When you travel, always bring a towel. (But the right towel — and I have one to recommend!)
“You got a towel with you?” were some of the first words said to Arthur Dent as he started his adventures through the universe. And so they went. Today, I ask you the same and offer you the same advice.
Bring a towel when you travel. (Even if just in case you don’t like a hotel’s towel or in case you go swimming.)
… you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course, dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.”
~ The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy in the book of that name, both by Douglas Adams
A little of my travel towel history
The first time I left my NYC home to travel the world, I brought my thinnest cotton standard-sized bath towel. (I’d read Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, of course!) I used that as a guest in homes, in hostels, in the London-area flat where I rented a room, and everywhere else as I traveled Europe, India, Asia and Australia for 3 years. As I traveled, I cut it down little by little, to minimal size, hand-stitching a new hem each time to keep it nice. When I returned to the US, it returned with me. It had certainly remained handy.
While in Japan during the last part of that trip, I was ceremoniously presented with a towel — a great one that also then traveled with me. The Japanese towel was thin, cotton, and was the perfect size to dry any adult body. Its purpose was to take to the public baths. I’d have been very happy to find such a towel today and use it for my next year-or-so travels (until Matador came along).
Today Americans seem obsessed with thick, plus huge bath towels. They perform no better and they’re definitely not worth the space in your single travel bag. They are not what I am suggesting you pack for your travels!
My one-time hostel roommate will remind me that she brings her very large towel because she needs her “towel time.” I understand enjoying being all wrapped up and cozy. However, when traveling long-term, a sarong can do that job.
I was excited to find a true travel towel at the start of my 2012 travels. It was sold under the REI brand, wasn’t “squeaky” microfiber, was thin, and came in a ventilated fabric zipper sack. Unfortunately, after just one or two uses, it developed an odor that never came out. I had never put it away wet or even slightly damp so I was surprised by this. No washing, either by hand or machine removed the odor. No amount of drying it on an open clothesline in the sun removed the odor either. I kept it with me through 2016, bringing it with me in 2014, but only to use as a last resort.
My search for a great real travel towel continued.
Everything I saw was microfiber — and microfiber is up there with nails on a chalkboard on my list of sensations to avoid. (And then there is this reason to avoid microfiber like the plague it is.)
Matador has created a terrific travel towel
Matador’s new NanoDry Shower Towel ended my search for a great travel towel.
When I got a press release introducing Matador’s new NanoDry Shower Towel, I read the press release, then their website, both with great doubt. It sounded promising — but often a product doesn’t live up to the promise. Time passed. I didn’t push for this towel, perhaps fearing it would turn out to be yucky feeling and disappointing. Finally, knowing I might see other towels at the International Travel Goods Show, I called Matador. I grilled the poor co-owner about her fabric, then allowing myself to become hopeful, and finding out they’d be at the show, arranged to meet her there.
The NanoDry towel felt great. Not squeaky. Soft. So thin. It’s a good size, the same as a common bath towel. Would it really feel good to dry off with? I took a NanoDry Shower Towel home with me.
Matador’s NanoDry towel keeps its promise
I used this excellent travel towel for about 3 weeks before starting to write this. I used it to dry off fully after a shower about 4 times, resisting the urge to wash it. I wanted to see how long it would take to start to have that wash-me smell. As it dried that 4th time, I decided it was time to wash it. That is, I swished it around in the bathroom sink and rubbed it together a bit using a drop of Woolite. Then I hung it over the shower rod by an open window. It dried…[drumroll]…oderless!
Every few uses, time-permitting, I washed it out still swishing it around in the sink after using it to dry off, while the towel is wet anyway. Once, I used a bit of a hotel’s shampoo that I happened to have around. Emulating my travel facilities, I have hung it outside to dry 2 or 3 times because sunlight is a great way to keep clothing and towels bacteria-free and smelling great. (I didn’t have clothing dryer and it dries so fast it doesn’t make sense to dry it that way.)
Not wanting to be stuck with a smelly towel mid-trip, I did a wet test after 3 weeks of great use. We don’t always have the luxury of letting our towel dry fully before putting it away to hit the road for the day, so after about 30 minutes of drying time, while it was still damp, I stuffed it (rather than folding it neatly) into its case. The case has ventilation and stuffing it might add more air flow. I left it in the case, hanging inside my window for 4 hours to emulate transit time. After about 4 hours, I took it out. I wasn’t horrible but it did smell musty. I hung it outside although it wasn’t a warm sunny day and it was after 5:17 pm on an April LA day. After about 30 minutes, seeing that it wasn’t drying at this hour, I swished it around in the bathroom sink with a bit of shampoo, then I hung it up. Happily, when it dried the musty smell was gone and it had no bad odor!
