Pack everything you need or accept you'll lose half a travel day doing laundry. Here are a few strategies to ensure clean clothes, all the time.
Handwashing can work in a pinch though it isn't the most effective method for an entire suitcase or for exceptionally soiled clothing. For heavy loads, it can be a cumbersome task: Cue an image of me hauling a suitcase's worth of laundry and walking across Berlin to find a laundromat.
Though hotels can offer laundry services, they can be expensive, charging per piece, often at several dollars for one item. This is where Airbnbs, and even hostels!, can shine: A vacation rental may come outfitted with the ability to do laundry, like our Maine rental.
(Of course, there's nothing like a bunch of New Yorkers descending on a laundry/dryer machine.)
Do plan laundry in advance: It is advised to leave a solid 24-48 hours for dealing with laundry if you're outsourcing it to hotel staff, who are *also* likely outsourcing it to someone else.
If you're taking matters into your own hands—with hand washing—it is also the same time you need to let a garment completely air dry.
Add laundry pods to that packing list.
Don't assume! If you know you'll need to do laundry (and you know), it is best to pack a few laundry pods. Though it is going to vary based upon individual experience, for us, that means trips over five or seven days.
It can be particularly hard finding detergent and/or fabric sheets, so bring them with you ahead of time. They also don't take up a lot of space.
The Points Guy has a seriously ingenious suggestion: The powder pacs are easier to clean up if they burst on the road, plus are better for passing through security. (At least put them in a Ziploc bag?)
Bringing pure castile soap like Dr. Bronner's might also work in a pich.
Never skimp on packing enough underwear.
Some clothes can be reworn endlessly, but that is difficult to do with underwear. Nothing beats being fresh.
The underwear is one garment to avoid skimping on: There's never no reason to pack enough underwear for the entire duration of the trip, plus it's easy enough to add a few additional pairs as backup.
Find a hostel nearby.
Hostels are also an unusual source for laundering clothes.
Because the backpacking circuit is fairly mature—there's a perpetual supply of 20-somethings on a gap year—and often services extended-stay travelers, they usually have good options for doing laundry.
Hostel staff also tends to be fairly easygoing in nature, so if you're able to explain the situation, they may be able to help.
Head to the nearest laundromat.
Did you pack your detergent? Note laundromats aren't always available or in ample supply, as noted when we walked 25 minutes across Berlin to the nearest one.
Plus, there's the whole language translation and change-for-the-machine thing.
In the end, we ended up having to pull about €14 ($14.70 USD). to at least make up the cost of the ATM fee and for the laundry.
Find a new-fangled laundry service.
Thanks to the innovation economy, there's a plethora of options that are now available that were never available before.
For Rinse, the minimum order was about $30 (the average order was $50) with a standard turnaround of 3–4 days, though rush options are available. LaundryHeap had a $30 minimum order with a 24-hour turnaround time.
It may seem expensive but if doing laundry through the hotel costs $126, plus all the time you could be exploring, it is a steal comparatively.
Do make sure that there's enough time for pick-up and drop-off: If it takes three days or so, and you're only there for two days, it is going to be a tight if not impossible turnaround.
Doing these things on a whim aren't recommended.
Realize dryer options may not be available.
It's an American thing.