The ultimate CEO travel secret: Wash your underwear in the sink.

The ultimate CEO travel secret: Wash your underwear in the sink.


Road warrior and brand expert Bruce Turkel travels as a competitive sport. The CEO and executive creative director of marketing consulting firm Turkel Brands travels lightest.


Travel SecretI travel almost every week, but in fact I’m not traveling this week and it’s kind of shocking. Last week I was in New York for client meetings and to do a Fox Business correspondent gig in the studio instead of remotely. The week before I was in Massachusetts because my daughter is entering her third year of college. Next week I’m in Las Vegas speaking at a brand management camp. But this week I’m in Miami the whole week.

Figuring out how to hack my travel with tips and techniques has become more than a hobby, it’s almost an obsession. In our wedding vows I added to the traditional “better or worse, sickness or health, richer or poorer, only carry-on luggage.” I didn’t really—but I threatened to.

I was on a flight once and the woman in front of me kept slamming herself against the seat to get it to go back. The reason the seat wouldn’t go back is because my knees were there. I didn’t have any legroom. She finally called the flight attendant and said, “My seat won’t go back.” And I said, “The reason your seat won’t go back is because my legs are there.” The flight attendant said to me, “Sir, you have to move so she can put her seat back.” And I said, “OK, where would you like me to put my legs? We can consider the overhead compartment. Other than that I don’t really know where they’re going to go.” I promptly bought a knee defender. That was years ago, but I’ve never had the nerve to use it. I take it only for emotional support.

If you lean forward and say, “Look I’m almost 6’5”. Would you mind not leaning back quite so far?” Most people are pretty nice about it. I’ll offer to buy them a drink. But sometimes—especially on European airlines—when the people lean back, I could do dental work on them. I don’t put my seat back more than just a little inch, just to take the angle off, unless I turn around and there’s a sleeping child curled up in the seat, because I know how aggravating that can be.

I only wear three colors: gray, blue, and black. That way everything I take matches everything else. I always take knit silk ties and pocket squares with me, too. If you change your ties and the tone of your pocket square, it looks like you’re wearing a different outfit every day. That’s all anyone notices if you’re well dressed anyways.

I play the harmonica, so I also take a few harmonicas when I travel. I have found people to play with on the subways of Paris, on the streets on London, and in small towns in Provence. It always gets me invited to places and dinners. It’s great. Now if I played the cello, admittedly, it wouldn’t be quite as easy. But with the harmonica it’s quite easy.

“They love me at TSA when I get the random open bag inspection.
They open it up and say, “Oh my god. I wish everybody packed like this.”

My travel hero is Jack Reacher, a fictional detective in a series of 18 books by author Lee Child. He travels with just an ATM card and a folding toothbrush. When his clothes get dirty he throws them away and he buys new ones. I dig his travel routine. That’s my dream. But I would add a harmonica.

I have a collapsible down jacket that folds up into its own pocket. It’s essentially—when you smash it all down—the size of two pairs of socks. I take that no matter where I go because even if you’re going somewhere warm the airport is going to be freezing or the plane is going to be freezing. Even though I insist on traveling as light as possible, I even carry a down jacket if I’m going to the Caribbean or to Ibiza. It’s still jammed into my bag.

I always take button-down shirts because you can always wear them with a suit or you can wear them un-tucked with shorts. You can’t really do that with any other kind of shirt.

I am fastidious about packing. I use those little packing cubes and I organize everything. They love me at TSA when I get the random open bag inspection. They open it up and say, “Oh my god. I wish everybody packed like this.” Everything’s in a little pouch. Everything’s all nice and folded—all my cords and my cables. I’m a little psycho, as I said. But I’m OK with that! I accept myself for who I am. Travel is just so easy for me because I know exactly what I’m going to take at all times.

One of the things we’re responsible for is marketing Miami tourism. So all my suits have these little palm tree pins on them—every single one—so I’m never out of uniform. But I’ve noticed that TSA guys or hotel clerks, they always say, “Oh, I like your pin!” At which point I reach into my lapel, unhook it and give it to them. They love them. And I always get an upgrade. With hotels I get a nicer room or with rental cars I get a nicer car. Who knows what—you get something.

I really like Nooly, which is a weather app. It’s really cool because it tells you the weather in 5-minute increments. If I’m going for a run, for example, I don’t care what the weather is for the next eight hours. I care what the weather is now for the next 45 minutes. And it tells you. WeatherBug has a really cool feature called Spark that tells you if there’s lightning anywhere nearby.

