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Other than my smartphone my other indispensable travel item, akin to a Swiss Army knife, is a scarf. If only MacGyver had known about packing scarves, maybe that show would still exist.

Scarves may seem like something frumpy that only women of a certain age wear. Not so! You should own a nice, big scarf. I’m not talking about just the ladies. Men look great in them too. As the summer fades, everyone, but everyone here in Italy is wearing one. You don’t want a naked neck, do you? That would be awkward.

You don’t need to bring one and in fact I suggest you don’t. Buy one in Europe. The selection is great here and less expensive. They make a great present and souvenir too. You can buy them in shops, street markets and even from these guys that wander the street. If you buy them outside of a shop you can bargain, but don’t expect that “cashmere” scarf to be anything other than a polyester knock-off. But, hey, for €5 it is a deal and will function the same anyhow.

I just bought a gorgeous silk scarf in Palermo at Benetton for €40, a king’s ransom for my frugal self, but I love it. It’s the perfect size, ultra lightweight and warm. It’s gray and white which goes with my whole wardrobe. The pattern is minimal so it goes with other patterned things. It’s a big scarf, probably about 24″ x 60″, and that’s just the size you want.

Here are the reasons that every traveler should have a scarf:

Keeps your neck warm- Obvious, I know, but there is something strange and magical about having a warm neck. I could be in a snowstorm with just my scarf and a bikini and I’d probably survive. A warm neck keeps all-over chills away.

Covers your head- Drape the scarf over your head and wrap the ends around your neck. This works for extreme cold or surprise rain without an umbrella. If you’re traveling in a Muslim country like Turkey, women will need a head covering in any case. Turkish women are pros at rocking the head scarf.

Covers your shoulders- I keep a scarf in my bag in warmer months instead of a jacket. It works as a wrap in the evenings. Churches in Italy don’t allow bare shoulders, so in the summer heat I keep it with me if I’m wearing something sleeveless.

Wraps around your waist- I use my scarves as cover-ups at the pool or beach. I tie one around my waist, sarong-style. It can also be wrapped around at chest height for an impromptu dress. If you wear shorts or short skirts in the summer, keep a scarf in your bag for church visits. Shorts are not permitted in most churches. I’ve lent my scarf to numerous people in my groups, even men. Keeping a scarf in your bag for a quick cover-up is better than being doomed to long pants on a very hot day.

Turn it into a shirt- Seriously! This is a thing! There are lots of ways to tie a scarf and turn it into a shirt. I folded mine diagonally, tied the ends, then tied them again around my neck, then tied the other ends around my waist. Turns into a backless halter top. Is there anything a scarf can’t do? You can find thousands of other ways to do this on the web.

Makes a good ground cover- A cheapie scarf is my answer to a beach towel and picnic blanket. I’ll toss it on the ground when I need it, then rinse it and hang it in my shower if needed.

Makes a soft travel pillow- As I mentioned in an earlier post, a scarf stuffed with clothes can be an impromptu travel pillow. Fold the scarf in half, half again, stuff with clothes and tie all four corners together like a hobo packet.

Makes an extra blanket- I’ve stayed in hotels with no extra blanket recently, so I grabbed a scarf and piled it on the bed. Also works well as an airplane blanket.

Makes a quick escape- Tie one end of a scarf to a balcony and use it to hoist yourself down. Oh, wait, I think that only happens in the movies.

Dresses up even the most bland clothes- After weeks on the road seeing the same clothes every day, spending €5 on something to make you feel more festive is worth it. Buy something bright and cheerful and drape it over your stinky travel clothes. Hides the stains too!

More than anything, if you’re into dressing like a local, a scarf is a good purchase to accessorize and look put together, even if you’re falling apart. And the warmth! Think of the cold on the airplane. I’m going home soon, you can bet I’ll be cuddled up in my airplane seat, covered in scarves.

AWS Staff

This post was published by the Adventures with Sarah team. Click here to find out more about the people that make everything at AWS happen.


  • DizzyLiz14 says:

    Great column. I totally agree with you about scarves as souvenirs. I’ve bought many of them on my travels and each time I wear one, it’s a wonderful reminder of a trip. So much better than a T-shirt!

  • mvaden1948 says:

    People now call me a scarf fanatic since I began buying several every time I visit Italy. Since I travel mostly in winter I wear basic black (top and pants and yes, my angle boots are also black) so it breaks up the monotony.

  • Barbara says:

    I wear my scarves everywhere–at home at abroad . Love the pick up it gives when wearing same clothes regularly on vacation. Always travel with one on the airplane to ward off cold. Always get one as a souvenir — or maybe two!

  • mvaden1948 says:

    Oh, I wear my scarves at home too. It feels great when I get a compliment to say “Thanks, I got it in Rome, or Venice or wherever”.

  • Robyn says:

    Fun post Sarah!!!yu are a kick…Ricks lucky to have yu on his Team,,,,that grey and white scarf is Beautiful…

  • I just found your blog via Rick Steves and in a short 30 minutes learned so much. Love your scarf!

  • Suzanne says:

    I love how scarves add flair. Unfortunately, I am short and when I wear a scarf, I feel like I am being strangled by a boa constrictor. Your blog is great!

  • Janet Lockwood says:

    Another reason that they make great souvenirs is that they are virtually weightless and take up little room in your suitcase! Love this blog!

  • Pat says:

    Sarah,Thank you, thank you, for your navigating the Vatican tips…it works! My husband and I took the Metro line last Wednesday, with tickets in hand for the seated area. It was packed and I immediately realized what you meant about being near the guard rails. For a short 30 minutes we stood at a corner guard rail, watched our precious Pope coming down the first lane only about 10 feet from us, then watched as the Pope Mobile rounded the corner and proceeded up the other lane.A dream come true and we have you to thank. If we had been in the middle of the seated area we would not have been able to see a thing.Your the best, Ricks lucky he found you and so are your fans and followers.Thanks again,A faithful fan,Pat

  • […] may have noted my passion for scarves. Bring a warm one if you have one, otherwise you can wait and buy one when you arrive. A scarf […]

  • Lasse Enersen says:

    If you tie the opposite corners you have a nice little bag for carrying your groceries to a nice pick nick in your hotel room or a sunny park.

  • […] Scarves aren’t for everyone, but they should be. A nice big scarf can have a million uses, and comes in handy for everything from warmth to a quick escape (you know, like in James Bond? Tying to a balcony and rolling down?) I bring or buy one nice big scarf to use as a pillow, picnic blanket, impromptu cover-up, slingshot and so on. More on that here. […]

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