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Work bag essentials: what to carry on your commute, including top tips and advice from working mums

If you’re carting your laptop to and from the office on a daily (or weekly) basis, you’ll want to avoid cramming the rest of your bag full of unnecessary stuff that’ll weigh you down. To help streamline your supplies, we’ve got tips from seasoned commuters to highlight THE work bag essentials that Mumsnetters swear by.

By Rachel Erdos | Last updated Apr 21, 2023

Woman with a laptop bag

Commuting can be a pain, especially if you're stuck in traffic or squished onto a packed train, tube or tram carriage. But having easy access to products that can make your life easier, your commute more pleasurable and your day less stressful will help take the strain out of the journey. And set you up for success (or at least get you through until hometime). 

On the flip side, a lengthy commute can give you a bit of time to read, catch up on a podcast, vote on AIBU threads, plan your weekly shop or enjoy some shut-eye after a stressy school run. We’ve scoured the Mumsnet Talk forums for tips on the best things to pop into your work bag, backpack or laptop bag to keep you organised, entertained, and productive on your way to work.

I hate having to "swap" stuff over from my normal handbag into my commuter bag so tend to double up on things (makeup essentials, phone charger etc) so I can grab and go in the morning

We can’t guarantee a seat on your journey but we do know that the following tips work well for working mums and ensure that you won’t get caught out on your commute. 

1. Pack a portable charger

"Anker is a good make. The couple we have are a few years old now and still working perfectly" - Mumsnet user, WeAllHaveWings 

You definitely don't want your phone dying on you during your commute, especially if you rely on it for work, navigation or… Candy Crush. Invest in a good quality, lightweight portable charger that can charge your phone quickly and efficiently. The best way to keep ‘low battery anxiety’ at bay.

Read next: The best tote bags to buy, as recommended by Mumsnetters

Woman wearing headphones

2. Carry noise-cancelling headphones

"Go for really good bluetooth noise cancelling headphones, I have Bose QuietComfort and they are brilliant, used every day on the tube/train (only issue is they're so good I've more than once missed my stop on the tube)"- Mumsnet user, maxelly

"My earphones are mainly to block out the sniffing. A carriage full of people sniffing makes me nauseous, but I realise not everyone will feel that way" - willowstar

Drown out coughs, random beeps and commuter chatter with a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. Perfect if you need to focus on some last-minute work prep or want to concentrate on a real crime podcast series or an audiobook. They’re typically more expensive than regular headphones or earbuds but the noise-cancelling element can block out distractions in a way that will justify the extra spend. 

Read next: The best women's wallets and purses, as bought by Mumsnet users

3. Add a pashmina to your bag

"A really good quality large pashmina - folds down really small and acts as a blanket or pillow when needed" - Mumsnet user, Luubyluu

It’s always hard to judge what the temperature is likely to be when commuting (and when in the office) so it’s worth layering up your outfit to provide options throughout the day. A pashmina can be a great addition to your work bag as it folds up small and can keep you warm and comfy on a delayed train, or become a makeshift pillow if you need to nod off for a bit by the window. 

4. Bring your own bottle

"The Chilly's bottles are great for keeping drinks cold, and it looks like the new "series 2" has a plastic type of rim" - Mumsnet user, FindMeInTheSunshine

One of Mumsnetters’ most-recommended items for smooth and stress-free commutes: a reusable water bottle. Ditch the single-use plastic and fill up a reusable water bottle to add to your work bag before heading out in the morning. The best of the bottles? Chilly’s according to our Talk forums. There are loads of different designs and sizes to choose from;  they come with safe and secure lids; and are genuinely good at keeping drinks chilled. Aim to keep your bottle in a separate compartment from your tech. 

Chilly’s Water Bottle
I absolutely love mine. Everyone in the family has one and some even have two. Would definitely recommend!


Insulated stainless steel water bottle


Buy now

5. Pick a good book (or an E-reader or an audiobook)

"My kindle fits in my handbag so is great for travelling, doctors waiting room, hairdressers etc…" - Mumsnet user, bigdecisionstomake

Reading is a great way to relax and unwind on your commute. And it can give you a bit of time to decompress after a hectic day in the office. If you’re short on space in your laptop bag, a lightweight E-reader might be the way to go. Or an audiobook for a bit of hands-free headspace. 

Read next: Stylish crossbody bags that Mumsnetters love

Woman with a notepad on train

6. Take a notepad and pen (or download a to-do list app) 

"I'm an avid list maker so often use travel time for planning: meal planning; shopping lists; to do lists; Christmas planning; packing lists for holidays; party planning etc. I always preferred a notebook but you won't always have a seat on your commute so could use your phone" - Mumsnet user, RockingMyFiftiesNot

A small pad and pen combo can be a useful addition to your work bag, particularly if you’re a fan of list-making. Having a bit of alone time away from the home and office can prove useful in terms of being able to get your head around upcoming events - kids’ parties, holidays, sleepovers - and making lists to help prep and plan. Of course, there are plenty of useful apps that can help manage lists and projects but sometimes a pad and paper can give you a bit more focus and clarity.  

Read next: Best packing cubes for on-the-go organisation

7. Prepare a ‘perk up’ kit 

"A mini perk up kit — not quite a first aid kit, but eye drops, paracetamol, plasters and tiger balm. In a nice purse or tin" - Mumsnet user, threepointonefourone 

"I would recommend a decent travel makeup bag. It doesn't have to be pretty but it needs to be big enough to carry makeup plus deodorant, facial wipes, tissues etc. Buy travel sets of toiletries in case you want to freshen up" - Thingamebobwotsit

We’re not suggesting heaving your day-to-day makeup or toiletry supplies to the office but a small pouch containing some handy bits and bobs (wipes, deodorant, face powder) can make you feel at ease if you need to freshen up before a meeting, or want to deodorise after a sweaty summer commute.  

Read next: The best toiletry bags to buy, as recommended by Mumsnetters

Woman with an umbrella on the streets of London

8. Add a small umbrella

"If you do bring a brolly do pack an empty large sandwich bag to put it in. Can't have a soggy brolly in your bag!" - SleekMamma

Prepare for drizzly downpours and don’t get caught out in the rain. Carry a small, foldable umbrella in your work bag, just in case the weather turns sour. Look for a bag with pockets so you can stash it away while keeping your valuable tech dry. Or pop your soggy brolly in a sandwich bag if you need to stuff it in the main compartment.   

Read next: The best umbrellas to buy, according to Mumsnetters

8. Stock up on snacks

Think like a toddler and account for times when you might want to reach for snack supplies to avoid a hangry outburst or an energy slump, particularly if you encounter transport delays on the regular. Keep an emergency stash of nuts, raisins, or sweet treats to hand for when the going gets tough. Or comes to a standstill.