How many times do you wear clothes before you wash them? Do you give your clothes the sniff test? Do you determine if you need a shower by sniffing your armpits? I’m not afraid to admit that I do all of these things.
I have found a new definition of clean as I have been traveling.
But I can tell you that while traveling through Central America, I still smelled better and my clothes appeared a lot cleaner than most travelers or locals I encountered. The goal is just to smell at least as good as the guy next to you.
When you only have two t-shirts, three tank tops, and two pairs of shorts in an extremely hot climate, it suddenly seems completely okay to wear each item at least 3 or 4 times depending on how stinky you got during each wear. Traveling through Central America, I learned there is a difference between sweat and stink. I sweated every hour of every day, including while sleeping. I felt like I was living on the surface of the sun. But sweating does not necessarily make your clothes stink. The trick is to shower if you are stinky, use good deodorant, and air out the clothes you wore at the end of each day.
Where am I unwilling to skimp? Underwear. No exceptions.
I have nine pair, so I will usually do laundry every nine days. However, I will stretch it out longer by hand washing a few pairs with my portable detergent strips (one of my best trip preparation purchases) in a hostel sink. Throughout Central America, it was fairly common for hostels to have a sink for hand washing clothes. However, I have been in situations where I’ve used a bucket and a bathroom sink, or even a Tupperware container and a shower. Going to the lavanderia isn’t a huge inconvenience, but it is best to go when ALL of your clothes need washed. So if you need to hand-wash a few items to make it a couple more days before the next trip to the lavanderia, you do it.
My other tricks to stretch it out longer? I am not ashamed to admit that I have worn my bikini bottoms under my shorts on a few occasions. And if you see me on laundry day, there is a 25% chance I’m going commando.
Most people in this part of the world do not have washing machines. And nobody owns a dryer.
Everything is hung up on a patio or terrace. I talked to a few women in different countries who ran laundry services out of their homes, and they told me that the cost of water and electricity is very high for them. They don’t make much from their services by the time they pay the bills. It also seems that there is a general acceptance of sweat and a little body odor. The people understand that you will not smell like a mountain spring every moment of every day, especially in a tropical climate near the equator.
Having a washer and dryer in my home is a convenience I have had my entire life except for my sophomore year of college. Back in the US, it was no big deal to do a small load of laundry for one outfit I wanted to wear that night. In many parts of the world, that is not an option.
I have met other travelers who carry scented sprays to spruce up their clothes when they smell a bit ripe or who only buy clothing made out of specific materials that do not pick up odors or wrinkle easily when packed. I have also been told they make an alcohol spray that will kill bacteria to prevent body odor.