Our first week abroad, we made a rookie mistake. We let our dirty laundry pile up. It wasn’t until we were officially out of underwear that the thought occurred to us that, oh yeah, I guess we have to do laundry here. So, naturally, we packed our dirty clothes in plastic bags and hiked over to a laundromat we’d seen in the busy new town of Chania. There, we made the unfortunate realization that the use of their washing machines cost eight euros (12 bucks) per kilo. On our budget, that was the price of about four meals. Yikes.
We were even more dismayed to find, upon our return, that to dry the clothes would cost an additional eight euros per kilo. To put this in perspective, say you wanted to wash and dry five pounds of clothes. It would cost you forty euros or about SIXTY DOLLARS.
Which is why, on one sunny afternoon, we found ourselves heaving bags of soaking wet laundry through Greek city streets, back to our room, where we hung them out to dry.
Obviously, going forward, we adopted the tried-and-true backpacker routine of manually washing our wardrobes. Eventually, we honed our hand-washing skillz to perfection. For the benefit of fellow travelers, I’ve decided to share the process, in ten steps.
Step 1: Pretend that the hostel’s bathroom is clean. Find a sink.
Step 2: Fill the sink (or bathtub or bowl) with water, some sort of soap (laundry detergent is a luxury; it’s far too heavy to cart around. Shampoo or body wash work just as well), and your dirty clothes. You’ll need some sort of sink stopper (you can get a universal stopper at a travel store, though they never work great). A dirty sock works just as well.
Step 3: Walk away. Entertain yourself for about 15 minutes while you let your clothes soak (more, depending on level of stinkiness [FYI, according to spell check, "stinkiness" is not actually a word]). Try not to forget about your clothes until the next morning when you wake up, walk into the bathroom, see your waterlogged wardrobe sitting in a puddle of stagnant water — actually, stagnant red water, thanks to one shirt — and then for the next six months have to wear clothes that all have a pinkish glow about them.
Step 4: Come back. Stare at the sink full of filthy clothes with loathing. Question, not for the last time, why you chose to travel far away from your comfortable home with washing machine.
Step 5: Get your hands dirty. Swish around the clothes for a while. Scrub each item individually, concentrating on Problem Areas (i.e., armpits, stains). Apply additional soap as needed.
Step 6: Rinse! Run each item under the faucet (a shower head is particularly good for this) until the water runs out clean, and not soapy.
Step 7: Wring the excess water out of the item. Now, most proper hand-washers will tell you not to do this, as it stretches or misshapes your clothes. But seriously people, these clothes are going to be ruined by the end of your trip, no matter what you do. Embrace it.
You want to know why I’m pro-wringing? ‘Cause the most annoying part of doing laundry by hand is drying your clothes. That is, they don’t. It can take DAYS for soaked clothes to dry.
But never fear — Brittany’s come to the rescue once again! I have a little trick that hastens the drying process.
Step 8: Spread out a towel on the floor. Place the wet clothing item on top of the towel. Roll up the towel/clothes combo. Whack your boyfriend with it a couple of times. Very important.
Step 9: Wring, squish, squeeze, sit, stomp, have fun! Do whatever you can to that towel burrito to get as much water out of your clothes, and into the towel, as possible. Work out all your aggression! Sing while you do it. Sorry, it’s required.
Step 10: Hang up your clothes, wherever you can. Outside is always best. We brought a portable clothes line with us. If you hang clothes indoors, in a non-air-conditioned, unventilated room, they’ll pretty much never dry. If you can, time it so your clothes can hang out overnight. You’ll be wary of leaving your clothes outside overnight before you realize that no one wants to steal your dirty, hand-washed underwear anyway. Also, get used to wearing damp clothes.
If you’re clothes are still wet by the time you have to pack up and move on, for the love of God, pack them in a separate, plastic bag! They will stink to high heaven otherwise. Oh, borrowed hair dryers also work for emergency drying.
Ta da! You did it! Your clothes are (kind of) clean!
If ever you find yourself in a hostel, scrubbing your unmentionables in a small sink using hand soap instead of detergent, and hanging them to dry on the railing of your bunk bed in a room you share with eight people, you’re officially allowed to call yourself a backpacker. Be thankful that you don’t have to do your laundry in a river, like most rural residents of S.E. Asia.
- Do NOT, for your own sake, let your dirty clothes pile up. Every couple of days wash a few items. Trust me, it’s much, much better this way. Manually washing an entire load of laundry is not a fun way to spend an entire day.
Realize that pretty much no matter what you do, you’re going to stink. It’s cool. So does everyone else! Your definition of what’s “acceptable to wear” is far different while traveling than while living at home.
- And as a “treat” to yourself, splurge once a month or so and let someone do your laundry for you in a proper machine, no matter what the cost. ‘Cause, trust me, you’re never going to feel truly clean wearing underwear you hand-washed in a sink.
And finally, two items a traveler should never, EVER be without:
- Tide stick
- Febreze! For the uninitiated: Febreze is a miracle liquid that eliminates odors in fabrics. It pretty much allowed us to do laundry half as often. I know, disgusting.
Sweet, sweet modern luxuries.