Hacks for the Traveling Man: 11 Quick Fixes for Dressing and Grooming Problems on the Road

by Antonio on August 24, 2011 · 30 comments

in Dress & Grooming

When it comes to traveling, some men are careful packers. They make a list and carefully lay out the clothes they need for their trip a day or two before their departure. Other men are last minute packers, rushing around the house, throwing things in their bag while reassuring themselves that they won’t miss the plane if they speed 5, and then 10, and then 15 miles over the speed limit. And then of course there are men who aren’t packers at all–they let their wife do the packing for them.

No matter which kind of packer you are, you’ve very likely experienced that nagging feeling on the way to the airport–”I know I’ve forgotten something, but what?” And sure enough, once you got to the hotel and unzipped your bag, your heart sunk as you exclaimed, “I can’t believe I left my _____ at home!”

Travel can be a wonderful experience–but it also brings a special set of problems. Everything at your immediate disposable is contained in a small bag. And even when you do manage to remember to pack everything you need in it, problems will arise during your travels that you’re forced to fix on the fly. But you can’t always run to the store for a solution, and when you’re staying at a more exotic location or in more rustic accommodations, the hotel’s front desk or gift shop may not have what you need.

Thus the small “emergencies” that arise while away from home can really put a man in pinch, and if he can’t figure out a solution, the pickle is apt to create for him a good deal of stress–especially if he’s on an important business trip where every detail–including his appearance–is crucial.

To avoid this anxiety, be prepared. By learning a few hacks, you’ll know how to fix many common dressing and grooming problems that could arise during your travels. Allowing you to get on with your trip while hardly missing a step.

1. Problem – No Shaving Cream

Solution – Use soap, conditioner, or lotion instead after you take a shower. Although not formulated specifically for the skin, any of these will do the job of allowing the razor to glide over the skin and insulate the face from razor burn. By taking a shower first, you’ll soften the hairs. Also, use a new razor blade if possible as you’ll want as clean of a cut as you can get.


Tip – Hand soap is meant for the hands, and can be too harsh for your face’s more sensitive skin, so try to use a facial soap if available. Also, some people claim that not only is shaving cream unnecessary, going without it actually gives you a better shave. So you can always forego the cream altogether and shave with only water–although it’s best not to try new experiments on your face if you have an important meeting to attend during your trip.

2. Problem – Your zipper is stuck.

Solution – Rub a bar of soap along the zipper’s teeth and slowly work the zipper free. Liquid soap and conditioners do not work as well but can be substituted in a pinch–use a tiny amount as you don’t want a stain all day in this area.

Tip – Drop the trousers off at your local tailor shop when you get home and have them replace the zipper ASAP–it’ll cost less than a new pair of trousers.

3. Problem –The unfamiliar dry/cold climate is causing your skin to break out in a rash/flake and your lips are cracked.

Solution – Use a light amount of skin protectant or petroleum jelly to help soothe your skin and lips. Unlike lighter lotions, skin protectants provide a heavier layer of protection and can be used on the lips for longer lasting protection.

Tip – Use an old contact lens holder to pack the petroleum jelly in a small container that won’t be thrown away by airport security. Also, don’t use it on your face if you’re prone to acne as it can cause breakouts. Speaking of which, if you get a pimple, dabbing it with a bit of toothpaste before bed will reduce its redness and puffiness by morning. To learn more about skincare for men, listen to this interview with skin care expert Sam Hossa.

4. Problem –You have an iron, but no ironing board.

Solution – Clear off a flat and clean surface that can take the heat (tables, firm beds, clean floor) and lay out a (preferably) white towel. There you have it–an instant ironing board.

Tip – Before using a hotel iron on your white dress shirt, run it across a white cotton towel or on the inside of the bottom of your shirt. You want to make sure there isn’t anything melted onto the iron that would stain your shirt or that the water inside hasn’t formed rust. Also, use the setting just below the recommended one at first–older irons can run hot and damage clothing. Want to know how to iron a dress shirt? Click here.

5. Problem – Your perfectly shined black shoes have a huge scuff mark.

Solution – Use a cotton napkin or towel to try to buff it out, transferring the wax and polish to the scuff. If you’re in a hotel, or have access to the convention center staff, ask for a complimentary shoe buff kit. If none of this works, find a black marker and carefully color the discolored area black.

