Sooner or later, the day will come when you have to do some laundry on the road. Or buy some new clothes (which, by the way, is not the stupidest idea you’ll come across – more on this below).
If the very thought of dealing with laundry abroad has stopped you from that dream Round-the-World trip – or even if you are just strangely (and disturbingly) curious about other people’s laundry arrangements – here are my tips for keeping on top of the dirty washing while living out of your luggage.
Wash your clothes in the sink
The classic method, loved by every backpacker and budget traveller. You’ll need soap powder (available in small packets in many countries), or failing that, just soap, and off you go.
Drawbacks? Let’s just say the plumbing in many cheap hotels in lots of countries isn’t always up to the job – I have been on the wrong end of a furious rapping at the door and an indignant hotelier before now, so try not to kill the drainage with endless rinsings. If you’ve got serious stuff to clean – a pair of jeans, say – then take them in the shower with you and give them a good stomping. Works a treat!
If you’ve been to Asia or southern Europe you’ll know that many hotel and hostel sinks come with plug holes – thanks, very useful – but…hang on a minute, no actual plugs. Buy a travel plug, fits any sink – available in every airport.
Clothes washed, hang them out – job done!
Except it’s not always that easy. Some countries can be funny about people drying their clothes on the balcony, seeing it as almost a slur on their cultural heritage. And there is always the chance of an unfortunate gust of wind…
I hang things on the backs of chairs, and point the chairs towards maximum sun. And other things go over wardrobe doors, and on wardrobe hangers hung from balconies, drawer knobs and shower rails. But if you want to be really clever, take a travel washing line – you’ll find them in camping stores – which you can string from balcony to bed-post, or tree to tree if you’re camping.
Don’t ever use the hotel laundry service
That nice hotel will have a laundry list with a lot of check-boxes for improbable things like ‘handkerchiefs’ and ‘cummerbunds’, and if you get everything washed and ironed by the franchised-out laundry service you will have an entire set of nice clean clothes – and a bill that’s the equivalent of having gone out to a designer store and bought an entire set of nice clean new clothes.
Of course, if you think a Snickers bar costing $10 from the mini-bar is a bargain, go right ahead.
But do use the guest house laundry service
Backpacker guest houses around the world tend to offer a laundry service and it’s nearly always amazing value. Once you get over the slightly Third World-First World issue of having your host deal with your filthy laundry, you get back an immaculately cleaned and folded set of clothes – even on the same day, if you are lucky enough to be in a country that’s just damn hot all the time. They make some direct-to-their-business money, you get clean clothes. Win win.
Hang out at the launderette
If there’s no guest house service, this is my preferred option every time. So it’s not free, like washing in the sink, and it’s a bit more effort, but look upon it as cultural tourism – you get a bit of local interaction and clean clothes into the bargain.
Anyone can tell you where the local launderette is – your hotel, the tourist office, other travellers – and nine times out of ten, when you get there, they will also offer a service wash option, meaning you don’t have to deal with the machines yourself, if you don’t want to. Hand over the bag, come back a few hours later and shell out a few euros or dollars and you’re done.
Worried that you don’t speak the language? My unfailing travel experience is that if you walk into a laundry service with a bag of laundry and hold the bag of laundry up to the laundry operative, perhaps adopting a nonchalant but quizzical air (though the nonchalant but quizzical air is not essential) – you will get your laundry washed. Worry not.
If all else fails, buy new clothes!
Seriously. Just pack fewer things to start with and count on buying stuff while you’re away. You’ll still have to do laundry, but maybe not quite as often as you thought if you start out with just two or three T-shirts.
Pretty much anywhere you travel will have markets with cheap clothes, and the absolute bonus of travelling around Asia, say, is that after a month or two you will have a fine selection of T-shirts that say ‘Bartt Simson Crazy Man’ and ‘Hello Kotty Why You Cry?’
Looking for more great Jules Told Me travel tips?
Here’s how to read your guidebook – who knew you needed tips for that?
5 things you should never travel without – this list will surprise you!
Finding a great local restaurant – not always easy, here’s how
Header image: Laundry Day by Carol Mitchell, via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0
Laundry Room by Mike King, via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0
Laundry day in Venice by O Palsson, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0
Hanging out laundry by Noodles and Beef, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0
Laundry Time by Josh Tremper, via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0