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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Travel Hygiene: Are Travelers Dirty?


Often times, whenever I tell someone that I have been traveling, living and working around the world for the past 13 years or so, I receive a very similar response. It begins with a “Hmm…” and continues with a “You don’t look like someone who has been traveling for 13 years!
At that point, I’ll ask for some clarification.
And this is when such observations as “Your clothes are clean. Your hair isn’t a mess. You’re clean shaven. You don’t stink.” are mentioned.
I usually just smile and say “Yup.
The problem is that it’s quite common for some to think that long-term travel can only be accomplished in two ways – either with an endless supply of money or basically no money at all. And since I rarely take my Lamborghini with me on my adventures and I prefer to leave my Rolex locked up in the hostel safe, it is automatically assumed that I’m traveling on an extremely low budget. And if I’m traveling with such little money, surely I should fit the mold of what we think a person with such little money who bums around the world must look like…well, a bum. So, in conclusion, I should be disturbingly dirty and completely unhygienic, I should be someone who sleeps on the streets, eats trash, rarely showers, never washes my clothes and has forgotten what a toothbrush looks like.
But guess what?
Long-term travelers do laundry.
We take showers.
We even sleep in beds, usually!
And while I can’t speak for every long-term traveler out there, I personally travel with more than one shirt and more than one pair of underwear. My socks rarely smell too bad. I brush my teeth, every day, two or three times per day in fact! I shampoo my hair and I even shave. Heck, I also shave my armpits and even pluck my eyebrows. And I’ve found it quite easy to do all of these things and to avoid the transformation into a food-permanently-stuck-in-my-teeth, lice-infested, torn and stained clothes-wearing, disheveled and bedraggled mess. Amazing, right?
Not so much.


It really is not so difficult to practice good travel hygiene while out there in the world. Showers are plentiful (or at least a pipe with water coming out of it), even when you stay at the cheapest accommodation possible. Toothpaste, shaving cream, deodorant, shampoo, soap and even nail clippers can be bought everywhere. Laundry can be done in a sink at a hostel/budget hotel and laundry detergent costs as little as 2 US cents for a packet in some countries. In many parts of the world, you can bring your clothes to a laundromat and they’ll clean the lot for a few dollars. Even inexpensive new clothes can be purchased in just about any country in the event that your pants sustain a major rip across the crotch.
The point is that long-term travelers are not dirty folk and even on a budget of a few hundred dollars per month, it’s very possible to stay clean and healthy. There’s really no reason to live an unhygienic traveling lifestyle, unless you really want to, as you pretty much need to make a real effort to avoid showers, keep your clothes dirty and not give in to the temptation of clean teeth.
I personally feel good after taking a shower and I tend to enjoy life better when my feet aren’t itchy from a pair of socks that haven’t been cleaned in months. I know, I’m strange!

Feeling Dirty?

If you’re ever out there traveling and you do start to find that washing your clothes is becoming difficult or that keeping up good travel hygiene is not as easy as you thought, you might want to slow down your travel pace. You really might be moving too fast if you don’t have time to wash, clean, scrub, shave and brush. Stop for a week somewhere, relax and refresh, get your stuff in order, wash that massive bag of dirty clothes and even put some moisturizer on after a shower. You’ll feel good, believe me.
While you’re at, and this is important for all travelers, you might also want to ensure that you’re not only clean but in optimal mental and physical condition as well. Your travels will be infinitely more rewarding if you take a few minutes each day to really focus on yourself. Take some vitamins to supplement any potential deficiencies resulting from a constantly changing diet, try to eat as healthy as you possibly can, exercise often, either with simple hotel room workouts or even by walking as much as you can every single day (it’s a great way to experience a destination as well!).
Activities such as reading, meditation and silent contemplation, listening to music, yoga, even juggling your socks (preferably clean ones!)…they are all perfect travel companions. Anything that improves your mental and physical well-being and allows you to clear your head and keep your body in shape, is worth doing while out there on the road. Travel can be mentally and physically draining after all and if you don’t take care of yourself, it can easily lose its appeal after a while.
Stay healthy, stay fresh, stay clean and you’ll wake up every day with even more energy to get out there and experience life as a traveler. In fact, now that I wrote this post, I realized that I could use a little meditation session myself today and it’s also probably time I work on getting that piece of corn out of my teeth. That barbeque I attended here in Bucharest was almost three weeks ago.
Have you found it difficult to stay clean while traveling? Any concerns about maintaining hygiene for those about to travel? Anyone know how to get a piece of corn out of my teeth that’s really wedged in there?