Dry Clean Only for all the King's Robes?
Laundry Never Ends for the Minimalist Ultralight Traveler
Hostels come in all shapes and sizes. Large and small. Party central and quiet corner. Expensive and cheap. Ramshackle shanty towns with flickering fluorescent overhead lights with sloppy, germ infested bathrooms and modern architectural wonders with uplit hallways leading to that sparkling clean well-equipped common room.
Perhaps the most unique hostels I’ve had the good fortune of staying in were housed in a giant circus tent (along with hundreds of other “circus” goers), a bomb shelter bunker (the views were fantastic if you would just let your imagination run wild), and a converted prison (we each had our own tiny narrow room complete with its own toilet)!
Many of the most memorable hostels were in the castles of Germany’s Rhine River region. Yes, I said that right, castles. Full-on, real, big, giant castles. Set atop hillsides with cresting views, these were unbeatable in terms of location, grandeur, architectural elements, and just downright coolness. In a real-life riches-to-rags story, the German hostel organizations were somehow able to secure regal historic castles for housing cheap scrappy wayward travelers. How did that happen? I’m sure a little bit of research on the net would lead one to the answer, but that won’t be the focus of this post. Instead, a little bit on what these castles did not have: laundry service.
Back in the day when these castles were occupied by more austere tenants, washing machines and dryers must not have existed for lack of any good handy 240-volt circuits. And, if I were to venture a guess, I don’t think dry cleaning was a thing yet. They must have done things by hand. Wow. What effort! Those long flowing robes and gowns would have been so difficult to fit in those small wooden wash tubs! “Your Royal Highness, forgive all the wrinkles, crusty residues, and newly tattered ends of your most cherished coronation robe. By all rights, it should have been dry cleaned, but alas, such a thing does not exist yet. We had to empty that barrel of apples over there in the corner and stuff your robe into it for lack of any larger, more suitable wash bins!...by the way, if you ever get hungry in the middle of the night, some of those little crusties sitting on the left shoulder just might be apple-flavored.”
So of course, in honor of our long deceased hosts, us modern day hostelers sometimes do our laundry by hand. Stop up the sinks! Bring out your soap! Open the valves! Scrub, scrub, scrub.
“Don’t you have to do laundry all the time?” A question asked almost more often than “How are you doing today?” to the ultralight minimalist traveler. Despite the modern advances of our society for things like front loading washers, wrinkle-free dryers, and next day dry cleaning service, science has not yet been able to make an ultralight pack into a circus car of sorts. There just aren’t that many vacant corners to stuff with extra pairs of boxers and socks. So the appropriate answer would be “yes, I’ve got to do laundry almost daily. If I’m lucky, only every other day.”
With so little in the pack, the good thing is that doing laundry takes only a few minutes. Sometimes laundry can be done in the shower in between the shampoo and conditioner. Further, since I’m a big fan of wool when it comes to boxers, socks, shirts, hats, and other items for most climate zones (more on the wonders of wool in a future post), my wardrobe dries quickly. Also, if you treat your royal robes right, since wool doesn’t retain odors like other fabrics and has antibacterial properties, you can do laundry with a little less desperation. Can I wear these another day before washing? Hmmm, maybe I can!
Finding a place to hang your drying laundry can be a bit more challenging. An ultralight clothesline is something you may want to bring, especially if staying in places like hostel castles. Torch sconces and dungeon shackles don’t always make for good clothes hangers, and while the open squares of the castle’s portcullis might be tempting as a clothes drying rack, your holy boxers and royal stockings may not make the best first impression to guests crossing over the entrance moat (but they may make a great defense during a siege)!
One of the best attributes of the traveler with next to nothing is that with fewer things, the less you need to spend time managing all your stuff. The less you have, the less you have to wash and the fewer places you need to find to hang your stuff from. The less fabric you have to scrub, means less time doing laundry and more time to see what you came to see.
The caveat to minimizing laundry cycles is that you don’t want to skimp too much. One of your obligations as a traveler is to make sure you don’t stink! You’ll meet more people that way and you’ll find your conversations with these people to be more enjoyable as the focus will be in the right place. Not only will you spare the happiness of other travelers, but you’ll find yourself happier as well, for there’s far less risk of knocking yourself out and all the others around you in places like crowded buses with no air conditioning.
So, I’ll leave the topic on that note. There’s an important balance to be maintained. When traveling in cheap countries where laundry service costs less than $1 per load, you may want to wash things a little more frequently. Less in not always more, except for when the price is so cheap that it leads to more!
And when laundry service isn’t quite that cheap, be thankful for your minimalist wardrobe as you head off to the castle’s bathroom to scrub those skivvies clean with your own two hands. Before you know it, you’ll be hanging your stuff up to dry on the battlements, strolling across that moat, and gallivanting through the medieval village at the foot of the hill.