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Putting those normal bath towels you use at home on your packing lists is a big no-no.
Being big, bulky, and slow to dry makes them terrible for travel. The last thing you want to do is have to pack up a wet towel into your luggage. On arrival, there’s bound to be a musty stench to deal with. Yuck.
To combat this problem, we’ve typically recommended the pack towel, but that option also has its downsides. Most are barely big enough to wrap around your body, some tend to pick up a musty scent after so many uses, and the feeling of the shammy-like material on your skin isn’t always smooth.
But, we thought this was the best option, the best travel towel, until…
We discovered Turkish bath towels.
Grab a Turkish towel from The Bali Market for 20% off.
Use code HPL20 at checkout.
Why the Best Travel Towel is a Turkish Towel
Are Turkish towels good for travel? You better believe it! While there are still times when that tiny microfiber pack towel serves a purpose, the HPL team generally ALWAYS recommends a Turkish towel when traveling.
But if you’ve never heard of them before, you’re probably wondering what the heck they even are!
What are Turkish Towels?
Fellow traveler Camille already told us that Turkish towels are her one little thing she can’t travel without, and I have to be honest, I became an instant convert after Knotty (an Australian brand) sent me a few to try out for myself back in 2015.
Known as peshtemals, Turkish towels were originally designed for use in public bath houses. In recent years, they’ve grown in popularity as beach/pool towels, travel towels, and even as gym towels (I take mine to the gym!) thanks to their large size, high absorbency level, and quick-drying nature.
But most of all, we love their ability to be packed down quite small – almost just as small as those teeny tiny pack towels you get at the travel gear shops!
Benefits for Travel
So let’s take a look at why Turkish bath towels are perfect for travel:
They’re thin. Even though they are cotton (which is not typically on our quick-dry clothing and travel gear list), they dry fairly quickly.
They actually cover you up. The size is not even comparable to pack towels, but since the material is thin, they still pack up small.
They’re soft on your skin. Unlike the sticky feeling of other pack towels, like my old faithful from Kathmandu, Turkish towels pat down more like a normal towel given the fluffy thread of Turkish cotton.
Absorbency is high. All thanks to Turkish cotton.
The Turkish Towel vs the Travel Towel
I received my first Turkish towels from Knotty here in Australia. The extra large size of their Turkish towels (100cm x 180cm / 39in x 71in) puts my old, large microfiber towel from Kathmandu to shame (it comes in at a measly 50cm x 96cm / 20in x 38in).
However, the only place where the pack towel still has the Turkish travel towel beat is in weight.
My faithful pack towel weighs a mere 125g, or 150g (5.3 oz) with the zipper pouch, while my giant Knotty’s towel comes in at 272g (9.6 oz).
Sure it’s only 122g more, but for those who see the benefits of packing ultra-light, you will want to make sure you have chosen a towel that can double as a scarf, or even work as a blanket on a plane.
My Knotty’s towels make for bulky scarves, but there are thinner and slightly smaller Turkish towels on the market if you’re willing to put in the time looking.
- Get 15% off a Knotty towel using code HPL16.
Many Uses of Turkish Towels While Traveling
Now let’s have a look at all the different uses of a Turkish towel. (Note: You can imagine these being just as useful in your daily life!)
- Bath Towel – And they can actually wrap around you for optimal post-shower cover-up.
- Travel Beach Towel – Because they’re big and absorbent.
- Sarong – A sarong also serves many of these travel purposes, but the typical sarong lacks the absorbency of Turkish cotton.
- Blanket – For planes, trains and other situations where you might need a nap.
- Picnic blanket – Impromptu lunch dates in a foreign park are better with a big spread.
- Tie into a beach bag – No need to pack an extra bag. You can tie a couple of knots and the towel is now a bag.
- Privacy screen in hostels – Hang it from the upper bunk, or create a changing area in a part of the room. Or, use a privacy screen when needing to use the toilet outdoors.
- Scarf – Yep, you can wear it when you’re chilly.
- Baby Blanket – I can’t tell you how to do it, but apparently you can swaddle that little one in a Turkish towel.
How to Wear a Turkish Towel
The benefit that Turkish towels have over other travel towels is their multiple functions beyond drying off. Like a sarong, you can wear a Turkish towel many ways, making it both a clothing item and a towel. Here are just a few of the ways you can wear a Turkish towel on the road and at home.
1. Scarf– Because of the size, it makes for a large scarf, so you may have to loop it around a few times. There are so many ways to tie a scarf, so do some research on Pinterest. I did the simple wrap around, but you could also do the knot or loop. Be warned that because of the rectangular shape, you may have some extra fabric that makes certain scarf styles look a bit silly.
