I travel a lot. Not 5-countries-a-week lot, but a lot for your average Jo. It’s one of the perks, nay reasons for being self-employed.
In fact I’m writing this piece at 41,00ft (I checked on the interactive map – I love that thing!) while flying to California to celebrate Thanksgiving, something I have been doing for almost 20 years thanks to my ragtag and altogether unconventional family set-up. I also travel often for work – think Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada, only without the couture or fancy hotel suite. Or, unfortunately, Simon Baker.
All those flights, both long and short haul, have one thing in common, and that is the Travel Blanket. Hallowed amongst its kind. Envied by the pretty silk confections and warm hand-knitted woollens it shares the cupboard with. This is a blanket with its own air miles. Or is it a scarf with its own air miles…? Reader, it is both.
The first incarnation of the travel blanket was a giant, thick cotton shawl in bright stripes of pink, orange and purple, bought in July of 2008 from a street stall on the tiny island of Lamu, off the coast of Kenya. I think I paid about £4 for it.
While on Lamu it served as a sarong, a dress, a towel, a picnic blanket, a sunshade, a baby sling and much more. On the journey home it served its first duty as an airplane blanket. Altogether softer and more appealing than those scratchy, bobbly horrors the airline give you, the Travel Blanket was born. Not merely a pashmina for ‘throwing over your shoulders if the plane is a little chilly.’ This is something altogether more substantial.
At that time I was working as a wig mistress at The Old Vic, and when I returned home it came to work with me to cheer up the rather drab ‘wiggery’, and when I went on tour with a theatre production it came with me to do the same in all the dire theatre digs and draughty Victorian dressing rooms visited along the way. When I worked on music video sets in frozen fields or overnight in wind-ravaged multi-storey carparks it would keep me or the talent warm. In short, it was all things to all situations.
The second travel blanket was purchased from a Vedanta temple in Southern California. A mouse-brown, lambs wool meditation shawl with tassels, bought for around $30 it quickly became as indispensable as it’s predecessor. Although rather less machine washable than the first, its muted tone felt altogether more grown up.
When I left it on a plane at Heathrow and utterly distraught, after many days and phone calls, failed to get it back, I returned to the temple on my next trip to California and bought the very same scarf again. And my sister got one in soft pink.
The current favourite, and at this moment the very thing wrapped around my legs, is a huge cream wool shawl, found in my grandfathers wardrobe, still wrapped in it’s 1970s cellophane, when we cleared out my grandparents house. Purchased on one of many business trips to the Far or Middle East, it was sightly yellowed where the cellophane had split, and smelling less than peachy. I took it home and brought it back to life with a slug of Sainsbury’s hand-wash liquid (addicted to that stuff) and a splash of Milton fluid.
It has since served, as both it’s predecessors have – as a blanket for napping on the plane, as a scarf, as a picnic blanket, as a makeshift dressing gown and preserver of modesty, as a coat, as a curtain, as a sun shade and as the very thing I would not be without.
It does not conform to any current trend, yet never fails to raise a compliment. It’s not flashy, it’s not ‘luxe’, I have no idea how much my grandfather paid for it. But to me, my grown-up security blanket is it’s worth it’s weight in gold.
All three of my travel blankets have come from slightly unconventional places, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find yourself one on the high street or the internet.
They key to a good Travel Blanket is it’s size – mine is about 250cm x 100cm, but it’s not bulky. In terms of material, a fine wool or thick cotton will do the job, as long as it’s machine washable or if its not, that you’re the kind of person who enjoys hand washing or trips to the dry cleaners (guilty). It should be in a colour or pattern that goes with 90% of your wardrobe, and it should fill your heart with joy. I’d also recommend spritzing it with your favourite perfume, preferably something musky and heavy that will linger on the scarf and make you burrow that little deeper into your cosy cocoon.
I’ve rounded up a selection of scarfs I’d be looking at should the worst happen to any of my beloved babies (perish the thought!), in the hope that you might find your next travel buddy amongst them.
On the high street, Zara is a great place to find oversized scarfs, and while the majority of them are entirely or partly acrylic, with a bit of searching you can find some gems. The same goes for ASOS who have some great wallet-friendly options, and Etsy where you can find some more unusual fibres like Yak wool.
If you’re looking to invest in something a little more expensive, the scarf department at Liberty is unrivalled when it comes to finding something special. And bonus, their sale is imminent. Toast also have some wonderful choices, and Hush do a gorgeous and very reasonably priced cashmere number that I may need to invest in.