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Of course I could fly first class on an airline that provide on-board showers. Since I lack the funds, that is not an option for me.

The scenario is as follows:

Your plane leaves in the evening. During the day you just enjoy the city, but it appears to be just a bit more sunny than you expected. Since you already checked out from your hotel, you are not able to take a shower before heading for the airport. At the airport, the showers are unavailable due to technicalities. You then buy some tax-free aftershave to freshen up. You then have a 12 hour flight, after which you have to transfer between terminals in a packed bus while it is 30 degrees Celsius. When you board your connecting flight, you realize that a cocktail of 24 hours of dried sweat and 12 hours dried aftershave just do not add up and that the people sitting next to you on the connecting flight are going to have a very uncomfortable flight.

Is there anything you can do to prevent this awkward situation?

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No puzzle here. 1) everybody's a bit stinky at the end of a long flight so we're all equal which makes not so awkward. 2) you can wash your armpits in the plane's toilet and change into the spare shirt in your carry on luggage. 3) once you've de-planed there's more spacious bathrooms in the airports when you can freshen up a bit more thoroughly. After you collect your checked luggage you can even get to those dangerous items like shampoo and toothbrush (-: –  hippietrail Sep 20 '13 at 4:05
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I have pre-departure but post-checkout showers all the time in all kinds of hotels, hostels, guest houses. I'm at the cheap end but it would surprise me if cheap places offer more services. Just ask, but it probably won't be the shower in the room you checked out of. For all the other points carrying deodorant and spare T-shirts in your daypack / cabin bag and washing your armpits at public restrooms is good enough and more than some people would do. –  hippietrail Sep 20 '13 at 5:20
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Mark's answer has already pointed this out, but it's often quite easy to shower at a lounge while waiting for a connecting flight. Most of them are very reasonably priced, if you consider that you get "free" food and drinks too (e.g. I recently paid 30 EUR for one in Frankfurt). This can work wonders if you have a short second flight following and / or you've brought along a change of clothes. –  Daniel B Sep 20 '13 at 7:23
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or just realise that most people you're traveling with will have their noses malfunctioning just as much as yours because of the dry air in the cabin, and will reek just as much after having been stuck in airport waiting lounges (which are always too hot) and security lines for hours and hours before their flight. –  jwenting Sep 20 '13 at 8:25
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@DanielB: Yeah Mark, bless him, can't resist answering even when answers are really too obvious (-: 30 euros is reasonable? Wow that's almost my reasonable 3-day total living expenses. Subjectivity and all that (-; –  hippietrail Sep 20 '13 at 13:48

8 Answers 8

up vote 19 down vote accepted

Short answer, no -- not really.

You could always take a change of clothes (or at least a different top) in your carry on and attempt to freshen up in the toilets. Take some wet wipes too. You could also try and find a shower in the city before heading to the airport. Depending what airport you're in there may be a way to pay for lounge / shower access -- if there's a transit hotel they let you pay for a room for an hour.

However, I really wouldn't worry about it that much. If you can change at least some of your clothes it'll make a big difference but your sense of smell is significantly dulled in flight so once you're airborne I doubt people will notice. And planes are generally pretty smelly anyway (although you never really notice until you land and you leave). If you're really worried about it try to get a seat with noone beside you (reserve a seat at the back of the plane, don't check-in too early, check the seat plan when you check in and change seats if it looks like there's a better chance of getting an empty seat beside you).

Also, don't use the aftershave. Or any other way to mask the scent. Putting on deorderant in the morning before everything is fine. But I'd much rather sit next to someone who's organically a bit wiffy than someone who's tried to douse that in aftershave. The first I'll get used to after a while, the second is likely to give me a headache and make the flight much less enjoyable.

But thanks for worrying about it -- most people don't (which is why you probably shouldn't too much either).

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+1 for mentioning how aftershave can give headaches to others. –  mskfisher Sep 20 '13 at 12:26

There's good reason why we shower and use deodorant - it's difficult to hide that smell (plus you feel better after one).

However, given that wasn't an option, there are a few key points. The smell is trapped mainly in certain areas on the body - key sweat points:

enter image description here (source)

So if you want to reduce the smell, you want to target those areas. (Note, those are not directly sweat glands, but represent pores - some for hair follicles, some for sweat, but the two usually have some correlation.)

The body

As shown above, there are certain regions which sweat and smell more.

