18 Must Haves for the Business Traveler

By Nora Dunn on 17 March 2010 8 comments
Photo: jibilein

Making a business trip a success involves a number of factors, including ensuring you are well-rested and on your game, protecting and transporting your belongings safely, keeping up with work and office events during your absence, and making every part of your business trip efficient and cost-effective.

Following is a selection of items and services that are often considered must haves for the business traveler, along with some guidelines as to what to look for. They'll help you save time, increase efficiency, and make that next business trip much more enjoyable.

Traveling Gear

1. Medication / First Aid

Aside from prescription medication, it is a good idea to have a small supply of over-the-counter supplies available if you need them in a pinch. Anti-nausea, allergy, and pain/fever reducing tablets, along with an anti-itch cream (for bites) can go a long way, especially if you start to feel ill and no pharmacies are open or nearby.

2. Inflatable Travel Pillow

Lugging around a non-inflatable travel pillow can be bulky and inconvenient, while an inflatable one is both light and portable. And when you are on that plane, train, or bus, having somewhere to put your head (that isn't the shoulder of the person sitting next to you) can mean the difference between arriving at your destination refreshed, and arriving needing a nap.

3. Plug Adapter

If you're traveling overseas, you'll need an adapter to plug your electronics and appliances into local power points. You can either choose an adapter suited specifically to your destination (often best bought when you arrive), or you can go with a universal adapter that will accept any type of plug and fit any type of wall socket.

4. Voltage Converter

Power points around the world vary dramatically in voltage. For example, if you plug a hair dryer from North America into an outlet in Australia — even with a plug adapter — you will immediately burn out your hair dryer and could even cause a fire. Many electronics have built-in adapters that can handle voltages from 110-240 volts, meaning you won't need an expensive and bulky voltage converter. However other items like hair dryers or small appliances don't have this capability. If you must bring these items, you'll need a voltage converter.

5. Surge Protector

Many power bars that we use at home have built-in surge protectors to prevent our electronics and appliances from getting a destructive shock in the event of a power surge (which can be caused by storms or faulty power connections). But we don't tend to bring power bars along with us when we travel, and power surges can be especially prevalent in developing countries. Protect your precious electronics from power surges by investing in a surge protector. Some plug directly into the wall (and you plug your items into it), and other smaller versions plug directly into your electronics, into which you plug the power cord.

6. Water Bottle

Whether you are flying (and trying to beat jet lag by staying hydrated), or at your destination and constantly on the move, having a reusable water bottle will save you the expense and hassle (and waste) of buying water in disposable bottles along the way. You can even order water bottles with your logo for the office, and give them out to employees to use too; a little guerrilla marketing and employee perks don't hurt.


7. Cell Phone / Smart Phone

With the advent of iPhones and other smart phone devices, your cell phone can also double as your PDA, MP3 player, e-book reader, camera, and even GPS device, among other handy tools. No matter what your device is, make sure you don't pay excessive roaming, long distance, and data fees by checking into the specifics of your plan. Some carriers offer international coverage for an extra fee that can make using your device abroad more cost-effective. If you are sending your employees off with a phone on the company plan, this is especially important; they don't often consider what your bill will be at the end of the month when they make or answer phone calls.

Some people use their smart phone solely for internet connectivity abroad (since international data packages can be inexpensive and free wifi hotspots rampant), and carry an unlocked cell phone into which they can insert a local SIM card for calls. Other people like online services like Skype or Google Voice for phone calls, which can be tied into your cell phone (in a variety of ways) for ease of use.

8. GPS

GPS is especially handy if you are navigating a foreign city in a car. If you don't have GPS capability with your smart phone, getting a small GPS device can save you time on the road, and is often equally handy at home too.

Computer Gear

9. Laptop

Although this may seem like stating the obvious, the big question at this point is what kind of laptop you want to travel with. From Toughbooks for tough travelers, to UMPCs (Ultra Mobile PCs) and Netbooks for light work, there is a wide range of laptops you can travel with.

10. USB Drive / External Hard Drive

USB drives are a great way to have a back-up of those important documents handy, just in case something goes wrong with your laptop along the way. They are also great for storing presentations if you plan to use somebody else's machine at your destination.

Selection ranges from mini USB sticks that fit on a necklace cord and store a few gigabytes of information, to external hard drives that are large enough to back up your laptop three times over. It is recommended that you keep your USB drive(s) separate from your laptop; if one is lost or damaged, you still have the other as a backup.

11. Wireless Mouse

Having a wireless mouse reduces the number of cords you need to carry, and (for most people) increases work efficiency over using your laptop's touch pad. You can even get mini versions of the wireless mouse to reduce space and weight. A close second to the wireless mouse is one with a retractable cord for ease of storage and use.

12. Extra / Extended Life Battery

You don't always have access to a decent power source while traveling. Increase work efficiency by investing in an extended life battery for your laptop, or by carrying an additional battery.

13. Internet

These days getting an Internet connection on the road isn't difficult. Many business travelers now insist on free wifi access at their hotels so they can stay on top of work. Some rooms also have high-speed cable internet connections, which tend to be more secure. Be sure to ask your hotel what they offer; for some business travelers, it is a deal-breaker.