Tip – Scuffs happen, and of all the problems I’ve listed here, this is the least important one. Polish your shoes the night before, smile, and look people in the eye. Don’t get worked up about small things.

6. Problem — Your shirt collar is too small.

You don’t know how it happened, but all of your shirt collars have shrunk since you stopped exercising. If only they were ¾ inch larger.

Solution – Move the button. Most dress shirts can accommodate the button being moved ¾ of an inch without making the collar space look disproportional. Call your hotel lobby and ask for an emergency sewing kit  (or better yet, always pack one in your bag yourself)–these are perfect for solving a wide range of clothing problems as they come with needles, thread, and buttons. Don’t forget you’ll need either a knife or scissors. If you don’t have time to sew on a button–consider holding the collar top together with a safety pin or wire twisty-tie.

Tip – Consider a wider tie knot to offset the larger collar space. The half Windsor or Shelby are solid choices. And if you find your neck size fluctuates, consider buying a few collar extenders.

7. Problem — Your sweater is pilling and covered with fuzz balls.

You threw a sweater into your bag without unfolding it, and now that you have it on, you realize an outbreak of fuzz balls is making it look ratty.


Solution – Remove the pilling by gently going over the sweater with a disposable razor. This is going to take you some time–so turn on an Art of Manliness Podcast.

Tip – Pilling naturally happens on all sweaters, but higher quality sweaters that use longer fibers will pill less. Buy a better quality sweater, and you’ll get more years out of it and spend less time cleaning it.

8. Problem – That 20 ounce coffee is now all over the front of your shirt.

Solution – Depends on how much time you have and what steps you took to be prepared for this common mishap.

Option 1 – Change Your Shirt

Call and let your boss/colleagues know you’ll be 20 minutes late and head back to the hotel room to change. As long as this isn’t a recurring situation, I’d rather have you focused on the project than feeling self-conscious about your appearance.

Option 2 – Pit Stop

Entrepreneur Gary Hoover once told me a story of how he landed in Florida at 2AM with his luggage lost by the airline. He was casually dressed and had a corporate presentation at 8AM. He immediately headed to the nearest Wal-Mart and bought a suit and shirt. He wasn’t the best dressed man that day–but he got the job done. Target or a thrift store may solve your immediate need–find something that is acceptable and carry on.

Option 3 – Remove the Stain

If you have time, take off the shirt and either spot clean it or wash it–depending on need. To spot clean a shirt you’ll want to have a bottom area to receive the stain–a clean rag or paper towel works well. Turn the top of the stain down, as you’ll be dampening the back of the shirt with your white handkerchief, the goal being to pass a solvent through the fabric and pass the stain to the paper towels underneath. Work from the outside of the stain to the center, and repeat while changing out the bottom paper towels. If you have time to wash the shirt completely, do that and then dry the shirt while ironing it.

Tip – Always travel with an extra set of clothing in your carry-on and wear an undershirt.

9. Problem – Your trousers have lost their waist button.

Solution – If the button on the waist of your trousers falls off, you can fix it with a hotel sewing kit or as suggested above, buy a new pair if you have the time. But if you’re out and about where those options aren’t viable, there are a couple of creative makeshift solutions you can use to jury rig your pants back together, depending on what you have on hand, such as:

Image from dejapong

10. Problem — The back of your pants just ripped open.

First, evaluate the situation. Is it a torn seam or did you rip the fabric? A torn seam looks bad, but in actuality it’s a pretty easy fix if you have access to an emergency sewing kit.


Solution -To fix a torn seam first turn your garment inside-out and find the area that has torn open. Tie off the loose threads at each end of the hole; this prevents them from unraveling. You’ll also want to remove any torn threads. Now you want to start resealing the hole, tracing the previous stitching and sewing with small stitches. Don’t worry about technique or it being perfectly straight–we’re just focused on closing up the hole. Make sure to tie the thread off, and better to double stitch than have them rip again. Tie off the thread at the other side and snip the thread about a 1/4 inch away from the knot.

If none of this made sense, we’ll be writing more about stitching this fall–look for a future link here.


