This is a series of posts about ‘how to live out of a backpack’ as a vagabond, minimalist, nomad, expat, traveler or for everyday life as a lifestyle.
One does not need a home full of things to live. Just like ancient times, all we need is what we can carry on our backs.-John V Cain
In the USA and just about every other Western country, all decent houses will have washing + drying machines, most apartment buildings a room for them and laundromats every few blocks in dense cities.
This isn’t exactly breaking news or particularly interesting information. That is until you actually think about it as a traveler in Non-Western, developing or exotic countries. Similarly however, as someone living out of a backpack in a Western country.
As Westerners we take the task of doing laundry for granted. We let it pile up without even thinking about it then have it done almost as easily as taking a shower.
That is the first habit a nomad or vagabond must break, stop retaining a mass of dirty clothes until it’s too much then finally doing laundry. You don’t have the luxury of a corner or closet to shove those clothes to pile up in, all you have is a backpack with finite space.
Dirty clothes are heavier and take up more space as well as contaminating clean garments when confined in such a tight space such as a backpack.
I do frequent individual piece washings to avoid such problems usually without ever using machines.
Instead of keeping dirty clothes in my backpack until I can find a laundromat or machine, I lightly wash them as needed in the sink of whichever accommodation I may be staying in. This is usually just the shirt, underwear or socks I wore that day.
It takes just a few minutes in the sink (or while I’m showering) then I hang it overnight to dry.
This way I rarely have to carry filth in my backpack while always having something clean to wear.
I only do this at hotels and hostels. If at a person’s home, I always seek permission first, as you should.
When I wash this way, I never use detergent. It’s almost always just repeated rinses and it works perfectly fine. I wash my clothes regularly instead of letting them get dirty enough where they need chemical intervention.
As you may have noticed, all my clothing is black, including socks, underwear and even gloves. More than that, I only wear quality brands. I say this because I choose my clothing very carefully like my gear.
So I take care of my clothing and washing them this way has after all these years, kept them black and has made them last. As suppose to letting them get too dirty, shoving them in dirty sacks and forcing them through rough machines and rougher chemicals.
If I know I’ll be at a single location for an extended time and staying in a “home” like situation such as Airbnb or Couchsurfing, then I change my laundry method.
This is when I use laundry machines like everyone else. But you’ll be surprised at how rare drying machines are, even in such developed countries like South Korea.
Oddly enough, the most pleasant experiences of doing laundry for me is when in poorer countries like Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. Laundromats as we Westerners know them are exceedingly rare but washing services from “businesses” are everywhere.
Sometimes it’s a side business of a tiny restaurant that will clean your clothes out back or a family that offers the service to do at their home. It sounds strange, shady and nonsensical at first but after over a hundred times getting my clothes washed this way, I have never had a single problem, not even a missing sock.
It’s cheap, reliable and supports the community.
In the past I’ve used the laundry services of luxury hotels like the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore and while their presentation is exemplary (but pointless), the high cost is obviously not worth the convenience.
There are times when no running water or facilities are available and dirty clothes do accumulate.
This is why a regular plastic shopping bag should always be a part of your packing list. Dirty clothes should never be commingled with clean ones, nor should they be kept loose in your backpack, including the bottom.
Place them neatly folded or rolled into a plastic bag to modestly seal it off from everything else. I also collect silica gel packets you find in everyday products and stick them in my backpack here and there.
But when I have to resort to this method, I stick them into the plastic bag to decrease moisture and odor.
A habit a nomad or vagabond must break, stop retaining a mass of dirty clothes until it’s too much then finally doing laundry.
How to Live Out of a Backpack:
Yah, I love those lil laundry shop thingies in South East Asia. So cheap but so good. I’ve never had a problem either.
That silica gel idea is offing brilliant! Thanks for that.
Very handy info for my backpacking trip across Thailand, thanks!
I use the Eagle Creek Medium Pack-It Compression Sac. I’ve used the same one for years. It is a durable zip lock top and you roll it to press the air out. Even more than for just dirty laundry, I use this for swim trunks and other wet items that don’t dry before my departure. Unless the item is dripping wet the EC Compression Sac will keep everything else in your pack dry. This item is one of my top 10 don’t leave home without items.