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The Versatile Sarong and Why You Should Pack One

Why you should pack a versatile sarong

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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.

sarong

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.

Wrap/shawl.

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.

Beach cover-up.

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!).

Sarong alternatives

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.

  • Etsy has a large variety of sarongs of varying fiber content, length and width, sheerness, colors, and patterns. SHOP SARONGS ON ETSY >>
  • Department stores like Nordstrom may have options, as well as stores like Target. Just be aware that mass-market stores may use the term “sarong” to mean “beach cover-up” or something that has a pattern similar to traditional sarongs, so it may take a little digging to find what you want.
  • Amazon always has a wide variety of options for you to peruse. SHOP SARONGS ON AMAZON >>
  • Of course, if you’re traveling someplace where sarongs are common, then buying one on location could give you a beautiful, functional souvenir.

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.

Written by Heather

Heather Rudd Palmer is a 30-something with a love for travel, food, and healthy living. After short trips to Europe in her 20s, Heather left her job at 30 to live, work, and travel in Australia for a year. She visited every state and territory, embarked on two road trips, worked at an organic food store, and ate her way through Sydney. She's now a career counselor for university students. You can find Heather at There's No Place Like Oz and Healthy Life Heather.

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Travel Resources

HPL Learnables

Handbag Packing Masterclass – Learn to pack your lightest bag ever in this revolutionary packing class run by HPL founder, Brooke.

Creative Ways to Minimize Your Toiletry & Beauty Kit – Practical tips alongside DIY recipes designed to help you pack lighter, smaller & with fewer liquids. (Also included as a bonus to Handbag Packing Masterclass.)


Book Your Trip

Viator – Enhance your trip experience by booking from thousands of tours across the globe.

Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Deidre says

    I love a good sarong, but I can never get mine to stay up well enough to actually function as a peace of clothing, but it does make a great towel/picnic blanket/whatever it needs to be at the time.

  2. Nicole says

    I’ve never owned a sarong, but have thought about getting one! I’m not so great at folding/draping it the way I’ve seen others do so nicely, so maybe that’s why I’ve avoided it – it does seem like a great multi-purpose item for travel though, so maybe I’ll look for one this (Aussie) spring/summer! 😉

  3. Alouise says

    I’ve never taken a sarong with me travelling. The only one I had was a souvenir my parents brought back from Hawaii – which has fishes on it so it’s not really the most versatile sarong. Still everyone says they come in handy. I hate sleeping on flat pillows so the idea of putting a sarong in a packing cube to add padding is genius.

  4. Karen says

    Another way to use sarongs – use one as a skirt and one as a halter top layered over each other. Then top with a big white linen or rayon man’s type shirt left open. LOOKS classy and GREAT!

  5. Mandy says

    I often bring a packtowel as my only towel on trips. This works fine for drying myself, but is not particularly great as a coverup in public between shower and dressing areas etc. or after swimming. My sarong gets the most use in this fashion. I also always bring it on planes in my carry on. I can never control my temperature and I rapidly fluctuate between hot and cold and my sarong allows me to cover myself up when needed without having to deal with putting on and taking off sweaters or jackets. It is an indispensable travel item!

  6. Caroline Manning says

    Where would be the best place to buy a sarong? The only ones I have found are very expensive and sheer…

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