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 because, 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.
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’ve become a new convert since Knotty sent me a few to try out for myself earlier this year. And I’m not the only one who’s put them to the test. I’ve had both my boyfriend and house guests use them in order to get a better review.
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 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!
The Best Travel Towel is a Turkish Towel
So let’s take a look at why Turkish bath towels are perfect for travel:
- They’re thin. Even though they are cotton, 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, the Knotty’s Turkish towel pat down more like a normal towel given the fluffy thread of Turkish cotton.
- Absorbency is high. All thanks to Turkish cotton.
Turkish Towels Review
Knotty Turkish Towels
The Knotty’s brand of Turkish travel towels are known for their bright color combinations, which are really fun to have in your repertoire. The extra large size of their towels (100cm x 180cm / 39in x 71in) puts my normal 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 are 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.
Cacaia Turkish Towels
[Caroline speaking] I purchased a Turkish towel from Etsy after admiring them on a trip to Turkey (and the Turkish baths) back in 2013. Cacaia is one of the lines of Turkish towels sold through the PestemalCom shop on Etsy. They come in a handful of colors with simple white lines as designs. The towels have knotted tassels on the ends and are made of 100% cotton. Pestemals from Cacaia are also more traditional in style than those from Knotty and are highly absorbent.
The Cacaia towels are 100 x 180 centimenters (40 x 71 inches), the same size as those made by Knotty, but much larger than pack towels sold at outdoor retailers. Best of all, these towels, sold through Etsy, cost less than $20 per towel. They’re not much more than traditional “travel towels” and can be used many more ways.
Many Uses of Turkish Towels While Traveling
Now let’s have a look at all the different uses of a Turkish towel.
- 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 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.
- 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
Australia – Knotty Turkish Towels
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!
Australia – Turkish Towels on Sarosha
Members of the #HPLWorld group recommended Sarosha for Australians looking to buy Turkish towels. They sell both classic styles of Turkish towels as well as different patterns and circular shapes. Prices are similar to Knotty but you can get free shipping.
US – Turkish Towels on 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.
US – The Bali Market Turkish Towels
Another option for US shoppers is to check out those offered by The Bali Market. The color choices are on the soft and subtle side. Use code “HPL20” for 20% off your order!
International – Turkish Towels on 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.
International – Turkish Towels on Ebay
Order straight from Turkey on Ebay, where you can find many different styles of Turkish towels. Some items you’ll have to bid on, but many are available with the “Buy Now” option. Consider the size before you order, as there is some variation here.