I have every faith in this towel and am looking forward to traveling with it. I believe you’ll do well with it too.
It is now October and I have had this towel in my tightly packed EagleCreek Hauler backpack for 5 weeks and 2 days. I didn’t bring the rubber case because space and weight are important when traveling. It is in a ventilated fabric zipper bag. (The bag from the smaller size of my previous towel actually.) I don’t recall whether I used it at JFK when I washed up there. I have been staying at hostels and hotels. At most hostels, you can rent a towel for the equivalent of $1, which in Italy was €1. When a hostel wanted €2, I decided to use my own towel. I used it for 4 days. I then put it away for a week. In Venice, I forgot to ask about renting a towel so I used my NanoDry towel.
Typically, I plan my showers so I can pack a dry towel and garments as I move from place to place. This time, at 9 am, I was unable to do so. I had a 45-minute walk to a 4-hour bus trip — and a soaking wet towel. I rang it out. In the old days of my youth, I would have hung my towel over the back of my pack and it would have air-dried as I walked. However, I was walking through a city, not countryside, and the Venice streets I was walked were blanketed in morning mist anyway, so it wouldn’t have dried. (I do plan to add a hook to my backpack for things like this though.) Anyway, I put the NanoDry towel into a large ziplock plastic bag, rolled the bag closed, then put it into my daypack. That evening I remembered my towel — and it smelled. The next day when my hosts were out, I washed it with liquid hand soap in their laundry since and put it over a chair to dry. After about an hour in the indirect sun on this October day in Europe, the top parts of the towel were perfectly dry and odor-free. The bottom part was not yet dry and did smell — but as soon as that part dried too, it was… [another drumroll please]… perfect!
I am very happy with this towel and recommend it highly.
How to use — pat dry to get dry
Here’s the secret to best using this towel:
Before you use the towel (or any towel) wipe the water off your body. Then use the NanoDry towel to pat dry, rather than rubbing yourself as you do with cotton towels. I wad it up and dab/blot/pat my skin, re-wadding it every few dabs. This way no part of the towel becomes saturated.
I’ve found that once the towel is very wet, although it continues to absorb, it feels cold on my skin. I do my back last and for that, pull it across my back but try to pat-pull if that makes sense. I also keep my head forward the whole time so my hair doesn’t drip on my body. Then, I dry my hair last because hair doesn’t feel the cold in case the towel is cold.
Even when it’s fully wet, this towel will continue to absorb so you can definitely dry your hair. If you take a section of your hair and a time and squeeze your hair within it, you’ll do well with it. (And if your hair is shoulder length or longer, squeezing your hair as opposed to rubbing it, will prevent tangles.)
Caring for your NanoDry travel towel
I have always hand-washed mine but Matador tells me you can machine wash (warm water is ok) and dry the NanoDry towel.
Matador told me to avoid fabric softener and dryer sheets because they clog up the pores that make the towel absorbent. (I have heard a dryer sheet is wax infused.) Don’t iron it or bleach it. (2023: I’m checking with them about using distilled white vinegar to launder it.)
Matador recommends drying on low heat to ensure you get the maximum life from your towel. So far I have sun-dried.
Matador is also rather brilliant about reminding us of how to care for their fantastic towel — they have the care instructions on the convenient loop (with snap) that enables us to hang our towel for use or to dry it.
NanoDry towel specs, per their website
Super absorbent full sized shower towel is light and quick drying.
Absorbs 2.3 times its own weight in water.
Anti-microbial Gold Coat.
Convenient silicone carry case with carabiner.
Clip it on your beach bag, backpack, or gym bag for a towel designed to go anywhere.
Snap loop on the towel, for hang drying.
Towel weight: 2.5oz
Towel case weight: 2.7oz.
March 2019 — I have an update for you. They now have a rich deep Rust red and a Forest green color for us. I continue to love my towel but I have seen and touched these new colors and…just wow.
~Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
But… forget the “man” part. We women can pull this off too! ~me, Deb
PS: I have an article on how to shower while you travel, too.
Note Feb 2023: This article has been up since Oct 2017. Feb 2023, I added affiliate links to this product to help keep this site going.
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