in: Clothing, Featured, Style

• Last updated: September 25, 2021

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

Vintage gentleman holding ticket and file cove in airline counter at airport painting.

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.

Soap covered in lather on wooden dish suds close up.

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.

Close up sweater wool pilling.

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:

Trousers pants button made of key illustration.

  • Use a key and key ring. Make a hole where the button used to be. Thread your key ring on this hole. Put the key through the original button hole. Cover with a buttoned jacket or belt.
  • Use a nut, bolt, and washer.  MacGyver would be proud.

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.

Torn seam pants.

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.

Ripped pants from back.

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!

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

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