Frequent Flyer Club

Why I Pack Only Dirty Clothes When I Travel

Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

Unpopular opinion: only suckers of the highest order pack up a suitcase with clean clothes before heading on a trip. Is it you? Do you do this? Sucker. Travel with your dirty laundry, or not at all.

Over the years I’ve held this conviction so persistently that a reputation now precedes me. When, for instance, I texted a friend in Florida who I’ll be visiting soon, I asked, “Do you have a washer/dryer?”

Came the reply: “If you bring laundry with you again, I won’t pick you up from the airport.”

The nerve. Look, there’s nothing wrong with my go-to travel ritual. Some people drink before they fly. Some people wear slip-on shoes to breeze through security. Prior to my trips, I empty a big, lumpy, canvas laundry bag onto my bedspread, sift through the... uh, aromatic contents, stuff my selections into a duffel, and head for the airport. You ask me? I’d no more take clean clothes on a trip than I would schlep sand to the beach.

Over the past few years, no matter where I’ve traveled, my clothes come soiled. At every house I rent, every apartment in which I couch-surf, every hostel that puts up my raggedy ass, my question is singular. Do you, perhaps, have a washer/dryer that I could use? If it’s not too much trouble, of course. I’m a sudsy soldier of fortune, a wandering washerman, an itinerant launderer. And I’m here to tell you, this is the only way to go.

colorful clothes hanging on a patio

Washing is almost always easier on a visit

Before you turn up your nose, friend, ask yourself why you ever stuff your suitcase with folded, fresh clothes? Consider: necessity dictates that you travel with a bag of clothing. Convention has long instructed the traveler to have a fresh outfit on-hand. Left unspoken is the eventual outcome: a bag of dirty clothes headed back home with you. For you Floridians et al, this is no big deal -- just walk your suitcase straight into your five-car garage and dump it straight into the Whirlpool. But when you’re returning to, say, New York City, and your laundry facilities require a trip of their own, this is a bummer of an ending to a trip.

But consider instead, the diametric opposite: fill your bag with dirty clothes, wash them at your port of call -- a couple of times, even! -- and return home with a renewed buffer between you and the bottom of your underwear drawer. Now your vacation has carried forth, and rejuvenated your intimates.

Like my host in the Sunshine State, you might consider my plan an imposition, or at least, a tacky scheme. It’s both! But having explored the various alternatives, I can confidently say: toting sullied togs across the country, or around the world, is me living my best life. Take me as I am, people (and take my laundry, too).

How did I arrive at such a radical paradigm? My Brooklyn apartment is a great distance from the nearest laundromat, a small, grubby, cash-only establishment that closes on Sundays and occasionally returns things dirtier than they arrived. The second-nearest facility is twice as far, and just as inadequate. This being New York, and me being neither oil baron nor trustafarian, my flat has no washer/dryer of its own. Some buildings have communal coin-operated machines, sequestered in some dim stairwell landing or dank subterranean washroom; mine does not. Delivery services are predictably expensive and surprisingly inconvenient.

What does one do in such a sorry situation? I stuff my sorries in a sack. As I have happily discovered, most any destination is more amenitized than New York City in this particular category. As such, I can proudly state that it’s been more than 365 days since the last time I did a single load of laundry within the Five Boroughs.

Hanging laundry outside building
Pawel Kazmierczak/Shutterstock

Yes, this strategy can bite you on the ass

I should caution you: this Bold New Way is not without pitfalls. You can do absolutely everything right -- as I do, always, in all things -- and still get screwed.

For instance, I never book an Airbnb that doesn’t offer a washer and dryer. But this past winter, I dragged a bag full of mildewy shorts, sweat-stained shirts, and orphaned socks on a southbound Amtrak, to Washington, DC, only to find Airbnb listing had been terribly mistaken. The only laundry facility on-site were several decrepit machines that sat “out of order.” A fear gripped me. Cold sweat began to soak through the shirt on my back -- the only clean one I had to my name.

After a few sheepish phone calls to some long-lost friends (“Hey! It’s Dave, from English 308. Do you, uh, still live in Georgetown, perchance?”), I found a willing soul who offered their own machine. The lesson stuck. When you are a disruptor, fate may conspire against you to maintain the status quo. Such a fight against the current of clothes-washing custom isn’t for everyone.

It might not even be for me, for much longer -- I’ve just signed the lease on a one-bedroom money-pit in a nice section of Brooklyn. And guess what’s in the basement. I imagined myself doing a wash in like two or three hours, without taking a Megabus first. This must be what it’s like to live next door to a Maytag factory, or maybe to be from Connecticut.

Then the landlord tells me the dryer doesn’t always vent. And apparently the basement has a tendency to flood. With that, my eye wanders again to Airbnb, and my mind begins to churn. I’ve heard the spin cycles in Florida are lovely this time of year.

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Dave Infante is a writer, editor, and video producer living in Brooklyn, New York. Follow him on Twitter: @dinfontay.