How to Prepare for Your First Business Trip

what to bring on a business trip
How to Prepare for Your First Business Trip
A checklist for the in's and out's of traveling for work.

You’re doing great. In fact, you’re killing it. You earned your degree, you landed a job, and you’re ready to start climbing the corporate ladder. You’re doing so well that your boss has asked you to go on a business trip. The problem is, you’ve never been on a business trip and you don’t know what to expect.

Maybe you haven’t done much traveling. Maybe you have to give a big presentation, or meet with an important client. You’re nervous. It’s understandable.

Here’s a list of tips that will help you get through your first business trip like a pro. You’re in good hands.

Before You Leave

Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” He must have gone on a lot of business trips, because he was dead on. Preparation is the key to successful travel, and most of that preparation happens before you step out your front door.

Make a packing checklist.

Being away from home means not having access to everything you’re accustomed to, so do some serious brainstorming in the days before your trip. Write down everything you’ll need to bring, including clothes, toiletries, and anything from the office you’ll need for work. You don’t want to arrive at your important meeting and realize that the file you need is 500 miles away.

Avoid checking luggage.

Sure, a giant suitcase lets you pack more, but dragging heavy luggage through a strange city is a nightmare. For most business trips, all you’ll need is a rolling carry-on and a shoulder bag. You can even pack a suit in a carry-on if you fold it carefully. The fewer items you have to lug around while traveling, the better.

Dress for the job you want.

When traveling for work, you become the face of your employer. Whether you’ll be brushing elbows with clients or higher-ups in the firm, you’ll want to make a good impression, and that means dressing the part. Unless your company has a dress policy for business trips, plan to dress at least as well as you do at the office–and possibly better.

Bring comfortable shoes.

Traveling by air might be called “flying,” but it requires a surprising amount of walking. Which means it’s important to take care of your feet. Your shoes should look nice, but they should be comfortable enough that you won’t get blisters walking through airports, convention centers, or city streets.

Bring business cards.

It’s important to make good connections when you meet people for work. Handing off a business card when you part ways is an expected courtesy. If you don’t have business cards yet, ask your boss or department secretary if they can order you some before you leave.

Bring a notepad.

Whether you’re traveling for a meeting or a convention, you’ll have to take notes. Typing notes on a laptop or smartphone while someone is talking to you is rude. Be old fashioned and use a notepad instead.

Keep a list of important information on you at all times.

The list should include your flight schedule, your hotel’s name and address, and your business appointments. When you park at the airport, add where you parked to the list as well. Keep this information in a note-taking app on your phone or on a piece of paper in your wallet. On a business trip, this list is your life, so treat it accordingly.

Give a copy of your itinerary to someone trustworthy at home.

Life goes on while you’re on the road, so it’s important that your friends and family know where you are in case of an emergency. Send your flight and hotel information to your girlfriend, parents, or a responsible roommate.

Arrive at the airport early.

No one will blame you if your flight is cancelled, but if you miss your plane because you slept in? That’s embarrassing, and it might even get you in trouble. Bring some reading material to pass the time, and go to the airport early.

If you’ll travel often, keep a fully-stocked toiletries bag.

Remembering to pack your shaving cream, ChapStick, and contact solution is a hassle. If you travel more than once a year, you’re better off buying travel-sized bottles of your necessities and keeping them ready for when you go out of town. Remember to put the liquids in a separate zip-top bag to go through security.

Once You Arrive

Congratulations, you’ve made it to your destination! Believe it or not, that was the easy part. You’re here to work, so now it’s your time to shine. Here’s how.

Hang up your clothes.

Suitcases are good at transporting your clothes, but they’re even better at wrinkling them. The first thing you should do when you reach your hotel room is hang up your clothes. If your clothes are wrinkled and you have some time, use the iron and ironing board in your room to get them back in good shape.

You know what's worse than not making the meeting because your flight was delayed? Not making the meeting because you missed your flight. Get to the airport with plenty of time to spare.

Eat cheap.

If you’re dining alone, look for somewhere you can get reasonably priced fare. Five-star restaurants are great for entertaining clients, but your employer will appreciate it if you don’t blow a bundle of their cash whenever meal time rolls around.

Brush up on your small talk skills.

Traveling for work almost always involves meeting important people, which means you’ll have to engage in small talk. Extroverts won’t have much trouble here, but introverts may need to push themselves to socialize. The more people you impress, the better your chances of moving up in the company. For tips on small talk, click here.

Don’t drink too much.

Booze is often available in limitless quantities at business events. It may be hard to resist, but it’s important that you don’t over-indulge. Even if your coworkers are pounding them back, you should stick to one or two drinks per night. Nurse a beer or keep the refills coming on your Coke. Once again, remember that you represent your company when you travel for work. No one wants to do business with someone who vomits on the waitress and passes out in the lobby.

Hold on to your receipts.

Most companies will reimburse you for expenses while you’re on the road. Maybe you have a company credit card or a daily expense allotment (called a “per diem”). Either way, you’ll usually need to save your receipts from restaurants, hotels, and taxi rides. Keep in mind that not everyone offers receipts, so you might have to ask (this is particularly important in taxis).

Have fun!

Your first business trip may seem daunting, but it’s also important to enjoy yourself. If there’s room in your schedule, take some time to see the city, meet up with a friend, or just relax in a coffee shop. You’re young, you’re gainfully employed, and you’re visiting new places. This is what success looks like–enjoy it.

