There are two things I never travel without. One is a journal in which to record my thoughts while away from home. The other is a scarf.

Feature Photo by bfick. Photo above by occam

A scarf is a great multi-purpose item for when you’re trying to pack light. Here’s why.

Fashion

No doubt your clothing will not see a washing machine and iron very often on the road. A scarf can help spruce up a suffering wardrobe.

Sleeping Sheet

Lay a scarf on your bed to cover those questionable looking stains on guest house sheets. It won’t help with the bed bugs though.

Picnic Blanket/ Beach Towel

Unless you’re planning to stay at The Four Seasons in every country you visit where they supply luxurious lounge chairs, you’ll appreciate packing something to relax on.

Photo by Giorgio Montersino.

Temperature Control

A scarf in a lightweight material like linen or cotton can actually help you stay cool in warmer climates. And, of course, you can wear it as a shawl to stay warm when the temperature drops.

Perfect for chilly nights around the campfire.

Modesty

Donning a scarf instantly makes your attire more appropriate and can be especially useful if you plan on visiting religious sites. Wat Pho, home of the reclining Buddha in Bangkok, even keeps scarves on hand to lend to visitors to the temple.

Bag

Buy more at the market than will fit into your backpack? Place your treasures in the middle of a scarf and tie up the corners for a makeshift bag.

Culture

Many cultures have a distinctive scarf or sarong that epitomizes local style (think of a kanga in Tanzania or kroma in Cambodia). Pick up your own to blend in with the locals or bring one to your home-stay family as a gift.

Photo by iwantarosegarden.

Towel

It may not be as absorbent as your mini Quick Dry towel, but in a pinch, you can use a scarf to dry off after a shower. And it will really come in handy after that impromptu skinny dip in the Gulf of Thailand.

Camouflage

Although it may make you feel like a tourist instead of a traveler, wearing a camera around your neck is convenient. Draping a scarf around your neck conceals a camera hanging there.

Breathe Easy

Tie a scarf around your mouth and nose to keep yourself from inhaling dust and vehicle exhaust on those bumpy rides on dirt roads.

Bonus points for looking like a bandit from the Wild West.