10 Reasons to Travel with a Yoga Mat

There are some travelers in the world who scoff at people with the audacity to pack jeans. Yes, these people actually judge those who bring jeans along for a backpacking adventure and point to more “convenient” clothing items, like atrocious zip-off pants. They cite the weight, the inability to dry, the blueness, and who knows what else as basically reasons why jeans should be on TSA’s banned list along with grenades and large bottles of shampoo.

These people should just stop reading now.

Because I’m going to advocate ten reasons why a travel yoga mat is not only a useful travel item, but a necessary one.

I’m not talking about the mat John Candy would use. I’m talking about a compact, fold-able, travel yoga mat. One you can mold into an origami lotus if your heart desires.

My backpack, purse, and mat
My backpack, purse, and mat

1. Hygienic barrier: There are germs… and then there are stranger’s germs. Which are way more aggressive and disgusting than any other kind. I’d rather lay on my unwashed yoga mat used for 100 hot yoga sessions than lay on someone else’s mat. If you find yourself at a yoga class with questionable mats (did the previous class use them as toboggans!?) or needing to nap on a skid-marked airport floor, your yoga mat can provide a barrier between your precious skin and stranger germs.

2. People leave you alone: If you lay a towel down on the beach, hustlers come at you from every which way and feast on you as idle prey. Sarong? Bintang? Coconut? Tattoo? *Fires up battery-powered tattoo gun* However, if you are on a yoga mat, there’s an unwritten rule of “Do Not Disturb: I’m on a journey of enlightenment” which is basically a force field that keeps people from annoying you… even if you are just using it to read magazines and listen to your iPod.

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3. You can squeeze into any class: The class capacity is strictly 10 students, after all – that’s how many mats they have! You can run in last-minute and fend off the teacher’s “sorry, we’re full” by shrugging and saying, “no speak English” while rolling out your yoga mat and claiming warrior territory.

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4. You can use it for cushioning: For once, I’d like to sit and read in a café without having the chair burn grill marks into my backside. A small yoga mat can fold into a seating pad, allowing you to sit through fire dance performances and café chill sessions in luxury.

5. You can use it for protection: Not protection as in Hey! let’s roll it up and use it as a police baton!, but as in padded protection for fragile goods. How often have you walked around with your surfboard–treading carefully–only to make a sudden movement and slam it into the corner of a table. That ding wouldn’t have been there had you padded it with your yoga mat, would it?

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6. People feel guilty scamming you: Everyone knows that yogis are friendly, perfect people who never make mistakes (well, except for this guy). Yoga practitioners are forever on a quest to tame their feral minds. Trying to sell a fake Rolex to a yogi is akin to scamming Gandhi himself. It doesn’t mean that people won’t scam you if they see your mat, because they definitely will, but they’ll feel slightly guiltier doing it.

7. You can use it as a sleeping pad: I once had a couchsurfing host in Barcelona tell me, “Sorry – we have to share my bed.” Luckily, I escaped that situation but I wish I could have rolled out my mat in the middle of the kitchen, pointed to it, and laughed in his face. Nice try, Señor Sleezeball.

8. Trekking with the extra weight will force you to use it: How silly would it be to carry a mat worth the weight of ten dresses, only to leave it strapped onto your back? If you work hard for it, you’ll want to use it. Think of it as a yoga pilgrimage.

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9. Connect with other yogis: My self practice starts with a few sun salutations and then spirals into a little of this… a little of that… five minutes later, and I’ve settled into savasana. I can never seem to get a flow going on my own. Meeting other people in your hotel or hostel who also have mats will help you make friends and practice yoga together — it’s a great conversation starter.

“Hey, you have a mat? I have a mat! Let’s be friends.”

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10. You can practice yoga anywhere: In the hotel, on the beach, in a forest, in the train station bathroom, your mat becomes your compact sanctuary. If there’s no classes where you are, you can simply roll it out and get moving. This is of course, the best reason to bring your yoga mat along.

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Check out my gear page to find out what travel yoga mat I personally use!

What about you? Any other reasons you can add to the list? Do you or would you travel with a yoga mat – or is this concept completely crazy?