If the trouser’s fabric has torn, this can potentially be more serious, as the fabric cannot be stitched together long-term. In this situation, options include mending tape, patches, and in a pinch, fabric super-glued to the inside of the garment.  If the tear is high enough you’ll be OK as long as you keep your suit or sport jacket on.

11. Problem — You forgot to pack underwear/socks/undershirt.

It’s often easy to remember the big things you need to pack, and harder to remember small items like underwear that aren’t at the forefront of your mind. But if you do forget an item of underclothing, there’s no need to pay for a hotel’s expensive laundry service, or, heaven help us, go commando.

Solution - If you’ve forgotten to pack some essential garment (or if you just want to pack lighter), you can of course wash the items you wore that day in the sink. But many seasoned travelers recommend wearing the garments into the shower with you–thereby killing two birds with one stone. Soap and rinse the garments just as if you were washing your body (while being sure to wash your actual body as well!). When you get out of the shower, remove the garments and roll them up inside of a towel–tightly wring the towel to remove excess moisture. Then hang the garments in any available spot to dry.

Tip – If you find yourself often forgetting items when you travel, and generally standing there havy cavy when you pack, unsure of what to bring, try the Packing Pro app for your phone. It can give you a recommended list based on things like trip duration, temperature, and destination. And you can customize the lists to your heart’s content.

Closing Thoughts

If you manage to avoid getting yourself into a pickle on a trip, still pay attention to the plight of others and be the first to offer assistance. Most of us are too proud to ask for help, but willing to accept it if the offer is discreet!

Video Summary for those that would rather just watch and listen!

Written by Antonio Centeno
Founder –  Real Men Real Style & A Tailored Suit Custom Clothier   


Your Turn: What are your tips and solutions to common travel problems? Let’s hear about them in the comments!


{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

1 J August 24, 2011 at 3:09 pm

An even easier solution if your pants button pops off:
Use your belt to keep your pants up, not your button! In fact, I have a pair of pants that I like that’s a bit too small in the waist, and I never even button them. And no, nobody ever notices (My wife couldn’t even tell after I told her they were like that). As long as the pants aren’t ridiculously small for you, there will be no noticeable difference between buttoned and unbuttoned as long as you use a belt.

2 HelloNurse August 24, 2011 at 3:36 pm

While I applaud the spirit of this article, (and I really liked the zipper soaping and de-pilling tips) I felt like it could have done without number eight because none of the options listed are really hacks so much as they are the only three available responses to the problem, not including the particularly unfortunate no-time-to-address-this-I-just-gotta-own-it recourse.

3 Mark Watson August 24, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Another interesting read thanks. One thing I’d love to know better is how best to fold a shirt and pack it away. Mine always end up looking awful when I arrive at a hotel.

4 Andre August 24, 2011 at 6:11 pm

Shaving: Using conditioner is awesome! I use warm water to wet my face, then a nice layer of conditioner for about 5 minutes(perfect time for a smoke) to do it’s thing. Then shave.

5 JeffC August 24, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Love the advice about having a change of clothing in your carry-on bag. I’d advise thinking about your carry-on as a survival kit of essentials, in case you win the bet you make with yourself that you will be separated from your checked luggage.

The ultimate solution is to create a packing list, to make sure you get everything into your bag in the first place, including the emergency/repair supplies mentioned in the article. The app is cool, but you can do this on paper and simply keep it in a file cabinet. Then you can close the front door on your way out without second-guessing yourself.

I’m a last-minute guy: in my rush to get out the door, I once forgot to pack a sleeping bag for a camping trip! Once I sat down to write a list (actually, several different versions for different types of trips that I made on an annual basis), packing was actually pleasant, instead of a guessing game.

6 Mike 858 August 24, 2011 at 7:29 pm

As to washing clothes in a hotel, a lady’s hair dryer will dry clothes fairly quickly. Just be sure to keep your clothes flat, i.e. no wrinkles, or they will have those same wrinkles when dry. I ran out of socks and underwear halfway through a trip and that saved me a lot of time/ money that would have been spent on new clothes/ laundromat fees.

7 Hal August 24, 2011 at 8:49 pm

Two words: Altoids Tin.

