How do you pack the best items for your conference trip every time? Build a capsule wardrobe.

Post-docs are by nature flighty creatures: moving cities (or even countries) every couple of years; commuting implausible distances between overlapping short-term or part-time contracts; thrashing the international conference circuit like sleep’s gone out of fashion.

But, whether you’re a post-doc pinball or a tenured Prof preparing your next conference keynote, travel preparation is often more fraught than it need be.

As a frequent traveler, I’m sharing my top tips for simplifying and streamlining packing:

#1 Embrace the capsule wardrobe mentality

Even if a capsule wardrobe isn’t for you in the long term, a work trip is a perfect time to give it a try.

It’ll simplify not only your packing procedure but also your decision-making on the road.

  • Stick to a limited palette of colours
  • Combine reusable (mix-and-match-able) basics and
  • Introduce pops of interest through your accessories to set your outfits apart.

Bonus points for every hand-washable, non-ironable item you include.

Here’s an example of my packing for a trip I have coming up in Spring that crosses two climates.

All of the tops go with all of the bottoms, most work under or over other items, and the blouses can be hand-washed and will dry quickly.

7 day conference capsule

…with the right choice of basics you should be able to mix and match all the way from standard day attire, through presentation-appropriate to fit-for-conference dinner.

 

Conference day

Conference Day

Conference dinner look

Conference Dinner

Smart Casual

Smart Casual

#2 Multi-tasking

You do it all the time, and there’s no reason your wardrobe shouldn’t do it for you, too.

If you can include items with dual functions in your packing, you can save on a lot of weight.

Think about button-down shirts that work as top layers over fitted tees; jersey tops or fine knits that can be worn alone, as base layers or as top layers; a pashmina scarf that you can use as a shawl in the evening.

And, if you make sure your choices also look good tucked in, rolled up or pinned, you’ll get a whole new set of looks with the same items.

Chamelon top

#3 Accessories

As ‘non-essential’ items, it’s tempting to jettison the accessories for work travel.

But the right choice of accessories can vastly expand your outfit choices.

A casual, draped blazer becomes a tailored statement piece with the addition of the right belt; neckties, scarves, pocket squares and cravats can all be swapped, changed and interchanged to give different looks to all your basics.

Unstructured-structured jacket

#4 “Magic” items

These are the essentials that transition your outfit from one context to another, and what they are exactly will depend on your own personal style.

For me, it’s the addition of a good blazer and patent stilettos, which can transform my least thought-out outfit into something eminently teaching- or conference-appropriate.

#5 Toiletries and Cosmetics

Keep a pre-packed toilet bag ready-to-go with travel-sized versions of your trusty favourite products and you’ll save yourself time, stress and be carrying weight. Perfumes and aftershaves are relatively heavy and bulky (even in travel size) so invest in an atomiser.

As far as make-up is concerned, stick to the essentials.

You can combine your foundation with your moisturiser and leave the BB cream at home; take one neutral palette-of-three instead of a full eyeshadow selection, and remember – a humble kohl pencil can take you from slick to smokey with minimal effort.

Full disclosure: the only reason there isn’t a scarlet lipstick in this travel bag is that I keep numerous of them secreted about my person at all times.

Minimal make-up

#6 Know what works for you

Your packing should reflect both your personal style and the nature of your trip.

For multiple stop-offs with different audiences, it’s much more practical to re-use items and minimise the weight of your luggage; if you have a ‘base’ for a few days you can afford a bit more variety.

Finally, stick to pieces you love, which work well together, and which make you look and feel great.

If you know your pre-packing has got the ‘first impressions’ covered, then you can focus your brainpower where it matters.

If your wardrobe is a facet of the identity you present to the world; then your travel packing is a tool that can help you package yourself and your work for maximum impact.

It’s a resource to be managed like any other. And ultimately, the less energy you waste wrestling with your luggage, the more time and effort you can dedicate to the things that really matter.


Acadentity balances a full-time post-doc in international political communication, with parenting two under-fives. This combination involves the application of strategic thinking to the most mundane aspects of everyday life; and a lot of guilt. You can follow Acadentity on Instagram.

Header Photo by PHUOC LE on Unsplash

In-post photos by Acadentity