Traveling with Business Attire in Your Carryon

How to pack without wrinkles: I hate checking bags, though a checked bag maybe a large garment bag would probably be the best way to pack suits and avoid wrinkles. If I had to wait around half an hour on each end of a trip, did just two trips a month, then I’m literally wasting more than a month of my life at baggage claim. And that’s if the bag is delivered each time instead of lost.

A large carryon is ideal, most airlines allow 22″ (Alaska Airlines actually allows 24″). But I prefer to go smaller, I really don’t need to travel with that much stuff on a trip that’s four days or less, and I prefer to be as flexible as possible fitting my bag into an overhead bin, whether sitting on the left had side of an MD80 with a smaller bin or just not boarding the plane at the very front of the line. Since I hate checking bags, I also hate gate checking them.

I also don’t iron.

My go to solution for suits has always been steam from the shower — put the suit on a hanger inside the bathroom, usually on the back of the bathroom door (when there’s a hook), turn the shower on full blast, as hot as it goes, and shut the bathroom door. The steam will release most of the wrinkles. Of course, the suit is a bit damp but it dries quickly. And it takes care of most of the wrinkles in shirts.

I used to ask my dry cleaner to box my dress shirts instead of returning them to me on hangers, I probably should do that still, it always seemed like I was hassling them when I asked.

I do try to pack my suits to minimize wrinkles. There are a few methods to do it. Here are some illustrations:

This method is a little simpler, I don’t find it’s quite as good but it’s easy to do and the goal really is just to minimize wrinkles (so a quick steam does the trick) rather than eliminating them entirely.

Something I’ve been using lately is Downey wrinkle releaser, a 3 ounce bottle is running $2.89 at (free shipping on $25+ orders, miles through shopping portals). It works, it fits in my freedom baggie, I hold the bottle about six inches away and spray on the suit, I tug at the frabric to pull out the wrongles and smooth over the fabric. It gets the suit a bit wet but dries quickly. Though I hate adding anything to my freedom baggie…

How do you minimize wrinkles during business travel?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Have had success travelling with a garment bag as my personal item (in addition to the carryon). Sometimes the FA will even proactively hang it in the closet for me.

  2. I was reading along, excited to be able to share a wonderful tip. Then I get to the last paragraph and find that you discuss Downey Wrinkle Remover. So I’ll just second the thought… it’s great for travelers.

  3. My favorite: I like to stay at Omni Hotels. They offer free pressings even for base-level guests who sign up for the Select Guest program (2 items), and unlimited pressings for Black level (30 nights).

    Second choice: I use a “suit folder” which does a great job. I also hate checking bags, including gate checking, so I use a duffle bag, which perfectly fits the suit folder in the bottom. Can even use the bins on United’s EMB-45s without wrinkling my shirts.

  4. If you spend a lot of time trying to minimize wrinkles the time spent at baggage claim may not be so bad. Also, why not load up an iPod with a book or two so you don’t have to stand there doing nothing for 30 minutes? I wouldn’t call that time completely wasted.

  5. “turn the shower on full blast, as hot as it goes, and shut the bathroom door”

    I was taught to turn off the water, lights, and anything else I wasn’t actively using. Then again, I was also taught how to iron my own clothes. Guess you missed class on the day they explained that natural resources like fresh water come from finite resources? Or is this more about your proud devotion to #FirstWorldArrogance?

  6. Take your suit or dress shirts and then cover and place them in plastic bags you get from the dry cleaners. Then place the suit into a suiter bag( you should receive one of these when you buy your suit).You can then fold the suits and shirt and either place them into your carry on. What is even better is to place them into a garment bag. I have this Tumi which can be attached to the top of a rolling computer bag, and it is great.

  7. @MS I don’t waste timing minimizing wrinkles, as I say I can steam in the shower while doing plenty of other things like getting ready, working on my computer in the room, etc.

  8. I get rid of wrinkles by using an iron. I iron what I need for the next day the night before, generally while I’m talking to my wife at the end of the night, so no wasted time.

    I agree with others above that turning on the shower full blast just because you don’t iron (why not?) is wasteful (unless you’re taking a shower at the same time, which it doesn’t sound like you’re doing).