I have several packed with emergency kits for various situations (a hunting tin, a travel tin, a camping tin, etc). Pack up the little things you’ll always end up needing in a true emergency, label the tin for what it is (preferably with something waterproof), and leave it in a very conspicuous place where you won’t forget it. My travel one is in my night stand valet with my keys and watch, and it’s the first thing I throw in my (invariably minimalist) packing job. Wrap a rubber band around it to keep it closed and to keep it from slipping out of your pocket. You’d be surprised at just how handy a rubber band can be in an emergency, too. The tins pack VERY well. They can even hide pretty well in a coat pocket. For a general travel one, don’t forget:

Band-aids (real ones, not cheap knock-off ones… there usually is a big difference)
small sewing kit
nail clippers
individually wrapped alcohol wraps
a small roll of fishing line
safety pins
dental floss

There are lots of other great ideas for the travel tin contents. It’s a lot of fun to try to fit as many handy things into one of those fancy tins as you can.

8 Nick August 24, 2011 at 9:22 pm

I hadn’t thought about using a key and ring to replace a waist button; my personal favorite in that situation is a largish cufflink.

9 JHool August 25, 2011 at 12:29 am

Also, graphite works as a dry lubricant, rub a pencil up and down the zipper and you won’t have to worry about grease or residue from the soap. Though I would maybe avoid using this solution with white pants!

10 stover August 25, 2011 at 2:08 am

I don’t think I’ve used shaving cream in about 10 years, soap works just fine. I have somewhat sensitive skin, but I use unsented Oil of Olay. Soaps like Irish Spring and Dial I’d stay away from, they will eat your skin alive.

I just shave in the shower, after years of shaving I don’t even need a mirror. I think what razor your using might cut you up though. I use the double blade Shick disposible. Single blades will cut you up and razors with 3 or more blades I think are over kill. They make it hard to get a close shave in tight places like under your nose also.

11 Matt August 25, 2011 at 8:05 am

My friend said that while in the Marines most of them didnt carry shaving cream and they just used water. He still only uses hot water today. I’ve experimented with this and it’s best right out of the shower of course.

I keep a checklist saved on my computer for weekend trips. I print it out and add to it if I feel it necessary. I once went away for a wedding and my family and I had time to sneak in a hike the day before. I had brought my survival gear just in case and I was glad I had it with me.

Thanks for the tips!

12 Patrick B. August 25, 2011 at 10:32 am

I travel frequently for business and learned quickly to have a toiletry kit packed at all times with doubles of everything I use at home. The only thing I share between home and travel is an elec shaver. My kit remains packed with tooth brush/paste, hair products, deodorant, face lotion, etc. Also, I refill any needed items when I *unpack*, not when packing for next week’s trip. This has saved me time and time again.
I’m also a fan of the Eagle Creek Folders. They keep dress shirts & suits relatively wrinkle free. Nothing’s perfect but these work well for me. I tend to roll everything else (boxers, tees, jeans, etc.).
Lastly if at all possible, don’t check a bag. The time saved gets you in the taxi or rental car line before your fellow travelers and can even save you check-ed bag fees. These savings can be used to buy a preferred seat up front or early boarding to ensure you get overhead bin space. I use a 22″ carry on suitcase for all trips up to 4-5 days. More than that and I have to check (or do laundry).
It’s the shoes that are a space killer. I travel with cedar shoe trees for dress shoes rather than alternating dress shoes every day (as I would do at home). It’s typically not a problem wearing one pair to fly and packing two other pair (sneakers & casual for instance). Casual shoes like driving loafers or suede chukka boots are a good choice as they pack flat and are versatile.
It’s travel, you have to make sacrifices.

13 JFR August 25, 2011 at 3:42 pm

When out of shaving cream, I use shampoo instead of soap. It’s gentler on the skin, lathers more easily, and hotels in the US always provide a little container of it. Also, I agree with Patrick B. on the Eagle Creek folders – they’re great.

14 Trev August 25, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Not necessarily a travelling tip, but Penaten Cream, used at night, is the best for curing chapped lips. I get really bad lips when I fly-fish and ski and use it nightly after the activities. Just a light coat before bed and you wake up with a small film, but you can wipe it off and they are good as new.

