A member of my Facebook Group recently asked a brilliant question about packing light when traveling for work. She said she loves the idea of capsule wardrobes for travel but feels like after she’s worn an outfit all day she’s too sweaty and icky to even think about wearing any of those pieces again – particularly with summertime conferences. She wants to know how other women make it work.
There are a few reasons I love this question. First, the fact that talking about being <gasp> sweaty and stinky was being discussed among women was super cool. There is a show I am ‘ten-ply’ for (if you are a fan, you get the reference, if you don’t, 10-ply means soft), called Letterkenny. It’s a complete outlier Canadian show that streams on Hulu. It’s crude as hell, not for everyone, and likely draws more male viewers than women, but, damn if the show doesn’t have a ton of heart.
As male-centric as the show initially comes off, it surprisingly portrays women in such an honest way. For example, there’s an episode where the guys on the show were all freaked out about getting prostate exams and one of the female characters basically took them through —using one of the guys as a stand-in woman —what a pelvic exam was like, and last week, Letterkenny aired a special episode to honor International Women’s Day. Instead of a typically commercialized estrogen-soaked episode, the women of the show held an “anti-beauty pageant,” for the Least Congenial Award. Each contestant told honest stories about disgusting things she had done in her past, competed in the filthiest mouth competition because, f*ck, women curse too, and a fashion show of extreme tackiness. The competition devolved into discussions about body fluids, stories about crazy sex romps, and adventures that definitely tickled the gag reflexes. Yet at the same time, as a woman, this episode made me feel seen. Finally, women were discussing their own humanity and just how disgusting, liberated, and free-thinking we can be with our choices and our bodies without an ounce of shame or apology. Women sweat, fart, we poop, sniff our armpits, and are at an agency with both our bodies and minds. Sometimes we choose to take the guy, or girl, home, and we maybe aren’t all looking for International Women’s Day to be some patronizing hair braiding session. So let’s talk about the fact that sometimes we as women do get a little rank.
Letterkenny Gives An Education on Getting a Pap Smear
Very Funny but NSFW
The Carry-On. Man vs. Woman
Next, the whole carry-on thing. While I am a huge proponent of it for the fact that nobody wants to waste time at the baggage carousel, to deal with potentially lost luggage, or dragging a monster-sized bag around, let’s do a little comparing between what it means for a woman and a man to fly. A man’s toiletries are usually comprised of this: a small tube of toothpaste and toothbrush, razor (maybe), shaving cream (maybe), deodorant (God, I hope so), and a few other personal effects, like medications, vitamins, and what-not. Basically, it’s not a lot. You know he’s taking advantage of whatever shampoo and other stuff the hotel supplies. A woman on the other hand? When I travel, what takes up the most room is the endless supply of what I need to look halfway decent and that’s after I squirt my products into a smaller-sized container or toss my travel-size bottles into that ridiculous quart-sized bag we still have to adhere to. Of course, women’s clothes are usually more involved than a man’s limited work wardrobe which typically consists of khakis, which he probably needs just one pair, along with his few shirts, some underwear, and socks. He needs one pair of shoes, women need several. Tasking a woman to fit all she needs into a small carry-on is like asking a woman to jam an elephant into a sardine can.
So here we are. Women are finally at a place where we have no problem talking about the smells we emit with all of us trying to ‘bento box’ our suitcases to get them even smaller each time we pack. We showcase these skills as if we’ll get some sort of scouting badge for accomplishing this feat. I was with my friend last night who is in from out of town on business and with pride she showed me her suitcase, her packing cubes, her hacks, how little she brought with her, and how she travels with just one, you heard me right, one pair of underwear that she washes out nightly, these antimicrobial, quick-drying underwear from Exofficio that she washes out every night and are dry by morning. With the level of pride she had over this and my enthusiasm, you would have thought she just found water on Mars.
How to Keep Your Capsule Fresh When Traveling for Business
Given the packing pride everyone seems to have, members of the group and I were more than happy to share our tips. So without further ado.
