How to Do Laundry While Traveling and Not Be a Smelly Backpacker

When you are travelling around the world sleeping on trains and buses and wearing the same five shirts, it doesn’t take long to get smelly. Sweat, dirt and grime are just part of life on the road whether you are hiking around Machu Picchu or riding a motorbike down a muddy road in rural Thailand. You don’t want to become so gross that no one wants to sit next to you on the bus, so you will need to be able to wash your limited wardrobe periodically while on the road.

How to do laundry while traveling: Potholes on a muddy road in Thailand
Potholes on a muddy road in Thailand: Photo Mike Gifford / CC 2.0

When your clothes get dirty while travelling, it’s not like you can pop them in the washing machine like you do back home. If only it were that easy! However, it is possible to get your clothes sparkling clean even when you are staying in a hotel or hostel. First of all, you should start by bringing only low-maintenance clothing that doesn’t require dry cleaning or ironing. Simple cotton t-shirts in dark colours are perfect. Also, avoid fabrics that will take forever to dry.

How to do laundry while traveling: clothes line in Venice, Italy
Clothes line in Venice: Photo by Allesandra Elle / CC 2.0

Tips on how to do laundry while traveling:

  • Pack a small container of laundry detergent with you in your luggage. This will allow you to hand-wash your clothing in the sink or the shower of your hotel room.
  • Bring a plastic bag for your luggage so that you can keep your dirty clothes sealed off from your clean clothes. You don’t want your smelly socks making your clean t-shirt stinky.
  • Bring a universal flat rubber sink stopper in case the sink or tub in your hotel room is missing the stopper.
  • I like to multitask by washing clothes while I am in the shower. I put them on the floor of the shower while I wash myself, then sprinkle laundry detergent on them and give them a good scrub. I turn off the shower and use my clean feet to squish out most of the water, then hang them to dry.
  • Bring along a clothes line so that you can hang your clothes to dry. It’s best to hang them outside if possible, but if your accommodation doesn’t have a balcony or an outdoor area you can hang them in the room.
  • A handy trick to make clothes dry faster is to lay them on the hotel room tower and roll the two up together and squeeze.
How to do laundry while traveling: washing clothes sink
I don’t mind taking the time to handwash my clothes: Photo by PrettyinPrint / CC 2.0

In some countries, such as many parts of Southeast Asia, it is so cheap and convenient to send your clothes to a laundry service that it is not worth washing them yourself. For only a few dollars these services will wash and dry your clothes and give them back to you neatly folded in a plastic bag, usually on the same day or the next morning. Ask the receptionist at your hotel to recommend the best local laundry place where you can get your clothes washed.

How to do laundry while traveling: Hiking Inca Trail at Machu Picchu
Hiking Inca Trail at Machu Picchu: Photo Thomas Lauffert / CC 2.0

With these tips on how to do laundry while traveling, you can keep your clothes clean and fresh and avoid being a smelly backpacker!

About Kelly Dunning


A Canadian freelance writer with a love of art, culture, literature and adventure, Kelly loves exploring foreign lands and expressing her experiences through the power of the written word. She and her English boyfriend Lee run, packed full with travel guides, stories and inspiration for those who dream of travel. They have been location independent and travelling the world digital-nomad style for the last three years, with no address, no car and no fixed schedule.

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2 Responses

  1. 5 Tips for Traveling with Chronic Back Pain | Go 4 Travel Blog

    […] and limited on how many bags to bring? Simply pack the necessities. Remember, you can always do laundry on your trip, making it easier to pack lighter. If you absolutely need more items, look into shipping them to […]

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    Some hostels actually do have their own washing machine, such as the YMCA hostel at Franz Josef, New Zealand. Pack a small box of detergent capsules and use them instead of buying expensive powder at the laundrettes you find on your travels. If you’re on a higher budget, I’d suggest renting a house or an apartment with a fully-kitted out kitchen. This isn’t always as expensive as you might think; I recently secured a house in central Cape Town for £75 a night. I agree that it’s way better to travel light and wash clothes during your trip, though I’m not sure I want mine in the shower with me! That might well be a step too far!


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