Clothes for sale in Siena
The dirty little secret about long-term travel --- that is, the reason that most long-term travelers sing the praises of hostels and apartments rather than hotels --- boils down to one thing: laundry. Others may tell you stories about how big hotels are anonymous entities and hostels present a local's focus and apartments give us the ability to venture into a neighborhood and all of those nice things -- and yes, I agree -- but, really and truly, the reason that most of us prefer hostels and apartments is because we need to get our laundry done.
Laundry is a difficult, difficult thing when you're traveling about as much as we do. Not only is it our most hated chore, it is also the most frequent time suck. So, here are the five things you need to know about doing laundry abroad:
Washing machines the size of Chihuahuas.
Americans have monster washing machines. I miss this sort of appliance and the days when we could dump a week's worth of laundry into a single load. In Europe and Asia, I'm lucky if I can fit two pairs of jeans and two t-shirt in. Apparently, European/Asian/African washing machines are made for Chihuahua-sized apparel.
Let's watch Braveheart while the washing machine cycle finishes.
Stick your laundry in the morning and you can do any of the following things before your washing cycle ends:
- Watch Braveheart, all 3 hours and 2 minutes of it, plus you can add in a half hour Friends episode, if you so desire.
- Make my favorite apple pie, let it cool, and have a slice.
- Take a decent pass at learning basic phrases in Turkish, Italian, and French with our favorite language learning guide.
Because not only are non-American washing machines teeny tiny, but the washing machine manufacturers here apparently follow the principle of energy inefficiency.
Actually, I have a theory on why the washing machines are so slow here. You see, instead of using electricity, the machines are powered by a system of highly trained mice that keep the machine spinning and spinning, which would also explain why every single thing I own has at least two or three mouse-teeth-sized holes. The socks I keep losing must be the price they take for running the washing machines. Keep running, my little washing machine mice overlords.
Oh, you wanted clean and un-holey clothes? Sorry, can't help you out there.
After three years of constant washing in mice-operated washing machines meant for Chihuahuas and extraordinarily patient people, all my clothes have taken on a middle-of-the-winter English gray sheen. This gray, if you haven't been to England in the wintertime, is not a pretty chic charcoal gray nor is it a pleasant light gray, but is rather the type of gray that sends grown men whimpering for sunny blue skies and fruity pink umbrella-topped drinks.
Dryers. What dryers?
Once the clothes come out of the washing machine, in they go to the dryer . . . oh, right, this isn't the U.S. No dryers here. Now, I do understand why dryers waste electricity and there's no need for dryers in hot, sunny countries like Namibia and India. But, England? People, I went for weeks without seeing sunny sky in that country and our clothes used to take two solid days to dry. It was a game we played: the sun comes out for two hours, rush out and hang them, oh darn - rain's coming, rush them back in and set them by the heater, and scream in frustration.
Get your hands in those suds.
Often, and all too often at that, hotels don't have laundry machines and expect that you'll be willing to shell out enough to buy your own washing machine to get a simple pair of pants laundered. So, we handwash.
Handwashing is relatively simple: stick the water in a tub, toss in some detergent, and turn your own hands into a rinse cycle, wring out the soap, clean with water again, and wring dry. Of course, this isn't an all too bad option but when faced with five days worth of clothes, hand-washing is akin to a really good workout at your local gym. (And believe me, neither of us are nearly this cute when we're handwashing our laundry.)
Speak that laundry language.
Sometimes, we have to take our laundry to a laundromat because we don't have a washing machine or a tub. And, in many countries, especially Thailand, Cambodia, and China, laundry services are often cheap and plentiful --- something like one in four stores in Cambodia offer laundry services. Cue the hilarious conversations about how we want our laundry done in languages we don't understand, meaning that, more often than not, our clothes devolve further into their manky English-gray, holey condition. [That being said, the Thai and Cambodian laundry services are probably the best in the world --- they even iron your underwear!] And, for the love of your wardrobe, please never travel with anything that needs to be dry clean only because you might as well just douse them into the Ganges and set fire to them --- you're never going to have those duds in wearable condition again.
As it is, the first thing happening when we head back to the States in the fall is that every single piece of clothing I currently wear is going straight into the trash because even the needy don't need my awful cast-off clothes. I'm counting down the days when my white shirts are white and my black pants are black again.