So fresh and so clean: 8 tips for doing laundry during extended trips

Oct 5, 2019

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Laundry is a chore, but at least most people have a familiar method for getting it done at home. But, when you’re on a trip, laundry can become a much bigger hassle. Sure, people all around the world do laundry, but it can sometimes be difficult to get laundry done as a traveller at a reasonable cost. Trust me, I know since I’ve now lived on the road for more than two years and have to consider where and how to do laundry approximately every 10 days.

So, by necessity my husband JT and I have come up with various tips and tricks for doing laundry on the road, as well as for reducing how frequently we need to do laundry. Whether you’re simply looking to get through an extended vacation or you live on the road, here are some tips for dealing with laundry while travelling.

In This Post

Bring your own detergent and supplies

Although you can find laundry detergent in most cities, it’s generally not sold in small quantities or in easy-to-pack containers. So, having your own detergent serves multiple purposes:

  • If you’ve used the detergent before, you’ll know it won’t bother your skin and that it will effectively clean your clothing
  • You won’t have to purchase detergent each time you need it

For these reasons, we travel with laundry detergent pods. You’ll want to pack the powder pods instead of the liquid pods though, since these are easier to clean up when they burst. And, speaking of bursting, I recommend storing these pods in a small watertight dry bag so that if they do burst they’ll be contained. The dry bag also keeps the pods dry, which can be useful in humid conditions.

You may also want to pack a few dryer sheets, which can also serve a secondary purpose of making your luggage smell fresh. We also pack a laundry bag, both for holding dirty clothes and for transporting them to wherever we’re washing them.

Book lodging with a washer

The easiest way to manage laundry while travelling is to book lodging that has a washer and/or dryer onsite. Airbnb makes it easy to filter homes by those that have a washer and/or dryer, and most hotels list self-serve guest laundry as an amenity if they offer it.

However, the quality, cost and modernness of the washer and/or dryer may vary greatly. As with Wi-Fi, I’ve found that asking questions about the washer and/or dryer can be an important step if you plan to do laundry during your stay — especially if you’re staying at a rental property.

A washer in an Airbnb in Novi Sad, Serbia. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)
A washer in an Airbnb apartment in Novi Sad, Serbia. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Also, note that the machines may not have instructions or settings in English. In this case, you can use Google Translate’s camera function to translate in real-time. The washer may also not function like you’d normally expect. For example, I’d never heard of a manual washing machine — much less used one — before our Airbnb host in French Polynesia left one out for us.

The author using a manual washing machine in Raiatea, French Polynesia. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)
The author using a manual washing machine in Raiatea, French Polynesia. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

And, many hotels and rentals may not have an electric dryer and instead rely on drying racks. So, make sure to allow enough time for your laundry to dry.

Related: 12 tips for scoring the perfect Airbnb

Go to a laundromat

Laundromats are common in some regions, and difficult to find in others. If you find a laundromat and decide to use it, bring change since many don’t have functioning change machines and there may not be businesses nearby that are open or willing to provide change. I also recommend bringing detergent, as many don’t sell or provide detergent.

This laundromat in France used a central panel for payment. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)
This laundromat in France used a central payment system for paying. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Be sure to translate directions for operating the machines and paying, even if you assume you know how they work. Once I’ve started the washer, I usually go to a cafe nearby, work on my laptop at the laundromat or take a walk around the neighborhood. Some laundromats even offer Wi-Fi now.

This washing machine automatically added detergent, as noted by the sign I didn't bother to read or translate. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)
This washing machine in Spain automatically added detergent, as noted by the sign I didn’t bother to read or translate. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)
These dryers in Bologna, Italy cost 2 euros for 60 minutes of drying time, so I knew to simply return to check on my clothes after 60 minutes. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

All in, doing laundry at a laundromat usually takes me two to three hours — although I’ve lost much longer on a couple occasions due to closed locations, long transit times, broken machines, trouble getting change and many other issues.

