I took my first trip to southern Africa with a great friend that I’ll call Nathan. Nathan showed up at my house where we were hitching a shared van ride to the airport in a state far beyond excitement, and frankly, I was right there with him. And because of this ecstatic state, I didn’t notice the gargantuan rucksack that he unloaded from his car.
That is, until I tried to lift it. I could barely get it off the ground.
“Nathan, WTF are you taking to Botswana? A dead body? Lead bricks?” I was struggling to get this thing up the stairs into my yard, and Nathan was going to carry this thing halfway across the world? Now he’s a strong guy and whatnot, but... geez.
Nathan: “It’s just 15 pairs of jeans, 20 t-shirts, and all the underwear I own. What’s the big deal?”
Ok, maybe I exaggerated the numbers slightly, but only slightly. He said something along those lines.
Me: “What?! Why don’t you just bring laundry detergent and wash your clothes periodically?”
Nathan: “I don’t want to be bothered with washing stuff. I’d rather bring more clothes.”
Me: “You’re going to regret that.”
And sure enough, by the time we made it to our friend’s house in Gaborone 26 hours later, Nathan was cursing his rucksack. He learned quickly that laundry detergent is a beautiful thing, and slogging through customs with 20 pairs of jeans is not.
I rarely pack more than about 3 or 4 outfits for any trip. But I always pack a container of detergent, because washing out clothing in the sink of a hostel or hotel is much less of a pain in the ass than dragging a heavy sack around, having to check it at each airport, and generally having to keep up with all the crap that’s inside it. Besides, I don’t even own 20 pairs of jeans.
We went back to southern Africa just two years later. And this time, Nathan had a carry-on-sized backpack filled with plenty of detergent. I was proud of him. Laundry detergent - it’s a traveler’s best friend. Ok, well, maybe that would really be a passport and beer, but it’s pretty dadgum close.