If you travel relatively frequently, you will most likely be intimately acquainted with the strange land of The Laundromat. A space filled with a random assortment of people, gathered together in a room full of washing machines, for a single purpose – to have clean, appropriate clothes to wear out in public once again.
Some unspoken code guides people through this unique shared experience – the tentative glance around, the moments spent staring at the terminal in confusion, the eventual asking for help, and subsequent friendly banter with your new-found laundromat friends.
I always put doing my laundry off when travelling, as I can’t bear to miss a second of exploring a new place. However, when it comes to that moment when I realize I’m wearing my bikini bottoms because I have no clean underwear, a trip to a nearby laundromat is in order. If you’re lucky, the instructions for getting clean clothes will be easy to understand, and actually lead to clean clothes. If unlucky, you will likely lose a lot of spare change, shrink your favourite jeans, and have total strangers witness your violently kicking a perfectly innocent dryer.
On my Contiki tour back in 2010, I remember doing my laundry at the campsite in Rome, and meeting fellow South Africans. They were drinking horribly cheap champagne mixed with orange juice, making the best of time wasted by getting smashed. In Barcelona, I was still recovering from the first few anxious days of the tour and stayed at our hostel to do my laundry instead of going on a pub crawl. Strange conversations happen when doing laundry – it’s kind of like a confessional space where bored people have a chance to share a bit of themselves with strangers.
In Hannover, Germany, when we didn’t yet have a washing machine, my hubby and I would buy beer and drink it in the laundromat whilst waiting for our clothes (yes, this is legal in Germany!), opening the beers by forcing the bottle tops off with any suitable surface available. In Frankfurt we had to go to this horrid, ancient little “waschsalon” that ripped us off with malfunctioning machines and a surly owner who really didn’t care whether the patrons actually came back or not. The prices were all indicated in DM (Deutsche Mark) despite the machines taking Euros, giving the place an eerie anachronistic feel. There were also filthy towels on the floor absorbing all the water from numerous leaks, and plastic plants mocking us from the corners of the room. Definitely not a place you would ever want to be stuck in for 90 minutes!
The obligatory laundromat visit is just one part of the travelling/migratory lifestyle, but it offers opportunities for strange and unique interactions with other travellers as you share a transitory space together.
Got any interesting laundromat stories? Please leave them in the comments below! 😀