15 Jordy August 25, 2011 at 5:46 pm

Not my best fix ever, but I was recently forced to use dental floss and a small pocket knife to reattach a button. You can cut up and ruin your trousers doing this though, last ditch resort.

16 Ken Zieger August 25, 2011 at 11:05 pm

I have to agree with Patrick B. I always have a toiletries kit ready to go and love the Pack It folders ( http://www.sierratradingpost.com/eagle-creek-pack-it-folder-20~p~2084h/?filterString=travel-accessories~d~170%2F ). A couple of tips: For fabric tears especially dark clothing, I use electrical tape on the inside of the garment. It’s easily packed and holds reasonably well. Secondly, always pack a small multitool. It is invaluable in many situations.

17 Johnny August 26, 2011 at 5:17 am

I agree, shaving cream is totally unnecessary.

I just use facial soap, WHILE I’m taking the shower. All the hot water makes my beard really soft, and if you have a good mirror you can kill two birds with one stone by just doing it while showering. You need to spot check after you shower to see if you’ve missed a spot, and if you have just go over it. I’ve gotten really practiced at just feeling my face to see if I’ve gotten it all.

EASY, convenient, cheap, fast and comfortable. What’s not to like?

18 Nick August 26, 2011 at 9:25 am

The funniest thing happened to me a few weeks ago. I was singing in a big concert with a hot-shot maestro, so we had an afternoon dress rehearsal then a few hour break until stage call at 9. I took a bike ride for a few hours in the area as I was a long way from home and got back half an hour before the concert to dress. To my horror, I found out that my tux shirt I had so carefully pressed was still sitting on my ironing board at home about an hour away. Recognizing my plight, a fellow choir member helped me out, and I ended up going on stage with bowtie, white undershirt, vest and tux jacket arranged in such a way that you could not really tell from the audience that anything was amiss. Crazy experience!

19 Travis August 26, 2011 at 5:33 pm

I think that the best tip on this entry is asking for help and offering help to others for help. I travel frequently and have found that other travelers are always willing to help. It also provides a funny story and helps you get to know your co workers or fellow travel partners better.

20 JD August 27, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Where did that horrid myth about putting toothpaste on one’s face originate? It’s the worst thing one can do. How about using Tea tree oil instead?

21 Brucifer August 27, 2011 at 7:28 pm

I cannot fathom how any gentleman who travels at all frequently, could *not* have a small sewing kit and a small shoe shine kit nestled permanently in their luggage.

I must say too, especially in seeing the illustration accompanying this article of men flying in business attire – as once was the norm, even if one wasn’t flying on business, that the entrepreneur gentleman mentioned deserves derision for flying casually if he had a AM business presentation and his suits stowed in cargo. That’s just *asking* for the Luggage Gremlins to loose one’s bag. Showing up in what I would imagine to be an ill-fitting Wal-mart of Target suit, could have easily sent negative signals to the persons he had traveled far to impress.

In short, a traveling gentleman should be well-prepared, well-equipped and well-attired.

22 Rick August 29, 2011 at 6:03 am

Regarding getting the wrinkles out of your dress shirts when you pull them out of the bag. Some hotels won’t have ironing boards, but all hotels will have a hot shower. Get a good roomful of steam going and hang your shirts on the shower rail. After about a half hour, the wrinkles will be gone.

23 Robert Hoffman August 29, 2011 at 12:42 pm

this is a tip that is relatively unimportant, as most hotels provide shampoo anyways, but apparently liquor can be used as an emergency shampoo substitute. I don’t know if this really works or not, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

24 Brenton August 29, 2011 at 4:41 pm

x4 on the Eagle Creek Pack-it Folders…they do a great job of keeping clothes from wrinkling. I carry two on trips. One for shirts and one for pants. It also keeps clothes organized while you’re living out of your bags. They’re even great for backpacking trips.

For refillable toiletries, i got tired of busting the cheap travel-sized soap/shampoo bottles so I bought some mini-Nalgene bottles (find them at REI, less than a buck) and I carry one for shampoo/conditioner & body wash. I just refill them when I get home with whatever I have in my shower and it’s ready for the next trip.

