Now this might not seem like the most interesting subject to discuss but its an essential task all travellers need to address. I for one can only go a day or two without a shower and probably a week without clean cloths. But our boys could go several weeks without a shower and I’m not certain they would actually notice that their cloths were dirty. But as parents in close proximity we soon notice the strong urine smell following us around. So we insist on the boys showering occasionally and changing undies and shorts at least every other day.
If it was just Michelle and I travelling I’m sure we would be able to get away with hand washing in a basin or sink but when you add up the washing for five people the pile seems to be enormous after just three or four days. Our washing ranges from a few small hand washable items up to 10-12 kg of laundry on wash day. So here’s a bit of helpful advise for other traveller based upon our experiences.
Done for you laundry services
Firstly lets look at the cost involved in done for you laundry services. Predominately there are two ways to pay for laundry, by the piece and by weight. Its always cheaper to get your stuff laundered by weight.
Hotel Laundry Service
If your staying in a hotel most hotels offer some kind of laundry service. They usually charge by the piece and charge extras for folding, ironing and tailoring services. If your staying in a hotel and have the money or need the time then drop your laundry off at reception and ignore the extras on your hotel bill. It will be the most expensive way to get your cloths clean.
We found a few hotels which will launder by weight but their prices are consistently double the price you can get up the street.
Accommodation self service
Its sometimes worth looking for a hotel or accommodation that offers a guest laundry. They are sometimes free but most often a coin operated washing machine and drier and/or clothes line. In Australia most Caravan parks and hotels offer these facilities. We also found it a common facility in Malaysia, but much harder to find in the rest of Asia. Washing machines are pretty expensive in many parts of Asia and the washing is traditionally done by hand. For instance in Bangkok its not unusual to see people doing their washing by the road in plastic buckets.
The biggest problem we found using self service was people removing your washing from the machines and leaving it on the ground. So making sure your around when the machine finished your load is pretty important. Often these facilities include a drying machine and its common to find an outside line in Australia. Outside cloths line are fantastic, but mostly useless if you can’t attach your cloths to the line. Pegs aren’t always supplied so its a good idea to carry a few cloths pegs with you or to learn how to make a peg less cloths line.
Laundry by Weight
By far the best value for money and we found places as low as 15 cents a kilo in Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia and as high as 5 dollars a kilo in Bangkok. It’s best to shop around if you can but being a travellers it’s often hard to lug all your washing around just to get a cheaper deal.
So one of the first thing we do in a place we will be staying for a while is walk the streets close by looking for the best value laundry service. In Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam we alway found a reasonable laundry service within a kilometre of our hotel or uint that charged by weight.
Laundry by the piece
In Bangkok Thailand most laundry service in our area Ekkamai charge by the piece. The prices vary from 30 cents up to $2 per piece. Which makes our weekly laundry averaged out at about $32 per week. So we searched around for a laundry service that charged by weight and found one two train stops away, reducing our weekly cost to $14.
Laundromats are reasonably common in Australia and Malaysia. But are pretty rare in Lombok, Hanoi, Ho Chi Min, Phnom Penh and Siem Rep. They probably existed but we couldn’t find any. Excluding accommodation self service they are probably the cheapest way to do the laundry. They often offer large 8kg washing machines and only charge a couple of dollars. The down side to a laundromat is you should hang around the laundromat to make sure your washing is safe. Which can add up to several hours each week, time we could be working or sight seeing.
Street side washing machines
Bangkok has a special sort of laundromat. People buy a washing machine and plumb it into a spare meter or two on they front yard close to the street. The machine have a coin slot and anyone can use the machines to clean their stuff. They are mostly 5KG top loading washing machines and a load costs about 30 Thai Baht ($1).
We had a look at a few but they tended to smell and you had to make sure to be back in time to take your clothes from the machine. If your late then theres no saying what could happen to them.
