BY COCO & CURL
A few years ago I went on an amazing three-part trip to Israel, Egypt and Jordan. We took so many pictures of going diving in the Red Sea, taking a camel ride through the sand dunes of Dahab and exploring old Petra, but I made sure I was in as few photos as possible.
Why? I was painfully aware that my hair was a mess. I was a teen, transitioning from perm and texturizer to my natural curls, and had no idea how to plan for all the activities we were doing in different weather conditions.
Since then, I’ve been lucky to add many more stamps to my passport and live in different cities. The main issue my friends and I have run into in places where curlier hair textures aren't the norm, is that hair dressers and products for natural curly or kinky hair can be very hard to come by. Even worse, for a long time, natural hair products were not always sold in travel sizes and still aren't that easy to come by in stores.
Luckily, along with the passport stamps and residency permits I’ve also picked up some tips for keeping your curls happy and healthy - even in natural hair 'deserts'. These tricks have gotten my hair through living in Boston, Florence and certain parts of London, and traveling around four continents (and counting).
Before You Go1. Check Local Markets & Forums
In many countries, online salon or beauty store information isn’t always readily available, informative, or updated. You often can’t find reviews, and stores or stylists that cater to natural hair might not even have their own websites or social media.
But, especially if you’ll be in or near a big city, there are probably local curly or kinky-haired communities with advice on where you can get natural products or services.
When I lived in Florence, Italy for a couple of months, I looked up where to get treccine (braids) and found a forum that recommended a braiding shop right off the central market. During a school program in Geneva, a friend forgot to bring her perm-friendly products – so we got on Google with our severely broken French and found a Facebook group of local Naturals. They suggested a shop that was right in our neighborhood. While living in London on-and-off for two years, I found a fantastic hair braider on Instagram.
So, even if you don’t speak the local language – look up key vocab and get on Google. My favorite multilingual dictionary is Word Reference, especially because they have forums where you can find more colloquial ways to speak about different topics.
If this trick doesn’t get you results – try reaching out to Naturals you follow on social media who’ve visited the place you’re planning to go to. They might have already found answers to the questions you have.
2. Stock Up at Home
You might not want or be able to spend the time going on forums or trying to find Natural-friendly shops or stylists that are out of the way. If that’s the case, you should consider getting checked luggage and bringing your own supplies on vacation.
For those of you going on shorter trips – DIY travel sizing is the way to go. Buy travel size product containers at your local drug or beauty supply store and fill them with your favorite products.
For those of you who are moving instead of travelling, stock up on full size products any time you visit home and ask friends and family to bring more to you whenever they visit. Sometimes additional checked baggage costs as little as US$25, so it might be worth it to get an extra bag for your products just to be on the safe side.
3. Check the Climate & Weather
Different levels of precipitation, sunshine and temperature can really change how your hair behaves. So before you take off check the general climate of the place you’re going to and, for trips, what the forecast is for the time you’ll be there. Then, just pack accordingly!
Honestly, this isn’t so different from what you should do at home – more sun and less humidity means going harder on the moisturizer, more humidity means styling to beat frizz, etc. The difference here is that, if you don’t plan, you might not have the tools and products on hand to roll with daily weather changes.
4. Long-Term Protective Styling
If you’re going sight-seeing every day, or trying to settle in for a longer trip or a move, you might not have the time to properly take care of your hair. You might also be worried about protecting your hair if you know you’ll be out in extremely cold or dry weather, or doing many sports or water activities.
Long-lasting protective styles like braids, twists and cornrows are perfect for those kinds of situations. This tip applies both before and well after you arrive at your destination – use protective styling to save yourself time and to spare your hair unnecessary stress.
Right Before Takeoff
5. Prevent In-Flight Dry-Out
If you decide to go with a long-lasting protective style, you’re already one step ahead in beating in-flight dry-out.
The air in planes tends to be very dry, cold and dead – so you should let yourself go a little overboard with your moisturizer before boarding your flight. I also try to make sure my hair isn’t out in a puff or fro – but whether I do or don’t have my hair in those styles, I always have a headscarf on hand. Basically, keeping your hair moisturized, tucked or wrapped away helps to minimize the damaging effects of plane air.
Once You're There
6. DIY & Raid Your Pantry
I was recently between apartments and unable to buy more of my favorite hair oil, so I tried out avocado oil from my pantry and now it’s become a cornerstone of my regular hair routine.
As a frequent traveler and product minimalist, I’ve been trying to find more product substitutes in my kitchen. My hope is that, if I’m able to find natural ingredients that my hair loves, and which are easy to buy in grocery stores in different countries, travelling will cause less of a disruption to my hair routine.
So for longer trips or moves, especially if you can’t go home to re-stock, turn to your pantry for amazing substitutes to your staple products.
7. Be Smart with Timing: Wash Days & Activities
I wash my hair about once a week. So before going on shorter trips, I try to make sure wash day is as close as possible to my date of departure – that way I won’t have to do it while I’m away.
While it’s ok to put off wash day by a couple of days (we’ve all done it), this can’t be your strategy for significantly longer trips or if you're doing certain water or sports activities. So pack the right products or find out where to get them locally if you know you’ll need to have a wash day or two while you’re away.
An additional tip – if you can, be smart about spacing out your activities. Either clump them together so that the damage can be reversed with one wash, or space them out so that you’ve got a decent number of days between each wash.
8. For Moves or Longer Trips, Watch Your Diet
This applies mainly to longer trips and moves, but it is also really important in your daily life at home and maintaining your overall health – what you eat matters. Your hair, skin and body overall need adequate levels and varieties of nutrients.
When you’re travelling it’s easy to lose track of your normal eating habits. Sometimes it’s too expensive to dine like you normally do (currency conversion can really hurt).
The best you can do is be mindful of what you’re eating, try to find cheaper alternatives to buying produce (in many countries going to a local street market for fruits and vegetables is much cheaper than shopping in a super market) and try to do research on healthy, affordable restaurant options before heading out for the day.
Bonus Tip: It could be the water.
Where I grew up the water was softer. For people who aren’t used to it, soft water can leave your skin feeling a bit “slippery” even once you’ve washed off all traces of soap, but it leaves your hair feeling great.
When I first moved to Poland, I realized wash days were leaving my hair feeling drier and duller no matter what products I used. So I did a little research and found out about water hardness levels – they're determined by the amounts of minerals in the water, and have been proven to affect hair and skin.
Harder water contains higher levels of calcium and magnesium, which can be damaging to hair, skin and even your clothes or home water system. Places that have soft water typically use treatments and filters to lower mineral levels. Otherwise, they might just have access to natural sources of pure soft water (e.g. Iceland).
Table from the Water Quality Association
There isn’t really much you can do about this, but it’s a good thing to prepare yourself for (mostly mentally). For shorter trips, I do bring a little spray bottle of filtered water for daily spritzing needs. Unfortunately, It’d be kind of ridiculous to buy water for washing, particularly on longer trips or if you’ve moved.
For trips – the best you can do is to try to find out if the AirBnb or hotel where you’d like to stay uses filters. For moves – consider getting filters installed in your new home. In either case, I’d definitely suggest increasing the frequency of your moisturizing treatments.