Many travelers carry their own travel towels - they have plenty of great reasons to do so.
But if you already KNOW you're taking one along and just can't decide which, here are three recommendations from inveterate travelers who know what gear is the best.
The Sea To Summit DryLite dries beautifully and is softer than most. More pleasant on the skin than most travel towels and anti-bacterial, too.
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The much-loved Aquis Adventure travel towel is super-absorbent if you spend a lot of time in the water - and comes in various sizes.
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What most users like about the REI PackTowl range is absorption and the odor - they don't smell of moisture once they dry, no matter how wet they were.
Buy on REI
What to look for in a great travel towel - and what to look OUT for
The towel I took to Africa for a year (an early version - they've come a long way in 20 years) wouldn't dry, it was stringy and stuck to me whenever I tried to dry myself with it, and it stank to high heaven after only a couple of showers.
That has all changed and today's modern lightweight travel towel is a dream by comparison.
Since not all towels are alike, here are some things to keep in mind as you shop:
- It should dry quickly. It doesn't have to dry instantly but if you use your towel and get it wet, it should be dry by the time you're ready to pack it and leave. You don't want to try to stuff a wet towel into your bag, do you?
- It should be compact. A travel towel can unfold into something quite large-ish and that's fine - as long as it packs into something really tiny.
- It should be lightweight. For obvious reasons you don't want to cart around a heavy towel. With carry-on luggage weights so limited on most airlines, every little bit counts. That said...
- It shouldn't be too thin. Some towels are so thin they feel like you're wiping the water off with a paper towel, so look for a happy medium.
- It should be super absorbent. Most towels are absorbent by nature - after all, that's what they're for. But if you have to carry around some extra kit then make sure it soaks up all the water, even at a smaller size. If you have to take a blanket-size towel with you just to get dry, you might as well not bother at all.
- The colour shouldn't dirty easily. That tends to argue against light colours but if you're traveling and can only hand wash, any visible dirt on your towel will be hard to remove. A darker shade (not black - it marks too easily) works well, as does grey.
- Is it anti-bacterial? Not all travel towels are but if hygiene is an issue - and it's becoming more of one each day - then make sure yours is.
- It should be as soft as possible. It will never be as soft as a regular towel but within the limits of microfiber and similar towel materials, it should be on the softer side.
So why would you even consider taking a travel towel with you?
All kinds of reasons - some sensible, others a little zany but nonetheless valid.
- Hygiene: in a world class or at least clean hotel you won't need a towel; chances are theirs are cleaner than yours.
- If you're headed for budget accommodation, the opposite might be true. I'd rather have my own than chance a towel hanging on a hook in a hostel dorm.
- If you're headed to a rural area or truly off the beaten track, you might have no choice - there may not be a towel in your room or bathroom at all. Then what?
- As is the case with a travel blanket, you can use your towel as a sarong - if you have one of the larger ones, that is, and you're intent on preserving your modesty while you're changing on the beach.
- It can be a worthy tablecloth substitute.
- Are your clothes wet or recently washed? Wrap your wet clothes in your towel, stomp all over it and hang out to dry in the usual way. It saves a few hours by getting rid of some of the dampness. (I warned you - zany.)
One more thing: when you use your towel, blot, don't wipe. Travel towels aren't quite like those fluffy things you have at home. They'll sometimes stick rather than glide, and they won't dry you off as much as your comfy terrycloth.