Washing clothes while travelling can be a tricky task if you don’t know what all the options are where you are in the world. I’ve made all the mistakes you can in this game. I’ve lost favourite clothing items, dyed a whole batch of clothes a lighter shade of pink and on my DIY laundry days I’ve shrunk my jeans so small that it looked like I was paying tribute to Bowie as the Goblin King in the Labyrinth movie.
I’m comfortable now with my laundry situation, and often it’s a case of doing the best that you can with your temporary environment. Ergo, let’s get down and dirty so that we can continue to travel the world whilst still smelling (reasonably) lovely. I’ve catered for all budgets as well as for expats/digital nomads who may travel at a slower pace than the fast and furious budget backpackers.
Washing Clothes While Travelling Yourself
When in doubt and completely off the grid, washing clothes yourself is often the only option you’ve got. The beauty of this method is that you save money and know exactly where your laundry is. That might sound weird, but you never know with laundry services whether you will get absolutely everything back. That being said, a laundry service is definitely a step up from a bar of soap in your hotel or hostel sink but there when you have time or budget restraints – the DIY method is king.
When I first left home and was a clueless backpacker I would just put my clothes in water and go crazy with a bar of soap over them and then squeeze and rub them together to work it in before rinsing.
That is so old school and thanks to trailblazing people and companies it doesn’t have to be that messy anymore. You should always travel with a good, portable washing line, TSA-approved laundry soap sheets (Check out this article to read more about TSA products) and a kitchen/bath sink plug in case you need to wash your own clothes.
The line can be put up in your bathroom, or you might even luck out with a balcony and hot, sunny weather – resulting in your very own express laundry service. The laundry soap sheets are revolutionary. I used them last year in rural Mexico and I’ve been telling everyone about them ever since. I’m thinking about starting a cult.
The extra beauty of these items is that they barely take up any room in your luggage and can be a godsend when you actually do need them. The laundry sheets are good for 25 big loads of laundry.The plug is a good travel friend, as some hotels have bathtubs without them and some AirBnB apartments don’t have them in the sink for when you ned to wash up.
Important note: The self-sufficient method is more problematic for travellers at the higher end of the vanity spectrum, as some clothes will be more creased than they would be with the other methods suggested below. Personally, I travel with a mini travel iron, and I also choose to travel with clothes that don’t have the propensity to have stubborn creases as well as those whose wrinkles drop out in the heat.
Overall pros of washing the laundry yourself: Saves money and you can do it anytime.
Overall cons of washing the laundry yourself: Takes time in the wash/dry cycle. Certain types of clothes will be very creased with this method.
Finding laundry services anywhere in the world isn’t too difficult and can actually be a way for many locals in developing countries to make a living. Depending on where you’re travelling laundry can be done for as little as $2 per kilo, which is fairly reasonable when you think about the time and hassle you’re saving yourself in terms of hand-washing it all in your hostel sink.
Most hotels, hostels, guesthouses and even random, sweet locals off the street can offer laundry services – the issue being that you need to pay of course, and it can take time depending on the amount of other people’s laundry that they have to do. Items can occasionally go missing or be shrunk by accident. However, if you’re out in the sticks and stuck for laundry with no time to do it yourself, hiring a dear old granny to wash your clothes is an excellent way to help support the local economy.
Overall pros of using a laundry service: Can do a better job than you, and helps support the local economy.
Overall cons of using a laundry service: Items can be misplaced or shrunk, it costs money, and can sometimes be difficult to find depending where you are.
Using coin–operated machines is one of the most common ways to do laundry in many parts of the world. This is both a pro and a con in some ways, as in certain areas this just isn’t an option meaning you’re left either washing your clothes yourself or having to rely on a laundry service to get the job done. The best bet for finding coin–operated machines is to look in bigger urban centres like towns or cities and by asking around, especially in more commercial areas.
There are a variety of pros and cons to using coin–operated machines, including the cost being somewhat higher depending on the amount of laundry you need to have done, as well as the fact you need to often bring or buy your own laundry detergent which can increase the cost. The upside to coin–operated machines is that you get those clothes as clean as you would at home, especially if there is a dryer to hand that can dry your clothes using fabric–softening sheets and the like – a true treat when you’ve been on the road for months at a time!
Overall pros of using a coin–operated machine: Just like home, does a good job.
Overall cons of using a coin–operated machine: The cost associated with it, and generally just finding them.
There you go, no more excuses for whiffy wanderers with this washing clothes while travelling. Hopefully this cheat sheet will help you stay fresh and clean and looking sharp while you’re out exploring all the world has to offer.