Order Tara's Bicycle Touring Cookbook Today!

Laundry on the Road

by Tara

At first it was pretty easy. In England and France we'd just use the washers and dryers present at most campsites. After a while though, especially upon entering Switzerland, we weren't willing to shell out the exorbitant sums campsites wanted simply to wash our clothes in a machine. Add to that the increasing frequency of our free-camping—we began washing by hand. And by "we" I mean "I", because though we divvy up nearly all of our tasks equally, somehow I always end up doing the laundry!

When free-camping, I heat water in a pot on the stove, soak/scrunch the clothes around in it with a bit of soap, and then rinse. It really helps when we camp near a water source like a stream, lake, or public water fountain so it doesn't completely deplete our water supply. Usually if we're free-camping, I'll only do the clothes that need cleaning the most. Anything but the direst of cases can be saved for a more convenient location.

Hotels, and the little guest-house we are staying at now, offer the ease and convenience of a sink. Sometimes it is almost too tiny to be of use, but with a little patience and creativity I can always make do with the situation, cleaning in small batches if need be.

Doing Laundry

Hand-washing clothes at campsites is probably the easiest of all because not only do we have running water but we also have a lot of space to spread out. Most campsites provide large clothes-washing sinks, sometimes with a washboard-like attachment where I can really mash our clothes around and feel like a pioneer woman in the process.

Tyler (who is obsessed with efficiency) prefers taking a shower with his clothes on, washing them at the same time as he washes himself. We have fun coming up with creative ways to hang the clothes to dry, one of my favorites being the upside-down Walkstool three-pronged approach.

Clothing Line Sunset

Here at Carla's, the washing machine is broken. We quickly got over our initial disappointment (akin to finally finding a campsite for the sole purpose of taking a hot shower, only to find that the water is freezing cold) and began to do laundry, as normal, in the tiny sink at our little guest-house in the garden.

Nobody in Europe seems to have them so we never thought to ask, but we found out yesterday that while they don't have a washer currently, they do have a DRYER! We leave tomorrow, hopefully in the direction of Libya, so I did all of our laundry tonight, thrilled by the fact our clothes would actually be dry in time to leave tomorrow.

You get really intimately connected with every facet of your life doing a trip like this, and laundry is no exception. It can be a day-long project, practically an event at times, and can even feel like a sort of meditation: soak, soap, scrub, squish, rinse, rinse, rinse, repeat.

I wasn't into the meditative aspect today. I squirted a bit of our Shaklee Basic H into a bucket along with a large pinch of Shaklee "Fresh Laundry Powder" that my parents delivered when they visited us in Italy and left a batch of clothes to soak, putting off the inevitable.

When I took them out twenty minutes later to do the whole by-hand-agitating-scrunching-business they didn't smell at all! I'm talking about 20+ day old smelly socks and really, really funky cycling shorts. Our merino wool doesn't get odorous, but my cycling shorts do. When everything was done soaking, I barely had to do anything except rinse! I'll definitely be using that method more often.

The dryer here has a massively loud squeak and it seemed like it might shake itself to pieces but sure enough, it did the job. It seriously seemed like a miracle when about 40 minutes after putting our clothes in, they were already dry. Not mostly dry. Not dry in parts, but still damp in others. Not even a teensy, tiny bit wet, requiring a few kilometers strapped to the back of a bike to "air dry". Everything was absolutely devoid of moisture.

Tyler took care of drying but he called me over to share in the very best part of the whole process: filling our arms with a huge bundle of WARMTH. The last time either of us can remember doing that is in England!

Previous Entry
Libya Update
In Years Past and Future
2010 - Making Calendars
Next Entry
Reaching Out


I have a little trick when travelling and washing clothes to aid their drying process:

I keep a separate travel towel (one that we have not used to dry ourselves) and place finished laundry in it, and wring the towel - this wrings out more moisture than my pathetic handwringing can do and really speeds up the drying process.

Also, we have a nifty little clotheline thing - two long elastics twisted around each other - that I just adore. Peg-less and very versitile (well, I've mostly just strung it between trees or from one end of the tent to the other end but I feel like I could string it between anything!)

Lastly, as equitable as we also are in tasks, it is amazing how camping reverts you to gender-stereotyped-roles. I'm mostly the cook and launderer; Nic is mostly the tent setter-upper-er and fix-it man. But I suspect I'm the launderer as I notice/ am more concerned sooner than he does /is that we are dirty/smelly. :-)
Posted by oanh on November 20th, 2009 at 4:10 AM
Oanh, I love your towel trick! I did it just the other day and it worked really well. Within about ten minutes my underwear was dry!! Thank you!
Posted by Tara on November 24th, 2009 at 12:41 AM