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Buyer’s Guide: Business Travel Gear

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Last year, 457.2 million domestic business trips were taken in the United States. Over the three years, that number is predicted to rise to 471.1 million trips.

That’s a lot of jetting around on business. Also, a lot of practice in efficient packing.

When you’re traveling for business, time is of the essence. Eventually, you’ll hone your travel routine down to an exact science. This fine-tuning happens for all parts of your business travel, including what business travel gear to pack.

Light & Fleet = Smooth & Efficient Business Trip

Bringing just what you need and cutting out the extra stuff is a fine balance to achieve. Extra baggage weighs you down when you’re catching a late-night Uber to your hotel, running for a tight flight connection, or unpacking a large bag at your hotel.

Wondering what business travel gear is best for your next business trip? We asked business travel veterans for their picks:

Table of Contents

Bag

Frequent business travelers know the time-savings in carrying on versus checking a bag. It means the difference between catching an Uber downtown to lead a meeting, versus waiting endlessly at the baggage claim for your suitcase — the last one to emerge from the airplane’s depths.

The Outbreaker 45 or 35 ($224-249)

My favorite business trip carry on is the Outbreaker 45.
($224).

This bag has a lie-flat laptop compartment that means you won’t have to take your computer out for the TSA. The clamshell-opening means my clothes stay organized and nicely folded. Because it’s a backpack maneuvering through an airport is a breeze.

With this bag, skip waiting in line for a slow-moving escalator or noisily jumping wheels over stairs.

TravelPro Maxlite 3 ($110)

Lifehacker’s readers named this lightweight, carry on bag as their top choice for a carry on roller. Affordable and sleek, this carry on scored 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon out of 450 customer reviews.

Several reviewers — big business travelers — love how easily this roller suitcase fits in the overhead bin. And that this suitcase carries the essentials for 4-5 day business trip.

Copilot Luggage Bag by Timbuk2 ($225) 

“I love this bag because it is a soft shell which allows it to expand a little when I have too much stuff. (Typical me). The other thing that really sold me on the bag is its ability to change the pieces and parts on my own if anything breaks down. In addition, their warranty is second to none if there is a repair that I cannot do on my own,” says Kris Balding, a solution architect at Apex IT.

He would know: In 2015, he traveled 80,000 miles for business. The year 2016 didn’t see much slowing down as he racked up 65,000 miles traveled for business.

Headphones

This section is easy. Get yourself a pair of Bose noise-cancelling headphones ($349). 

These bad boys are the reigning king of stellar headphones to block out the noisy world and immerse you in a music world.

As Jared says, “They’re comfortable for very long periods of time and overall good sound. The noise canceling blocks out the sound of the engines and the screaming kid that is, invariably, directly behind you. That, and nothing says ‘don’t talk to me’ like a big pair of headphones. You’d be surprised how many uninteresting people want to tell you their life story on planes.”

If you take lots of phone calls — like Kris does — opt for the Bose QC20 headphones ($249).

Kris says, “I can take phone calls with the QC20 which I tend to use a lot in noisy environments. Plus, when on the road, I never know where I will be working from.”

Laptop

Lenovo Yoga 900 ($989) 

This laptop flips into a ready-made tablet. It’s lightweight, powerful, and ready to tackle any business travel situation.

Kris says, “I love this computer because it’s super powerful and very, very light which is important when traveling all the time. The last thing I need is a big heavy laptop to add to my already heavy load. Plus, it flips around to be a tablet.”

Levono X1 Carbon ($1650)

Durable and super lightweight makes for an amazing business laptop. Oh, and did I mention it’s super powerful?

Mike says, “If I were still traveling, I would greatly prefer the laptop I have now – the Levono X1 carbon – because it’s very light and low profile.”

Macbook Air ($999) 

Lightweight with a battery life lasting 12+ hours, this laptop is ready to hit the road and be your best business travel gear companion.

The Mac is Jennifer’s best friend on the road. “I love it; everything, including the cord is compact and easy to store.”

Rachel agrees, “Macs all the way! Apple is easy to carry, has all the applications I need to get work done and offers different sizes for laptops that work well while traveling.”

Tablet

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 ($335)

This tablet has an ultra-power saving mode… and ranked 4.5 out of 5 stars based on 1,000+ reviews on Amazon. To say this tablet is well-loved is an understatement.