14. Laptop Bag

The variety of laptop bags you can choose from make this seemingly basic item a little more complicated. Although the neoprene laptop sleeves are slim and compact, they don't do much for protecting your machine against bumps along the way, and there is little room for cords, adapters, and other plug-in devices. With increasingly stringent carry-on guidelines for flights, you will want your laptop bag to be practical enough to carry the majority of your electronics in one convenient place.

15. Luggage

If your business trip is short in duration, it is nice to fly with nothing but carry-on luggage. However beware of recent (and ongoing) changes to the airline security process, along with some changes to carry-on baggage allowances. Some airlines will only let you bring one bag on the plane with you (believe it or not some restrict even that), so don't get too attached to your carry-on entourage if you tend to err close to former carry-on limits. Instead, focus on clever organizers to keep the volume of your luggage low.

Miscellaneous Items

16. Noise-canceling headphones

These are great for drowning out distractive noises on the road so you can concentrate on work or get some sleep, while listening to your favorite tunes or watching on-board movies. Using regular headphones doesn't achieve this as readily, unless you turn the volume up so loud that everybody else has to listen to your music as well. (Please don't!)

17. Screen Protectors

Another great item for home as well, screen protectors for your smart phone, camera, and other screen surfaces will ensure the long life of your electronics. Travel in particular can entail a more substantial beating on your belongings, as they tend to get crammed into bags where they may rub up against abrasive items.

18. Recovery ID Program Labels

Recovery ID program labels are attached to your items and registered with your information. If your item is lost, the finder can follow the instructions on the highly visible label and call the number or go online to report your item lost. The recovery program in turn contacts you and arranges for the return of your item.

Not only do these labels help you recover lost items, but they're also usually tamper-proof, making it difficult for a thief to remove the label and resell stolen items. If you resell the item yourself, you can deregister it from your name and your buyer can enjoy the service by registering it with their own information.

Here are a few Recovery ID programs to choose from:

What are your own must haves for business travel?

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Guest's picture

It's been a while since I've traveled for business, but some other things I never leave home without when on a work trip:

Sleeping gear - eye shade, ear plugs and clothes pins/binder clip (to hold curtains closed). These were especially useful when I worked nights and/or got stuck in a hotel doing some renovations. But also useful if you get a room which has a bright street light and/or busy street just outside your window.

Exercise gear - jump rope and exercise bands/tubes. I try to continue my workouts when traveling. But it's hard to depend on having a reasonable workout facility readily available. A jump rope and some stretchy tubes as well as a reasonable understanding of basic body weight exercises (or a set of FitDeck cards) and any hotel room can be turned into a mini-gym.

Snacks for the flight - Yes, these can be bought at the airport, but it's cheaper and more healthy to bring your own. After multiple times getting stuck on the plane sitting on the tarmac for more than an hour, I learned that having some extra munchies makes life a lot more bearable. A good book helps too.

Guest's picture

You pretty much nailed it, though a surge protector might be a bit extreme for a regular trip. I always add a second pair of comfortable sneakers--dress shoes are a drag come day three.

Guest's picture

Great ideas Nora! I didn't know about the recovery ID program and always worry someone will steal my laptop, what a GREAT way to protect my belongings. I will be forwarding this to my road warrior friends!

Guest's picture

I keep reading everywhere that the iPad won't make much of a splash in the business community. Does anyone think that it will be enough of a success to potentially be added to this list? I know I want one, but I'm not a exactly a "business traveler"

Guest's picture
Env Atty

I travel just about weekly, and for Christmas I bought a laptop bag that's TSA approved. So, I don't have to take my laptop out of my bag when going through security. It's my absolute favorite travel accessory now. Along with my iPhone, of course.

Nora Dunn's picture

@gt0163c - Thanks for your suggestions. Bang on....these would all make traveling (and exercising) much easier. And none of them take up too much room...another plus for business travel.

@OnTheRoadAgain - The need for a surge protector depends in part on where you're traveling; in developing countries it's especially advised. But if you use one at home...it never hurts on the road either. I've been caught in electrical storms before.

@Kate - I have some of these recovery program stickers, and I'm surprised at the peace of mind I get from them! I also recently sold my laptop bag that had a sticker on it (new owners can register it to their own information); and the buyer loved the concept - I'm sure it helped to sell the bag!

@ThePersonalFinanceBlog - I'm not sure what the jury says about the iPad. Although it's a great concept, more readable than the Kindle (I guess), and is like a virtual bookshelf, I personally find that I'm so laden down with technological gadgets (and I don't have that many!) that another one to keep track of and protect on the road is becoming overwhelming to me.

Guest's picture

Good list, however some of those items can be combined (ie, many phones have built in GPS now) and I'd rather have less items than lug around too many!

Guest's picture

Some great tips here, and I thought I'd add my five cents on the headphones. Obviously, we all know about the Bose QuietComfort models, but there are some alternatives that are almost as good, and a lot more reasonably priced.

Flying Oslo-Newark-Houston recently (more than 20 hours total, including layovers and delays), I bought a pair of Philips SHN9500 headphones. At around 100 USD in Norway (a lot cheaper on Amazon), they were about one fourth of the price of the Boses, but still put me in my own little cocoon of silence. I know Sony's MDR-NC7s have gotten a following as well, but the Philips ones were extremely comfortable, and sitting around the ears, not on the ears. In addition, they offer great, great sound!