12/30/2012 07:24 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Washing Clothes On The Road? Get A Miniature Washboard

Travel experts, including those whose writing adorns these pages, often advise us to pack fewer clothes and do some hand laundry as things get dirty. Now, I'm not one to wear T-shirts except in their proper role as underwear, and the cotton dress shirts I travel with don't lend themselves to washing in a hotel sink -- especially since it would surely take me 45 minutes to press each one even if I were inclined to try. So I never felt that this sage counsel applied to me.

But, following my wife's example, I have at long last taken to washing underpants and socks when traveling -- sometimes bringing them with me into the bath tub, which makes it almost fun if I think of my briefs as manta rays and laundering them as a sort of swimming-with-the-sea-life adventure. Okay, that's a stretch, but for me it beats doing the job in a too-small sink. It really doesn't take much to get a day or two's worth of sweat out of these garments, but even that minimal scrubbing can leave one's knuckles red and raw -- washmaid's hands is what it used to be called in the days of washmaids.

A couple of years ago I ran across an inexpensive gadget that enables you to get tough on the grime while limiting the damage to your fingers: a beautifully designed ridged washboard small enough to fit into your toiletries bag. Its ridges are sharp enough to do an excellent job but not so sharp that there is any danger of abrading your dainties, whether they be from Lands' End or from La Perla.

This flexible and durable white plastic tool is from the ever-appealing Japanese firm Muji and costs just over seven dollars -- cheap enough, small enough and of universal enough utility to be almost the dictionary definition of the perfect little gift. I bought mine at a Muji store in New York, but you can order one (or a dozen) through the company's website.

travel washboard