Packing Tips: Should you pack a travel towel?

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Last Updated on November 18, 2011 by Christine Kaaloa

recommended microfiber travel towels
Packing Tips: Should you pack a travel towel?

So you’re on the road and your luggage is loaded with spanking new travel gear.  Now is the time to see if what you bought really works!

One of the items I least care to pack is a towel.

If I were only staying only at hotels, this may not be a concern. But if I’m backpacking and I’m staying at budget accommodations like hostels and guesthouses, then a towel is a necessity. Or is it?  Should you get a travel towel or not?  What kind of travel towel would work best?


Should you pack a travel towel?

Here’s four ways I revised my towel on the road:


#1. Micro-fiber travel towel

My first towel was an Eagle Creek Microfiber Travel Towelir?t=gt0d8 20&l=am2&o=1&a=B001PX764E&camp=217145&creative=399369. I bought it in 2008.

Quick-drying, durable and antibacterial. These are three reasons that travelers, like myself, buy one of these babies. At  29×55 inches, it’s been long enough to act as a blanket or a beach towel. Although, it’s hardly ideal. Any “towel” will add bulk to your pack and microfiber towels are thick and hard to hand-wash. Not to mention, the chamois-feel may have your body feeling like a car! Nevertheless, it’s a solid towel and recommended as a decent “travel towel”.  Store Cost: $24 (depending on size); Amazon (click on link above) offers it for around $11.


•   Quick drying, durable for rugged conditions and antibacterial.
•   Multi-use: use it as a blanket, beach towel and bath


•   Thinner than a towel, but still thick and bulky to pack.
•   Hard to hand wash.
•   After a few years, it stops being antibacterial.
•   The only time you’ll want to use it is when you travel.
•   You get to feeling like an automobile, because you feel like you’re wiping yourself with a chamois.


#2.  A microfiber travel towel (but reduced size).

After down-sizing my guidebook, my scissors-yielding should come as no surprise. Any additional weight and bulkiness eventually nags on me when I’m traveling.  I chopped my towel down from its 29 x 55 ” size to a 22 x 40″ one.

Did the bulk change? Minutely, and my body still felt like a car!


•   Smaller size and same benefits


•    Same cons


#3.  The Pashmina Shawl

Pashmina scarf used for towel and fashion
Packing Tips: Should you pack a travel towel or a pashmina scarf?

Pashminas make the best backup towels and are my personal favorites!

In India, I picked up pashmina scarf in Kerala for $5. No crazy designs, just a neutral, all-purpose blue-grey. Between shielding myself in India’s dust-polluted traffic, visiting its Sikh and Muslim temples, where I was required to cover my hair and using it to cover my shoulders in conservative countries, it was a wise investment.  There’s always a handful of uses for pashminas and they’re fashionable, long and light-weight.

pashmina headscarf for temples
My pashmina headscarf at the Golden Temple

As towels, they’re easy to hand-wash and can dry in under 3 hours (especially on a hot day). When I got to Malaysia, I ditched my microfiber towel for my Indian pashmina. Store Cost: $11 and up; but in Asia or the streets of New York City, you can get them for $5 and under.


•   Fashion accessory with multiple uses.
•   Especially useful in countries, where it’s hot but you can’t show shoulders (just throw it over your tank top or t-shirt)
•   Face protection on hot, dusty or traffic polluted roads
•   Useful for temples, where you need to cover up hair or legs.
•   Warm & snuggly blanket wrap for cold places
•   A perfect towel.
•   Quick drying.


•  If used as a towel, I’d have to wash it, before using it as a scarf. But as I said, it’s quick drying.

#4.  The Sarong

Bali Sarongs
Packing Tips: Should you pack a towel or a sarong? Photo from Bali Resort Wear Clothing


Everyone in Bali wears a sarong! As part of Balinese customs and traditions, you’re not allowed to enter temples with bare legs. So I bought a sarong and kept it in my bag. Personally, I’d always wanted one for beachy occasions and for Southeast Asian heat, it was a perfect backup skirt!