2. Blanket scarf or shawl– Wrap around your shoulders to keep you from getting chilly on a night out or, if you’re more ambitious, treat it like a blanket scarf. I laid the towel on my shoulders like I was going to wear it as a shawl, but once the ends reached my armpits, I tied a knot behind my back. Use these styles to cover your shoulders when entering a conservative site like a church or temple.
3. Bag– You may have to play around with it before you get it right, as I did. Tie edges of the middle together length-wise (hot dog style) before tying the longer ends together (hamburger style). I don’t recommend wearing your scarf as a bag if you’re carrying important things like your camera and passport, as it might slip out or hands might grab it, but is fine for going to and from the beach.
4. Sarong/dress– While almost as versatile as a sarong, a Turkish towel is thicker than the materials used on sarongs. Therefore, it may not be as flexible for tying. But I did manage to turn my towel into a dress. I wrapped both ends around me and crossed over to tie around my neck. It’s a bit short, so I wouldn’t wear it out much beyond a quick lunch or beach day. But you can even belt it to make it more flattering or pair with leggings for additional modesty.
5. Skirt– To use as a cover up, simply tie in a big knot at your hip and leave the slit. But I chose to turn my Turkish towel into a skirt I could potentially wear out as an additional clothing item. I took one end to my waist and then wrapped the other end on top of it, tucking it into the top when I reached the end. I then folded over the top for extra security. This is also great to carry in your bag if you need to quickly cover your legs to visit a temple or other holy site.
6. Head covering– Another essential style is the head covering, which you may need when traveling to certain countries. You’ll be required to cover your hair when visiting temples and mosques so it’s nice to be able to throw the Turkish towel into your bag and keep from being denied entry or forced to wear the full body robes they often rent. I took the middle and placed it over my head and wrapped each end around my shoulders.
Where to Buy Turkish Towels
- The Bali Market – US shoppers can check out those Turkish towels offered by The Bali Market. The color choices are on the soft and subtle side. Use code “HPL20” for 20% off your order!
- Knotty – The towels in this post have been provided by Knotty, an Australian business that gets their Turkish towels made and hand-finished in Turkey from 100% Turkish cotton. If you’re interested in snagging one for yourself, be sure to use code “HPL16” at checkout for 15% off!
- Etsy – Buy handmade Turkish towels from around the world on Etsy to support local shops. Here you’ll find even more options in terms of patterns, sizes and colors. There’s also more of a range in prices as well, starting under $10 USD and going up from there.
- Amazon – Amazon sells just about everything you could possibly need, including Turkish towels. Prime members get free shipping on many of these towels and you can also purchase in bulk for more savings.
Grab a Turkish towel from The Bali Market for 20% off.
Use code HPL20 at checkout.
Abby Woody says
Aaah, this is AMAZING! The size comparison really drives it home when it’s hung up next to the PackTowel. The price is high, but they seem like investment pieces. Thanks for giving us a look at the Turkish towels, Brooke! Oh and p.s., summer is just beginning here in the U.S. (it’s 82 in St. Louis right now!) so seeing you in pants and scarf made me do a double-take!
Haha I know, I feel like I should retake photos wearing different clothes! 😉
Lady Light Travel says
I note that the Turkish travel towels are twice as large as your pack towel. That means that a Turkish towel the same size as your pack towel would be lighter. I estimate that the Junior size comes in at around 90g (more or less).
Yeah I could easily do with a smaller Turkish towel, and one that is still able to wrap around my body would be the same or less in weight.
I don’t think the HPL code is working. I was interested in how much shipping outside of Australia was and when I entered the code it said it wasn’t valid.
Hi Nancy – Checking with Knotty right now.
Hi Nancy – code should be working now 🙂
Hi HPL subscribers,
The Knotty discount code “HPL16” is up and running now 🙂
Love Knotty x
Jessica Lippe says
Since hearing about Turkish towels from fellow HPL travelers, I’ve been thinking I should pick one up when I visit Istanbul in October. However, Turkey is the final destination of my 3-month Mediterranean Europe journey, so perhaps I need to find one ahead of time!
Hi there, how quickly do these dry? Do they dry as quickly as Pack Towls? Worried about using this for backpacking and it not being as quick to dry as the alternative, thanks!