Hand basins, bathtubs and showers
OK now we are down to the real do it your self laundry service. Michelle and I make a point of washing our smalls every day in the shower and bathroom hand basin and hanging them out to drier on our peg less cloths line. Every couple of day we will wash a complete set of cloths so we always have a fresh outfit. But when the kids cloths need washing we will use one of the services mentioned above. Who wants to spend a whole day doing washing.
We do carry around some laundry detergent for cloths washing but shampoo, body soap and cakes of soap do just as good a job when your hand washing a small number of cloths and attending to all the dirty spots with the attention a washing machine can never manage.
If we were carrying around a suit or business shirts we might think about Dry cleaning once in a while but as we don’t have anything that needs that sort of attention we don’t have any advice about dry cleaning. But we do know its fairly rare in some parts of Asia.
Drying your cloths
Getting cloths dry is a whole other chore. If your using a done for you service they all dry your cloths before returning them. Problem solved. Likewise if theres a dryer near by then the problem is pretty much solved also. Otherwise you need to air dry your laundry. Which means hanging the laundry all around your room/apartment or if your lucky on an outside cloths line.
In Lombok we had a small airing rack just big enough to dry a couple of towels or two sets of cloths. Fortunately Lombok was very warm and cloths dried in a few hours and even dried overnight outside because theres no dew in the tropics.
In Indonesia we also came across a few house that had special airing/laundry rooms. Often a room on the roof of the house that has its own roof and vented walls. Designed to stop the rain while still enabling a breeze to dry the clothes. A very handy place to dry clothes during the wet season.
Setting up a peg less cloths line
Mostly we look for a dryer or outside line supplied with our accommodation but if ones not supplied we set up a peg less cloths line. Its best setup outside but work reasonably well in a bathroom.
You can buy a peg less cloths lines but it’s just as easy to purchase a few simple items to make your own. All you need is a couple of cheap carabiner and a length of static rope. ( pre stretched rope)
Find a couple of anchor points about shoulder high and connect the carabiners to them. In the photos below you will see I found a nail in one side of the balcony and a screw on the other side. I used a piece of wire lying around on the street to fashion some loops that fitted on the screw and the nail for the carabiners. The attachment points were probably over engineered but I needed the line to last three weeks.
Next thread the rope through one carabiner so there are two equal lengths to twist. Then start twisting the rope together until its twisted all the way to the other carabiner. You will need a twist even inch or so. Once twisted put both ends of the rope through the other carabiner and tension it up. I use a truckies hitch to get a little extra tension. But you can just pull it tight and tie it off against the line and carabiners.
Its easy to use just open a twist and push a piece of the laundry through. If the items heavy and won’t stay with just one twist use two. Passing the material up through one twist and then back down through the next. That’s what Michelle is demonstrating here with one of my larger linen shirts.
Remember to take it down and pack it back into your luggage when you leave.
Important laundry tips
Bring a large carry bag with you to take your clothes from accommodation to laundry. The bag should be strong and large but pack down to a small size to pack in your travel case.
Pegs aren’t always supplied so its a good idea to carry a few cloths pegs with you or to learn how to make a peg less cloths line. Carry a simple kit so you can construct a quick and easy peg less clothes line. See the section above.
Make sure everyone has a dirty cloths bag or satchel to stuff their dirty cloths into between laundries. The bag should probably be water proof so damp or really dirty clothes don’t interfere with your clean stuff between destinations.
Plan a washing day at least once a week. You can get very dirty especially in Asia. If your travelling with children they are unlikely to take the care with their cloths and very unlikely to take the time to do a load of hand washing each morning. So you will need to attend to they cloth hygiene once in a while or suffer the strange smells exuding from the small people in your company.
Funny laundry event
Once we use a pack bag to carry the laundry to a laundry service. The bag was a very heavy rip stop nylon bag used to cover a backpack while traveling. It was too big and bulky to carry around for the day so we left it at the laundry for the staff to use for our clean laundry. But when we collected the laundry the bags was not visible and we had forgotten about it in a hurry to get back to the waiting taxi. At home Michelle quizzed me about the bag and we though that it was probably lost for good, but when we unpacked the laundry we found the bag nicely cleaned and folded amongst the other washing.