Dirty Laundry: The Backpacker’s Struggle

Every single traveler you meet has one very basic thing in common. We all end up with dirty laundry somewhere along the way. If it’s a quick trip, you get to go home and throw it all in the wash when you get home. But what if you’re traveling long term? How do you avoid smelling (and looking) like a complete vagabond?

During my two month trip, I lived out of a carry-on sized backpack. 37 liters of space, to be precise! Packing light made it easier to be mobile, but it did mean I had to consistently solve the dirty laundry problem. I didn’t want to spend precious time sitting in a laundromat, so I found other solutions. In some places, like Scotland, I simply paid to have my things washed at the hostel. This was very convenient and I used this service in a couple of places. When I was in Iceland, I ate lunch at The Laundromat Cafe, which is precisely as it sounds. The food was quite delicious, but the price for laundering there or at my hostel seemed a bit high to me (as a very budget-conscious traveler!) so I just held onto my dirty laundry until I got to Ireland, where my hostel had coin-op machines. It’s a funny feeling to realize you are waiting until you arrive in another country to do your laundry!


The Laundromat Cafe, Reykjavik

Sometimes, you can do that. Just wait a while, and re-wear your shirts/pants if you need to until you get to a place where they can be washed. However there were two occasions in which I couldn’t wait, due to cleanliness or smell. That is when washing was 100% necessary!

The first time was in Prague, Czech Republic. You see, in Prague it is okay to smoke cigarettes inside bars and clubs. I went out two nights in a row with some amazing friends I made at my hostel. The third day, I switched to staying in a private hotel room. This was the first “splurge” stay of my trip, because after a month of sharing space with other people, I was badly in need of some quiet me-time, and a luxurious bubble bath! However, that is when I realized my entire wardrobe reeked of stale cigarette smoke. Yuck! The hotel had a laundering service, but they charged a few dollars per item, which is absurd. Rather than go find a laundromat, I decided to get innovative. That meant that I did my laundry in the hotel bathtub. Yep! Soaked, scrubbed vigorously, and rinsed, using the multiple different types of soap I had on hand, like bodywash, bar soap, and even shampoo. I then hung it up all over the room to dry overnight. By the next day, everything was clean and smoke-free, and I was very proud of myself!


Trail Sign while hiking in Cinque Terre, Italy 

The second occasion was in Riomaggiore, one of the towns in the Cinque Terre, Italy. This beautiful coastal area has a train that runs between each of the towns, but there are also paths to hike between them. These trails are not for the faint of heart and were a physical challenge. I did two of the four hikes during my stay here, in late May. It was sweltering hot and I was sweating buckets. By the time I had completed both hikes, I realized I couldn’t possibly put my clothing back into my bag. It was foul! Thankfully my hostel apartment had a washer machine in it. However that had it’s own set of challenges! The machine was an old Italian clunker, and I was shocked by how challenging it was to simply get it running! The second thing to remember is that most homes in Europe do not have clothes dryers. I ended up using shoelaces to create a hanging wrack between the balcony doors and my bunkbed frame!


Views like this made the hike worth it though! Cinque Terre, Italy.

Laundry seems like such a simple and mundane task when you’re home. It’s an annoying chore that usually ends up with a basket of clean clothes sitting haplessly by our dresser. When you’re traveling, laundry becomes this completely different animal that you carry (quite literally) on your shoulders. Have you had any interesting, horrifying, or funny laundry experiences while on the road? Please share in the comments!


One thought on “Dirty Laundry: The Backpacker’s Struggle

  1. Haha yes, at my Peace Corps Close of Service we stayed at the 5 star Taal Vista Hotel. And this was after my friend and I trekked across the center of the country (the Visyas region) the previous 2 weeks. so we were dirty and grungy. We got the room, were so impressed with the room but very unimpressed with the laundry prices. so we just started doing our own tub laundry. Some hotels even had little zip lines you could pull from the wall for drying laundry. Fancy hotel = bathtub laundry usually haha


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