“I used to carry a personal laptop in addition to my work laptop but I have gone to a Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4. It’s light, fast, battery life is excellent, the OLED screen is phenomenal. Seriously, check one out at a store. There is nothing that compares to OLED technology.” — Jared

iPad Air 2 ($399)

Thin and super powerful, this iPad lets you work on the road without pulling out your larger laptop.

It also has a 10 hour battery life, a requirement for business travel gear that you’ll soon never leave home without.

“I travel with an iPad Air 2 with AT&T LTE. It’s smaller than my computer. Sometimes in a cramped space like an airplane it’s easier to use. I typically will use the iPad when we are still on the ground after I have boarded. With the LTE capability, it allows me to check my email or chat on Skype.” — Kris

Laptop Bag

Dell laptop bag ($55) 

Featuring a TSA-checkpoint friendly design and the ability to charge your laptop without removing it from the bag, this laptop bag is your best business travel gear.

Jared always reaches for his Dell laptop bag on business trips.

“Dell has really upped their game in the last few years. I’ve done a fair amount of looking for others, but I always go back to the Dell bags.”

Timbuk2 Ace Laptop Backpack ($119)

This laptop bag converts from a backpack to a messenger bag in minutes. Plus, it is TSA-friendly meaning you don’t need to pull your laptop out to go through security, saving you more time and less hassle.

Small & Nimble

Jennifer’s must-haves on a laptop bag are clean-cut: “Small enough I can sling it over my shoulder or carry it easily, but large enough to fit extra binders and snacks as needed.”

If your must-haves on a laptop bag are like her’s, check out KNOMO Maddox leather laptop tote ($299) or Kate Spade Kennedy Park Calista tote ($255).

Portable Power

You’ve boarded your plane, pulled out your laptop for some uninterrupted working time… only to find your battery drained and laptop dead. This scenario is where a portable power device sweeps in and saves your day.

MOGICS Power Donut ($50)

A power strip that works in 150 countries. It has 5 US outlets and 2 USB outlets for all your device-loving needs. This power strip is a must-have for your business travel gear list.

In business travel gear, this portable power device is Kris’ favorite.

RAVPower ($50) 

With the ability to charge two tablets at one or a iPhone 7 almost 4 times this is a power beast. Mike really likes this power block because of its large capacity, but it’s a bit bulky.

RAVPower Luster Mini ($11)

A super-charged powering station the size of a pen. With 4,000+ reviews and 4.5 stars out of 5 on Amazon, meet your smartphone battery-saver in a pinch. But don’t expect it to power your laptop; it doesn’t have that kind of capacity.

Workout on the Road

Hotels have gyms for a reason. Many business travelers use them. Pack some sweat-wicking shorts and shirt, and athletic shoes to take advantage of the hotel gym.

Hotels with the best gyms:

  1. Hyatt’s StayFit gyms resemble modern fitness facilities. Open 24 hours, work out with resistance tubes or order a YogaAway class on your room’s TV.
  2. Westin partnered with New Balance to rent clothes and shoes for just $5. Skip packing your running gear but not your run.
  3. Equinox is expanding into fitness-oriented hotels with enormous gyms and indoor & outdoor pools. First hotel expected to open in 2018 in NYC.
  4. TYRP by Wyndam has fitness-specific rooms with equipment in the room, so no need to go downstairs to the gym.

Body Weight Workout

Break a sweat in your room with a body weight workout. Check out this one recommended by Entrepreneur . Or this workout developed by Shape Magazine for ladies who travel.

Men, check out this cardio body-weight workout or this body-weight one by Men’s Health.

Yoga Workout

When you want a good workout to stretch out the kinks from a long flight, go with yoga. Borrow a mat from your hotel’s gym or lay a bath towel down on the floor for your yoga space.

Catch live yoga class recordings with Yogaia. (Or barre, core, or Pilates classes.)

Pilates Workout

Cassie from Blogilates is taking the world by storm. Her upbeat attitude and killer playlist makes your Pilates workout fly by. Check out her YouTube vidoes to spotlight a specific body part or do a full-body workout, like this one.

Resistance Bands Workout

Think of these slender elastic bands as a weight-lifting session in a carry on.

Fit Simplify’s resistance bands come in five resistance levels. A workout guide is included with the bands, and extensive workouts are available online. Best part is these bands are slightly bigger than a deck of cards, so they take up barely any room in your bag. And they pack a punch on the workout scale.

