Staying Clean and Fresh While Traveling

Staying clean while traveling might seem like a challenge, especially if you're a "Freestyle Traveler" who may be hiking, hitchhiking, taking buses, or putting yourself in any other number of unique travel situations.

Some people get comfortable with their own stink, but this isn't cool in many situations that may affect your travels. If you're hitchhiking, your ride might get cut short by someone who can't tolerate the stench. If you're bellied up to the bar, others might not want to get so close to you. You may even get kicked out of some places if you're particularly brutal.

Let me share some obvious and not-so-obvious tips for staying clean on the road in the form of these categories:
  • Ideal quality and quantity of clothing and storage
  • Toiletries to carry (and what not to bring)
  • Keeping your clothes clean
  • The places and ways to get cleaned up

Best travel clothing for staying clean

Let's start with your clothes. I've written an entire guide to ultralight packing, but we'll focus on clothes that don't stink here.

Merino wool is your best friend. This fabric is most commonly used for shirts, underwear and socks. The secret's been out on Merino wool for a while: it doesn't start to stink nearly as fast as other fabrics.

If you can get two Merino wool t-shirts, a max of three, you'll be in really good shape. They're insanely comfortable and dry very quickly, which makes washing them easy (I'll get into a trick with that below). You may also want to find a balance between a darker color that will hide potential stains, but keep in mind that for things like hitchhiking, brighter colors win... so that's why I like certain blues and greens.

The same goes with Merino wool socks and underwear: two to three pairs are plenty. The stuff isn't cheap, but since you'll only need two or three of each item it kind of balances out.

Store your clean and dirty clothes separately. This should be fairly obvious, but even just having a plastic grocery bag to stuff your dirty socks or underwear in to separate it from your clean clothes will do the trick. If your backpack has an external pocket, I suggest stuffing that grocery bag in that outer pocket for further separation.


Some essentials:
A standard ziplock will contain your stuff and prevent spills and also may be required if you're flying.

Dr. Bronners is the ultimate travel hygiene product. This liquid soap goes a long way, with just a few drops being enough to wash your body; 2oz bottles last me forever. You can also wash your hair with it, brush your teeth with it and wash your clothes with it. It's the best.

A toothbrush is a given, and snapping the handle off to save weight is the oldest trick in the book. I made a video about how to melt down deodorant into a smaller container for travel, it's worth a watch.

I have an entire post about the lightest and best beard trimmers, I suggest you give that a look and decide for yourself which way you wanna go with that.

I list toothpaste and shampoo as "bonus" since you can use Bronners as both. Also, often times if you have access to a proper shower you'll probably also have access to shampoo, whether it's at a friend's house or a hostel or otherwise, so you can get away without carrying it yourself.

I rarely use chapstick or sunscreen. Particularly, sunscreen is extra obnoxious for me when I'm not sure I'll have a proper chance to wash it off later in the day or for days... but people do love their sunscreen, and I'll probably pay for it when I'm older. It's up to you.

Washing clothes

If you're staying with a host (through Couchsurfing, Trustroots, Couchers, BeWelcome, etc) or a friend or whatever, then you might have access to a washing machine which is a no-brainer. I tend to wash my clothes at the latest possible moment, like the night before or the morning I leave, so I hit the road completely fresh.

Pro tip: If they use dryer sheets, keep them with your clothes in your bag rather than throwing them out and your clothes and pack will smell extra fresh for a while.

Any sink is another option for washing your clothes. Maybe you sprang for a hotel room, or maybe you somehow have access to a public bathroom for an extended period of time. Fill it up with water, a few drops of Dr. Bronner's, scrub your clothing items, rinse them, then let them dry.

You can do the same in lakes and rivers, as Dr. Bronner's is all-natural.

One of the most efficient ways to wash your clothes, however, is to do it while you're washing yourself, which I'll describe in the next section.

Washing yourself

Below I describe a multitude of places and ways to get cleaned up, some are obvious, some not so much. I mentioned washing your clothes while washing yourself, which is as simple as wearing your clothes in the shower, for example, soaping them up with yourself, rinsing them, and then drying them out. This is where Merino t-shirts really shine, as you can take a shower wearing one, wring it out a bit, and throw it right back on and it'll dry very quickly while you're wearing it.

Shower while staying with friends/hosts/hostels/hotels

This is an obvious one, but of course you can use a legit shower often when you're couchsurfing or staying with friends.

More times than not, when you have access to someone's shower you'll also be able to borrow their towel, so I recommend not packing a towel of your own, of any kind, as it's a waste of weight and space. In a pinch, you can always use a dry clean shirt you already have as a towel.

Like washing my clothes, I try to take a shower at the last possible minute when staying somewhere, so I'm optimally fresh when I hit the road and may not know when the next wash will come.

Truck stop showers

Most major truck stops have showers you can use, but often it costs ten bucks or more. However, most truck drivers get more free shower credits (for fueling up) than they can actually use, so ask nicely and a driver just might let you use one of their credits.

Sinks in public bathrooms

You will master the art of the sink bath (also called a bird bath or whore bath for fun). Grab some paper towels, lather them up a bit, and hit your armpits and crotch. Splash some water on your face. Off you go. This is best done as quick as possible in single-occupancy bathrooms or on the sly in bigger bathrooms. Just don't make a mess. Break out the Dr. Bronner's if you have more time/privacy.


This is a great one, just go for a swim with some Dr. Bronner's and you're good to go. Just like showering, you can jump in the water wearing your underwear and t-shirt and soap those up while you're at it too. Totally clean!

Gym memberships

A classic van-life and car-camper trick is to pay for a yearly membership to any of the big gym chains that are in cities everywhere. Many don't even use the actual gym facilities, and do it just for access to the showers. Often there's a place to sit and charge electronics or just chill as well.

Beach showers

Beach towns and similar spots will have public shower heads either in a bathroom or right on the beach or boardwalk. Some people get weird, so you might wanna make it quick before they have a reason to complain. Have the Dr. Bronners ready and speed through a beautiful shower and feel fresh.

Wet wipes

I rarely use wet wipes as I find it one more thing to carry, and all the above tips get me by, but plenty of travelers swear by them. Having them does mean you can clean up in a pinch, anywhere, at any time, and not have to count on finding a public sink, lake or shower somewhere. If you don't mind carrying a few, it could come in handy at some point.

Stay clean, and travel well!

I hope that helps you out in staying clean along your travels. Enjoy the journey, friends!