A towel may seem a luxury and a waste of precious space in a travelers one bag and for some time I thought so too. Why deal with having to pack a towel that may still be wet when most places you would stay at provide them? If most of your traveling involves hotels I would tend to agree. These days I primarily stay at Airbnb’s, short term rentals and friends places. Every now and then I’ll find myself at a hotel and even then I’m thankful for having my own towel on hand. Having access to a towel at all times comes in handy especially in hot climates. Being able to wash my face mid day or after a hike and drying off with your own towel makes traveling just more pleasant and enjoyable for me.
The default microfiber travel towels are what come to mind and what I started off with taking along on my travels. While they are a definite upgrade from a normal bath towel due to its packable size and quick drying properties they just didn’t travel well long term for me. I noticed after some time the quick drying properties seem to degrade and after a couple of months they seemed to retain a musty odor that stuck around even after a proper washing. This may be personal preference but the texture of microfiber also just isn’t my thing.
So began my search for an alternative that kept the packability and quick drying properties of microfiber but had better anti-microbial properties and texture. I quickly came across linen as a possibility and decided to give it a shot. Linen may not seem like a good candidate for a towel replacement especially when you first try it out. The initial texture of linen can feel quite rough and not something you’d want to use on our skin especially when wet. The trick with linen is there’s a break in period that if you’re willing to deal with, is well worth the efforts.
I’ll admit it definitely takes some getting used to. The first time I tried drying off with it I had my doubts. Going from the thick luxurious terry type towels we’re so used to, to a thin piece of linen was just plain odd. I felt like I needed something more robust and didn’t feel like I was drying myself off. Additionally the linen felt very course against my skin. Not in an abrasive sandpaper way but just not soft. Again I was still struggling with old habits. What I did notice immediately was just how quickly the towel dried up. Within 10-15 minutes it was bone dry and it definitely was quicker than my microfiber travel towel.
As I continued to use it I noticed just how absorbent the linen was. It required less scrubbing back and forth and seemed to soak up moisture like a sponge but then release it rapidly when drying. Within about 5 weeks I noticed it becoming significantly softer as well. Because linen doesn’t really retain the water it soaks up it’s very antimicrobial and rarely requires a dedicated washing.
As an added bonus I’ve found it useful to use as a makeshift blanket to lie on when outside or on the beach. Unlike a cotton towel dirt and sand fall right off with a simple shake or two.
If you’re interested in trying it out for yourself here’s a link to the one I picked up (Amazon US Store). It’s a larger 25″ x 52″ size that I just roll up and stick in a small cinch bag that takes up a small corner in the bottom compartment of my Synapse 25 back pack. Even better you can simply grab a size to your liking at a fabric store as long as you can find one that carries 100% linen. Linen has become my default towel while traveling and at home. It’s cleaner, smaller and just works better than a standard cotton towel. If you’re willing to put in a little bit of effort at the beginning, linen is worth looking into as your go to travel towel.