The Best Travel Scarves for Chilly Airplanes + Cold Destinations

Stacey Ebert

Years ago, on my first trip to Bangkok, I bought a few pashminas at a night market. Little did I know they’d be more than a pretty souvenir by which to remember the trip. For years now, one of those same pashminas has traveled the world with me.

A great travel scarf is my head and shoulder covering for places of worship, a blanket when those airplane air-conditioning vents freeze me from head to toe, a makeshift towel on many spontaneous beach excursions and, of course, wrapped around my neck to keep me warm on chilly days.

There are tons of options when it comes to travel scarves and neck warmers, even some with built in travel pillows. Choose a travel scarf that adds a pop of color to an outfit, keeps you warm, and is as versatile as you are.

Not All Cold is Considered Equal

For years, I’ve been chasing the sun. I’m the beach-goer who loves summer and even moved from NYC to San Diego to ditch winter. My body is anti-cold, that’s for sure. In NY, I always wore a jacket and gloves, even in the classroom. I carried those pocket hand warmers when it dropped below 65 F, and today I wind up in socks, a jacket, and UGGs when it drops below that.

I’ve found my people in San Diego. Here, scarves come out when it’s cloudy and 70 degrees and blanket scarves abound when it gets any colder.

And then, there’s the rest of the world. My friend in Minneapolis isn’t bothered by snow or typically freezing temperatures. My friend in Hong Kong regularly travels to mountains and snow to grab ski time with the family because that weather isn’t a norm where she lives. And me, well, let’s just say that I never hit an airport without three jackets, fuzzy socks and some sort of blanket or scarf – you know that friend who’s always cold, well, that’s me.

No matter where you’re headed, warm or cold, and all year round, a scarf is a useful piece of travel gear. 

Choosing the Right Travel Scarf

There are a number of factors to consider when choosing the perfect travel scarf. For people who have sensitive skin, the material matters a lot. Shorter than average people need to weigh the pros and cons of additional length and wrap styles. If you’re cold all the time, thickness is going to be a factor. Light packers who insist on versatility will be looking for something lightweight, but that serves multiple purposes. There’s so much more to to shopping for scarves than just color and cost.

Material

Cotton, bamboo, acrylic, wool, merino wool, polyester, rayon, acrylic – so many options. Each one has its own benefits. Price, comfort, feel, texture and breathability are a few of the factors consider when choosing the material of your next travel scarf.              

For winter (and those of us who are cold all the time), cashmere and merino wool will keep you the warmest; these are also more breathable fabrics.

Acrylic and polyester are much more cost effective but won’t keep you as warm. Some people will find that these synthetic fabrics can cause different reactions on different skin types.

For those in between days and the when fashion is more important than warmth, cotton is perfect. A light and airy option, cotton provides versatility, but won’t be the fastest drying option.

Versatility

There are a myriad of options on the market. Whether you’re hitting the brick and mortar stores to check out the feel of a material in your hand, or trolling the digital aisles for your perfect purchase – consider how you plan to use your scarf and where you’re likely to journey with your new find.

  • If bundling up is your thing – the blanket scarf is for you
  • If you’re looking for warmth and fashion with a little less bulk – look at infinity scarves
  • Capes and ponchos – are great for extra warmth but can run a bit higher in price, are  bulkier and harder to pack
  • Throw it over your shoulders and add a belt – voila, now you have an added outer layer to accessorize any outfit
  • Tie it in front – for an evening wrap on one of those chilly travel nights on the town
  • For a simple shrug – throw it over your shoulders, under the arms and tie in the back
  • Instant cover up – pop it over your head and shoulders as a covering or tie it around your waist to elongate a short skirt when visiting a place of worship
  • Tie and tie again – and use it as a trendy hair wrap for those long, busy travel days

Pockets

Scarves with pockets are a current craze. They’re trendy, keep your items hidden from view and allow you to wear your valuable belongings close to your body. Hide your money, keys, headphones, or even a snack in the pocket of your scarf for those long haul travel days.

  • Anything with pockets is always helpful – especially when traveling
  • Pockets are terrific for lightweight items – like room keys, flash drives, and money
  • Depending on how you wrap your scarf – heavier items (like phones and passports) may cause the scarf to shift position
  • Choosing a scarf of a bulkier fabric – (like wool or fleece) or wrapping it a few extra times will keep those heavier items more stable

Size Matters

Let me just come out and say that blanket scarves are not for everyone. If you’re shorter than average, you already know that one size rarely fits “all.”  Size really does matter!

Although my sister-in-law (who is a good 5 inches taller than me) can rock a blanket scarf like a boss, on me it looks like I’m wrapping myself in a blanket (not in a good way). 

This especially applied to the pocket scarves I tested. The length between shoulder and chest differs on each person. Lightweight items worked great in the pockets. Phones and other heavier items didn’t sit in the right spot on me very well, yet some of my taller friends who tried it on looked and felt like they were ready for the travel runway. Some of the fit was dependent on how the scarf was wrapped, but some of it was just a factor of body size.

 Neck Warmers

 For those quick runs between modes of transport, the meet up that’s taking place in the park, or the co-living space outing that’s just a shade too chilly – a neck warmer might be all you need.

For plane and train trips, larger scarves are perfect – one part accessory, one part blanket warmth; but if your wrap or cape doesn’t cover your neck, add a simple neck warmer for a little extra protection. 

Fashion Meets Function

Fashion matters in travel. No one wants to look like a tourist. Although a travel scarf isn’t an absolute necessity, it might be game-changer you need to make travel that much more comfortable and fashionable.

At Tortuga, we embrace the idea of minimalist travel. That means every item needs to do double duty. Choose a travel scarf that accents your outfits, but that also keeps you warm, works as a swimsuit cover up, towel (in a pinch), a throw or picnic blanket for the park, and more. 

