When I first met the Broke Backpacker founder Will Hatton in a Colombian Hostel in 2014, he was stunned to learn that I was traveling with a little hair dryer. But I did, and to this very day, every time I take a backpacking trip, I bring my travel hair dryer to ensure my hair stays stylish no matter where in the world I am!

A dude traveling with a hair dryer has raised quite a few eyebrows in hostels all around the world.  To many people, packing a hair dryer in their already maxed out backpack is hard to justify. 

And yet haircare on the road is an issue that keeps on coming up. Maintaining healthy, hygienic hair on a backpacking trip can be tough enough in itself, but keeping your hair looking stylish is another matter altogether. In this post, we will look at ways to maintain hair care on the road.

Travel Hair Care Tips 101

Firstly, these tips are mostly unisex. After All that biologically speaking hair is hair and I also know that some guys have long hair whilst some girls have short hair! Of course, typically men and women want and expect different things from their travel hair care regime, but you read on and work out for yourself what the best regime for you is.

Protect your hair from the sun

One of the biggest dangers to your hair, will be the effects of the sun. It can dry your hair out causing it to be dull and strawy and can even alter the colour. One option is to invest in a hat or a headscarf and wear it during the hotter parts of the day – hats are useful if you will be going hiking or generally be “exposed” for long periods.

Cape Greco National Forest Park Profitis Elias to Konnos Nature Trail Cyprus
source: WildStrawberry (shuttrerstock)

If you are not a headwear person (we get it, you want to show off those beautiful locks) then try a UV protection spray. You can find these in most decent sized pharmacies. It may prove cheaper to buy it ‘on the ground’ once you arrive at your destination, but you may be able to get a better brand if you buy back home; this is a general rule with all travel toiletries.

For the guys out there, who are maybe going a bit thin on top, you absolutely DO need to invest in a good hat. Please take care to avoid sunburn on your scalp – not only is sunburn painful, but it can lead to very serious conditions later in life. 

Protect your hair from the sea

The elements can be quite cruel to hair it seems. Almost as damaging as excessive heat and light, is water or specifically the salty water in the sea which can strip the oil from your hair. No, I don’t propose you wear a rubber swimming cap as they look lame and will make your head sweat which is counterproductive but instead recommend you try a Marin safe spray.  

You simply apply it before you go into the sea and it offers some level of protection against Neptunes blight! Oh, do try to find a “natural” one using as few ingredients as possible as this is better for the oceans.

To be honest, this one is less of an issue if you have short hair. 

If you need more intel and advice, then check out our beach packing list.

Brush, Comb and Wash Regularly

When you’re travelling, it is easy to lose yourself a bit. Lazy days blend into wild nights and then they all kind of melt into each other. Holding down any kind of normal routine can be a struggle and it gets easy to “let yourself go” a bit. Staying organised and healthy on the road can be tough.

Don’t neglect your hair. Take as much care as you would normally take of it. Remember to comb and brush it regularly (maybe even daily) and maintain a good washing schedule. Whilst you should NOT wash your hair every day, you need to do it twice a week at the least especially if you have been sunbathing and swimming at the sandy beach or riding your scooter on dusty roads.

What About Haircuts?

If you’re going traveling for a few weeks here and there, you won’t need to worry about this and will probably get your haircut and styled before you go anyway. But if you are going backpacking for a few months or for a whole gap year, this may become an issue at some point.

Most girls I know, are very selective about who they let cut and maintain their hair. They vet their stylists carefully and tend to stick with them for years. Therefore, allowing some random hairdresser in Hanoi may not really be on the table. Whilst there are plenty of talented hair stylists around the world, there are also plenty of bad ones and a language barrier can also make things that bit more complicated.

India’s Nomadic Saddhu’s mastered the “travel dreads” 2000 years ago!

Therefore many ladies simply let their hair go when travelling. If your hair is long enough, you could always go for dreads or braids (and yes, Caucasians CAN get dreads). Another option is simply to carry a pair of scissors and snip away at any dead ends every month or so.

Guys on the other hand, can often afford to be less fussy about who cuts their hair. Afterall, “short back and sides” is almost as universal a concept as “2 beers please” and can readily be communicated with gesturing and pointing. Still, things can and have gone wrong and I have had my hair butchered in several countries. If you do trust your locks to a local barber, try to bring a photograph of YOU with the haircut you want. Also bring a hat to hide your hair under in case it all goes horribly wrong.

Be Your Own Barber

Over my last few trips (following one especially bad Iranian haircut) I decided to go DIY and now carry a mechanical hair clipper. I simply clip back the sides and backs once a month and if it all gets too much, find somebody to give me an all over buzz cut. Over time, it will work out a lot cheaper than spending money in Indian hair salons (those 50 rupee tips add up!).

If you are looking for a decent strimmer, look for a cordless one with good battery life. Also go for one that has a number of adjustable heads and ideally you want to plump for one that also can be used as a head shaver in case you want to take your locks back all the way to the skin.

Beard Care

This one is just for the dudes (unless Bearded Ladies are still a thing?). Taking care of your manly, Zeusian facial hair is another concept entirely and one I could (and may) write an entire post about. Still, for now just bear in mind that many of the above rules apply. 

Remember that you do need to protect it from the sun and sea but happily, most haircare products will also double as beard care products.

In terms of trimming and strimming, the aforementioned hair and head shaver will also double as surrogate beard strimmer. Just be sure to do it with a steady hand and remember that less is more, You can always take more of but you can’t put more back on!

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