Thursday, July 23, 2009

Travel Tip: Backpackers, Keep This Thing Handy

There's one thing that's probably the most useful piece of gear I carry when I travel. It's not necessary for anything, but it's a versatile little tool independent travelers might otherwise forget to pack. I called for guesses on my last tip post and along with a couple messages from Douglas Adams fans about other uses they've found for towels (like bailing a swamped canoe), we got a lot of suggestions for other gear, including a couple I hadn't thought of at all (glue stick and eyeglass repair kit for a start). But nobody guessed my favorite:

It's a bandana.

It might be the least valuable thing I carry, but it might also be the most versatile. Here are a few examples of how you can use it:

-Blindfold when you're trying to sleep during the day or on a bus/train/plane.
-Dust mask for smoggy or dusty places (if you ever ride a motorbike in SE Asia, this is a must)
-Personal A/C system-- get it wet and tie it around your neck to keep cool—also keeps the sun off your neck so you won't get burned.
-Hand towel to dry your hands and face when you can't or don't want to get your towel out or wet.
-Bandage for minor wounds and something to stop bleeding in emergencies.
-Sweatband for athletic stuff. (Having sweat in your eyes when you go dune/volcano boarding or caving sucks.)
-Potholder/glove to handle stuff you don't want to touch with your bare hands because the stuff is too hot/cold/dirty.
-Signal to flag down buses or taxis, get people's attention (especially good for trying to get someone you're talking to on cell phone to spot you in a crowd-- you don't often hear "sorry, which person waving the bandana?").
-Hanky to blow your nose or wipe sweat off your brow (if you're feeling old-fashioned)

It does a lot of the stuff the towel did in the Hitchhiker's guide, except it's a bit cheaper, dries a lot faster, and fits in your pocket. It's a little like the rubber band bracelet in that it comes in handy in ways you probably wouldn't expect (like winning over kids with a game of peekaboo or cats by giving them something to chase). Just don't try using it to sail the River Motht (whatever planet that's on).

I suggest getting a dark-colored patterned one that doesn't show dirt too easily. Just remember to wash it every once in a while with your normal laundry, especially if you use it regularly to clean anything or handle dirty stuff, and especially if you ever have to use it as a bandage.


  1. Maybe my comment will appear this time???
    Anyways--good suggestion :)

  2. Hi Joel... have you seen this article by the Frugal Traveler over at the NYTimes? In case you can't read it behind the firewall, it's called Top 10 Travel Gadgets Under $50.

  3. We have been reading the Frugal Traveler off and on, but think your blog has better tips. Of course the Frugal Traveler is aiming for a slightly less frugal way to go than going via couchsurfing and hostels. Different readership/travel audience.

  4. Interesting. Do you usually wear the bandana or have it in a pocket/bag?

  5. Of course, bandanas! I always bring one. They are also useful for women to cover your head in countries where they like you to do that at religious sites. (Used to have to do that here if you were Catholic).

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  7. Hola Joel!

    Jajaja, que buena descripcion del uso de la bandana! te felicito...realmente empezare a tener una por si las dudas! Bueno, yo termine mi entrenamiento de enfermeria auxiliar, aun no tengo trabajo,pero ya me inscribi al examen estatal, falta que me confirmen si sera este 15 de agosto...aun tengo problemas hablando ingles, pero trato de hacerme entender...quisiera averiguar lo de la ayuda financiera para estudiar,sabes como se puede obtener ello? bueno esta semana que viene ire a averiguar eso. Ok, hablando del curso, a un principio fue un shock...pero luego me fui acostumbrando, la parte mas dificil fue el enfrentarme con los pacientes del nursing home donde hicimos practica...pero me encarine con ellos, y fue triste a la vez saber que se acababa la practica. Ok...te cuidas mucho...que Diosito te bendiga!!! hasta otra oportunidad...Por cierto muy lindas fotos :)

  8. There was an episode of Man vs Wild where the guy, dropped into the desert with no means of keeping cool, peed on his bandana and wrapped it around his head. I assume you're not doing that, but if you are, I have both more and less respect for you.
    - Boz

  9. Claire- Still having trouble with that? I need to get on blogger's case on this one.

    Viv- I hadn't seen that one actually. Good stuff to keep in mind, especially if you're traveling with a suitcase. Some of it also good for backpacking (vacuum bags, radio) and others.. eh... well let's just say front pockets can be picked too, and I don't want a flash drive going with my cash, especially considering many travelers might use it to store stuff like scanned copies of their passport. Not something you want stolen. Still, good stuff.

    Anonymous- Flattery gets you everywhere. Thank you. I kind of think of the Frugal traveler as being the Fodors guide while I try to be the Let's Go guide. When you have a career, steady income, and needs beyond what a dorm bed and shared shower an provide, the Frugal Traveler is a great source.

    Count C- usually in the left pocket with my camera. Stays dry that way, also keeps pickpockets from getting at my camera quite so easily.

    Catherine- That's a use I hadn't thought of! Thanks! (not that I'll be using it myself that way, but still, good to have on the post).

    Mary- Te recomiendo el sitio Es bien difícil obtener ayuda financiera del gobierno norteamericano si no seas ciudadano, pero fastweb tiene muchísimos becas independientes-- tal vez podrías encontrar algo alla? Hay hartos para casos bien raros. Creo que era una para jóvenes de mucho altúd con un nombre que empieza con "h" o algo como así. Debe haber algo especialmente para estudiantes latinas. Buena suerte! Siempre un placer oír de ti. Saludos a todos alla!

    Boz- Only you. My best responses can't be printed here for a mixed audience to read. I'll just say I have never urinated on any part of my equipment for any reason. Yet.