Wash While Traveling
On the topic of washing while you go. Most people view using hotel laundering facilities like eating from the mini bar, you don’t do it unless you also use $100 bills to light your fireplace. However, it is an option. Yet, savvy companies know that people often need to lightly wash a few items and prefer not to trust outsiders with their laundry. With how little we want to pack, being able to throw a few things in the sink can be a game-changer. Sink Suds is TSA safe travel detergent that comes in premeasured packets and can be used in the sink. Most clothes will be dry by morning and a quick wash of some simple tops can keep them clean and your packing light.
Packing Natural Fibers vs. Synthetic Ones. Which is Better?
There seem to be two camps on this one. Some argue that packing synthetic fibers are the way to go because they wash up and dry fast, don’t wrinkle or require ironing, and are durable. The natural fiber camp, however, takes the position that synthetic fibers can trap odors, which is true and the reason I very rarely buy polyester tops. Once that odor smell bakes in, it’s basically impossible to get it out.
So who is right and who is wrong? Nobody really. It all boils down to one’s own body composition because sweat is actually odorless. Body odor occurs when sweat reacts with the bacteria that live on your own skin. In addition, some synthetic fibers now have anti-odor technology, which isn’t the same as moisture-wicking which just pushes moisture away but doesn’t control odor. Anti-odor, which is usually made of chemicals triclosan, triclocarban, or silver technology, blocks and kills odor-causing bacteria before it interacts with sweat. Unfortunately, however, most of the garments these fabrics are made out of are in athletic wear and, sadly, lose their effectiveness after multiple washings. There are also concerns about the safety of these chemicals and the potential damage to the endocrine system.
Good old hydrogen peroxide can be used as a substitution as an equally effective odor shield on clothing. You can give your clothing a soak in 1/2 a cup of hydrogen peroxide and enough water to submerge the garment, launder as usual and the shield will last for up to 70 washings. Despite an odor shield or not, those who stand firm in the synthetic camp most likely support these fibers because they don’t have a body composition that reacts as negatively to synthetic fibers as those who do.
If you stand strong in the natural fiber camp because of the reaction you get when wearing synthetics, wool is a hygroscopic fiber, meaning it readily absorbs moisture – up to 35% of its own weight – keeping the skin surface drier and discouraging bacterial growth. One New Zealand study which involved 13 skilled olfactory assessors found that wool fabrics on average retained 66% less body odor intensity than polyester fabrics and 28% less than cotton fabrics. If you have a lanolin allergy or general itchiness to wool, other fibers with the best anti-odor properties include cotton, bamboo, linen, hemp, or a blend of those fibers.
So, synthetic or natural? It’s really up to your body, but neither is wrong.
Freshening Spray, and Don’t Discount a Little Air
Back in the day, when I would go to Europe in the early 2000s, people would stand around the baggage carousel in Italy with cigarettes dangling from their mouths. My boss and I would have a nightly ritual where we would spray each other down with Fabreeze before getting undressed. We came home smelling like human ashtrays and needing our clothes to last two weeks in Europe, this solution worked. Freshening spray can keep your clothing from getting stinky and what I like about The Laundress’s Fabric Fresh spray is it doesn’t simply mask odors by adding scent. Its plant-based properties actually help to lift, neutralize, and remove the source of the odor.
You can purchase the travel-size bottle of Fabric Fresh spray here or purchase it with the travel pack which also includes the travel-sized Wash & Stain Bar, Crease Release Spray, Stain Solution, and Static Solution.
Also, don’t discount what airing your clothes out can do. Don’t throw your clothing back into your dark suitcase, drawers, or dark closet where bacteria likes to breed. Let your pieces air out, preferably inside out. And did you know that sunlight actually has sanitizing properties? Obviously, you won’t be able to hang your clothes on a clothesline, but if you can hang your clothes inside out near a sunlit window or if your room has a terrace, leave them in the sunlight for about 30 minutes and you will give your clothing an extra sanitizing boost.