Travel Blanket Scarves and Wraps

Just as there’s a travel destination out there for each and every one of us, the same goes for scarves. Whether you’re chilly at your co-working space in Nice, running from that Denver conference to the one in Seattle, or looking to make your minimalist capsule wardrobe stretch that much further – a blanket scarf will keep you warm.

Champion Lightweight Snap Scarf $6

Material: polyester/spandex

Whether you wear it as a scarf, shrug, wrap or small blanket this is a great budget travel scarf that is trendy, and stays put when you snap it. The lightweight material means it isn’t designed to be super warm.

C By Bloomingdales Travel Cashmere Wrap $80-200

Materials: cashmere

Cashmere is cozy. Jenn, our editor, prefers cashmere over all other materials for a travel scarf or wrap. The downside, of course, is that it’s dry clean only. This wrap is one size fits all – mostly.

Urban Outfitters Nubby Blanket Scarf $20-34

Material: polyester

This is a fashionable blanket scarf with good coverage. But polyester won’t provide the same level of warmth as wool.

Mer Sea Classic Travel Wrap $110

Material: 100% acrylic

This wrap comes with matching bag that (according to their website) could happily hold a travel pillow. And since it’s not cashmere, this wrap can be both washed and dried in a machine.

Saferin Cashmere Pashmina Scarf $36

Material: cashmere and lambswool blend

More shawl than blanket scarf, this is a warmer option at a great price. Cashmere is an excellent option for cold weather travel. Add a belt and there’s lots of wardrobe versatility here.

White and Warren Cashmere Travel Wrap $298 

Material: cashmere

White and Warren has a dedicated section on their website for their travel wraps. Although these are more costly than most, if you’re always traveling (and always freezing) it might be worth shelling out the extra coin for this 6 foot by 3 foot 100% cashmere beauty.

Travel Scarves With Pockets

Hidden, helpful, and handy definitely describe these gems of the travel scarf world. Designed to keep your treasures out of the hands of pickpockets, the hidden zippers work their magic into your wardrobe.

Speakeasy Travel Supply Hidden Zipper Scarf $20-75

Material: varies

Speakeasy Travel Supply is a company founded by travelers. Their creative designs have been featured around the globe and their scarves continue to change our travel experience. I have the Palm Springs cotton scarf. Aside from feeling childlike joy knowing I’m the owner of a magical hidden secret, what I love about this friendly, travel-minded company is that their scarves come in an assortment of fabrics, because I can only tolerate certain types. The founders handcraft most of the scarves themselves and have been featured by some of the biggest names in travel. Their collections constantly change – check out their summer collection here

Kamot Scarf $17

Material: viscose/polyester

If you’re looking for a budget option, this could be your best bet. This multifunctional infinity scarf gets high marks in Amazon reviews. It’s soft and warm with a decent sized pocket. At this price, you can probably afford to buy two and expand your fashion options!

 

Waypoint Good’s Limited Edition Travel Scarf $40 

Material: lightweight polyester

This line of infinity scarves is inspired by cities, places, national parks and artists. The one pictured above is inspired by Denver and the landscapes around it. The beautiful fabric and perfectly hidden pocket capture the magic of travel. These scarves are a hand wash and lay flat to dry item, which is okay, if you’re used to hand washing while you travel.

Travel Scarf Pillow

It’s a pillow, no it’s a scarf. 

One item – multiple uses. Whether traveling for work or pleasure, most of us try to grab our much-needed sleep whenever we can. Instead of getting off a plane or train with an irritating crick in the neck from trying to contort yourself into a comfortable position, pack one of these dual duty pillows. Travel scarves that include a pillow ease the discomfort and set us up for sleeping success.

Trtl $30

Material: fleece

This scarf-like, fleece, ‘turtle’ pillow seems to provide its users with comfortable sleep anywhere. Scientifically proven neck support with adjustable fastening, and half the size of U-shaped travel pillow, Trtl weighs just half a pound. The downside is that this is not a scarf you’re you’re going to wear for fashion. It’s for sleeping only. According to their website, the product has been spotted on quite a few famous necklines.

Infinity Pillow – $39

Material: bamboo

Made out of bamboo fabric, this travel pillow doubles as an infinity scarf. While it won’t cover your tootsies on that chilly flight, it will allow you to skip the annoying head bob and will lessen the need for acupuncture when you land. This one isn’t exactly a fashion statement either, but if comfort and rest are your primary goals, it will keep your neck warm too.

Neck Warmers: Keep it Simple

Sometimes the simplest answer is the right one. When a scarf is too big for a pocket, purse, or person, grab a neck warmer. These flexible guys are often a quick fix for blustery days, or flexible cold fighting, when a full sized travel scarf is just too much.

Buff $20 and up

Materials: varies

For years now, these have been my go to neck warmer. Whether it’s a blustery day on a boardwalk, a winter meeting at an outdoor coffee chop or tacking on a few extra days of adventure after a business trip – Buff works.

Choose from cotton, fleece, merino and more. Layer these neck warmers under your blanket scarf, hoodie, or jacket. Shove it in a pocket when the sunshine comes out, or double it as a headband when you grab a yoga class in the middle of your workday.

Buy more than one and fling them in every bag you have.

TL,DR

Including a travel scarf in your autumn and winter packing lists will keep you warmer, but even in spring and summer a travel scarf can be a great addition. 

  • Consider which materials work for you and the season or journey
  • Explore your price range (polyester is going to be less expensive than cashmere)
  • Decide on your specific scarf needs (blanket, pocket, wrap, cape, pillow)
  • Follow trendy hashtags to get creative your scarf arrives (#scarf, #scarves, #blanketscarves)
  • Be ready to try some new styles and upgrade your travel life

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