Men’s Clothing

The best way to make sure you can pack light, look great, and be prepared to transition from business to casual on the road is to develop a capsule wardrobe. A few, carefully chosen, items that serve multiple purposes and layer well are the key to simplifying your business travel wardrobe.

Shirts

Spring for shirts that:

  • Don’t wrinkle
  • Or don’t show wrinkles

Jared likes higher-end Tommy Hilfiger shirts as they aren’t prone to wrinkling or shrinking. Plus, they’re a good quality, last a long time, and look good in a business or casual setting.

Mike recommends versatile shirts that can be used with a suit and jeans, such as oxford shirts.

Above all: Avoid using the hotel’s iron if you can. Many irons have rust built up inside.

Great non-wrinkle shirt brands:

Pants

Wouldn’t it be great to have a pair of sweatpants that everyone mistook for dress pants? Not to wear to the meeting, mind you, but for the evening at the hotel bar?

BetaBrand Dress Pant Sweatpants ($98) are those pants.  “At first glance they appear to be a sharp pair of chinos or wool trousers. But upon closer inspection, you notice that they are made out of sweatpant fabric (“French terry”), which is soft, warm, and stretchy,” says Chris McGinnis of TravelSkills

The key feature for business travel pants is wrinkle resistance. You want to be able to pull those bad boys out of your bag, throw them on, and be standing at the front of a room giving your presentation looking polished without wrangling the hotel iron and broken board.

Try these on for size:

Women’s Clothing

Look for clothing made of rayon or a combo of cotton and spandex. These fabrics allow for comfort and stretch, yet maintain a professional silhouette. Put together a capsule wardrobe so packing for business travel is effortless and you look chic for any event. Pregnant? We have a maternity capsule wardrobe to solve all of your “growing” needs.

Shirts

Remember that wrinkle resistance and multi-purpose use are key considerations. Try these shirts to move smoothly from work to play on your business trip:

Pants

Fly in comfort with black pants with a bit of stretch, so you go seamlessly from airport to boardroom.

Remove Wrinkles From Clothes

What happens when, even with the right clothing pics and careful packing your clothes emerge from the bag looking worse for the wear? Using the hotel iron is risky, try these options:

Hang your dress clothes in the bathroom while taking a hot shower. Once your shower is finished, give your clothes a good shake. “You’d be amazed at how it takes wrinkles out.” This is Jared’s favorite trick.

Or buy a travel clothes steamer like Kris did. “Furthermore, traveling with a portable steamer is a must. I hate ironing! With my travel steamer, I can hang my clothes up then steam them. Pro tip: Bring wrinkle resistance or no iron shirts to aid in the process.”

This highly-rated, little travel steamer ($21) does the trick.

Frequent Business Travel Tools

TSA PreCheck

If you fly domestically, get TSA PreCheck to access a speedier security line where you don’t have to shed shoes or belt. Keep your liquids and laptop in your bag.

Welcome to security, oh, we’re done already? Fabulous. That’s what TSA PreCheck looks like.

“While I don’t recommend this for all travelers, I’ve consistently started arriving to the airport 20 minutes later when I’m flying an airline that participates in this program with absolutely no stress,” says Stephanie Wu of Travel + Leisure.

Mike agrees: “Get TSA PreCheck so you can breeze through security, but be willing to take the regular lane if the PreCheck lane is backed up. If the wait is half the time, it’s worth it to take out your laptop and take off your shoes.”

Cost: $85

Global Entry

Global Entry has all those benefits above from TSA PreCheck. Plus, you skip filling out blue customs forms or long waits in line at customs when flying internationally.

Your life is fleeting time, so live more with Global Entry. (Sounds like a tagline, but that’s the truth.)

Cost: $100 (includes TSA PreCheck)

Good Headphones

Jared’s tip is easy: Get yourself Bose noise-cancelling headphones. Seriously.

Loyalty Programs

A good business traveler joins a specific loyalty program for hotel and flight and stays with that program, letting their loyalty points rack up. Typically, a company will have an agreement with a specific loyalty program or status-match offers for its employees. Travel hacking your business travel could mean vacation travel for free later.

Virgin America Elevate

US News just ranked Virgin America as #5 on its best airlines loyalty programs. Now that Virgin joined forces with Alaska Airlines — US News’ #1 choice — your airline options just opened wide up.