Find a laundry service

In some cities, you may be able to find a laundromat that will do your laundry for you. These laundromats will usually charge per load or by weight. Some require payment upfront while others will take payment once the clothing is returned. If you pay upfront, be sure to keep the receipt.

The pick-up time after drop off usually ranges from a couple hours to a couple days. However, I’ve encountered quoted times of up to one week, so be sure to inquire when your laundry will be done before handing it over.

(Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)
Laundromats that are staffed during set hours and have many machines often offer a laundry service. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

I’ve also used services where you drop off your clothing and the service returns the clean clothing to your hotel’s front desk. In some cities, you may also be able to find a service that will both pick up and drop off your laundry.

However, while doing my own laundry at laundromats that offer a drop-off, pick-up service, I’ve noticed that they often dry everything on high — so if you’re picky about how your clothing is dried, you may want to do your laundry yourself.

Use the hotel’s service

Most hotels offer laundry service and in some cases you may get a piece or two per day as a benefit of the room type you booked, your elite status or the resort fee. But hotels usually charge per piece, which can make it expensive to wash more than a couple items.

Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy.
Check the price list that can usually be found with a laundry bag in the closet before using the hotel’s service. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Some hotels do offer reasonable prices for a load or charge by weight. I’ve also encountered multiple Airbnb hosts who were very willing to earn some extra money by washing laundry for guests.

Hand wash

A fall-back if you only need to wash a few items, or you can’t find any other reasonable options, is to hand wash your clothing. Until recently, we’d only washed shorts and underwear by hand while travelling. But, we recently hand washed and air dried all of our clothing for a month in the Dominican Republic and although time consuming, it worked surprisingly well.

(Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)
Having two sinks makes hand washing laundry easier. Between the sinks is a detergent pod and the dry bag we use to carry detergent pods. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

If you’re going to hand wash items, you have three main options: sink, shower or portable wash bag. After washing and rinsing the items, I recommend spreading the items one by one (or in small groups) on a bath towel. Then roll the towel and twist it — this will dry the items surprisingly well. Finally, you’ll need to find a place to hang your items. Some hotels or rental homes may have a drying rack or outdoor area designated for drying clothing.

(Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)
This Australian hotel had clothing trees for drying clean laundry. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Otherwise, look for places in your room or on your balcony where you can hang items — just be sure not to start a fire like TPG Editor at Large Zach Honig did once.

Wear quick-dry clothing

Some clothing takes much longer to dry than others. Cotton and denim tend to dry slowly, while synthetic materials tend to dry quickly. Even some inexpensive brands may dry quickly.

(Photo by Katie Genter)
This inexpensive athletic shirt is usually almost dry after I wash it and then roll it in a towel. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Some brands advertise quick-drying shirts, pants and underwear, but be wary of thick waistbands which tend to dry slowly. And, you’ll find many materials that aren’t advertised as quick drying, such as silk and golf attire, tend to dry quickly. However, the only true way to know whether a particular piece of clothing will dry quickly is to try it.

Invest in Merino wool clothing

Merino wool is an excellent fabric for travel clothing for many reasons: it’s quick drying, doesn’t easily hold scents and can be found in many different warmth levels and weights. So, Merino wool can be worn longer before starting to smell and it’s usually easy to hand wash and air dry.

Before investing in my first Merino wool shirt, I doubted whether it would be worth the $60 I paid when it was on sale. But, the shirt quickly became my favorite travel shirt until the fabric started fraying after slightly more than a year of use.

Bottom line

I prefer either booking lodging that has access to a washer onsite or making my way to a nearby laundromat. But, when we asked the TPG Lounge for advice on handling dirty laundry while travelling, we found that some readers take extreme measures such as renting clothing or simply discarding dirty clothing. So, clearly different laundry management techniques work for different travelers.

If you have other laundry tips, please drop them in the comments section below.

Featured image of a laundromat in Minnesota by Katie Genter/The Points Guy.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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