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12 Ways to Use the One Thing You Should Always Pack

Photograph by Getty Images

Whether you use a comprehensive packing list or throw together a bag as you walk out the door for vacation, there is one thing you absolutely cannot forget. No, we're not talking about your passport or credit card (though you'd be wise to pack those too). We're talking about a single piece of fabric that seems too simple to be anything yet is so many wonderful things at the same time.

Cheap and colorful or subdued and sophisticated, sarongs are available in markets around the world and for sale online. This is the utilitarian, all-things-in-one item every mom should have and carry with her when she travels. (And, let's be honest, it wouldn't hurt to hide one in your car, tuck one in your purse or keep one in the diaper bag either.)

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1. It's a skirt! A dress! A shawl!

No, it's a sarong. Has there ever been a single item that can be so many pieces of clothing? Wrap one around your waist as a skirt. Cover your chest and turn it into a casual cover-up or dress (or get creative and gussy them up for a night out). Also perfect for keeping the sun off your shoulders in tropical destinations.

2. A friend on the beach

Throw it down for something to lie on instead of the sand. If the sun is particularly intense, prop it up for a sunshade instead. After you've taken a dip in the ocean, turn it into a towel and dry off.

3. Stay warm

For those times when the A/C is cranked way up in a movie theatre or on an airplane, turn your sarong into a blanket. They hold in an impressive amount of heat.

4. Pick your park

When you take the kids to the playground, toss down a sarong for a makeshift picnic blanket and enjoy a snack afterward.

5. Comfort in the car

If car seats get too warm while you're out for family time, use the sarong as a seat cover so there's something more comfortable to sit on. Alternatively, if the sun is beating through a back window and blinding the kids, tuck the ends into a rolled-up window for instant shade.

6. Portable pillow

Sarongs can easily be folded and used as headrests, but to ramp up the fluff factor, wrap one around a sweatshirt or other soft items, then tie it in the back to make a bona fide pillow.

7. Safety first

Stuck in a dust storm? Cover your face to protect it from wind burn. Find yourself without a tissue? Not to worry—the sarong can serve as a surrogate. Come upon a questionable seat on the bus? Use it as a cushion. (Don't forget to wash your sarong afterward.)

8. No bag? No problem.

If your hands are full, pile stuff into your sarong, then tie the corners together to make an easy-to-transport pouch. Similarly, it's great for getting a pile of dirty clothes into a hotel laundry room.

9. Bed sheet, take two

Occasionally, bed sheets at hotels leave a little to be desired. If they feel too sketchy, toss down your sarong for an extra layer of protection. Conversely, if you're the type to use hostels, you can easily use a sarong for a mattress cover when bed sheets aren't provided.

10. Perfect for baby

If you've ever traveled to a developing nation, you've undoubtedly seen women using sarongs as baby carriers. These crafty pieces of fabric can be tightly wrapped to hold little ones on your back or chest.

11. In the emergency kit

Grab your sarong if you need to stop a wound from bleeding or create a makeshift sling.

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12. One for the dads out there

Most of these uses are just as relevant for fathers, but guys traveling to countries with holy sites can find an extra purpose for a sarong. In many of these places, visitors are required to cover their knees (which many pairs of shorts don't do), and a sarong can be tied for a "man skirt" to guarantee entry.

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