For very packable casual shoes, Chuck Taylors or flip-flops are hard to beat. Another great brand is “Simple”, because they pack just as flat but tend to have more cushion.

I also shave blind in the shower. That’s when your facial hair is softest. Sometimes you can wipe down a glass tile to see your reflection, but if that’s not possible I use my finger to gauge where my sideburns end. Just line your finger up to your ear canal, then shave above/below or even with that line to keep your sideburns even…it’s crucial to check your work after the shower!

25 Matt August 30, 2011 at 12:43 pm

I once forgot cufflinks and was traveling with just one business shirt with French cuffs, and had zero morning time to buy any. Solution: removed a nut and a bolt from the hotel’s bedside lamps (using the knife supplied with my complimentary fruit basket!) and screwed them on in. Funny part was…I got two compliments on my links that day from people who just thought I liked the industrial-esque styling!

26 MI Mike September 8, 2011 at 7:10 am

A few years ago (late 20′s) I was breaking out which never happened before. I was using all the recommended daily cleansing and shaving products. Never used cheap product. Frustrated with results, I met Doc for 15 min. and the problem was solved. My facial hair became heavier and course over the years. My routine method of shaving used for the past 10 yrs (side-side, up-down) was the cause. A simple change in strokes made all the difference. Shave with your facial hair pattern. Stop the razor at the point where your hair changes direction, adjust to new pattern and continue in that direction and repeat. Sounds obvious but even the slightest change in hair patterns can create sensitivity post shave. In my case, irritation and breakouts would not occur until that evening or following morning. These simple practices are easily overseen as being the root cause. Shaving never hurt, never pulled or cut and I always had a clean shave, my methods were not the problem! WRONG! All good in my camp now and wishing someone mentioned this to me at the time.

Love the topics and advice on the art of manliness. Helpful and funny 99.5% of the time for this traveling bachlor. In saying that…what was up with the recent interview regarding Men’s Facial hygene and Cleansing interview?? I can’t beleve the “expert” facial dudes advise durning his interview and the lack of knowledge he posessed.. He ignored several possibilities for a quick fix. His advise on post shave breakout and irritation control was to “select a razor that works best for you” by knowing your skin type??. Incredible incite spa boy! Oh…Spa Boy, really appreciate the Aloe tip as well! However, I’m confused which magic Aloe is best. I think it might be the same lube my mother forced me to wear while playing outside as a child….Should I purchase the Aloe that comes in the plastic bottle with the Kuwalla Bear and You getting high in the cocanut tree? Or would you recommend a brand your spa carries for 50% more?

On a Positive note…. Hope this helps at least one of you players out there!

Ret. Player….. “always living vicariously through you”

27 harry September 11, 2011 at 2:27 am

Easier solution if you forget underwear? try freeballing.

28 John Goforth September 19, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Wrinkles: Here’s a little trick I’ve picked up. The first thing I do when I get to a hotel is take all of my hanging clothes out, hang them on the curtain rod in the shower, and turn the shower on HOT and full blast. This steams out most of the minor wrinkles that you pick up by having things in a garment bag.

I’d still press anything that was important to have a pressed look, but this will take care of 90% of my problems on the road.

29 JFSATX April 1, 2013 at 4:09 pm

I have found the travel size of Downy Wrinkle Releaser works well with getting the wrinkles out. Especially works well with knit fabrics like polo shirts. Works even better when combined with the shower steam method.

If I have used travel-sized toiletries on a trip, I’ve found that items do not keep well after they are opened. I finish using them at home and replace them with new ones (except for refillable items). That way the travel kit is always fresh.

I also keep a silk knit tie on hand in case I get my regular tie dirty. They roll up easily and take up very little space.

30 Phasma Felis January 24, 2014 at 1:37 pm

If your top shirt button won’t button, and you don’t have or aren’t confident with a sewing kit, find or borrow an elastic hair tie. Run it through the buttonhole so there’s a loop on either side of the hole. Pass one loop through the other, pull it tight, and loop it over the button. Make sure that your tie conceals it, and you’re done.

I have long hair, so I’ve always used one of my own hair ties, but a very small rubber band or a piece of string tied into a loop with a square knot would probably also work.

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