  9. I use a garment steamer for my suits at home, so before I go on the road I’ll steam the suit, place it in a plastic from the dry cleaners (unless it has already been dry cleaned and pressed, if so I just leave it in the bag), then place it in the garment carrier that fits in my rollaboard. At the hotel, I’ll hang the suit as soon as I get to the room, then use the hot shower technique prior to wearing it.

    I find shirts don’t travel as well, so I try to fly with at least one ‘non-iron’ shirt just in case, though they don’t fit as nicely as my custom shirts. Complimentary press service at some hotels is helpful too, but I never send suits.

    @Dax – More often than not, or at least for some amount of time, I’m actually in the shower while my suit is steaming on the bathroom door. I can’t say I’m terribly environmentally-conscious but at least that’s not a complete waste!

  10. if its a short trip ( not international), I wear my suit. otherwise a carry on suit bag and a few shirts that are folded from the cleaners do the trick for me.

  11. First, I don’t mind checking bags, but I do agree that the sense of freedom one gets from carrying on a bag does feel good.

    At any rate, I have a special Tumi garment bag that came with my carryon. It’s very good because it’s narrow and has some sort of frame around it that allow it fold very compactly and fit in my carryon.

    I’ve looked on and I don’t think they sell this garment bag separately.

    Shower works ok, but can take a while. I find the wrinkle-release sprays to work pretty well.

  12. Use a tri-fold garment bag as your carry-on, or buy a carry-on with an included garment sleeve or garment folder. I know Briggs and Riley make several variations of rolling bags that allow for suits. The other tricks are 1) buy no iron shirts 2) put each shirt in its own dry-cleaner bag 3) put your jacket over the shirts.

    The dry cleaner bags allow each item to move without friction, which helps prevent a lot of wrinkles. They weigh almost nothing so its well worth the “extra” weight and space.

    Oh, and most airlines will allow a straight garment bag (like what your suit or sport coat came in) as the personal item. They typically hang it in the closet at the front of the plane.

  13. I go through a ton of Wrinkle Releaser, so I’ve started making my own. 1 Tablespoon per cup of water works great!

  14. I steam my clothes as I shower, just as Gene suggests, which I find a good use of both time and resources.

    Simply locking your clothes in a shower while wasting both energy and water seems like the hight of arrogance, especially as the world grapples with shortages and deadly conflict surrounding the scarcity of both resources.

  15. @Andrew actually probably most of the time I’m doing this while showering, but sharing stories of me in the shower wasn’t what i was going for with this blog post..

  16. I guess I never let the military training leave me because I just don’t feel right unless I have ironed my shirts (yes.. complete with proper creases). I do fold them to minimize wrinkles, but even if they don’t have a wrinkle on them I still iron my shirt and trousers each morning. It is part of my morning routine.

    As I type this I realize I sound like a real fuddy duddy. Oh well, at least I don’t iron my jeans right?

  17. @Gary: So let me get this straight. You’re turning up the water “as hot as it will go” while taking a shower with this same water? How exactly does that work? This isn’t about your new false modesty angle; it’s about your blatant disregard for responsible consumption. Being irresponsible with your own choices is one thing, but calling for others to follow your “who cares?” lead is on a whole other level.

  18. @Dax If you REALLY want to hear about my shower routine, it’s as hot as it will go before I get in. I may get out and check the suit, if wrinkles aren’t gone then I might let it keep going turned back up. And I generally take a pretty hot shower. Did you really want to know that? And where did I ‘call on others’ to do anything?

  19. Dax, I think you need to relax. I don’t think one guy letting the water run is going to kill anybody. Unless you’re at a hotel in Africa or Asia that has limited hot water and there are actual wars being fought over it. At the Hilton Garden Inn in Sheboygan, this is not a crisis.

    I have a Briggs and Reilly bag that has that trifold thing that comes out of the inside top of the suitcase. It seems to do alright. Do others not use that thing? I hope it’s for suits. I’ll look into the wrinkle spray. Good call.

    I wish I could afford that Tumi Garment Bag. It’s beautiful.

  20. I do the same thing. If I property offers a steamer, I’ll use that. Otherwise it’s hanging in the bathroom while I take a hot shower. The trick is shaving first, both for the mirror not fogging up and to clean the shaven area while showering.

  21. I usually go with the hanging it in the bathroom and turning on the hot water trick which works well enough, but I don’t usually have the suit packed in a carry on – for whatever reason, I usually only need a suit on longer trips.

