Can you experience love, freedom and fun in launderettes? Yes, you can!
Many of us take washing machines for granted and treat them with little respect. Mine in London is hiding behind cupboards and others have theirs imprisoned in dark washrooms. But when you travel, launderettes become a place for love, freedom and fun.
The first time I ever used a launderette was in summer 1994 at Castle Irwell student village in Salford, Manchester. A girlfriend and I spent 6 weeks here during our school holidays. Why two teenagers ended up here from Italy is another story that warrants its own blog. I am forever grateful to my parents for entrusting me with tons of freedom from a very young age.
I recently drove back to this place in my campervan when returning from Scotland to London. My route was passing by Manchester so I added a detour down memory lane, after 24 years. Sadly, as I approached the location, things looked very different. The student village had completely disappeared and in its place was a neglected construction site.
I cried like a baby as happy memories replayed vividly in my mind, despite the missing site. Oh, how I wished I had a time machine to relive some of those moments.
One of these memories was at the camp’s launderette, sitting on the floor with the most handsome guy I had ever met. I was in love. We were being silly, laughing as we watched our pants going around in the machines. We barely understood each other because my English was so basic. But love speaks one language.
I don’t think I used another coin-operated washing machine again until earlier this year, when I walked 930km along the Camino de Santiago, in Spain. Laundry services at hotel receptions or other businesses don’t count as the same experience. Nor does that time I persuaded the bungalow owner in Goa, India, to let me use his own machine last year. My goodness, I had never seen one quite like it, hand‑washing would have been easier than working that one out.
During the Camino, having the right coins for laundry and discussing frequency and quantity of washes were regular on the agenda. I often washed my clothes by hand too, depending on weather and facilities available that day, or I shared drums with other fellow-pilgrims. Laundry time was as social as the cooking in the shared kitchens.
Then the other night, while touring the North Coast 500 (Scotland) in my van, I finally stopped at a lovely campsite after driving much longer than I wished that day, in heavy rain and windy conditions. My washing basket was crying for attention and the facilities building was only 50 meters from where I pitched the campervan.
Laundry can be Freeing and Fun!
Most people would say that doing the laundry is a pretty mundane chore but when travelling it can turn into real fun.
That evening in the campsite in Scotland, all I expected to do is take my laundry bag to the laundry room, put my washing on, return to move the wet clothes into the dryer and return to pick everything up. A total of 3 trips from van to laundrette.
That quickly turned into a clear under-estimation… It took me 4 trips just to get the wash going!
It was getting darker and every trip back and forth involved running under heavy rain and right into big puddles of water that I was determined not to miss. I didn’t care, I was so happy to have access to a laundry and I had the exact amount of coins I needed. I couldn’t believe my luck. The campsite reception closed just as I turned up so no right coins would have meant no washing. And if you don’t have enough change for the dryer, don’t even think about getting the wash done or you’ll be left with a heavy pile of soaked fabrics.
4 trips to get the washing on:
1. I reach the facilities building with my overloaded bag and my exact coins (every single one I had!). The door has a coded lock. No. The code must be in that handout they gave me when I arrived. It’s in the van. I memorised the code and kept repeating it in my head. Carrying the paper handout under the rain was not a good idea, especially as I already had my hands full with the bag, the coins and the van keys.
2. The code works, I get in. It’s nice and warm, very clean and I smiled widely when I see the brand-new equipment. I put my wash in and start reading the instructions. Step 2 says: put detergent in tray 1. The detergent! It’s in the van. I return “home” and get a capsule out of a new box and I spot a couple of other items I could add to the wash load.
3. I run back to the facilities feeling super brainy for still remembering the entry code. I get in and add my extra bits into the machine. But wait, I can’t believe it, I left the detergent on the kitchen top, in the van.
4. It’s getting darker and darker but at this stage I know where the big puddles are because I didn’t miss them once. I had everything I needed: code, coins, laundry and detergent. The washing has started. I return to the van to chill for 45 minutes and spot two dirty tea towels.
When I returned to move the completed wash to the dryer (trip 5), I took the tea towels and another detergent capsule with me. I practically stripped naked (campsite is almost empty) and handwashed a few extra items that I would add in for drying… that felt pretty freeing I must say.
You could run the dryer for only 20 minutes at a time and you can’t mess with dryers you never used before. Some can get really hot. And yes, I did need a further trip no. 6, to run it for a second 20-minute cycle.
Conclusion: the 3 runs ultimately doubled to 6.
Oh, the joys when all your washing is done, dry and warm.
Am I the only one who smells every single clean item before folding it. I love the smell of freshly washed clothes, in particular when I’m away using laundrettes. The extra appreciation enhances all my senses.
I only realised I did the smelling ritual when someone pointed it out during the Camino.
I was sitting by my bunk bed in a busy hostel and I hadn’t noticed an Italian lady relaxing in her bed nearby, observing my process and laughing at me. Only once I finished emptying my laundry basket and rolling everything neatly in my backpack, she said to me: “I’ve really enjoyed watching you smelling appreciatively every single clean item you’ve just put away”.
Other wild travellers out there may relate. It feels so freeing having your full travel set of clothes and towels feeling and smelling clean again!
As I repeated this ritual in Scotland, this time I was aware of doing it and it made me smile.
The next morning, I wake up and it stopped raining. I couldn’t help wondering why I rushed to do all the washing the night before!? 😊 Well, I would have missed all the fun.
I had to laugh again a few days later, when I was introduced to new friend and as I hugged him, I notice how nice he smelt and without thinking I said: “ooh you smell nice, like you’ve just come out of a tumble dryer!”
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I loughed with gusto reading this, Francesca!
I should give it a try at using a laundrette!
Good afternoon francesca i hope you are well, i loved reading this.
I was a resident of castle irwel 2004-2006 and i am gathering stories by residents and non residents who experienced the village and would love to hear more if you have.
Please email me.