“Here you have a guy who runs a company who’s traveling around washing his underwear in the sink
and then jumping on it. I get it. It’s funny. But you know what? I don’t care because I’m obsessed and it works.”

The app that I love more than any other app—I use it for travel, but it can be used for everything else—is Evernote combined with a system that I’ve learned online called, a series of 11 videos that show how to combine David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” (GTD) with Evernote as a master “to do” list to manage your inbox and your assignments and your travel and everything else. It is phenomenal. It runs my whole life. It’s a real pain in the neck at first but if you fight your way through it and get it set up, it becomes second nature. Like my email box, I have no emails in my email box. As I open one I transfer it to Evernote and tag it.

My dad passed away a few years ago and I took his briefcase and had it refurbished. I only use that bag and my suitcase. That’s nice, that I always have his bag with me. It’s a Tumi leather briefcase of some sort. It’s old. Now they have their own custom zippers and everything. It doesn’t even have those. But I sent it back to Tumi and they redid it. In fact the woman called me and said, “You want to spend $300 to redo this bag? You can probably get a new one for a little more.” I said, “Nope, that’s the one I want.” So they fixed it up. They put it on a new handle and some new straps and cleaned it up and it’s great.

I take a couple merino wool T-shirts because, believe it or not, they do not itch. They work in all temperatures and they don’t stink, so you can wear them more than once. We all like to wear cotton T-shirts but when you sweat in them they get heavy and wet—especially when you run—and you can’t dry them after washing, so you’ve got to find a replacement. Merino wool is unbelievable. At first I was completely skeptical. First of all, I live in Miami—I’m not from a wool-wearing state. I thought it would be itchy and uncomfortable and it’s not at all. You can wash it in the sink and it dries quickly.

I always take two pairs of ExOfficio travel underwear and I wash them in the sink every night. They don’t absorb moisture because they’re made of synthetic materials. But here’s the trick: You wring them out as best as you can by hand, then you take a big bath towel and lay it out on the floor—or on the bed if you’re a germophobe—and then you lay the clothes on them and roll it up like a burrito. It’s a layer of clothing, a layer of towel, a layer of clothing, a layer of towel. Then you lay this big roll on the ground and you jump on it, which transfers a lot of the water that’s left from the fabric into the towel. Then you unroll it and you hang the stuff up. It works. My wife laughs at me. My friends laugh at me. You laugh at me. It’s ok. I get it. It’s stupid. Here you have a guy who runs a company who’s traveling around washing his underwear in the sink and then jumping on it. I get it. It’s funny. But you know what? I don’t care because I’m obsessed and it works.

By |2014-10-05T10:00:43+00:00October 5th, 2014|21 Comments


  1. owen frager October 8, 2014 at 8:22 am - Reply

    As you know I don’t travel much but was trying to sit on my suitcase here in a NY hotel trying to get it to close with extra cotton t-shirts I had to buy due to the issues you describe. Timely and as always, insightful. Thanks. Owen from NYC

    • Bruce Turkel October 8, 2014 at 8:27 am - Reply

      I often have the same problem, Owen. But I usually can’t shut my suitcase because of all the nice, fluffy towels the hotel provides ;^)

  2. Shep Hyken October 8, 2014 at 12:15 pm - Reply

    Great travel ideas, Bruce. Really like the underwear washing idea. Someone once told me that you can get two days use of underwear by turning them inside out. I like your idea better!

  3. Morris Morrison October 8, 2014 at 12:39 pm - Reply

    Bruce you know that you are en effective story-teller when you can capture the “jumping on the underwear” moment so well that I felt like I was there with you. And the best part about it is that I am now considering a new purchase. #Awesome.

  4. Bill Mahoney October 8, 2014 at 1:08 pm - Reply

    Bruce…I recently went over 3M miles with only Delta counting in that number so I can truly relate to your travel rituals! Hadn’t thought about washing out underwear and jumping on it however and perhaps I’m too old for that and might hurt myself!
    Most of my traveling has been first class (great to own a closely held company!) so I’ve not had the “knee issue” very often. However, even in first it’s getting “crampy” now! (Hadn’t thought about putting my legs in the overhead however. Oh the imagine and vision runs wild!)
    Thanks for sharing Bruce…always enjoy your blog!!!

