When I was younger, I thought traveling for work would be a fabulous way to see the world. But once I started my first job, it quickly became clear that business trips are anything but glamorous. Unless you’re lucky enough to travel first or business class, flying will likely involve hours in cramped conditions and trying to freshen up in an airport bathroom before rushing to your first meeting. Traveling also eats into your productive time, so work trips might involve late nights in your hotel trying to finish up the work you couldn’t do while commuting.
For decades, brands assumed that most business travelers were men. Work-related travel accessories–garment bags for suits, laptop bags that double as overnighters, electronics organizers–were all designed with men in mind, both in terms of aesthetics and function. But increasingly, this is changing. Travel brands are creating functional products that are not just more feminine, but that also caters to women’s needs.
Over the last month, I clocked over 25,000 miles. On my trips I (literally) road-tested travel products on both domestic and overseas trips. Some items are specifically targeted at women, while others aren’t gendered. My goal was to find items that help alleviate the stresses of women who travel for work. In the end, out of the dozens of products I tested, I came up with these 10 items that effectively made traveling easier, more comfortable, and more stylish. I found that small luxuries can sometimes have an outsized impact on your well-being while on the road.
When I started out, I wasn’t sold on the value of packing cubes. As someone who travels a lot, I’m a pretty good packer. But I’ve changed my mind. On a recent trip to Italy that was a mix of business and pleasure, I found that this trio of cubes by Paravel ($55) took a lot of stress out of opening my suitcase.
I used one cube to neatly store shift dresses and other work clothes that I wouldn’t need until later in the trip. In another, I stored sweaters and other casual garments. And in yet another, I stored sleepwear and intimates. When I landed in a new city, I didn’t have to unpack the whole enormous suitcase every time–I just took out the relevant cube. Another benefit: The cubes protect your garments from spills. I had a little accident with a bottle of artisanal olive oil on my trip, but fortunately, thanks to the cubes, my favorite cashmere sweater and little black dress were unscathed.
While there are a lot of packing cubes on the market now, it’s worth investing in high-quality ones. I tried a couple where the plastic could easily tear and the zippers didn’t work well, which added stress to the journey. I also didn’t like the ones with breathable vents, because they didn’t protect against spills. Paravel’s cubes are sturdy, they have a handy window to see what is inside, and they come in a range of trendy colors.
A High-Performing Toiletry Bag
I struggled to find an effective toiletry bag that could get me through both an overnight and a two-week-long trip. I was happy to discover Hudson + Bleecker, a travel accessories startup founded by Eram Siddiqui, a frequent business traveler who couldn’t find anything on the market that was both attractive and practical. I found the Voyager bag ($88) very useful. The brand’s bags are made of water-resistant faux leather, cotton canvas, or linen, and come in stylish, feminine colors and designs.
Inside the bag, there are two clear PVC pouches that snap out. I put my cosmetics in one bag and toiletries in the other. The genius of the system is that you can take out the compartment that has your fluids easily when you go through security checks. Having two sets of inner pouches is also handy because when you need to travel light, you can just use one pouch with all your essentials in it, and leave the other at home. When opened, the bag hangs nicely on a hook, so you can see everything you’ve brought with you, which means no more digging through your case, wondering whether or not you really did bring your moisturizer.
An Effective Neck Pillow
I have a lot of empathy for those people who walk around airports wearing their neck pillows, having totally given up on looking dignified. Long flights in cramped quarters are miserable, and it makes sense to use every tool at your disposal to get some shut-eye on board.
However, not all neck pillows are created equal. Many I tried actually made my neck feel worse after falling asleep because they didn’t adapt to my body and forced my head into awkward positions. Many also made me sweaty because they were not breathable. Cabeau’s Evolution Cool ($59.99), on the other hand, conformed to my neck and allowed air to circulate, allowing me to sleep more comfortably on a redeye flight.
Cabeau’s neck pillow is made of memory foam, so it provides support while also allowing your neck and head to feel cradled. It has a vent in the middle to promote airflow. It also had a range of small design features that I found very helpful. First, the exterior of the pillow is washable, which is important because sleeping on planes is gross. Second, the pillow shrinks into half its size and can be stored in a little case. The case can be attached with a clip to your carry-on for easy access, which means no more walking around with it on your neck.
The On-Board Jacket
ADAY’s Up In The Air jacket ($135) is designed to enable women to go directly from a 15-hour plane ride directly to a board meeting. The jacket is warm enough to protect against the overactive air-conditioning on flights, but has smart vents throughout to encourage ventilation so you’re never sweaty. The material is moisture wicking and resistant to both stains and wrinkles.
When I tested it, I was impressed by the interesting material it is made of. It looks a little like leather upon first glance, but it is actually made from a recycled polyester. It has an asymmetrical zip and a cowl neck, so it looks very stylish, but it is also incredibly comfortable. The jacket seems to adapt to your body’s temperature and looks formal enough to serve as a blazer when you’re headed to a meeting right off the plane. But on the plane, it feels cosy and comfortable, perfect for an on-board nap.
Good Wireless Headphones
One of the most annoying parts about traveling is that there is so much wasted time standing in security lines, waiting to board the plane, and then sitting in your seat unable to use your laptop. To make the most of this time, good noise-canceling wireless headphones are very important. On my travels, I downloaded a lot of podcasts that kept me entertained as I walked through airports. I also stored movies from Netflix and Hulu on my phone that helped pass the time waiting for the plane to take off.
