One of my most prized possessions in my backpack is my sarong. I originally decided to carry a sarong so that I'd have something to accessorize my outfits with, but I had no idea how useful I'd find carrying one. I've found a sarong to be the most versatile item in my backpack and I've used it in countless situations.
To Cover up at Temples
If you're going to be visiting temples as you travel, you'll soon discover that most of them have a dress code you should obey before entering.
You'll usually have to cover up your shoulders and tops of your arms, as well as down to your knees. While temples will provide shawls to use to cover up with, you'll be wearing something that thousands of people have also worn, and sweated into, before you. Bring a sarong with you and you'll be able to wrap it over your shoulders or around your waist in order to gain entry.
As a Beach Towel
Sarongs function surprisingly well as a beach towel. If you find yourself planning spontaneous beach visits and ending up covered in sand because you didn't bring your towel, you'll find carrying a sarong to be perfect. Whip it out wherever you are and you'll be able to spend a few hours sunbathing on the beach. This also works well in parks, if you want to spend a sunny afternoon reading a book on the grass.
As Sheets in a Hostel
For the most part, hostels are clean and bedclothes are frequently cleaned.
For those times when you don't quite feel comfortable with the cleanliness of the sheets, lay a sarong between you and the sheets.
If it gets chilly at night in the hostel, you can use a sarong as an extra layer to keep you warm. The same works for those buses that turn the air conditioning as high as it will go.
As a Headscarf
If you're going to be traveling through a country where it's common for locals to cover their heads you can use a sarong to do the same and attract less attention.
As a Pillow
If ever I'm taking an overnight journey, whether it's by bus, train or plane, I'll always make sure to have my sarong close to hand so that I can use it as a pillow. I'll roll it up into a sausage shape and use it to get some sleep. This also prevents me from waking up with a stiff neck in the morning!
If you want to get changed in a public area -- the beach, a park, a hostel dorm room, for example -- tie your sarong around your waist and you'll be able to get changed in private.
To Protect Yourself From the Sun
If you've recently been sunburned, or don't have any sunscreen and will be spending a while in the sun, use your sarong to protect yourself. You can wrap it over your head to protect your scalp or over your shoulders to protect the top half of your body. If you've been sunburned, you can wrap the sarong around the burn, as they're usually made of a much smoother material than shirts.
For Extra Padding
Wrap your sarong around your valuables on big travel days to keep them safe. I've used this on souvenirs I've bought for friends and family, to keep my laptop safe and to protect my camera.
In most cases, a sarong works just as well as a thin protective case.
To Help You Sleep
Want to have a nap in the middle of the day but the room is too bright? Hang your sarong over the window to darken the room. You can even hang it around your dorm bed if you're on the lower bunk to block out some of the light, too.
You can even use your sarong as a bandage if you have a medical emergency and don't have anything else to hand.