CNN  — 

While the concept of traveling again might be exciting, it’s been so long that many of us might have forgotten that the reality of jet-setting isn’t as glamorous as we imagine it. That’s something I experienced firsthand when I traveled nonstop for 15 months, seeing upward of 25 countries spanning six continents.

Yes, the experience was incredible and life-changing. But it also taught me some important lessons about what you actually need on the road — and what you can skip. Like that “Out of Office” sun hat? Great for a photo opp — but definitely not practical when you’re packing light. The one thing you can’t leave home without, however, is a Turkish towel.

This multipurpose wonder item isn’t just great for combating the beach and sand; it also comes in handy no matter what your travel adventures throw at you. After all, if there’s one thing seasoned travelers know best, it’s to expect the unexpected, remain flexible and come prepared.

Keep reading for the 101 on Turkish towels, along with some of our favorite picks:

What is a Turkish towel?

Sometimes referred to as hammam towels or fouta towels, this specific type of towel is composed of Turkish cotton, which is known for having long fibers. While that might not seem important to you, since you have a closet full of towels, Turkish ones are often stronger.

This means they’re durable for travel and can serve as a picnic blanket in a park, protection from the sand on a beach day and even a way to dry off when your Airbnb didn’t provide towels as promised. They aren’t as soft and cozy as others, but they become more absorbent each time you wash them. And as a bonus, they’re extremely quick to dry. So if you have a 14-hour layover and want to hit the beach in Barcelona, your Turkish towel will be dry by the time you board.

They also tend to be thinner than fluffy towels, which is ideal for travelers who want to pack light or need to save space in their bags. You can use one as a shawl to stay warm on a chilly airplane ride, or even as a bathing suit cover-up as you walk back to your pad to detox from the sun.

Apart from the obvious practical benefits, they’re also, well, gorgeous. With countless sources and a myriad of patterns, sizes and shapes, there are plenty of Turkish towels circulating the web. For ones that really stand up to water, dry fast and meet the demands of travelers, check out our hand-picked list of favorites below.

Bersuse 100% Organic Cotton Turkish Towel ($40.23;

Bersuse 100% Organic Cotton Turkish Towel

I’m a bit biased, since this trusty companion came along on the wild ride with me, but I can’t say enough good things about this Turkish towel from Bersuse. It’s gentle on the skin and never scratchy; soaks up any water clinging to you from the pool, ocean or bath; dries within a few hours; and even has a hidden zippered pocket.

I picked a pretty coral color with a subtle geometric pattern, and often draped it across my shoulders at the beach or when I was cold on a train, plane or automobile. It served many purposes while I was living the nomad life, and today I still use it when I’m hanging out on my balcony in Boston.

Bazaar Anatolia Diamond Turkish Towel ($19.45;

Bazaar Anatolia Diamond Turkish Towel

Not only is this find from Bazaar made in Turkey, but it’s made from 100% cotton that’s free of dyes, harmful substances and chemicals. It comes in a large size at 77 inches long by 38 inches wide and is available in 16 stunning colors.

Cacala Pestemal Turkish Towel ($19.30, originally $22.05;

Cacala Pestemal Turkish Towel

Also made of 100% cotton, these travel-friendly towels are equal parts soft and convenient. They come in a vast variety of colors, making it easy to find one for your preferences and style. And since they take less energy and water to wash than thick, fluffy towels, many folks use these as their go-to towels at home too.

Wetcat Turkish Beach Towel ($21.99, originally $24.99;

Wetcat Turkish Beach Towel

This brand prewashes its towels, which means when they arrive at your door they’re already plush to the touch and absorbent. The more often you throw these in the machine, the better they will perform too. If you prefer a small towel, this one is even thinner than terry cloth and super lightweight. Because it’s made in Turkey with certified natural dyed yarn, it’s appropriate for sensitive skin too.

Smyrna Turkish Beach Towel ($21.99, originally $24.99;

Smyrna Turkish Beach Towel

Pretty and feminine, this organic, ultra-soft Turkish towel is a great addition to your carry-on or gym bag. Because it absorbs sweat and water super fast, you can use it, let it air dry and go! This brand makes its products in Turkey, using only Oeko-Tex-certified Anatolian yarn, which means you’re receiving the best quality possible.

Bosphorus Turkish Cotton Towel, Set of 4 ($26;

Bosphorus Turkish Cotton Towel, Set of 4

While some people prefer to use Turkish towels for their travels or beach days, others appreciate the high quality and quick-drying nature for everyday use. If you’re in the market for new hand towels for your bathroom or kitchen, consider this colorful four-pack of towels that are handmade using traditional wooden looms. As a bonus, they’re naturally hypoallergenic and gentler on the skin.

InfuseZen Stonewashed Turkish Towel ($27.99;

InfuseZen Stonewashed Turkish Towel

These Turkish towels are made of 100% Turkish cotton, and they’re handwoven. Before they make their way from Turkey to your zip code, the manufacturer washes them with small stones, which gives them a slightly worn look. This is good news, since it means the towels will already be soft when they arrive, and more absorbent.

QoupQuru Turkish Bath Towels, 2-Pack ($27.99;

QoupQuru Turkish Bath Towels

In Turkish, “qoup quru” means “super dry” — which happens to be the best way to describe this colorful two-pack. These are larger than some of the other options available, making them ideal for a romantic beach getaway for two. Parents may also benefit from buying a few of these, since they make a great play mat that can handle spills from tumbling toddlers.

Olive & Loom Cotton Turkish Towel ($19.99;

Olive & Loom Cotton Turkish Towel

The thinnest, and one of the largest on our list, this massive Turkish towel has room for two people. It’s also compact, and can fold up easily into your suitcase. Some families might keep one (or two) of these in the trunk of their car for impromptu park visits or to lay down on the seat when their pup is wet from the rain. You can expect this towel to dry within a few hours, so you’ll never need to throw it in a cycle.

Peshty Turkish Towel (starting at $14.35;

Peshty Turkish Towel

Also described as a “blanket,” this oversized 100% Turkish cotton option features a high thread count. It comes prewashed, meaning it’s ready to go the second you unwrap it. Fans of this brand use its beloved towels for all sorts of purposes: beach and pool vacays, yoga classes, while nursing and so on. Handmade by women outside of Denizli, Turkey, these towels also raise money for mothers and children in poverty.