Hi there! I did a side-by-side test the other day and the Turkish towel actually dried a little faster than my pack towel! I soaked them both in the sink, wrung them out, and then hung them on a rack in the living room (to get that feel of them being indoors, in a hostel room to dry). I did this mid-day, and they were both dry by the evening, but the Turkish towel made it there faster.
Ive been looking at a Turkish towel for ages! But wasn’t sure! I just ordered one thanks to this post (and the discount code) thanks HPL 🙂 🙂
These are quite pricey compared to the ones being sold by Calaca on Amazon. I got one similar to the knotty originals for around $15 US. It says it’s 100% cotton and came very nicely packaged with a real glass Turkish eye!
I can’t help but laugh at how relevant some of these posts are now that I’m BACK from my move to Costa Rica.
Honestly, this is the thing I was most glad I packed, and I nearly didn’t pack it! I bought it a few years ago because I thought it was beautiful, but it ended up being my most useful travel item.
I had my backpacker towel that was nice, but I honestly ended up preferring and using my turkish towel twice as much, simply because a) it dried me off quicker/more comfortably, b) was larger (I’m 5’11. This is always an issue for me and towels.), c) if left in the sun, it was dry in less than an hour, and d) it doubled as a blanket for me. In a lot of hostels, they only gave me a top sheet, and while it may be warm during the day, in many locations, it got pretty cool at night, so I was glad to have something to snuggle under that was breathable, but still warm.
I’m still glad I had both – especially my last 6 weeks which I just spent on the beach every day; it was nice to have my turkish towel for beach time and my pack towel for shower time. If I had just stayed in the mountains the whole time, however, I would be happy with just my pretty blue striped towel (just like the one in your photo!).
Ruthy @ Minibreak Mummy says
I have a Kikoy, which is similar but comes from East Africa.
I found a couple of turkish towels at Costco online – 2 for about $45. Not so many color choices (all white with different color borders). I fell in love with them and have been using them as my every day towels at home. I like that they wrap around me and dry quickly. I always take my own towel when traveling anyway, usually a microfiber XXL travel towel that I got from Rick Steves, but I’ll be taking my turkish towel on my next trip this summer. I plan to pack it flat in a one gallon zip bag with the air squeezed out, I admit I was skeptical at first about how they would dry me off but I think they actually work better than my microfiber towel. They are definitely more absorbent than a sarong. I’m a fairly light packer and am willing to take the few extra ounces this towel may cost me.
You can buy these MUCH cheaper directly from Turkish vendors on ebay!
I also bought a big one at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul for about 10 $, it’s great.
I bought three of these Turkish towels on Amazon. Tried them out on my last holiday and they are definitely a thumbs up from me. I found them lightweight great for the beach and wrap around you better than towel. We even took one out with us when we went out one evening to put round our legs whilst sitting in an outdoor bar.
Leslie L. says
I love these towels!! I am leaving for Italy next week and already have one in my carry-on pack. I plan to use it for a blanket on the plane, a shawl/scarf when visiting places where I need to cover my shoulders, a picnic blanket in Tuscany, and an actual towel in Assisi when I relax by the pool! I got my in Los Angeles from The Folding Room, an on-line store. Love these things!! The only hard part is to choose a color!
This is awesome! I’m heading to London and Amsterdam next month and I’ve been there before but this will be my first time staying in a hostel and I just ordered one of these towels. They sound fabulous – Thanks!
I fell in love with these towels as soon as I read this article, so I bought one straight away!! I was wondering how you tied yours into a beach bag??
kim peries says
Where can i buy these in australia . i live in brisbane qld
You can buy them online at knotty.com.au
I missed this post from your blog, but I was looking at the 99 gifts for women travellers and I saw the knotty which then brought me here. I went on to the knotty website and bought one. It will be perfect for camping and going on longer trips. Thanks for the 15% off code. ?
Love these!! I’m from Canada and would love to know if there’s a place in Canada I could get one. They are expensive on amazon for Canada shipping.
Hi Jeanine- If you search for Turkish Towels on Amazon.ca, I see some. Not sure of the shipping costs.
Just got back from Australia and so glad I took a hammam towel – absolute life saver. Got mine from Sorbet.
I purchased three for £20 off Amazon in May last year to take when we went to Austria for a three week road trip. We were staying in rented apartments, so most places provided linens, but our last place was a hostel with really tiny towels, so these came in handy! They also worked great to put on the floor in the bathroom under our hung up sink washed clothing so we didn’t drip water all over the floor. Love the Turkish towels!
Thanks for the tip! We just purchased a couple Bali towels after reading your post to travel with to the Dominican Republic this spring. <3