Staying Clean On The Road
Although the earth is made up of 70% water, the bits where us humans live are mostly made of dirt so it’s no surprise that living can sometimes be a filthy business. Travelling the world and making the memories that last a lifetime is especially so, and whether you get muddy trekking in Machu Picchu or sweaty from dancing in Ibiza, the reality is that having the time of your life is dirty work.
In our shiny, civilised Western lives, cleanliness is next to Godliness and we use copious amounts of precious water and buckets full of dubious chemicals in keeping ourselves, our homes and our clothing clean.
Out on the road though, these standards inevitably, quickly slip. Whether its because you’re just too busy or because realise what’s truly important in life (and that it ain’t doing the washing up…) the dirt steadily creeps in. Over in Backpackistan, clothes cease to be ironed and yet you find they still look fine, beards and hair grow longer and yet somehow we still function as humans.
However, there is a limit to this and some hygiene standards really do need to be maintained. Firstly there are very real health benefits of staying clean because coming down ill can ruin your travels as well as dent your savings. Then, of course, one should also remember that wherever you are in the world, you are kind of representing your home country so should do your best to look at least a little bit shiny and bright! This is particularly true of us British who, in Colonial times, would famously don starched white suits, even in the midday Indian sun, and would travel with shaving cutlass’ even in the high Himalaya’s so we have a tradition to upkeep…
Here at Poor Explorer want our readers to be healthy, clean and sweet smelling so with that in mind here are our essential tips for How To Stay Hygienic Whilst Travelling!
• Bathe only in clean water
This may sound obvious and yet you would be surprised how many travellers get this wrong.
Whilst most travellers know not to drink the water in many countries, there is still a lot of damage that can be done even by bathing in it. In my case, one day in Nepal myself and my companions got covered in mud pushing our jeep out of a ditch (in Tiger country). Our solution was to wash ourselves clean in a brown looking, semi-stagnant pond. The result? Ringworm all round….
Even washroom facilities can be an issue. Some travel friends of mine got eye and ear infections simply from showering at a cheap guest house in India. Be sure to look at what you are bathing in by running the taps and checking the colour and consistency of the water. If in doubt, go without because smelling for a few days is better than contracting jaundice or something.
Plus there are other options available as I will show you below…
• Bring baby wipes
Baby wipes really could be called backpacker wipes as they are just perfect for travellers. I never leave home without these and go through tons of them on my travels. They are ideal for the scenarios described above and perfect for staying clean and fresh when camping out in the jungle. They are also ideal for those endless, 24-hour bus rides when you wake up having slept in your own sweat but still have 5 hours before you reach your next destination and hot shower. They contain alcohol to kill germs and leave a sweet smelling scent.
Just be mindful that these are generally non-recyclable so please do use them as sparingly as possible and, wherever possible, be sure to offset your waste footprint in any of the numbers of the ways described here.
Packing light will make your life so much easier and you will be amazed at how few items you actually do need to bring with you. However, packing is an art and there is a big difference between packing light and packing plain negligently. One area which countless travellers tend to neglect is underwear, spending days at a time living in the same pair.
This is not only utterly minging, it’s actually potentially very bad for you. These areas of your body are actually the ones that sweat the most and this is especially true of your feet; I mean you are on them all day most days. Coming down with a bout of athletes foot when on the road would be terrible, it could limit your activity options for weeks and have you itching like a flea-bitten dog Limit the dangers of this by changing your socks every day and by washing your socks regularly, preferably in boiling hot water. No, I am not on commission for sock sellers I just think that as your feet work so hard for you the least you can do is reward them with clean socks!
• Strange Tongues
Spicy food, practicing new languages and copious amounts of cold beer really take its toll on your mouth. In life, you only get two sets of teeth (and you’re on your second set now however wise you think you are…) so take care of them by practicing good dental hygiene.
This is especially true in countries like Colombia & India where sugar is used pretty excessively.
Aside from your gnashes, you also need to be mindful of bad breath or halitosis to use its polite, proper, science name. The aforementioned strange food and flowing alcohol will be sure to leave their hellish scents on you and guess what? You won’t even know about it unless somebody tells you. I don’t know about you but bad breath is my number one turn-off and however interesting or pretty somebody is, I have to cut any conversation abruptly short if they have bad breath. The solutions are mercifully quite simple and all you have to do is take the time to brush twice daily and pick up mints to suck on after meals.
All I will add to this is that travelling is a great way to meet the love of your life; don’t let love wither on the vine because you had bad breath.
• Air your bag out
If you are like me you will quickly get into the habit of using the same stuff, wearing the same clothes every day and will keep these items near the top of your backpack. The hiking boots that you only used for one week and the winter coat you needed until you left Manchester Airport, can, therefore, end up sitting at the bottom of your bag lying undisturbed for months at a time.
But be warned traveller, bag rot can strike! Being tossed onto buses, nestling by the warm engines and catching bits of falling rain will gradually take its toll on your bag and its contents.
Bag rot or bag mold is a travellers blight and you may be shocked to find that, one day mold has grown, creeping up from those boots and making its way to the top of your bag.
This is best avoided by ensuring that every item is clean and dry before you return it to your bag even if you don’t plan on wearing or using it again. You should also get into the habit of emptying out your entire bag and letting it “breathe” whenever possible.
• Hair Care
Full disclosure – I actually travel with a mini hairdryer so this is a subject very close to my heart (or at least follicles). Whilst most of you are probably not as anal (or stylish…) as me, you do all still need to take proper good care of your hair.
Whilst it’s totally fine to let your hair grow when out on the road (or when at home if its looks good on you) you still need to remember to wash it with a good shampoo and probably an anti-dandruff one. Sea salt can be particularly brutal and can strip the goodness out of hair so consider using a conditioner to replace and lock it in.
By the way, many backpackers are sometimes tempted to have their hair worked into dreadlocks. Whilst this is a very efficient way to save hassle on having to style it, be warned that (1) it usually looks awful on Caucasians and I will refer to you as Ja-Fake-an (2) people will presume you like Bob Marley and he’s rubbish but moreover (3) you risk lice. A number of my Ja-Fakean friends in India got dreads and all came down with lice. The only solution was to hack away with scissors followed by an electric razor and they then came out looking like fresh marine recruits.
• Wash Day
Remember to wash your clothes because Mummy isn’t here to do it for you now.
Yes, it is sometimes annoying having to re-direct hard-earned beer money towards laundry costs but give your liver a rest one night and get your clothes clean. Hand washing is also fine as long as the water is boiling hot so that it can kill off any lingering bacteria. I usually do my washing on days when I am hung-over because it’s therapeutic and also because I possibly vomited down myself the night before.
• Put your hands together
Your hands will touch all manner of strange & dubious services and will then be used to handle food, rub eyes and clean the rest of your body. It is therefore very important that your hands stay clean.
Hand wash will become your best friend out on the road. Use it before and after every meal whenever you have doubts. It will help stave off Delhi belly, infections and will make you smell like a hospital! Be sure to use the soft, plastic bottles and to keep it inside another little bag as it does have the habit of exploding on airplanes.
Well travellers, I hope you found that educational. Now you have no excuse not to travel hygienically so never again let it be said that backpackers are dirty!
Wherever you are going, I wish you all happy, safe & clean travels!