  5. John Calia October 8, 2014 at 1:17 pm - Reply

    I love this and share your obsession. Before rolling carry-ons, I was famous for fitting my running shoes in the upper corners of my Hartman hanging bag above each shoulder of my suit coat. But, I gotta tell ya… You have to be a CEO to be able to afford merino wool T-shirts!

    Glad you’re doing well. JC

  6. Stefanie Hochstadter October 8, 2014 at 1:45 pm - Reply

    You play the harmonica. I like you even more now Mr. Turkel…

  7. Diane Bello October 8, 2014 at 1:45 pm - Reply

    Such fun fare always. A great quick read in the middle of a muddling through day.

  8. Mike (Retired Mil Officer) October 8, 2014 at 3:02 pm - Reply

    This is the best article I have read in a long time and I am glad that someone else is so efficient and thoughtful of their travel habits…as I call them Tactic, Techniques and Procedures or TTPs! I laughed at the story of the legroom issue and firmly believe that in my travels to 25+ countries through the last 28 years I could write a slim read book on the observations of “others” who travel and validate what many are thinking as they sit in their seat during the boarding process or at the gate. In the end, travel can be quite humorous if you keep things in perspective. Aloha and Mahalo for the article. Mike

  9. al October 9, 2014 at 9:47 am - Reply

    I relate. I truly relate.

  10. Gerry Weber October 11, 2014 at 11:20 am - Reply

    Bruce, I have not yet self actualized in the packing department, however, I will continue to strive to be just like you.
    “Used to” love the Jack Reacher stories until Tom Cruise was cast as Jack in a recent movie. Totally destroyed the image Lee Child conjured. The sad thing is that Child approved of the casting. Moving along…nothing to read there anymore.

  11. Nicole Gallucci October 11, 2014 at 11:25 am - Reply

    Love the ideas but I am girl so the requisite complement of shoes and accessories also need to be planned for. There are some added essentials like makeup and skin care products (all in ziplock bags!) but I too have become very efficient at packing those things. And while i have many variations of the LBD (little black dress) i find scarves and jewellery (both light and easy to pack) critical in dressing up or down outfits
    I also always travel with a power bar and universal adapter as I have my phone(s) and laptop and often a hotel room cannot accommodate and adaptors are heavy!
    Anyhow, my added 2 cents from a girl’s perspective!

  12. Jim Fried October 11, 2014 at 12:01 pm - Reply

    you are the best! I loved when we discussed this on my show!

  13. Tom Buncle October 11, 2014 at 1:06 pm - Reply

    Great article Bruce and sound advice.

    The only other things I add as travel essentials, because I travel a lot in Europe and Africa, are a head torch (powercuts) and travel adaptor (different voltages). Forget either of those and I can’t even see to wash my underpants in the bucket!

  14. Charlie Rathburn October 11, 2014 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    This was great, Bruce! I usually take with me everythingg but the kitchen sink!

  15. Steve Morse October 11, 2014 at 3:16 pm - Reply

    Love the lapel pin upgrade. I was upgraded to first class Miami to Madrid over a bag of M&Ms. It really does work!

  16. owen frager October 11, 2014 at 6:03 pm - Reply

    Bruce, you’ll appreciate this. This “urban resort” I stayed in in NY had great shampoo and lotions in big square containers with pumps and a story with each one how they were made especially for them, including towels and sheets. They noted that all of these room appointments were for sale, “just take them with you and we’ll add $24 each to your bill but if you take the triple soft robe it will be $100.”

  17. Brian Walter October 12, 2014 at 1:01 pm - Reply

    So Bruce, why not START living your Jack Reacher life with your underwear? Buy a pair for each day you are on the road (those ExOfficio ones are super lightweight and will fit in our cube) and TOSS them each night? Jack would be proud.

  18. John Weed October 14, 2014 at 8:37 am - Reply

    Bruce, Glad you get a chance to enjoy home for a week. As a TWO Milllion Mile Flyer on United these tips are great. Still using your soap replacement recommendation for shaving cream. I also count on hotel amenities, so only carry disposable razor, toothbrush, mini toothpaste and high end cologne. Carry must have sneakers in shopping bag. Thanks for your additional advise.

    • Bruce Turkel October 14, 2014 at 9:12 am - Reply

      Good to hear from you John, and so glad you found the tips helpful. My desire is to make sure my posts are always useful, valuable, and enjoyable. After accumulating two million miles of your own you must have some pretty good tips to share, too. Why don’t you put some in a reply so everyone can learn from your great experience.

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