In the science fiction classic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams writes, “A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have” for both practical and psychological reasons. He further writes, “any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.”
Inspired followers around the world now participate in #TowelDay on May 25th where they simply carry a towel around all day, and then enjoy some online trivia that evening.
If you haven’t read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or watched Douglas Adams’ witty, conservationist, and captivating TED Talk (see 1:21 hrs in for the towel origin story), you should.
So is a towel the most useful thing a traveler can carry? It is true that technical, high-functioning towels can be put to work in almost any situation on Earth. On a backcountry camping trip, it’s essential to keep dry and can mean the difference if you are in danger of hypothermia. You also can use it as your pillow, a sleeping bag liner, an entrance mat to keep your tent clean, an extra filter to keep larger debris from your water bottle, a camp kitchen cleaner, and even a device from moving firewood back to camp, sans-splinters.
On the water or at the beach, the towel really gets to work. Lay on it, dry off with it, change into your wetsuit, even clip it to your umbrella to block the sun. Grab that beer with your towel and it’s a koozie. Swab the deck if you must. If your towel is the right color, you can signal surrender, or notify the port you’re approaching that your boat is free of disease (try yellow).
When traveling internationally, your towel becomes an airplane blanket, or reusable bubble wrap for that bottle of wine in your bag. It’s a mask on the dusty streets of Delhi, a mosquito swatter, a sarong, scarf, or head wrap, or a curtain or a bedsheet in that questionable hostel you chose. In a pickle? If your towel is nice, it makes a handsome barter.
In day-to-day life, the towel has infinite uses. Dry off your dog, clean up spills, open a jar, keep it in your car to wipe the windshield, wrap ice in it to reduce swelling, hang it on the wall as art, sew the sides together to make a grocery bag, the list goes on.
If you haven’t had enough yet, there is a comprehensive, but highly experimental list of 99 Ways to Use a Towel available here.
One can only imagine that this list will one day include a host of towel-based self defense moves, complex social rituals and esoteric outdoor survival skills a la Bear Grylls. A thorough analysis of the full functional extent of a towel has yet to be done, but we anxiously await that day.
The point is, to the experienced traveler and outdoor enthusiast, the towel is not just a nice-to-have, it’s essential gear. When you reach the summit, or you see those islands on the horizon from the deck, or your plane touches down in Ulaanbaatar, your towel is at your side, a flag waving in triumph, ready for whatever life brings you next.