Doing Laundry on the Road

One of the first things I wondered about when I signed up for my first coach tour was laundry. The tour of central Europe would visit seven cities in just over two weeks with two nights in each. A quick check online made it obvious that the hotels – all in the four to five star range – had no machines available to clients.

So what is one to do?

The tour was an education in the choices available.


The first and most obvious choice is to use the hotel’s laundry service. Now, if money is no object and you have the time necessary at the hotel (two nights minimum), then it’s an option. However, for most of us, the cost is simply not justified given the alternatives.

Hotels charge per item. On the tour, I really needed my jeans laundered, and without taking a close look at the price list, I handed it in. When I checked out, I saw the charge.

Sixteen Euro!

At the time, that was about $25 in Canadian funds and that’s for a single pair of jeans. If one wanted to do multiple pairs of pants, some shirts and unmentionables, the cost could easily run into the hundreds, even thousands, of dollars over the course of a two or three week tour.

For me, the money is better spent on my next trip. That being said, it is most certainly an emergency option.


I have met people who are able to pack for an entire trip without needing to do laundry. I have to admit, it takes skill, but it can be done.

On many organized tours, the luggage is limited to one bag that can weigh no more than fifty pounds. If one has no problem dressing causally, wearing the same outfit two to three times and doesn’t plan to buy a lot of souvenirs, the weight restriction could be respected.

One option to help this is to bring items that you can dispose of on the way. People save up old shirts, pants and/or unmentionables and simply throw them out as they travel.

Another option is to leave home light and buy clothes as you travel.

A combination of these packing methods can also work well.

In the end, I wouldn’t have been able to do this on my first tour. My bag weighed forty-five pounds and was full of stuff I simply didn’t need. It took several tours to learn how to pack frugally, and today, I have no problem packing a twenty to twenty-five pound bag. I pack clothes that are easy to wear multiple times, bring items I can dispose of and pick up souvenir t-shirts for variety.


The third option is to find a local laundromat.

I don’t do this for a few reasons.

  1. On one occasion, a gentleman used a laundromat and came back with a lot of pink clothes. Bleach somehow made its way into his washer. It was either placed there before he did the load or he misread the Polish soap label and used bleach by mistake.
  2. There’s always the risk that you start a wash and find out that the dryers don’t work or don’t work well enough, leaving you with damp clothes.
  3. You’ve just spent thousands of dollars to visit another country. Spending time finding and using the laundromat when you could be out exploring, shopping or enjoying a meal simply doesn’t make sense. In some cases, there are no laundromats handy which means you go without or have to use a taxi. On average, this option could cost you two to four hours or more.



This, in the end, has become my method of choice. I have found it is the fastest, most economical way to get my laundry done.

Doing the laundry in the sink has some benefits. You have complete control over what you do, when you do it and are ensured you don’t leave without anything. You know, for certain, that the water and sink are clean so no risk of your clothes being damaged by bleach or the machines. There is no waiting at a laundromat or rushing to get it into the hotel laundry in the hope that it gets back before you leave. And you can do your laundry in less than twenty-minutes.

But there is a trick to it.

I usually do my laundry after I arrive at the hotel and have a bit of time before dinner. It’s usually not enough time to go anywhere and it’s a great way to unwind at the end of the day.

I give the sink a rinse and fill it with the clothes before turning on the water so that I don’t risk overflowing the edge of the sink. I use the little travel packets of Tide for soap, but can use the hotel shampoo in a pinch, and once I’m done, I rinse the items in cold water.

At this point, many people will just wring out the items and hang them in the bathroom. The problem here is that the clothes can take two days or more to dry. The key is to wring them out as best as you can and then lay them out on a towel like this. (You can put as many items as you can fit on one towel in a single layer):

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen fold over edges:



OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI twist it as hard as I can then stick it somewhere like under the corner of my luggage so that it stays like that for up to thirty minutes depending on my schedule.

When I feel the towel has absorbed as much moisture as it’s going to get, I unroll it and hang it somewhere in the room where there is airflow like near an air conditioner, open window or in the hallway. If there’s heat, even better.

And don’t forget the balcony! If you’re in a warm or hot climate you can lay it out on the table or chairs. Avoid draping them over the railing. A gust of wind might mean your laundry takes flight. The bathroom often has a drying line in the tub area but it’s also the one place in the room that is the least conducive to drying items fast.

I don’t leave all the laundry to be done on one night but rather do about a towel’s worth every few nights. Light items like shirts and unmentionables can be washed, wrung out and put in the towel in under five minutes and they will dry overnight.

Jeans take me about ten to fifteen minutes to wash and roll. If I have more than one towel, I will roll it a second time. In those cases, I’ve gotten my jeans dried overnight. On average, it takes about twenty-four hours for heavyweight jeans to dry.

Or twenty-minutes on a balcony in Lake Powell, Utah, in 38 degrees.

This method can be used in conjunction with the other methods. For example, if you bring ten pairs of old socks and toss a pair after a few wearings, you’ll have one less item to wash when you do shirts etc.


There is also another method that can be used if you’re in a hurry. The iron!

Granted, it needs a steam setting, but between the heat and steam, it works wonders freshening up an item you simply don’t have time to launder. If your hotel doesn’t have an iron in the room, check with the front desk. Make sure you ask for an iron and an ironing board.

One last word. I will leave my Do Not Disturb sign on my door when I have laundry all over the room. I found out the hard way that I would rather the housekeeping staff not see my unmentionables strewn over the lampshades.

What’s your favourite way of doing laundry on the road?

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