The Most Practical Ways To Do Laundry When Traveling

You can only pack so much for a trip, so any adventure longer than about a week means you'll have to face a laundry dilemma. Even if you follow the 54321 packing rule, you're still going to need to deal with dirty clothes.

Before you tackle the actual experience of doing laundry, there are a few things to do to manage the accumulation of dirty clothes. Pack a laundry bag in your suitcase so that you can keep dirty clothes separate from your clean ones. Resealable plastic bags are also helpful to pack in order to mitigate odors or store dirty shoes. You can also slide in a dryer sheet or two to keep your clothing smelling fresh, or put a few drops of essential oil on a cotton ball and tuck that in your suitcase. You can also extend the life of your clothes by hanging them outside if it's warm enough to let them air out. But at a certain point, you need to wash your clothes, and there are some very practical ways of doing this.

Take advantage of in-hotel laundry services

If you're staying at a hotel, this will likely be the easiest way to do laundry while you're traveling. Hotels all over the world offer laundry services. In some cases, you can utilize the laundry bag in your room, fill out the slip, and leave it there to be collected. They'll return it to your room once the clothing is washed. In other cases, you can drop it off and pick it up at reception, typically with a 24-hour turnaround.

An advantage of hotel laundry service is that it's the easiest since you don't have to take your laundry elsewhere and you can have it professionally washed while you enjoy your vacation. The downside, as travel expert Rick Steves confirms, is that it's the most expensive way to wash your clothing. The other thing to keep in mind is that this laundry service typically takes a day, so you need to schedule it for a time when you'll be in the same location long enough. This is especially true if your clothing is washed by hand and needs to hang dry. Don't expect a quick turnaround. This is not the service to choose if you're catching a train the next morning.

Coin-operated machines at hotels and motels

Some hotels and motels offer washing machines on location. A good trick is to make sure that if you know you'll need to do a load of laundry on your trip, book a night at a hotel or motel that offers laundry facilities on-site. The same applies if you're staying at an Airbnb. Confirm this ahead of time so that you can make sure you get a chance to do laundry.

There are a few things to keep in mind when using laundry facilities at your lodging. You may need to be ready to translate the instructions on the machine, so bring a translator or use a translation app. Also, you may need to be ready to have the correct currency in coins or you may be able to use a laundry card by purchasing one with your credit card. If you have specific allergies or skin concerns, bring a detergent that's familiar to you, so long as it's in powder form. Liquid detergent may prove too messy to travel with. However, if you want to save packing space and don't tend to have reactions to different detergents, you can buy detergent there. Some facilities may not have dryers, so allot your time accordingly to allow clothes to air dry.

Hand-washing your clothes while traveling

The old tried-and-true method of doing laundry is by hand-washing. This can easily be done with small items, like undergarments and socks, by washing them in the bathroom sink or shower at your hotel. There are actually travel laundry detergent sheets for easy travel. Once you've rinsed and wrung out your clothes, lay them out on a towel and roll up the wet item and squeeze tightly to absorb excess moisture. Be mindful of where you can dry your clothes since you don't want your items to drip all over the floor. Hang them in the shower or see if your room has a drying rack. Some locations around the world also have outdoor drying locations.

If you know that you're going to be hand-washing a lot of your clothing while you're traveling, plan ahead and pack quick-drying clothing. Brands like Lands' End make travel clothes that pack easily and dry quickly. Camping brands like REI are also good for this, and athletic leisure brands are also great for quick-drying clothing. Avoid denim and other heavy fabrics for this reason.

Try local laundromats

Local laundromats can be a very economical way to wash your clothes and a way to guarantee they'll be ready when you need to go since you're in charge of the operation. Be mindful of having the correct change to use the machines. Keep in mind that the temperatures on machines may be different from what you're used to. Celsius is used almost globally, while Fahrenheit is used in the United States, Liberia, and Burma.

The challenge with laundromats is that they're not easy to find depending on where you are in the world. As Rick Steves pointed out, they're common in the United States and Western Europe, but they are harder to find if you head to Eastern Europe. Don't expect that you can always get laundry detergent at a laundromat. Many may have the option to buy it there, but you may need to bring your own. While a laundromat can be more affordable than options where someone else does your laundry, it can eat up precious travel time. If you're on an extended trip, taking time to do your laundry makes sense, but if it's a shorter trip, it can be frustrating to waste time in a laundromat.

Laundry services that wash and fold your clothes

There's also the option of finding a laundry service that will wash, dry, and fold your laundry for you. Some even pick up and drop off your clothes as well. They typically charge you by weight and generally take a day or two. If you need to leave the area, be sure to confirm when your clothing will be ready.

The challenge is that these locations aren't necessarily affiliated with your hotel or lodgings, so you'll need to source them out on your own. They can also be more expensive than options where you do your laundry yourself. It's important to inform the laundry service if some of your clothing needs specific care. If an item can't go in the dryer or if certain garments need to be washed separately, be sure to indicate this when you drop off your clothing. There's also the option of dry cleaning with many of these services if you need extra-special care.

Try a portable washing bag when you're camping

There are other laundry options if you're nowhere near any kind of laundry service. There's a portable washing bag called the Scrubba Wash Bag that has ridges inside like a washboard. All you have to do is fill the bag with your dirty clothes, clean water, and detergent. Then you seal the bag, rub the contents, rinse, and hang-dry the clothing. There's also a portable clothing line with built-in hooks that allows you to hang your clothes on the balcony or between two trees if you're camping.

This is also an excellent time to have travel detergent sheets on hand since they clean better than bar soap. The only con with the Scrubba bag is that you can't do a large wash at one time since it's small. Reddit user @KoreaTeacher123 told the subgroup r/onebag how much they were able to wash at once: "I can fit two large t-shirts, 2 pairs of underwear and two pairs of socks at once." So it's a viable option to wash as you go, meaning you can pack less and keep the cost down as you travel.