Chris Reed is a freelance writer who enjoys music, reading, and watching way too much TV. You can see what he's up to on and follow him on Twitter @_chrislreed.

  • randino


    Would you please expound on your comment about taking notes via laptop as being rude. Specifically, my follow-up question is: does your comment apply to all professions, or just certain ones? In my line of creative work, taking notes via notepad is not only viewed as archaic, it slows down the process of transferring the information recorded. By taking notes directly into Evernote, all attendees and remote team members have instantaneous access to the content of the meeting. It had never occurred to me that I might be offending people by taking notes in this manner. Any helpful guidance you can provide would be greatly appreciated as I depart for another business trip tomorrow and was planning on taking notes via my MacBookAir 11 unless you convince me otherwise. 🙂 Sincerely, Randino

    • jmorelock

      I agree with this. Hand-written notes are old fashioned and not in the good way. I would think in most professions, people want to make sure that you can embrace the technology that the industry uses. I use an iPad to take notes on during meetings and sometimes even take by 15″MBP. The only people who do not have a laptop or tablet in meetings are the really old guys who annoyingly refuse to use new technology.

    • Chris Reed

      Great question. Taking notes on digital device is seen as rude primarily in smaller settings, particularly if you’re talking to someone one-on-one. If you’re in an audience at a presentation, or in large meeting–particularly if everyone else is typing on laptops–it’s fine.

      A good rule of thumb for any of the tips above is to obey the industry standard first. If everyone in your profession would think you’re crazy for writing by hand in a physical notebook, then follow their lead.

      • GLR

        I fully support Chris’ tips of knowing your industry. I’m getting a master’s degree and while our work is half paper half computer, anytime someone is talking to you, it is expected that your phone, tablet and computer are put away.
        To take notes on these devices would be considered rude, even during a large class, but even more so in a more private setting

  • George

    Here is my additional 2 cents on traveling for work. I was a senior tech services engineer for a software company that did automation software for TV stations. So I was on the road for 3 to 4 weeks a month for 6 years. Now I’m in management and only travel every few months

    The notepad is not as archaic as people are mentioning. When in meetings or doing a walk through I primarily use a notepad for taking notes, most people I have dealt with use a note pad. This doesn’t work for everyone in every situation but it works for me. This includes meetings with officer level management all the way through to RF nerd engineers. Also I’m 30 so I’m not young but I’m not an old man hating change either.

    Additional Tip 1: If you are going to travel frequently make sure to look into rewards programs. I have been using Delta, Hilton, Avis and Enterprise. The company I work for lets you use the rewards for person stuff. So your miles or hotel points will come in real handy for free trips with the family. I did two vacations a year with my wife where I didn’t pay for plane tickets or hotel. Also the rental car rewards programs kind of suck but I would still stick to one. Also if you have a Corporate Amex sign up for the rewards program, it’s fee based though. The company I work for lets you use those points for personal stuff so the fee is worth it. I have two sets of titleist golf clubs with bags that I grabbed from Amex rewards and a bunch of other cool things.

    Additional Tip 2: Program in your GPS where you are going before you leave. If you are using a stand alone GPS or the one on your phone save your points of interest before you leave. I always had my hotel and client address setup in there before I left. I had a few instances where the name of where I was going wasn’t in my GPS’s POI and it was when my BB was horrible on the internet. So getting this ready is something I do before every trip. Even when it’s written in a notepad like suggested it’s faster just to hit the POI when you get there.

    Additional Tip 3: Being in a different city allows for some pretty sweet culinary delites. I try to avoid chain restaurants like the plague when traveling. Go somewhere the locals go to make the trip more interesting. Also you probably aren’t using your own money for food. Since it’s not my own money I like to try new foods and experiment while traveling. If it’s horrible I will use my own money to do a meal redo. I have expanded my palate greatly by doing this and have no regrets yet.

    Additional Tip 4: If you are traveling alone eat at the bar if you’re feeling like a creeper. I always traveled alone and it took a few trips to not feel like creep. I was nervous about eating at the bar because I felt like my food would be out of place. I found that many people do this so suck it up. However I generally scope out what’s going on at the bar to see if I really should or not. If it’s packed with people standing and stuff I sit a lone at a table.

    Additional Tip 5: If you have to log your time while at the site I use twitter. I created a work twitter account that I would tweet what I was doing when. That way when I was creating my report after the trip I could get an idea of when things happened.

    • George

      I almost forgot

      Additional Tip 6: I have ruined a few shirts with the iron at hotels where the person before me melted their pants or something to it. I always run some test passes with the iron on the ironing board to make sure there isn’t black stuff coming off of it. I ruined some really expensive shirts with this mystery black goop, so now I check before I just go at my clothes with it.

      • H

        Thank you for this one, I’m going to an interview to Chicago next week.

  • Quazado

    Once again, another fantastic article on Primer. Taking my first business trip next week, and this info is perfectly timed.

  • Michael

    Have you ever even been on a business trip? This is bush league.

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  • Visvas India

    very great article. Nice tips for first time business travelers

  • Steve

    Funny how a first business trip can bring about anxiety to new employees, I share your article and this one with my direct report when they are asking about how to prepare.