Hosteling 101: Doing Travel Laundry

travel laundry tips

Is that how you say “laundromat” in Polish?  Because I really need to wash some clothes…

When I’m backpacking there are a few things I look for in a hostel:

  1. Small dorms, preferably with en-suite bathrooms.  Usually I prefer all-female dorms for ease of getting changed.
  2. Organized activities, day trips and pub crawls, in case I feel like letting someone else plan my day.
  3. Free laundry, because clean clothes are wonderful.

I’m not one of those people who “washes” their jeans by keeping them in the freezer (that’s a real thing!) or who can pick her outfit for the day from a pile on the floor.  I like my clothes to be clean and in good condition.  This applies even when I’m living out of a backpack: doing travel laundry is essential.

When I stay in nice hotels I raid the closet for thick plastic bags that are used to collect dry-cleaning.  I bring these bags home with me and keep a few folded in my backpack when I travel.  I don’t usually wear tanks or t-shirts more than once, so I begin collecting my dirty clothes in these plastic bags to keep them away from my fresh, clean clothes.  If I do have something that I feel I can wear two or three times without being too grimy, I will typically do so in the same city and hang them on the rails of my bed to give them a bit of fresh air between wearings.  I have seen some backpackers (often people from Asia) travel with plastic coat hangers to hang and air out clothes between wears, but I never have space in my bag (too much shampoo!).

Hostel laundry facilities are often in high demand, so it’s good to wash during off-hours.  Normal off-hours tend to be before 9:00 am, when everyone is still sleeping off the party from the night before.  Hopefully the hostel will have laundry detergent you can use (and in places that don’t offer detergent some other travelers has probably left some behind).  Look closely to make sure you’re not about to tie-dye your clothes with a bleach-filled washing powder, then set the washer on the cold cycle if possible.  I’ve found that laundry detergent in developing countries tends to be strongly scented (besides being annoying this can irritate your skin… especially “down there”), so use less than you usually would.

I prefer air-drying my clothes, though many hostels don’t have places to hang wet laundry.  If using a dryer check the lint filter first- in one hostel in Romania the dryer was taking forever.  Literally, I’d been waiting to put my clothes in for three hours because the clothing of the person before me just wouldn’t dry.  Finally I stopped the machine and pulled out the lint screen, which had a layer of lint almost eight inches thick.  Once I cleared that out everyone was able to dry their clothing in thirty minutes.  To preserve your clothes I recommend always drying on low heat, even if it takes a bit longer.  If you’re hanging your travel laundry outside try to pin it down with clothespins- I lost a great pair of shorts to the seaside breeze in Sarande, Albania.

Last summer I didn’t need to visit any public laundromats, as I planned my hostels accordingly.  Two years ago I did need to use a laundry service once- in Istanbul- where I dropped off my laundry with a lovely old lady one day and picked it up- washed, dried and folded- the next.  Some hostels don’t trust guests with their washing machines (I don’t blame them after seeing that Romanian lint filter) and will do laundry for you.  I found the average price was about five euros for a wash and dry.

And yeah, you may find yourself having to do some emergency travel laundry in a sink somewhere.  I never fully got to appreciate the amazing decor in my room at the Hunter Prince and Dracula Castle Hotel in Turda (seriously) because I’d washed two outfits in the dark, spooky bathroom and hung them to dry on every single thing projecting out of the walls, be they antlers or swords.   Before you go on your trip head to your nearest drug store or major retailer and pick up a couple single-use packages of liquid laundry detergent, just in case.

PS – “Zegarmistrz” is actually Polish for “watchmaker”.  If you’re looking for a laundromat in Poland keep your eyes peeled for an automat (pralniczy).

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One response to “Hosteling 101: Doing Travel Laundry

  1. Pingback: Interview with Carly from Lipgloss and a Backpack | Stylish travelling for all

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