Speaking of Spot Cleaning
First, pack a small bottle of baby powder. Oil stains will cripple your clothing and, yes, using powder to stop the oil stain may put your wardrobe piece completely out of commission for the rest of your trip, but it will save that piece from being completely ruined forever. I told the story a few years ago about how baby powder saved my husband’s suit from being ruined when an entire quart of oil-based salad dressing spilled all over it. Powder or cornstarch is just about the only thing that will save your clothing from an oil stain, so throw a small bottle in your bag.
In addition to possibly considering The Laundress’s Stain Spray, a Facebook Group member recommended Naturally It’s Clean Stain Eraser; and does anyone ever really travel without a Tide Stick in hand?
I never wear sweaters or synthetic tops without a cotton underlayer. I launder my wool and cashmere sweaters maybe twice a season and because my synthetic tops tend to get stinky easily, I also will always layer a cotton tank beneath to create a barrier between my skin and the man-made fibers or to extend the wear between washing my knits. Up until this point, I was just buying cotton tanks until everyone was raving about Wool X’s merino layering tanks. And given what we all know about the absorbency of wool, I just might have to check them out.
In addition to this, a member recommended Source Vitál Apothecary Deodorant spray that she sprays in places like her underarms and “underboobage.”
Pack more Soft Pieces and Less Hard Pieces
When I travel or pack a client for travel, I pack more soft pieces than hard pieces. Soft pieces are your tops and knits which sit closer to the skin and get soiled faster, while hard pieces are your tailored pieces like pants and jackets don’t. Tops take up less room than the tailored pieces so I tend to pack more of them. Nobody notices if you wear the same pants or even jackets more frequently if they are basic enough.
Here’s what I know. #1- People are for the most part too narcissistic and too concerned about what you think about what they are wearing and barely remember what you wore. If you wear the same pants every day they probably won’t notice. #2- Murphy’s law dictates, if you pack only enough tops for your trip you will get an irreversible and impossible to remove the stain on one of them. #3- You will fall out of interest in wearing at least one thing you packed so having a backup will be smart for that reason alone.
Ultrasonic cleaning device travel
I was this many days old when I learned that an ultrasonic cleaning device existed. Recommended by a Facebook Group member, an ultrasonic cleaning device is a handheld device and uses sonic vibration, much like a sonic toothbrush, to get clothing, among anything else that you can submerge in water, clean. It’s easy to pack in a suitcase and use in a sink. A word of caution, do your research on these products because according to this group member, there are many cheaply made devices on the market that don’t do what they claim. The video I am sharing from Sonic Soak is to show how ultrasonic cleaners work. While this product looks like it could be from a reputable company, I haven’t done a thorough vetting to stand fully behind it.
Use Panty Liners Inside Shirts to Absorb Sweat
When someone made the suggestion to put panty liners inside the armpits of a top I sort of laughed wondering if this person had ever heard of dress shields, a popular item in the ’70s when cheap polyester was all the rage and deodorant wasn’t as tough as it is today. Dress shields still exist though they aren’t nearly as popular. However, I thought more about this suggestion. We’ve all been caught off guard in moments where we catch a whiff and, uh oh, we’re a bit ripe. This is when we get the stress sweats.
Stress sweat is actually a completely different type of sweat and it’s a lot more pungent. When your body temperature rises because it is hot, your autonomic nervous system signals your eccrine glands to release sweat. This sweat is mostly made of water, with traces of salt and lipids to cool you down. The other glands, the Apocrine glands, are larger and produce the majority of stress-related sweat. Apocrine glands tend to be thicker and richer in proteins and lipids. The fats and nutrients in this type of sweat combine with the bacteria that live on your skin, resulting in body odor. Well, no nearby convenience store on the planet earth is going to stock dress shields but you can bet there will be one somewhere that will stock panty liners which makes the suggestion of using them as shields on the fly a great one for those moments where you notice you’re not as fresh as you wish you were.
Whether you are heading to a business conference like this Facebook Group Member or just looking to keep it cool, I hope these tips will keep your pits dry, your clothes unstained, and your packing light. I’m off to pick up some Woolx tanks, and some panty liners.