  22. For a second I thought I was back in flyertalk with the “I’m right, you’re wrong” comments going back and forth.

    I press my suit with river rocks because the iron uses electricity which I find a wasteful use of natural resources if the only result is that I’m wrinkle free. The rocks don’t work well but I feel good about it.

  23. @Gary: I would like to think you’re aware that folks are out here following your advice as written, in fact that’s why many of us come to your blog in the first place. I have no idea why suggesting people actually USE the shower (at a reasonable temperature) while steaming their wrinkled clothes would be considered irrelevant or taboo in your view. Most of your blog is very helpful for those of us who don’t live and breath frequent customer programs. However, some of your advice really makes me cringe, such as the buy-and-return scam you mentioned in a recent post on clearing spend requirements. Your post was already plenty helpful without bringing up intentional deceit by credit card holders chasing points they can’t really afford. I know you said you didn’t specifically endorse these measures, but that’s rather small comfort after you planted hundreds or thousands of mental seeds.

    @Graham: It’s not just places like Africa that suffer from fresh water scarcity. Right here in Texas we’re suffering from enough drought that farmers are being prevented from watering their crops in order to keep major cities and infrastructure from running dry. Las Vegas could be as little as a decade or two of reckless water usage away from running out themselves. And they’re just the first of many metro areas that are at risk right here in the US.

  24. @Dax I thought the “buy and return” stuff that I do not endorse and do not do provided “color” and didn’t help anyone scam anyone, e.g. as I said Costco has cracked down on the practice, I only wrote about it after they stopped letting folks do it. But it’s still sociologically interesting, the way writing about past mistake rates/errors is interesting (to me, at least, YMMV). But I do employ steam from the shower to get creases out of my suits.

  25. Nice little backpedal by Gary. Turns the water on “as hot as it goes”, notes closing the door, and then expects us to believe he’s showering during that time. Ha!

    Just say you leave your suit in there to steam while you sit in the room. There’s no shame in that; one person isn’t going to bring the world to and end.

  26. Buy a small clothes steamer & take it with you. A cup of water & your wrinkles are gone. Our aquifers are drying up slow but sure.

  27. I usually travel with a full sized folded Samsonite garment bag, using the outside large compartment to carry my laptop computer in its own case. It’s officially illegal as a carry-on, but in practice I’ve never been stopped, and it fits in standard size overhead bins more conveniently than most 22 x 14 x 9 wheelies. (Full disclosure – when putting it in the bin I sometimes need to remove the laptop :-))

  28. For suits – the dry cleaning bag is magic. Coat and pants on one hanger, draped in a cleaning bag, folded in 3rds in packing sleeve that comes w/ most carryons.

    For shirts – eagle creek packing folder – best packing tool ever, delivers wrinkle free results.

    Haven’t ironed in years, and saves water 🙂

  29. You could ball up a Nordstrom SmartCare shirt and throw it in the bottom of your bag and it will come out perfect at the other end of your trip. Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but only just a little bit. They are awesome and I have perfect shirts and trousers out of my carryon without any ironing or sprays, steams etc.

  30. Am I the only one that doesn’t see how 1 hour of waiting x 2 trips per month (2 hrs/month) doesn’t really add up to 1 month/ year?

  31. @Pat that’s because I didn’t say a month per year, I said a month over the course of a (travel) life. 2 hours a month = a day a year. Over the course of 30 years that’s a month of life.

  32. UAPhil–why is your Samsonite garment bag “officially illegal” as carryon? I’m about to take a trip and I hjust bought the A. Saks Deluxe Expandable Tri -Fold Carry-On Garment Bag
    ( and I was going to use that as my personal item and then I have a regulatino size carry-on rolling suitcase. I should be ok right? Your comment got me nervous about my plan…

  33. HI,

    Just wanted to let you know there is a solution to the permanent anti theft hotel hangers. The ones without a hook.

    Google: convertahanger

    It’s a hook that will attach to the post on the hotel anti theft hanger. It will allow you to use the hangers anywhere in your room. Steam clothes, dry hand washable, soiled baby clothes.


  34. Nice! I should have read this post two weeks ago. Finally a good tip on how to pack those suits properly. I guss roling would be better?!
    Thanks for the post!

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