Travel tips

Washing Clothes while Traveling

Don Henley, the former lead singer of The Eagles, had a song back in 1982 called “Dirty Laundry,” but it’s not the kind you have to deal with when you are on a tour. If you are planning to travel with a check-in bag, then you are probably not going to have to do any laundry while you are on tour. However, if you are going to travel with just your carry-on bag for a tour that lasts more than a week, you might have to wash out a few things at night before you go to sleep.  The fast pace of an EF tour means you need to think ahead if you plan to wash and wear your clothes.

laundry line venice

Alessandro La Becca/Via Unsplash

If you are going to have a “carry-on only” tour with your students, you should provide some instructions on how they can wash their clothing while on the road.  One good thing about this kind of tour is that you already have some of your evening activities planned before you even leave. After dinner, you can send everyone to their rooms to take showers and wash clothes (or maybe not).  I know some people wash their socks and underwear while they are taking a shower. A teacher once told me he washed his dress shirts by wearing and scrubbing them in the shower. You can certainly come up with some creative ways to take care of your dirty laundry.

There are some things that you should not plan to wash like jeans or those roomy cargo shorts. They will never dry out in time before you leave the hotel.  I’m thinking about clothing items that are not big and bulky and nothing made out of 100% cotton. When I’m not traveling, I wear mainly natural fibers, but on the road, I wear lightweight synthetic blends that repel dirt easily and that are easy to wash and dry. I generally wash anything worn close to my body like t-shirts,   socks, and underwear. Anything else I pack, I will wear numerous times.

On long tours or trips (more than two weeks), I used a local laundry where everything that was returned had an individual cloth tag hand sewn on it, paid through the nose for hotel laundry service when I had no choice, and saved money, but not time, by washing my clothes in the sink or bathtub. Travel involves making lots of trade-offs. I don’t want to drag a heavy suitcase with me from place to place so I will often carve some time out each night to do some laundry in my hotel room.

Here’s what I pack if I know I’ll be doing some dirty laundry on the road:

• A small plastic bottle of Woolite or other liquid detergent(no more than 3 ounces if I’m traveling with a carry-on and packed in a separate  plastic bag to avoid leakage) –the hotel shampoo or shower gel works in a pinch, too

• a small nail brush to scrub parts of the clothing

• an absorbent “pack towel” to absorb the water after you tried to wring out most of it by hand -you can also use your hotel towel

• an elastic travel clothesline (mine comes with built-in clothes pins)-you can pack anything that will work as a clothesline

• small clothes pins, large safety pins, large paper clips, or small black paper clamps-your choice

Fill the sink with warm water and add some of the liquid detergent, not much because you don’t want to have to spend a lot of time rinsing. Swish the clothing around the sink and scrub parts that are worn next to the body with the nail brush. Wring the soapy water out before refilling the sink with clean water. You may have to rinse the clothing a couple of times. For socks and underwear, I use running water to rinse. Use the packed towel to absorb as much water as you can because that will shorten the drying time. You can also put the clothing between two towels on the floor and walk over them. Be sure, however, to see if you can get an extra towel to do this from the hotel. Using your roommate’s towel is not suggested.  See if you can stretch your clothesline near an open window or an air conditioner. Use the hotel hangers to hang your laundry. Just be certain your clothing does not drip on the floor or in a wardrobe. You can place your towel underneath the clothing to prevent this.

If you are leaving the hotel the next morning and your clothing is still not dry, try using the hair dryer to speed up the drying. If your room has an iron, use it to dry your clothing. You should travel with at least three sets of socks and underwear—one pair to wear, one to wash, and the other pair to dry.  If your clothing needs extra drying time, put it in a plastic bag, maybe with a dryer sheet you just so happened to keep in your suitcase to make certain everything smells clean and fresh. You can finish drying the clothes at your next hotel.

Last March, my husband and son spent five days hiking 62 miles through the Scottish borders and Northumberland between Melrose and Lindisfarne on a route called St. Cuthbert’s Way.   They spent each night in a nice hotel or bed & breakfast, and since they were backpacking, they had to do some laundry each evening. When his socks did not dry overnight, my son managed to hang them on his backpack and they ended up drying on the trail. He looked pretty rough after one long day of hiking and one hotel clerk was reluctant to let him inside one place they stayed. It may have been the socks drying on the backpack that made him look like a bum who just got off on the road.

A recent commercial for Tide Free and Gentle says, “Style is an option, clean is not.”  This motto fits our student tours. There is no need to over pack and wear stylish clothing. Just pack what you need and plan to wash out a few things each night. You might not be the most stylish traveler, but at least you’ll be clean.

Readers, what are your tips for handling dirty laundry on tour?

(Editor’s note: Add Gail on Google+ If you have a question about for EF Group Leader Gail Ingram, or an idea for a blog post topic, you can email Gail here, and she will answer readers’ questions in future blog posts.)
Topics: Travel tips

Gail I.

Gail is a former longtime EF Group Leader, who was also a frequent mentor to new group leaders and a regular presenter on EF’s Free International Training Tours.

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