Trying to squeeze everything you need for a travel adventure into a small bag can be challenging to say the least, particularly if you’re trying to adhere to carry-on luggage restrictions. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned after years of experience, it’s that sarongs are one of the most multi-functional items to include on your packing list.
What is a Sarong
Sarongs are rectangular lengths of fabric that are traditionally wrapped around the waist and worn by both men and women throughout Southeast Asia, India, Africa, and the Pacific Islands. They’re often designed with colorful patterns or using traditional dyeing techniques that make them an ideal souvenir if you’re looking for something locally-inspired to take home. While the term “sarong” is of Malay origin, they’re known by a wide variety of names across the globe, ranging from “pareos” in Hawaii to “futah” in Yemen and “kente” in parts of Africa.
Travel Uses For Sarongs
In addition to being wrapped around your waist as either a long or short skirt, sarongs can be fashioned in toga-style dresses or harem-style pants with just a few ties. You can throw them over your shoulders as a shawl or scarf for entering sacred sites and places of worship or use them to protect your face when exposed to the elements. Planning on camel trekking through the desert? Why not transform your sarong into a headscarf for a lightweight shield against both the sun and sand.
Towels, Sheets, and Bags
When it comes to packing, towels are bulky and take up a lot of space. But sarongs are a lightweight replacement that will do the job. Whether you need a towel for the beach or something to dry your hair with after a shower, a sarong can serve multiple towel uses.
Not only are they quick-drying but sarongs can easily be folded up to use as a travel pillow if needed or spread out on the ground for a picnic. You can throw them on the bed as a lightweight sheet or use them to cover a window if your hotel curtains aren’t sufficient.
Suddenly need a bag to go to the market? A sarong can easily be fashioned into one by tying its corners together. ROW Adventures owner Betsy says “I've sewed two together into a tube to act as a sleeping bag liner, which also doubles as a reversible dress.”
First-aid and Emergencies
Sarongs are traditionally designed as garments but they come in incredibly useful in emergency situations when you don’t have a first-aid kit on hand. They can be used as a tourniquet to help stop the flow of blood or fashioned into a sling for an injured limb. If you don’t have a bandage or wound dressing large enough to deal with a wound, a sarong can be utilized as a temporary solution until medical assistance arrives. While we don’t recommend getting lost or stranded while on vacation, a sarong can be flown as a visibility flag or transformed into a rope to get you out of any number of “worst-case” scenarios.
In more commonly occurring situations, such as heat exhaustion, Betsy recommends using your sarong as a cooling device. It can be drenched in water and draped around your neck to cool you down or placed over your entire body on those impossibly hot nights camping out beside the river. Sarongs can also be used to protect your legs and behind from scorchingly hot leather car seats on summer road trips! And if you find yourself without a Covid mask, a sarong can be used as a makeshift one to help prevent the spread.
Padding and Packing
Just like newspaper, sarongs can be used as a lightweight padding material to safeguard fragile souvenirs in your luggage. If you don’t want to carry bulky electronics bags, you can wrap your laptop or camera equipment in your sarong for an extra layer of protection. And when it’s time to return home with all that dirty laundry, you can use your sarong to separate your clean clothes from the ones that are destined for the washing machine!
Gift or Souvenir
If you don't already own a sarong, don't worry! It's the perfect item to pick up on your next trip as either a practical souvenir or a thoughtful gift for the traveler on your list.