With both programs, US News likes how easily you can earn a free flight, airline quality, and award flight availability. Meaning that the more paid flights you fly, the more quickly your miles stack up.

National Car Emerald Club

The ads starring Patrick Warburton are true. Conquer the wait at the car rental line with National Car Emerald Club.

Jared says, “Walk past the counter, pick any car you want and drive off. Its the quickest, easiest, and prevents you from getting a minivan. I like the Cameros and Challengers. The points tend to add up very quickly for free car rentals.”

American Airlines

American Airlines is a favorite airline among business travelers, now that United has lowered it’s bar on quality and standards with Sub-Par Economy Tickets. Um, excuse me, I mean United’s Basic Economy fare.

Mike says, “With airlines, they’re really all the same: You won’t get upgraded unless you’re on an unpopular flight or have super-ultra-diamond status. That said, I like that American Airlines’ program uses vouchers for upgrades on >500 mile flights, rather than automatic, so that you have a better shot if you’re lower-tier.”

Marriott

Marriott is a beloved hotel among business travelers. At Springhill Suites or Residence Inn under the Marriott umbrella, kick back with extra space and kitchen amenities like microwave, mini-fridge, or fully equipped kitchen.

Mike says, “For hotels, I liked Marriott because you have access to lounges at mid-tier versus needing higher tiers like at other hotel brands.”

And now that Marriott has joined forced with SPG hotels, your status is worth more — at both hotels.

Best Travel Credit Card

Chase Sapphire Reserve

This credit card is made for frequent, business travelers. We’re talking about no international fees, points add up quickly, trip insurance, extended warranties, auto coverage for rental cars. For every $1 spent on travel and dining expenses, you get 3 points back, meaning your points add up quickly.

Oh, and you get free Priority Pass membership, and Executive Emerald Club level for National Car. Downside is the hefty annual fee of $450.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

NerdWallet listed Chase Sapphire Preferred with its 2 points on every $1 spent on travel and dining expenses, and no foreign transaction fees — plus great travel insurance — makes this card a winner for a small annual fee of $95.

Other top mentions were United MileagePlus Visa and Southwest Visa.

Travel Apps

Award Wallet (Free)

Keep track of those miles and hotel points you’re racking up with this AwardWallet. Finally, see all your points and miles from travel loyalty programs in one place.

TripIt Pro ($49)

One app for all your travel needs and reservations. This app comes in two versions: free and pro.

Pro version features real-time flight alerts, including which gate your plane is departing from, and find out when a better seat is available on your flight. This app keeps you organized, no matter how tight you are on time. Speaking from personal experience, it makes you look like an airline god.

Uber

Order a car and know the exact fare ahead of time. Need I say more? Uber is your new best friend for business travel.

FlightAware

Track your flight with a live tracking map, flight delay notifications, and airport delays. Or just use the site to see when Harrison Ford makes aviator news as he pilots his plane.

FlightView

Mike says, “This app is great for watching your flights and getting info on the planes (so you can look up the seating chart).”

App for your fav hotel & frequent flyer airline

Jared says, “It’s a lot better to know what gate you’re going to without having to look at a departure board. If your flight changes or if there is a delay, you’ll get a notification sometimes before the gate announces it.”

Business Travel Tips

Knowing the little hacks to make a travel day flow more smoothly, or your time in a hotel in a strange city feel more like home, makes a big difference in how enjoyable business travel can be. In addition to choosing the right gear, experienced business travelers recommend the following:

Flight Tips

With thousands of miles of butt-in-a-plane-seat, business travelers excel at the fine art of flight travel.

Here are their best tips:

Get Airline Status

“Collect your points and get status or sign up for a credit card that gives you status,” says Jared who works at a large banking risk management company. He traveled about 60,000 miles in 2016.

“Status allows for priority boarding, upgraded seats. If flights are delayed, you tend to get better service on a dedicated phone line with a smaller wait time.”

Be Prepared

When booking your flight, be aware of what days you’re flying.

“I feel that picking your flight time and day of the week you’re flying is important,” says Kris. “Avoiding Mondays and Thursdays or Fridays, and flying later in the afternoons, will get you the best flights because the business travelers tend to fly those days the most.”

Window or aisle seat is an ongoing debate for travelers. Whichever one you prefer — I like the window, thanks — a good seat makes all the difference on a flight. With your airline status, you’ll have the option to pick your seat.

