Laundry on Vacation. Ugh.

In a perfect world, none of us would ever have to lift a finger on vacation. Other people would do the cooking, the cleaning, and—above all—the laundry.

You call this a vacation?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t live in a perfect world.

Maybe it’s just socks and underwear, but when I travel, I almost always wind up doing laundry in hotel sinks. Now that we have kids, that’s a lot of socks and underwear.

Travel catalogs are full of special gear, but you don’t really need much.

Forget the laundry soap.
Just use shampoo or bar soap. That’s one less thing to pack, and one less thing to leak in your luggage. Also forget the silly retractable suction-cup laundry lines and sink stoppers.

Focus on the dirty zones.
Save your super-scrubbing for the areas that really need it (armpits, crotches, and food stains for the uninitiated), and forget about the rest. This isn’t real laundry people, it’s triage.

Yes, they're mine. The purple ones, anyway.

Roll clean, rinsed items in a towel.
This will remove most of the water, and cut the drying time way down. Roll the towel up in front of you on the floor (with clean, rinsed items inside), kneeling on it as you go.

Don’t leave home without an underwear chandelier.
This is the one piece of travel laundry gear that is absolutely essential (try “carousel style hanging clothes dryer” if you’re googling). It folds up small, holds a ton, and can easily be moved to get more sun or air.

Watch your step.
Dry your laundry over the tub or shower for the first few hours when it’s dripping wet. You don’t want to turn your bathroom (or kitchen, or patio) into a Slip ‘n Slide. It’s amazing how many truly bright people (such as my husband) can’t seem to figure this out.

Be stealthy.
Most hotels would prefer you didn’t fly your family’s lingerie flag out a street facing window. Fair enough. They’re a little less particular if your room overlooks a back alley or a ventilation shaft (just another reason I actually prefer these cheaper, often quieter rooms).

Skip the sink.
On a recent family trip through Spain, we missed a couple days of laundry and were suddenly confronted with a mountain of dirty tee-shirts, panties, boxers, and socks. Instead of scrubbing tub-side on hands and knees, I grabbed a glass of wine, stripped, and got in myself (I’ll spare you the photographic evidence).

Obviously this method isn’t for everyone, but to me there are worse things than floating in a tub of soapy socks. Running out of clean underwear on vacation, for example.



  1. says

    When planning (longer) vacations for our family, I look for hotels with onsite laundry facilities (i.e., coin-operated washers and dryers).

    If I can’t find a hotel that I like with laundry facilities, I ask the concierge for laundry services close to the hotel. (This works really well when we’re staying in large cities.) I’ll run the clothes over in a cab/my rental cab or ask them to pick up the laundry and deliver it back to the hotel when they’re finished.

  2. says

    I agree Marie!

    We took the wash-and-fold option last summer after a particularly filthy camping trip. It was such a relief to arrive home with clean clothes.

  3. Rich Pearson says

    First, you forgot to mention your favorite option . . . ask your husband to do it.

    Second, washing clothes is hard work and the floors often get slippery.

    Finally, thank you very much for featuring a picture of my skivvies in your blog – I’m moving on up!

  4. says

    Such practical advice, but fun. “This isn’t real laundry people, it’s triage.” LOL. Another option is to send each person’s t-shirt, socks, and undies into the shower or bath with them and have them take care of their own. And white bar soap works fantastic.

  5. Seana says

    I love how you always manage to make your posts hiliarious and useful at the same time. I have not yet travelled abroad with the children, but we hope to next summer, and I am getting one of those bang-on useful underwear chandeliers!

  6. says

    Yet another reason I’m so partial to short-term apartment rentals as opposed to hotels — most have a washing machine!

    One other trick from my back of goodies — with a Tide To Go stick on hand (or two or three if you’re headed to a destination famous for its chocolate gelato… sigh), you can cut down on the number of items that *must* be washed considerably!

  7. says

    What a well-timed article! We just packed for a family trip, and couldn’t find a bunch of my 9-year old’s underwear – she only had 3 or 4 pairs. We ran to Old Navy, bought a 5-pack, ran back (7-year old whining all the way; she got nada for her efforts). Then I pull out my kids’ suitcase, and there, in the inside laundry pocket, is all 7 pairs of missing undies, left there from our vacation 2 weeks ago!
    At least my daughter won’t run out of undies on this trip to the in-laws. Or ever. All this underwear should see her clear through college. :)

    Great tips article, Jaime! Fun to read.

  8. says

    Okay I’ve scoured the photo above (no pun intended) and can’t find the husband’s skivvies. Are the pink ones yours, Mr. Pearson?

    I never travel anywhere for longer than about five days and even though I never EVER check a bag, no one in our fmialy ever seems to run out of clean clothes. Maybe that’s because we don’t change more than our unders very often and you can pack a dozen even in a carryon.

    Despite the fact that laundry was totally not interesting as a topic, I read this with gust just because you are so good, Jamie. You could write about doing laundry at HOME and I would read about it.

  9. says

    When I was a teenager fending for myself in Taiwan, I tried some bathtub laundering during the (insanely damp and moist) rainy season, which seemed perfectly reasonable until a few days later when, still waiting for my clothes to dry, I discovered my jeans and underwear were not only still damp but developing mold! That’s when I discovered the joy of wash & fold.

    In drier climates, I’m with you — nothing beats a little hotel shampoo or a bar of soap–even whitening toothpaste can work up a lather and help treat stains. We’re also partial to fleece travel duds for the whole family — cleans up quickly and dries in a couple of hours.

  10. says

    We found the best solution for the laundry problem: wear clothes over and over and don’t wash anything. After 6 days in the Apostle Islands (in Wisconsin), our clothes were so smelly (my 4-year-old son, who likes to wear his food instead of eat it, and I packed light and then mailed some filthy clothes home to save on space) that no one wanted to make conversation, let alone sit near us, on the plane!

  11. says

    Great, funny and much needed post! We are going on our third year of an open ended world tour as a family, so have become experts at the secrets of laundry while traveling.

    We have those tide pens, bleach pens & shout packets ( the later always with us in a pocket). The bleach pens are only for whites, tide pens work great but empty quickly). It is a handy way to not let a wine spill, balsamic splash or spaghetti drip ruin a day of touring.

    Yes, we each regularly take a few things with us to wash in the shower ( with shampoo).Our kidlet loves this routine and gives me time to enjoy my shower while she is busy washing.

    Micro fiber towels are the best for pulling out all excess liquid when drying. One of our most loved items, they also make good shawls, travel-blankets, beach or picnic blankets, and sarongs.Darker colors are best ( for towels and all things).

    Fast dry and odor resistant clothes are a must for extended travel. We often travel a month with just a tiny backpack each and that includes a laptop or two and homeschool supplies.

    Compare prices for wash and fold to doing your own. In many places it is actually cheaper or the same price to let someone else do them. I love this method best! ;) Dryers are often expensive and not used much in the rest of the world, so skip the dryers if you can to save money if you do your own.

  12. Jane says

    An underwear chandelier? For traveling? Who invents these things! Also, and you know I love you guys, that is one of the scariest photos I have seen in a long time. It gives me insight into Rich I could have really done without!

  13. says

    Hey, great post on a very interesting topic. I have been reading related articles, but was pleasantly surprised that someone is actually putting energy and effort in giving something unique to their readers. This is definitely going to be one of my must read blogs. Keep up the good work.

  14. Joel Tillman says

    Quick question: Why wouldn’t you pack those 2-3 wash bottles of laundry detergent? The smaller ones that you usually get out of the vending machines of American laundromats. I can understand the leaking thing but is it not worth it just to put them in ziplock bags?

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