Really good headphones can be very expensive; many are upwards of $350. When I was searching for a pair, my goal was to balance price with quality. Skullcandy’s Crusher Wireless Headphones ($199.99) fit the bill. They are equipped with haptic bass that vibrates, so you can feel it in your ears. The memory foam ear pads are soft against your skin and also cancel the noise on the plane. And while they are large, they collapse into a small case, which makes them easy to transport.
Workout And Meditation On The Go
Traveling, for me, usually means abandoning all the healthy routines and habits that I’ve been nurturing at home. However, there’s a whole industry devoted to helping travelers keep up with their fitness goals away from home. I tested a range of them out over the last few months. Many are free, including the Nike+ Training Club, which offers a range of no-equipment workouts. There are plenty of good free meditation apps out there too. Aura, for instance, gives you a free three-minute meditation every day customized to your state of mind, based on your responses to a set of questions.
If you’d like to do more intense studio workouts on the go, there are various streaming services you can use. For $19.99 a month, Daily Burn offers a range of workouts of different types. For the same price, boutique studio modelFIT also has a streaming service that allows you to focus on various parts of your body, like your butt or abs. There is also a “no-equipment” option, as well as a channel for workouts that are only 10 minutes long.
There are also a range of yoga apps on the market that can really impact your well-being as you’re traveling. For $18 a month, YogaGlo offers thousands of yoga and meditation classes between five minutes and two hours long, from beginner to expert level. It works on both your smartphone and your computer.
An Airport To Office Bag
If you’re spending a lot of time at airports, you need a functional purse that will allow you to get through the hassles of security checks and immigration quickly and easily. I spent a lot of time looking for a bag that would be spacious, lightweight, and functional, but that could also double as the same purse I carry to the office upon arrival. There are several that fit the bill, but my favorite was Cuyana’s well-designed saddle bag ($295).
Cuyana famously goes through an Apple-like testing process when it creates any new product. This one is perfectly designed for travel. The bag can be worn as a cross-body, which is perfect for hustling through airports, pulling a suitcase with one hand, and holding a coffee in the other. It can hold a lot of crucial items, like my passport, my phone and charger, large headphones, and even a small tablet. It also has a small pocket, where I stored my migraine medication and hotel keys. The bag is structured enough that it holds its shape both empty and stuffed to the brim.
The nice thing about the bag is that you can easily adjust the shoulder strap to convert it into a regular handbag, which makes it look much more appropriate for office looks.
Away-From-Home House Slippers
Bringing fancy slippers with you on a business trip is another luxury, but hear me out. I’ve included this item on the list for women who spend big chunks of the year in hotels because they are working with offsite clients. Slipper startup Birdies was launched by a management consultant and an advertising executive who found themselves in this very scenario. The founders spent weeks at hotels, up late at night in their rooms or common spaces, working on spreadsheets. Together, they decided to create a luxury indoor shoe ($140) that works well when you’re working from home, but that also adds a little comfort and elegance to your life when you’re basically living out of a suitcase.
The point of the shoe is to feel cozy–they are lined either with shearling for warmth or a silky quilted insole. But the exterior of the shoe is both stylish and high quality. They come in snakeskin prints, camo prints, and tassels, and are made from materials like calf hair and suede. They are certainly a luxury, but I found that they really did lift my mood when I was working long nights on a story in my hotel’s lounge, in my evening uniform of yoga pants and a sweater. I felt both cozy and put together at the bar. They’re a good gift or investment who want a touch of home away from home.
The Travel Uniform
What to wear when you’re traveling? Do you go for comfort and travel in your pajamas, so your brain thinks you’re ready to go to sleep? Do you wear something more elegant, so you don’t have to change when you arrive at your destination?
This is a question that sleepwear brand Lunya has spent a lot of time thinking about. It has developed a five-piece travel kit ($298) that is specifically designed for women who are constantly on a plane. The idea of the set is that the pieces all feel like pajamas, but are simple and classic enough to be dressed up if you need to look respectable. The base layer is breathable underwear, with a bralette that provides support, but is also comfortable enough to sleep in, which is important because you don’t want to be wearing an underwire bra while trying to sleep, but you also don’t want to go bra-free.
The set comes with black leggings, a sleeveless top, and a long-sleeve shirt, all made of soft, breathable pima cotton. You can layer these items or wear them separately. The set is incredibly comfy, but walking out of an airport in the outfit allows you to go straight to a restaurant or even, with the right shirt or jacket, to a meeting. This means not having to change in a public restroom or making a trip back to the hotel. At nearly $300, the kit is a bit of a luxury, but for frequent travelers, it means not ever having to think about what to wear. The set even comes in a laundry bag, so you can immediately throw it in the wash for your next trip.
A Travel Blanket And Eye Mask
There’s nothing less dignified than being shoved into a tiny metal seat on a plane. Over the years, I’ve seen brands launch “travel kits” that include blankets and eye masks, often made of high-quality materials like cashmere or wool. Ultimately, I’ve found that these kits are valuable not so much because they protect against chill, but because they bring some humanity back to the travel experience.
I traveled to more than six cities over the last month. One of my favorite accessories as I traveled all those miles was Parachute’s Travel Kit ($169) made of extra-fine merino wool. The kit comes in a little wool bag, which doubles as a lumbar cushion. On a flight, I would usually plop the kit down as I was getting seated, so it felt like a cushion during take off. Then, when I wanted to get more comfortable so I could nap, I take out the blanket and eye mask. I found that it was more a psychological tool than anything else. It felt soft and cozy against my skin, and primed my brain to become sleepy. After a couple of flights, it became something of a safety blanket, which made me feel more like a human, and less like cargo.