“Get status and maintain it,” says Mike, an economist who traveled frequently at his last job with Deloitte. “So you can board first and ensure overhead space, keeping space open for your legs under the seat in front of you. On long flights, sit in the exit row so you have lots of room. On shorter flights, sit as close to the front of the plane as possible so you can get off first.”

Next, pack the essentials for your flight.

Kris brings:

  • Eye mask
  • Noise canceling headphones
  • Inflatable neck pillow to avoid uncomfortable neck cramps

Don’t forget to have your electronics charged before boarding to squeeze in some extra working time.

If You Check a Bag…

Pack a small personal item with all your essentials, in case your checked bag is misplaced.

Jennifer Deane, who traveled for her last job at EMSI, recommends stocking this small carry on — like a briefcase or daypack — with your laptop, snacks, contact case and/or glasses, phone chargers, makeup, and any medications. In the event your checked bag doesn’t arrive at your destination, you’ll be a-okay.

Hotel Tips

When you spend a lot of time on business trips, your hotel room is your home away from home.

Get the Hotel App

Many hotels have smartphone apps, and these apps are a must-have business travel gear.

“Get the app on your phone, make check-in a lot quicker and easier,” says Jared. “I stay at Marriotts whenever possible. Once you get status with them, you have your own check-in line. So you can bypass everyone else.”

Prep the Night Before

Kris says, “Getting everything ready the night before is a godsend for me. Sometimes, I’m not able to do this. But when I can, I try to steam all of my clothes, setup my bathroom items as soon as I get in my room. This is a time-saver for the mornings when you’re running late. Plus, you get to sleep in a little longer.”

Ah, Hotel Status

Sense a theme for business travelers? Attaining status with loyalty programs.  Get status and maintain it so you get room upgrades. Or have the spine-tingling power to select your own room.

Mike says, “If you’re staying in a big city with tall, narrow elevators (like NYC) and you don’t get an upgrade (or don’t care) to have a high floor/view room, request a lower floor so you’re not dependent on old, slow elevators. If you’re dependent on them, you may be waiting 10 minutes for a ride down/up during busy times.”

Small Details

These are the small things that make a hotel stay more pleasant.

For Rachel Garcia, marketing manager at infoedge LLC and founder of Leafy Tamale, her small details are early check-in and late check-out.

“This gives yourself time. Take advantage of the hotel amenities that are free. Commit to a hotel brand and stay consistently at it so you earn points and can utilize these for perks and discounts.”

For Jennifer, it’s about a relaxing view at the end of a long day.

“Make sure you’re not booked on the ground floor. A nice view can be super relaxing after a hard day, especially if it’s relatively close to something touristy or relaxing you can do in your free time like a river walk or a sushi bar.”

Travel Day Strategies

Dressing well, for comfort and style on a travel day, as well as packing your sense of humor are two keys to a smooth travel day. Think ahead and plan for the details.

Look Your Best

Borrow a page from the celebrity’s playbook is Mike’s tip.

“Dress up when you travel, not just to not wrinkle your suit, but because you’ll look good and people will treat you better. Seriously, a suit jacket with nice jeans makes you look like an important person. Even if it’s not as comfortable as sweats. The suit jacket’s inside pockets are way more convenient for putting stuff in than your pant pockets while sitting down on a flight.”

Keep Your Cool

After 145,000+ miles of travel in two years, Kris is pragmatic: “Don’t get frustrated with air travel! Things happen, planes get delayed. Don’t lose your cool. Be friendly with everyone when you travel. Traveling can bring out the worst in all of us. A little bit of kindness will go a long way,”

Gate Agents = Your New Friend

Mike’s approach is more hands-on.

“If you have a tight connection, you can ask the gate agent at the departing flight before the tight connection to put you on a backup flight in case you miss your connection. You will have to check into the backup flight if you miss your flight. Typically, you can do that on your mobile app or with the gate agent at the connecting airport.”

Keep Vital Items Close

If you checked your bag, Jennifer recommends bringing a small overnight bag in your carry on. “In case, your flight is cancelled or delayed so you don’t have to sleep in a weird hotel, naked, with your day-old contacts.”

TL;DR

Select your business travel gear wisely to make your next business trip a raging success. Our recommendations are:

What is your best business travel gear recommendation?

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