  • If you get a few minutes, go to a washroom and handwash some of the key things. You can't get a full shower, but it'll certainly help, and freshen you up.
  • carry a wash-cloth for this purpose, it'll make it easier than using your hands.
  • baby-wipes go a long way, take up little room, and disinfect as well.

  • Carry an extra can of roll-on deodorant (spray ones will get confiscated by security). Use on targeted areas.

The clothes

Sweat and dirt seeps into the clothing, adding to the layers of stench. Do something about this:

  • Keep a spare shirt at minimum, which you can change to, and stuff your dirties inside an plastic bag into your carry-on.
  • If possible, carry other spare clothes, targeting those that touch your skin first.

And as a bit of humour at the end, above all, do not try to hide smells by lighting a match on a plane. Heck, don't even take matches onto a plane!

Footnote: even if the general showers at the airport are out of action, if you have access to a lounge (or as in the case with some airports, can pay to get into said lounge), they may have showers you could use instead.

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add spare socks, or better yet go barefoot wearing sandals or flip flops. Wet feet in warm shoes and socks are a major source of body odour (and not just uncomfortable but unhealthy for yourself as well). Might not look too fashionable, but is much more comfortable and healthy both. –  jwenting Sep 20 '13 at 8:28
    
I find the lack of exercise on a flight means feet aren't a problem unless you're a stinkyfoot type person. And if you are a stinkyfoot type person then spare socks won't cut it - you'll want odour-absorbing insoles or just don't take your shoes off. Armpit smell seems to be the major part of air travel body odour and it's the smell that's easiest to deal with in the confines of a plane. –  hippietrail Sep 20 '13 at 13:53

I always leave my luggage with the hotel during the day after I check out. Before the flight I then change my clothes and freshen up. Hotel lobby toilets are generally cleaner and more peaceful than other public washrooms.

Then leave in good time for the airport. I sweat more when I am stressed so I avoid rushing to the airport. (Hotels are also a good source of well maintained, air-conned taxis).

Make sure you have a change of clothes for each portion of the flight. Change to sleeping clothes when you get on board the long-haul flight, and then change to hot-weather clothes to catch the connection.

If you have a few seconds, stop by high-end perfume shops and try out the samples while connecting or waiting for the connection.

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+1 rushing = bad, air con = good, as far as sweat and later odour is concerned. –  hippietrail Sep 20 '13 at 13:54
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In some airports, Duty Free shops are accessible after you disembark. Pretend to try some of the perfumes. Spray on yourself to "see how it develops". –  Josh B Mar 2 at 12:40

Well, I happen to be one of those people who sweat buckets, emphasis on the s. So much that I asked the doctor about it and there is not much to prevent this but a few things can go a long way. We sweat to cool down and remove toxins, so your goal is to stay cool and consume less sodium (AFAIK salt is the major toxin but I'm not a doctor).

Staying Cool:

  • Open the A/C valve to the max, usually on the ceiling of the plane. It is cold and creates circulation which is also good. Better be cold than hot and avoid using the typical polyester blanket supplied on some flights.
  • Choose clothes that keep you fresh. Loose fitting natural fibers are often recommended and work best for me. Microfiber is also good and some people recommend bamboo fiber, which I have not tried. Polyester makes me sweat almost instantly but I'm sure you can try to figure out what keeps you freshest.

Staying Fresh:

  • Deodorant first, preferably an antiperspirant so it actively reduces perspiration. If you are not using that, you considerably reduce your chances of smelling acceptable.

  • Body spray. It's like a perfume, usually very light smelling for the entire body. There may be others but here Axxe comes in bottles small enough to be taken on planes. After it wears off, reapply in the lavatories. I've even gotten some nice comments from strangers about it.

  • Baby wipes. Once you are wet somewhere, it gets uncomfortable and smell increases. You can buy them in packs of 10 or 12 at most places selling travel-sized items. Again, use the lavatories to get cleaned up after hours. These are thick compared to toilet paper so dispose of them in the trash bin rather than the toilet. Baby wipes have a light scent and disinfecting properties which help reduce smell.

Other:

  • Avoid salty foods and keep the salt diluted by drinking plenty of water. Many women have commented to me that my sweat smells very little and I can only attribute it to drinking tons of water, usually about 12 cups per day. This may send you to the bathroom more often but more toxins will get out the other way.

