How I Lost My Clothes, Confidence, and Last Shreds of Self Worth in Cancun

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Cancun was a bit of a disaster all round. We’d pre booked to stay a fortnight in an Airbnb, which in itself was a big mistake because, well, a fortnight in Cancun. But we had our reasons.

Firstly we wanted to have a settled base where we could steal a march on our month’s work to allow us some carefree exploration of the rest of the region’s magical coastline. And secondly, I had what I now understand to be a wildly misguided belief, bordering on arrogance, that we’d be able to discover a different side to Cancun. One that wasn’t all neon Hooters signs and pumped up spring break bros chundering luminous piles of vomit down the front of their “I’m SHY… but I’ve got a big dick” printed vests (yes, they actually exist) after one too many Smirnoff Ices.

In the end, neither of these things happened.

Sarah’s nan sadly passed away just as we arrived, and so she made the difficult decision to go home for two weeks. That left little old me with a fortnight in what I can now confidently proclaim as a vacuous shithole possessing literally no redeeming features, with an increased workload and therefore absolutely no hope of getting ahead. The best laid plans and all that.

Laundry Day

As someone who lives out of a backpack full time, laundry day is one of the most exciting recurring events in my calendar. You’ll probably only really appreciate the sanctity of laundry day if you’ve spent a period of time travelling yourself, but for those of you that haven’t, let me try and explain.

My clothes are so few that it takes me just over a week to wear all of them if I put on a different outfit each day. But of course, I try and stretch it out a bit longer than that and some items get a couple of days wear, others sometimes longer depending on the results of the age old sniff test.

Clean clothes + beer = happy James

So by the time laundry day comes around I want to make sure I’m getting as much bang for my buck as possible. That means that when I hand over my cherished bag of rags, every thread I own is in there, apart from the clothes I’m physically wearing at that moment.

It’s for these reasons that laundry day takes on almost spiritual undertones. It’s a day when every piece of my extremely limited wardrobe gets the opportunity to be reborn, transformed from a stinking, stained mess into a gleaming, fragrant delight. This laundry day turned out to be an unmitigated disaster with bad odoured consequences.


Cancun in August is humid.

I’m talking the kind of humid where the moment you step out of your air conditioned bubble, you’re instantaneously and comprehensively drenched from head to toe in sweat.

The kind of humid where each moist intake of breath makes you feel as though you’re being waterboarded by the CIA, but instead of water they’re drowning you with lukewarm soup.

The kind of humid that that makes you question what the actual point of your eyebrows is, because if they’re not keeping the torrents of salty fluids from streaming into your stinging eyes, then they’re quite literally redundant.

As you can probably imagine, after a week spent profusely perspiring while doing my best to explore Cancun’s barren cultural landscape in 90% humidity, I desperately needed to do some laundry.

Coco Bongo night club

The legendary Coco Bongo nightclub

The Laundrette

Though the Airbnb I was staying in had a washing machine, I was reliably informed by my host that things just don’t dry in that kind of humidity. Instead, they recommended a little laundrette around the corner which they used themselves, that would turn it around in 24 hours. Perfect.

I waited until the next afternoon when I was down to my last set of clean underwear and just the t-shirt on my back so I could get as much washed as possible, and trudged the 5 or so blocks to the laundrette, arriving a damp disgrace.

James sweating

How you look the moment you step out of the door

Now my Spanish isn’t the strongest, but we were fresh out of a month of intensive language lessons we’d taken in Mexico City, so I was quite confident in simple, brief, transactional interactions. I had a short conversation with the lady behind the desk, during which she told me how much it would cost and that I could pick it up the next day after 3pm. I think sensing that my Spanish was barely the level of a toddler’s, she kindly double checked that I understood the time, and off I went back into the cauldron.

The Pick Up

The next day I timed a late lunch to finish at around 3 o’clock so I could head straight to the laundrette afterwards. And because the lady had been so pernickety about the time, I left it until 3.15 to finish my tacos, just to make doubly sure I didn’t arrive early to the awkward site of her hurriedly folding my tighty whities.

But when I turned up, there was a metal gate where the open doorway had been the day previous, the telltale hum of the industrial washing machines was deafeningly absent, and the kind lady I’d left my entire closet with was nowhere to be seen. I pushed the bell, rattled the gate, and went to the window to peer through for any signs of life, at which point I noticed a small note, handwritten on neon pink card.

Now as I’ve already established, my Spanish isn’t the strongest, but I quickly came to understand that the laundrette was closed. Not for lunch. Not for the afternoon. It was closed for five days.


Not the laundrette in question, but laundry all the same

In a state of sheer panic I rushed to the small tailors next door, where a woman stood hunched over an enormous sewing machine. Above the clatter of the needle repeatedly puncturing the pair of trousers she was mending, I enquired as to why the laundrette was shut. The words I understood in the volley of rapid, sing song Spanish that came back were “annual family vacation”.

There I stood wearing my one remaining clean pair of knickers, my last passable t-shirt, and a feeling of utter devastation at how badly my language skills had failed me in my hour of need.

I hastily did some mental calculations, trying to figure out what day they’d be back, and whether it was before I was due to escape this hell hole. The tailor looked on empathetically, as my bottom lip wobbled and my eyebrows arched at the prospect of having to extend my stay in Cancun.

Self Flagellation

I replayed the conversation over and over in my head, trying to remember the exact words the lady had used. How could I have got this so wrong? Had I made the rookie mistake that my Spanish teacher Guillermo had told me never to fall prey to, of making assumptions without fully understanding the words being said to me? Would I ever see my array of identical black t shirts again?

I mentally beat myself about the head as I came to realise that obviously she must have been informing me about her impending holiday. Rather than double checking that I understood 3pm to be the pickup time, she was telling me in no uncertain terms that my laundry would be locked away behind bars if I was so much as a minute late.

The Solution

I don’t apologise for what I did next, I think anyone in that situation would have done the same. I made my way to Hooters to find some spring break bros to drown my sorrows with, and on my way home purchased some new clothes to wear…

white shirt form cancun mexico