After the ecstasy, the laundry
A Packing List
For trips of modest duration, I bow to tradition: individual foil packets of Woolite® cold water laundry detergent (pictured at right), a traveller's standby for years, and for good reason. I carry them in doubled Ziploc® bags. Yes, it's a liquid, but the quality is high, the quantity is very small, and the sheer convenience makes a compelling argument.
For extended travel periods, though, a good biodegradable powdered detergent is generally a more optimal choice; a small narrow-mouthed Nalgene® HDPE bottle is a useful way to keep a reasonable quantity dry. And plain shampoo (no conditioners or scents) makes an acceptable laundry detergent in a pinch.
Whatever you choose, appreciate that very little detergent is required to do a sink full of laundry … or else plan on plenty of rinse cycles!
(surgical latex braid) clothesline (carabiner?)
This is one of those items so perfectly designed for its purpose that you wonder why we're not issued with them at birth. If you've never seen/used a good travel clothesline, you're in for a treat; it may well change your (travel) life. Get the right type, though ("Flexo-line®" is the brand I recommend), one made from three strands of surgical latex rubber tubing, braided (not twisted) to form a clothesline, with reliable attachments at the ends. It packs small, stretches l-o-n-g (if you need it to), and holds your damp laundry all by itself (no clothespins needed: you tuck edges of the clothing between strands of the braid, and the latex rubber grips them firmly). Plus, every laundry night, you get to exercise your creativity by discovering the two optimal line attachment locations! Don't think that you need to restrict your hanging locations to the bathroom (often a poor choice anyway, due to lack of air circulation, and your laundry should not be so wet that it's dripping). Nor need the line be particularly horizontal: one end on a doorknob and one on a light fixture works just fine.
Beware: there are many "travel clotheslines" of poor design and/or mediocre quality. Some have suction cups (these don't work on wood and concrete, and are usually not strong enough to hold wet laundry in any case). Some have simple twisted strands, or are not made of surgical rubber (these won't support your clothes properly, or keep them separated effectively). Some are insufficiently long (these won't reach as many attachment points, or hold much laundry). Such products work poorly, if at all. And you will forever wonder why seasoned travellers consider the travel clothesline to be one of their most treasured "secret weapons". So I repeat: get the correct type.
Latex rubber deteriorates with time, so one of these won't last forever, but I've found them to last for a good dozen years or more. You'll be able to tell when they're reaching the end.
Some people pack latex rubber clotheslines with their medical supplies, as they also make ideal tourniquets.
A carabiner (one is sufficient) will increase your clothesline's attachment options. It needn't be a heavy-duty version; the inexpensive type sold for keyrings (as illustrated at left) is fine, and will tether your keys when you're not drying clothes.
Or consider carrying a proper mountaineering carabiner. These are not inexpensive, and much larger, though still pretty light: my Petzl Am'D Screw Lock Carabiner, pictured at right, is only 2.6 ounces (74g). They offer much additional functionality, however, and can be used to: provide a comfortable handle for one or more shopping bags; secure belongings to stationary objects (screw- and ball-lock models are sufficiently unusual in appearance and operation to suffice as an effective deterrent to opportunistic thieves); attach shopping bags, children's paraphernalia, etc. (anything you don't want lost or snatched) to luggage shoulder straps, strollers, shopping carts, and bicycle baskets; keep your day bag off a dirty floor; anchor a handbag to a car's passenger headrest post (preventing it from flying off the seat during sudden stops); serve as an improvised defence weapon (as pictured at left); even tow a car (it will withstand 6295 lbs / 2855kg of force).
universal (flat) sink stopper
You'll often encounter sinks without drain stoppers. As washing your clothes is difficult under such circumstances, carry your own. Even if you're not planning to do laundry, it can be used when bathtub drains don't hold water, and to convert a shower stall into an emergency footbath.
A flat stopper (as pictured at left) can also substitute as a jar opener; conversely, a flat rubber jar opener can be used as a sink stopper. Other drain-plugging possibilities (depending on the type of drain) include duct or packing tape (if you dry the flange first), a small rubber ball (which can also provide entertainment and exercise when you're not washing clothes), and — in lieu of anything else — a rolled sock.
These serve multiple functions: they augment what may be a meagre (or nonexistent) supply of clothes hangers in your room, provide an ideal way of hanging wet shirts for drying (keeping the fronts and backs from touching, thus aiding air circulation), and won't stain your nice white fabrics (unlike many cheap wooden hangers). Less obviously, you can — on the type pictured at right — temporarily remove the metal hook (best done at home prior to your trip, as the task will require a pair of pliers to "unbend" it a bit), and use the remaining piece as a fine lumbar pillow to support your back on long flights; the hook slips back on easily once you reach your destination. And when you're not using the hanger, the hook can be used as an additional attachment option for your travel clothesline.
Or you may prefer the version shown at left. I am aware of additional types, but these are the two I recommend; both are extremely light, and pack very small, so you needn't feel guilty. I carry two.
Additional laundry suggestions can be found in the laundry section of the Clothes & Laundry page.