I’d loved my pashmina, but the sarong was even thinner and lighter in fabric. So, in Cambodia, I traded in my pashmina for the sarong. I gave my shawl to one of the hotel workers in my hotel; she was more than happy to receive it. Cost: approximately $10 and up; or $5 and under in Southeast Asia


• Similar to a pashmina and works great as a towel.
• Can be lighter than a pashmina.
• Fabric can be thinner, thus dries a bit quicker.


• Designs can be a little crazy.
• Not practical as a fashion accessory that can be worn at any occasion.

What do you think? Should you pack a travel towel? Do you pack one? What are some things you’ve substituted as a way to pack lighter?

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  • l’m surprise that you did not notice peshtowels/ peshtemals during your travel in Istanbul.
    They are known as traditional hammam towels and due to their lightness and absorbency, they are the latest trend in Turkey and many other countries. I highly recommend them for travelers.

  • Peshtowels are possibly the best towels you will ever have for traveling or camping.They are bath sheet size XL but lightweight and take up almost no space in your bag , also very absorbent but quick dry. It is a very versatile and handy piece of cloth!

  • It seems like you didn’t find the antimicrobial properties of the travel towels to be necessary- is that correct? Leaving for a 3 month France trip in a week and trying to decide whether or not I should get one. Thanks!! 🙂

    • Christine Kaaloa
      August 23, 2013 4:37 pm

      @Sam: I didn’t feel like the antimicrobial properties of my travel towel functioned as well as I thought they should. On the trip I bought it for, it carried odors if the towel didn’t dry properly and it stunk up my bag; and yet, I couldn’t help the drying conditions. Maybe the water stunk, dunno, but for some reason it didn’t resist odor and in a hot bag, it can stink up the rest of your stuff. Could be a fluke, but for the space it took up in my bag, I felt like it could easily be replaced by something more quick drying, multi-usage and thinner, like a sarong or pashmina scarf. If you feel the antimicrobial aspect is important, I’d check the reviews of the towels and see if the antimic held up well.

  • Should you pack a travel towel?

  • I swear by my travel towels. I bought them at MEC in Toronto back in 2010 and up until a few months ago (when my larger body towel went missing) I used them all the time!

    Another con though with the travel towel is that if you go to the beach, you don’t have a beach towel to lay on/dry off with…

  • Was just searching for travel towels that I could buy in Korea and your blog came up as my first search option! Really glad I read this actually as I’ve decided to take your advice – I’ll save some money and bag room and just use one of my sarongs as a towel! Love your cons for the sarong “designs can be a bit crazy” haha I’d say that doubles up as a pro!

    Thanks Christine, if we ever happen to be in the same country I owe you a drink! Pity we didn’t get to meet up in Seoul, but I’m sure we’ll run into each other somewhere!

    • @Natalie: yeah, my week in Korea for that job interview was just so hectic. It’s a shame we didn’t get to meet up. I should’ve gotten your number. A lot of things came down to last minute decisions.

    • @Natalie: BTW- I did buy a Korean hiking kerchief/towel once and it was quite good with lightweight drying. However, no antibacterial. I’d save money on the travel towels. There’s always ways to get around having one. At times, I’d even use a dry shirt!

  • Yup, I do carry around my micro fiber travel towel, it has definitely been worth it, but then again I do stay plenty in hostels and such.

  • Packing Tips: Should you pack a travel towel? via @grrrltraveler

  • Hmm…I’m so glad I always stay at hotels! Carrying your own towel around seems almost as cumbersome as carrying around your own pillow. I guess if I had to choose between them, I’d go with the pashmina as a good compromise. Plus I get cold easily, so I’m thinking it would come in handy as a blanket too.

    • @Gray: Definitely a tradeoff if you’re not staying at a hotel. =-) I admire that you only do hotels. No towel and a hotel, fewer days in a city or one towel, guesthouse, more days in a city. ha ha… I like the pashmina idea too. I did use my pashmina as a blanket at times. It works.

  • Packing Tips: Should you pack a travel towel? via @grrrltraveler

  • May I quote the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy:
    “A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value – you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to- hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you – daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

    More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.”

    • @Katja: Okay, we have one for the towel! You crack me up, Katja. Thanks for those practical uses, my friendly Hitchhiker’s Guide nerd. I’ll have to read that book to figure out own galaxy!

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