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Backpacking Makes You Wear Undies Two Days Straight! Wh-wh-what?!

How to do your own laundry on your trips

Our laundry in Senggigi, Lombok, Indonesia

Otherwise Known as Personally Tested Tips on Doing Your Own Laundry while Traveling

One lesson you would learn from backpacking, according to an article I have read online (written by a western female backpacker, if that matters), is that undies could go for two days straight. The reason? Because of the absence of laundromat around. Wow. #Whiteprivilege #Firstworldproblem

Suddenly, I felt very lucky to grow up in a household that taught me, my sisters, and brothers to handwash our own undies and eventually our own clothes at the age of 10. I could not speak for other Asian travelers, but we were brought up that way. We practically learned how to cook rice, simple dishes, and do our own laundry when we reached the age of 12.

A budget traveler myself, I am proud to say that I always do my own laundry while on the road. Nothing could substitute the smell of fresh clothes before heading out or going to bed.

So this is a little guide on how to do your own laundry while traveling. 

How to do your own laundry on your trips

SENGGIGI, LOMBOK, INDONESIA. The sight of own laundry from the balcony where we were reading.

What do you need?


Size matters. Especially if you are a light traveler. What I have is a foot scrub brush. Small enough to fit in the toiletries bag. I use it for brushing my unpainted toenails and thick clothes like shorts. My long-term trips are now shared with T, a 6’6″ Austrian whom I taught how to do his own laundry (because, you know, equality :P). He uses it for his huge shirts and shorts.

Liquid detergent? Or detergent powder?

I found liquid detergent preferable to detergent powder. An opened pouch of detergent powder can be messy especially if you transfer from one place to another. Leaving it behind can be an option, but we are in a budget, remember? With liquid detergent, you could pore it into an empty water bottle and place it on your backpack’s side pocket. They are sold in grocery stores. You can also transfer the detergent powder in an empty water bottle. A detergent bar is also an option. We’ve tried all three options, and all three were okay.

How to do your own laundry while triaveling

KUTA, LOMBOK, INDONESIA. T washing his shorts with the foot scrub brush we bought in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

A two-meter rope or tie

Some budget places provide drying racks; some do not. And to avoid getting in trouble with airport policies, I brought a two-meter waist tie from an old bikini cover. With T’s help, we were able to tie both ends, high enough for the laundry not to touch the ground. Make use of the chairs, the curtain holder, or anything you can find in your room. Ingenuity is the key. 

Where to do the washing?

Undies can be washed right after you take a shower. With a little liquid detergent and a little washiwash, it is done. The good thing about them is that you can hang them in front of the AC or electric fan, and they can get dry overnight. For the shirts, the sink can be used as a basin. If the stopper is missing, stuff the hole with a plastic, so the water will not be drained away. If you are staying in a family-owned inn, borrow a basin or bucket, so you can soak your clothes for some minutes. Thump on the soaked clothes to remove some dirt.

Layering of clothes in the cold Mt. Bromo, Indonesia

MT. BROMO, INDONESIA. Layering of clothes in a cold day.

The Proper Order of Things

1. Separate the dirty clothes according to their material: the light colored should go first; the black ones last.
2. Rinse them to remove the primary dirt. Wring the water out. Not too hard.
3. Fill in the sink or the bucket with fresh water, pore liquid detergent, and mix them well with your hand. Bubbles should appear by then.
4. Soak the light-colored clothes.
5. Check this video. Do not look at the guy speaking. In the first 30 seconds, there is a woman beside him looking at him while scrubbing. Study her hands’ movement. Then imitate it. It takes time to get it, but if you are traveling long term with hygiene in mind, you will eventually get it. If you have sensitive skin, use the brush. Brush all edges. Check this other video.
6. Pile the washed clothes in one place.
7. Once you are done scrubbing them all, fill in the sink or bucket with clean water and rinse the clothes. Repeat it three times.
8. Wring the clothes to remove excess water. Hang to dry in an open air

How to do your own laundry while traveling

BANGKOK, THAILAND. Here, I was doing our laundry in our room’s sink. T’s parents backpacked Asia in their younger years. Upon learning that we would be doing our own laundry, his mom gave him liquid detergent to pack.

The material of the clothes does matter

I do not check in my luggage, so the things I stuff in my wheeled backpack matter. In Southeast Asia, the clothes I packed are all cotton except for three shorts. They can be rolled easily. Washing and drying them do not take much time as well. Check my packing technique.

When traveling, T and I do our laundry every other day. It only takes an hour. If I do the washing (but I never do his shorts), T helps in rinsing and hanging. We also have a separate bag to put the semi-dry laundry when it is time to move to a different place and the clothes did not get dry on time.

An ootd of cotton shorts and shirt and foldable tote.

JAKARTA, INDONESIA. An ootd of cotton shorts and shirt and foldable tote while walking the streets of Jakarta

Budget travel is never an excuse to be unhygienic. I have stayed in dorms that cost me Php300 ($6.5), but even cheap hostels have relatively clean shared bathrooms. Washing undies only takes a minute. The communal sink is not always busy as well.

To use “backpacking” as an scapegoat of foul odor and dirty hygiene puts the act of budget trip in a bad light. Hygiene is personal. If you are unhygienic, you are unhygienic. Period.

Jona of Backpacking with a Book

Hi there, I’m Jona, originally from Cebu, Philippines, had live in Hanoi, Vietnam, and now currently based in Munich, Germany. This blog used to house thoughts on life and books, but eventually it morphed into a travel blog. For collaborations, projects, and other things, please email me at For essays, creative nonfiction, and others, find me elsewhere.

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1 Comment

  1. It is very sad to say that this is a subject close to my heart!! I hate the laziness of people who refuse to wash their own clothes. I am also a white western woman, but I have spent a lot of time living places without a washing machine and can’t stand to wear socks or underwear two days in a row. I have also been tempted to write an explanation of how to do it yourself, so thank-you for this. 🙂

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