  • Some foods make people smell and may cause gas. If you have not managed to avoid them or still have a problem, chewing gum helps with the former. For the latter, take Ovol which is available in chewable tablets. Adults can take up to 500 mg or so, but try one before being on a plane, just in case it does not agree with you.

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I've often done similar things to the situation you describe in your question, but I've rarely ended up with the same problem you have. I think with a few small tweaks you might be able to get round it too...

Firstly, if you're going to spend the day doing anything in a city before a flight, you'll probably want to shower and change. Doesn't seem to matter to me what the temperature was predicted or actually, a day of doing stuff is enough. A shower freshens you up, helps de-stress etc. I'd say always plan to take one.

How though? Well, if you've been staying in a hostel, just ask at checkout. There's always some showers not in rooms, and I've never had issues with leaving my bags there, coming back later, showering and changing then leaving. You may even get a key for the communal areas too in the day. At hotels, I always speak to them around breakfast time. I explain that I'm going to want to do something in the day, then freshen up before finally departing, and ask if I can perhaps get access to the gym / sports facilities / etc to do that. Some times they'll give me a key when I checkout and leave my bags. Other times, they'll check the systems and give me a late checkout - asking at breakfast time seems to make this a lot more likely than asking at checkout time. Sometimes I can get a late checkout that's late enough for what I really wanted, often it's close enough (eg leaving on the airport bus at 6.30pm, late checkout until 5pm then wifi code + sit in lobby for a bit until the bus).

If that wasn't possible, eg the airport is in a different city to the hotel the night before, then try to shower at the departure airport. This might mean you'll need to pay for lounge access (assuming you weren't organised and didn't pick a flight where you'd get lounge access anyway), or might mean paying for dedicated showers, or might even mean an hour at an airport hotel. Can normally be done. That'll leave you fresh and de-stressed before boarding, which'll help a lot.

On arrival, if you have arrivals lounge access, great, job done! Otherwise check for a paid arrivals lounge, or an airport hotel - some airport hotels do a cheap rate for access to their sports facilities and a breakfast. If not, go straight to your hotel when you get into town. At the very least, you can then leave your bags before you go sightseeing. If it's a hostel, you'd be able to shower there, just ask and explain. At a hotel, say something like "Hi, I know I'm really early and checkin isn't for hours, but any chance I could grab a quick shower and then leave my bags for the day?". If they're not busy, they'll often sort you out with an early checkin then and there, especially if you ask in the local language. If not, you can normally get a pass to the gym, or worst case they might let you borrow a room that someone has just checked out of that hasn't been cleaned yet - it's better than nothing!

Another thing is to have a partial change or two of clothing with you. Even if nothing else is on offer, having a "sparrow bath" in the toilets at the airport then putting on clean socks and a clean tshirt can make a big difference to how you feel and smell. Probably best to take one of those microfibre towels with you if you do that though, as drying yourself off with some kinds of hand driers / paper towels can be "interesting"...

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I'd say it has been over 20 trips since I last had a problem where none of these worked! Either I'm lucky, or you've been unlucky... –  Gagravarr Sep 20 '13 at 15:03

Yes, you can get rid of body odor using a waterless washcloth (+ change clothes). Don't try to cover it with perfumes or deodorants.

They are moisturized sponges that require no rinsing or towel (it evaporates quite fast).

It is mainly produced for those who cannot use a shower - like the disabled and elderly - and they leave your skin as clean as after a shower or even better, since some are anti-bacterial as well.

Normally, you can buy them at pharmacies or specialty stores and each won't cost you more than a one-digit dollar figure. That's much cheaper than that 1st class ticket with in-flight shower.

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What I usually do after a long flight is head straight for the restroom at the airport.

Brush my teeth, put on some more deodorant, and maybe even change my shirt if I think I really smell.

Then I go collect any checked luggage (if any) and head out into town. This usually makes me feel "fresh" enough until I get a chance to actually clean up at my hotel/destination.

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Yep. Often there's a restroom pretty close to the luggage carousel. I'll use that one since my luggage is not always the first off the plane. –  hippietrail Sep 24 '13 at 1:39

Wear odor-resistant clothing. Merino wool is a personal favorite, but there are many fibers that don't smell after a long sweaty day. I typically wear a merino-wool t-shirt and socks, and synthetic odor-resistant underwear. My shirt won't smell bad after multiple uses, even on the hottest/sweatiest of days. And I don't have to worry about removing my shoes--my socks won't smell bad, either.

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