" (even if it's not called that, per se) that's sort of the center of local commerce; malls exist, but if you're going to be in the center fo town, that's where I'd head. UK MeFites probably can give you their own suggestions if you tell them which city you're headed to.

I say pack enough clothes for the eight US-based days, do some laundry during your first few days in the UK, and then just recycle what you wore in the US. I don't even know if I have 20 days worth of clothes, and I'd hate to carry it all with me across an ocean twice.

Finally: if you are going to check, at least try to keep your suitcase size down - everything's smaller over there, from doorways to hotel rooms to subway cars. Oh, and here's a previous post specifically about luggage should you find your current supply won't do the job.
posted by mdonley at 5:28 PM on May 27, 2007

Oh, and Flight 001 has some interesting/fun travel stuff too.
posted by mdonley at 5:29 PM on May 27, 2007

I'm used to taking longish international vacation trips - and I carry the following supplies for hanging up the hand laundering:
- A few plastic hangers
- A travel clothesline
- Some clothespin hangers

Some combination of these gets me through any hotel room. The plastic hangers get left behind at my last stop.

I also carry a universal drain stopper and a small size Forever New fabric care wash.

But I'm used to staying in lower-priced hotels. Still, I think I took my standard DIY laundry pack even on my business trips.
posted by jeri at 8:20 PM on May 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Love jeri's tips.

I go on a lot of two month work trips. Being a guy makes things a lot easier, but, I'll try...

Always overpack. Pay the extra bullshit airline carrying fees, if necessary. You never know when you'll see another washing machine.

If possible, and hopefully, expensible, check yourself into hotels with amenities such as laundry, internet access, and an in-house restaurant/bar. Or, somewhere downtown, wherever you're visiting.

Sorry, but lug anything important. Trust shipping firms less than airlines. Both destroy and lose things. I've had to waste up to two weeks in locations where the original equipment or documents was/were destroyed, delayed in customs, or not shipped altogether.

The in-house laundry service? Try not, if avoidable. But, going to unfamiliar locations and controlling your itinerary, it might be your best choice. If you're staying in a reputable hotel, usually, they'll not take a chance (but most hotels use the cheapest operator available). Again, overpack as much as possible. In my experience, a month long trip often becomes much longer.
posted by converge at 2:35 AM on May 28, 2007

FedEx yourself a nice wrap sweater - straight to the check-in desk at your first European hotel. It's chilly over here in the evenings.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:59 AM on May 28, 2007

I take fairly long overseas trips. Whenever it's a new city I make an effort (online yellow pages) to find a drop-off laundry close to the hotel and use their wash 'n fold service. If you get to them early enough you can usually collect that night. I take eight days of clothing and try to drop off at the laundry every five so I have a safe overlap. And don't ever be afraid to use the hotel laundry service if you have to. Sure it's highway robbery but if it alleviates some stress - hey, that's what you're paying the premium for.
posted by Umhlangan at 7:25 AM on May 28, 2007

It's a minor point and one that won't become an issue until the end of the trip, but it's probably worth mentioning that British airport security are currently, for reasons known only to themselves, being irritating about carryon luggage. You are allowed one carryon bag. This is your laptop bag or your handbag. Then once you're through security, you can unpack all the crap that spoiled the line of the laptop bag and prevented it from closing properly, go shopping, and board the plane with your handbag (which had been stuffed into the laptop bag, see?), laptop bag, and three carrier bags.

If possible, would it be worth getting a bag to combine the contents of the current laptop and tote bags? Might make the domestic flights easier as well, in terms of a lesser number of bags, even if heavier.
posted by Lebannen at 8:47 AM on May 28, 2007

I use the vacuum storage bags -- the kind you roll up, not the kind you need a vacuum cleaner for. They don't reduce weight, obviously, but can make a significant impact on volume, especially for things like sweaters, and make good bags for dirty laundry.

And Patagonia, REI and a couple of other companies make breathable, easily washable underwear (I assume for women also) that may not be particularly attractive, but is very useful for travel.

Hotel laundry service is criminal.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 12:33 PM on May 28, 2007

Best answer: You are me 3 months ago!

This is what I would have told myself:

1) Always have a small container of woolite or part of a bar of laundry soap so if you need to wash something, you can. Shampoo doesn't always do it. Remember that, when travelling for business, the ability to wash things is worthless without the ability to press things. Most hotels have a drying line. It's usually in the shower tucked away and you pull on it and hook it to the opposite wall.

2) Pack light. Bring as much stuff as you want, but try to bring lightweight stuff. This isn't always possible. But cotton/khaki pants, cotton shirts are your friend. Unlined jackets are your friend. Collared shirts over tank tops are your friend. It depends on your industry, obviously. The most important thing is to plan your wardrobe around who is seeing you, not how sick you are of your clothes. If new people see you each day, with no overlaps, you could wear the same thing every day. Bring as much underwear as you can, but leave 3 pairs at home so you have clean undies for a few days on your return and can hide from your laundry responsibilities for a bit.

3) Clean clothes aren't always required. With undergarments things don't actually get all that dirty. Wear things more than once unless it really isn't a good idea. Skirts are great for this.

4) Unless you can't get reimbursed for laundry at the hotel. Just send out the laundry at the hotel. Your life is tough enough. Finding a laundromat in Europe can be fruitless, and deciphering the machines you will find there is not the best use of your time. There are people who will take in your laundry, so if budget is an issue, do that.

5) Have a plan for what to do when your luggage is delayed. With all your 2-day trips, you will have some delayed luggage. I usually have 2 days of outfits and underwear in my carry-on. It's my flattest clothes and I'd wear pants twice, but I have a plan. Delayed luggage when you are in transit sucks. If you need files, Fedex them to your self because FedEx will at least track your package and tell you where it is. The airlines can't tell you where your luggage is untill it shows up somewhere and someone processes it.

6) Always expect that it will be cold one day/night. Always expect to have to go out to a nice dinner.

7) I went to Ross and dropped $60 on some pieces just for my business travel. Kohls also had good basic v-neck shirts and collared shirts. This gave me some freedom to throw things out if they weren't working for me on the road. And travel can be hard on your clothes so I had options if things ripped, had spills, etc. Bonus points if you buy things in one color scheme. If you travel with something you love, it will turn into something you don't love, or it will get lost, or something.

8) Steal all your hotel laundry bags. They keep smelly clothes from clean. The let you separate out your wash as you travel. They are always useful.

9) Do your laundry at the last hotel you are at in the US. I just find it more comfortable to not deal with cultural differences in laundering, clothing names, etc. You may still need to do laundry in Europe, but you can be choosier if you aren't desperate to get everything cleaned.

10) I'm not a fan of the vacuum bags. I usually find pressing the air out of ziploc bags works just as well.

11) Carefully plan your "happy travel" outfit. For me it is capri cargo pants with some room at the waist, a v-neck T, a jacket [that I also wear for work], and slip-on shoes with socks. Flying that much in a short amount of time will cause anything you may normally get away with traveling in to drive you crazy.

12) Send stuff home if you aren't using it, or bought it on the road, or aren't going to need it anymore.
posted by Mozzie at 6:55 PM on May 28, 2007

One more thing that I'll do if I'm moving from location to location is I'll pack complete outfits, with underwear, in ziploc bags so that I don't have to totally unpack to find stuff and re-pack to move on to the next place.
posted by Mozzie at 7:00 PM on May 28, 2007

Response by poster: Okay, I'm off today, and I've incorporated all your tips! Thanks so much for the ideas.
posted by pineapple at 8:10 AM on May 29, 2007

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