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Few items are as versatile and functional for the female traveler as the sarong.
This lightweight addition to your packing list delivers on its promise for multi-purpose use and adds color, variety, and a touch of femininity to the traveler’s wardrobe.
What is a sarong?
A sarong is a rectangular or square piece of fabric, often found in a variety of colors and prints, and worn as clothing. Depending on your location and travel destination, you can buy a sarong in stores, online, or in a local market.
How many ways can I use a sarong?
A sarong is a multi-purpose item. Travelers have found a number of creative uses for the sarong, and its versatility is not limited by the ideas listed below!
1 – Blanket at the beach or on a picnic. Grab a few new friends from the hostel, plan a day out, and bring your easy-to-carry sarong along.
2 – Blanket on cold transportation. It might not be as warm as a normal blanket, but if you’re stuck on a cold plane or a chilly long train ride, every extra layer helps.
3 – Towel (beach or bath). The thin, lightweight material dries quickly and saves you from packing a separate bath and/or beach towel! Do note that some sarong material is not as absorbent as towels, but they can get you by in a pinch. We recommend testing at home.
4 – Curtain/divider/wall. When you’re in shared accommodation or camping, sometimes you want a little more privacy than what’s afforded. Hang the sarong from your bunk bed or travel clothesline or find another creative way to hang the fabric to create a discreet place to change clothes.
Your new “wall” may also help avoid overhead lights in the middle of the night or offer more peace during mid-afternoon naps.
5 – Cover knees, shoulders, arms, or head while visiting places of worship. If you don’t have a separate scarf or find yourself needing more coverage, a long sarong can cover bare shoulders or legs in hot weather when you want to visit temples, mosques, and other places of worship.
You’ll want to practice wearing a sarong first, to be sure your “skirt” won’t fall off as you’re walking through the temple grounds or that you know how to wrap a head covering so that you can still comfortably carry your bag without it pulling off your headscarf.
6 – As a makeshift bag/purse. Picking up a few items at the market? Fold your sarong into a bag or purse to tote your new finds!
7 – Need sheets for your bed or a tablecloth? Unfurl the sarong and it easily covers the mattress or table. You can also use it in place of a questionable pillowcase when you don’t pack one of your own.
8 – Pillows a little flat, lumpy, or non-existent? Fold the sarong for extra support. If you have a packing cube, tuck the sarong inside to maintain a pillow shape throughout the night. This won’t be a perfectly comfortable pillow, but it may be just enough to let you get to sleep.
Wearing your sarong as clothing
If you get a little creative, sarongs can be used as clothing. Why not try one of these styles!
Skirt or halter dress.
Depending on the length of your sarong, you can play with a variety of lengths and folding techniques to create different skirts or travel dresses – from beach ready, everyday casual, to ready-for-dinner and drinks.
Be sure to practice these styles at home so you are confident that your dress won’t fall off in the middle of the street. It also helps to know if you’ll need an elastic tie, safety pins, or other means of securing your clothing.
Belt or scarf.
Shorter sarongs can work for either or simply cut some fabric from one end to create a few new accessories! This will work best for sarongs that have holes or are showing signs of wear. Easily convert these pieces into new accessories, but be aware that they might fray if you don’t take the extra step of hemming the cut ends.
Need to dress up an outfit for a date or dinner and drinks at a nice restaurant? Cool nights setting in? Use your sarong for function + style.
Wrap your sarong like a bath towel, around your waist, or cleverly folded in several additional ways to create a cute beach cover up (and protect your skin from the sun!).
Alternatives to a sarong depend on the intended use.
- A Turkish towel may be a good alternative for use as a towel, blanket, sheet, or beach cover-up.
- A pashmina or other large scarf could work as a scarf or blanket in cooler climates and for head or shoulder coverings.
- For clothing alternatives, convertible clothing like the Chrysalis Cardi may be easier to wear and give you more options than a simple sarong would.
Buying a sarong
If you choose to buy a sarong before your trip, there are many options. First, be aware that the word is used to describe all manner of rectangular fabric pieces meant to be tied around the waist, so carefully look at the pictures and read the descriptions before purchasing online.
When shopping for the 4-5 foot-long (1.2 – 1.5 meters) wide rectangle of fabric historically called a sarong, know that sometimes these garments are called pareos. The different names come from the different countries and fabrics where the garment originated, but functionally a sarong and pareo are interchangeable in use.
Search phrases that you can use besides “sarong” and “pareo” include “sarong wrap” and “mens sarong.” Searching for “sarong dress” will likely result in colorful dresses, but not sarongs.
The benefits and uses of a sarong are only limited by creativity!
How have you used one in your travels?
I’d love to hear some of your stylish or functional inventions on the road.