In case you haven’t heard, here at Mozo we’ve been running a blogging competition, asking bloggers from all around Australia to tell us the story of the best $20 (or under) they’ve spent while travelling.
The $20 you spent on an I❤NY t-shirt? Buying a bus ticket to the airport instead of walking 500 metres in the sweltering tropical heat? The Euro you coughed up to use a public bathroom in Rome?
Everybody has a story about the best cash they’ve dropped while on an adventure. (If you want to share yours and win a cool $1k, head over here.) I’m a competition judge, and to prove that I’m qualified for the job, I’ve decided to share the story of the best $20 I’ve ever spent.
A few years back a friend and I were travelling in Malaysian Borneo. We had a couple of days to cool our heels in the city of Sandakan, and by cool our heels, I mean that after a few weeks trekking in tropical heat, we were desperate to find a laundromat.
Well, we couldn’t find it. At all. A bizarre, abstract impressionist style map on the wall of our backpacker dorm room promised us there was one around the corner, but all that was really there was a KFC.
Well-seasoned travellers by this point, we were unperturbed, and set to wandering the streets with our daypack jammed full of sweaty clothes, looking for another one. Eventually, what we found was a sketchy looking laundry service on the side of the city where hostels and markets gave way to apartment blocks. To get there, we climbed a graffiti covered staircase full of men sitting around smoking and talking.
The laundry was run by a tiny woman who was 90 years old if she was a day.
“Ready tomorrow,” she told us and we glanced at each other.
As well-seasoned travellers, we had left our laundry until our very last day in Sandakan and would be heading out to spend three days in the middle of the rainforest bright and early the next morning.
“Tonight?” we asked sheepishly.
Like any grandmother worth her salt, she gave us a look that had us shuffling our feet guiltily, but still promised to have the laundry done if we came back just before they closed at 10 pm.
We went to a rooftop bar and had a couple of amazing passion fruit daiquiris (coincidentally, maybe the second best $20 I’ve ever spent abroad) while we waited for the laundry deadline to roll around. When it came time to pay our bill at the counter, a group of backpackers got in line just before us and wanted to split their bill about nine different ways.
As they quibbled over who ate more, the clock was ticking ever closer to our 10pm deadline, so we decided my friend would stay and pay our bill, while I dashed across the city to rescue our clean clothes.
“What if you get mugged?” she asked.
Now, there was probably a very slim chance of that happening. But we were young and inexperienced, so I emptied everything except 40 Malaysian Ringgit out of my bag and into hers, just in case, and then dashed across town to collect our washing.
When I got there, I skirted up the staircase still full of local men smoking, and picked up our big bag of clean clothes from the same woman who took them, and who looked like she’d been waiting for me. I handed over my 38 Ringgit (about $12 Aussie dollars at the time) and she directed me down a different staircase, then watched from her storefront as I made my way back down the street, just like my grandma at home might have done.
When I arrived back at the hostel un-mugged, with clean laundry in hand, my friend was waiting for me on the stairs. “Thank God,” she said when I came in. “I don’t know what I would have done if you’d actually been mugged.”
Which was sweet, until she added, “All of my clean underwear is in that bag.”
And that’s precisely why that late night laundry trip was the best $20 I’ve ever spent while on holiday – because fresh underwear in the tropics is nothing short of a miracle.
Join the competition by writing about your own Best $20 travel experience. Check out the details by clicking below!