My family and I once spent a month in Italy and survived with only one suitcase. Our youngest was two years old at the time so rather than pushing around a piece of luggage, I knew my hands would instead be pushing around a stroller. Our oldest was six and not quite ready to trust with his own bag – so to keep things easiest, each of us had a carry-on of some kind (backpacks for the three of them, a tote for myself) and everything else was in one shared suitcase.

Suffice it to say that I have become obsessed with the fine art of packing for long-term travel. I pack and unpack the suitcase easily five or six times in an attempt to bring the fewest possible items with us. I am always on the lookout for things that serve a dual purpose. One pair of shoes that can crossover from miles of walking along old-world streets to dining in a fancier restaurant. The skirt that can just as easily hike the Cinque Terra as it can show respect inside a cathedral. But there is one item I won’t leave home without.  And with more than 30 uses, it tops my list of items we simply must bring with us.

Care to guess what this might be? Yes, a bandana!

Used as a placemat

My recommendation is to toss it inside a small ziplock bag and keep it with you at all times during your travels. I used to just simply toss it in my purse but after finding myself in a European WC with not a single swatch of toilet paper in sight, I was forced to use it to take care of business. Since I had nothing in which to store the soiled piece of fabric, I had to toss it in the garbage can without protection.

Used to collect sea shells

So now that you know at least one use for the almighty bandana, here are a few others we’ve discovered along the way:

  1. napkin
  2. dish cloth
  3. potholder
  4. placemat
  5. plug sink or tub drain
  6. open a bottle of champagne (cover the cork)
  7. champagne stopper
  8. coffee filter or tea strainer
  9. salad spinner
  10. apron
  11. hankie
  12. hair tie
  13. head band
  14. ear muffs
  15. washcloth
  16. wipe sand off feet
  17. moisten and wrap around neck or head to cool down
  18. emergency diaper
  19. emergency toilet paper
  20. wind/dusk mask
  21. belt
  22. bib
  23. clean sunglasses/eyeglasses
  24. protect back of neck from sun (tuck in back of hat)
  25. cold compress
  26. tourniquet
  27. sling
  28. handbag accessory
  29. luggage identifier
  30. bracelet
  31. collecting shells, rocks, etc
  32. sleep blindfold
  33. pillow cover
  34. seat cover (buses, benches, etc)
  35. food storage
  36. kids games (capture the flag, hide & seek, flag football)

Used to dry dishes

It should be noted that not all bandanas are created equal. I once picked one up at the local dollar store and found the fabric to be stiff and water-resistant. While that might be fine if you’re using it for a bib or as a sling, the fabric was difficult to work with so our uses were more limited.

What about you? Have you additional uses for bandadas you can share? I would love to hear!  And in the meantime, happy travels and don’t forget to pack your passports and bandanas!