Welcome back to Ricardo’s Travel Advice, a series in which I lay out some of the insight I’ve gained from my overseas journeys. This advice comes from the perspective of an American male who’s done three solo extended overseas journeys—two to Europe and one to Japan and Korea—and might not apply to everyone, but there should be a lot here that’s broadly applicable. Today I’ll be giving some advice on the sorts of clothing to bring and doing laundry while traveling.
The type of clothes you bring will depend on the weather conditions in the place(s) you’re visiting. If you’re traveling in warm weather you can probably take less clothing than if you’re traveling in cold weather, and if it’s going to be raining a lot then you’ll obviously want to consider having an umbrella or waterproof clothes. Know your destination before you visit and you won’t find yourself inappropriately dressed.
To help make packing light easier, try to bring clothing that can be used for various weather conditions. For example, when I was in Japan and Korea last year I brought a single pair of convertible cargo pants, which allowed me to have shorts for warmer weather and pants for cooler weather. It seems like the Fashion Police have a particular hatred of convertible pants, but when you’re backpacking around for weeks or months on end you should feel the full liberty to throw off a lot of the normal fashion rules you’d abide by while at home. Another way to pack light is to bring clothes that can easily layer on top of each other if you’re going to be traveling during colder months. While you’ll still have to bring extra clothes if you’re going to Moscow in the winter, layering can help you pack light if you’re going to be somewhere that’s a little chilly but not freezing.
As for fabric types, generally speaking I try not to wear cotton clothes while traveling. The reasons for this are that cotton tends to hold onto smells more than synthetic fabrics or wool, cotton takes longer to dry than those other fabrics, and cotton tends to get wrinkly when hang-dried. Cotton might feel a little better than some other fabrics but it’s too high-maintenance for me to recommend it for traveling attire. Some exceptions can be made—my hoodie is made of cotton—but try to avoid cotton clothing if possible. The shirts, underwear, socks, and convertible pants I took with me overseas are all synthetic fabrics and they’re so much easier to maintain than the cotton shirts, underwear, socks, and other cotton things I normally wear when I’m at home.
One of the things you’ll discover while traveling is that you don’t need to do laundry as often as you do it back home. Sure, if you’re traveling in hot weather and working up a sweat each day then you’ll need to do laundry often to keep you clothes from smelling bad, but if you’re not getting your clothes messy you can wear them several times before they actually need cleaning.
Ideally you’d do laundry in a washing machine, but sometimes you don’t have one available or maybe you’re just looking to save a little money. In those cases you can do laundry in a sink. I’ve washed my clothes in a sink dozens of times over my three overseas journeys and can tell you first-hand that it works. Below is a step-by-step instruction on how to do it.
Before starting make sure to clean out the sink bowl as best you can. You’ll also want to have a rubber sink stopper on you in case the sink doesn’t have a stopper of its own and you’ll need some liquid laundry detergent. First, rinse out your clothes under running water to get most of the dust and large particles out of them. Just rinsing your clothes will actually get them much of the way back to how they were before they were dirty, so you could potentially stop here and just dry them out after rising, but let’s continue and do the whole washing process. After you’ve rinsed your clothes fill up the sink bowl with water of the appropriate temperature for your clothing. I personally always use cold water, but that’s just so I can wash lights and darks together without fear of color bleeding. Add just a little liquid detergent (seriously, a single small jet should be all you need) to the water and stir it up with your hand to get an even distribution of it in the water. Put your clothes in the water and spend a minute churning them up, similar to how your washing machine would be churning them. Then drain the sink and rinse out your clothes with running water. Wring out your clothes to squeeze out as much water as possible. Now you’re done washing and it’s time to dry.
Again, you’d ideally have a drying machine to dry your clothes, but if that’s not available or you want to save a little money you’ll need some sort of drying rack or clothesline to hang them up. Some hostels and guesthouses have outdoor clotheslines and whenever I stay at a place with one of those I make full use of it and do a lot of laundry (assuming the weather isn’t rainy). If there isn’t an outdoor clothesline at where you’re staying you may have to get creative about where you place your clothesline. Bedposts normally work well, outdoor railings on a balcony can sometimes work, but the main thing is that you’ll need to find two objects you can securely attach the clothesline to. In order to keep puddles from forming on the floor, consider wringing out your clothes one more time before hanging them.
How long it takes clothes to dry will depend on the material they’re made out of and how large or thick they are. If your clothes are hanging in a warm, dry room then you might be able to wash them in the evening and let them dry overnight. Plan accordingly and you’ll have few problems with keeping your clothes clean while you travel.