Top 7 tips for On the Road Hair-care

If, like me, you are white skinned and curly maned…chances are that you find it quite difficult to keep your hair healthy, moisture rich and lusciously long. Period. Curly hair is just so hard to mange, and it’s notoriously wild.

Naturally wild
Naturally wild

Duh, it’s curly!

But I also have quite thin strands on my head, and this combination of insane curls and thin, delicate strands is just a recipe for disaster. It can look good, yes, but that often requires work and planning and when I am on the road I just don’t have the time or the resources to make that happen. Who wants to think about hair when there are mountains to climb?

And apart from anything else it’s a bit pointless to spend a lot of time on your hair when you’re travelling, since all your careful styling is bound to be drenched by rain, spoilt with sweat, frizzed in the humid weather or otherwise ruined as a general by-product of your daily adventures. And travel is all about adventures, not all about hair (for most of us).

So how does one look nice while on the road then? Most days here I wake up like some sort of crazed wooly beast and the best part of my morning is spent taming the pompom of knots and frills that grows so energetically from my head. Honestly, I think the key to keeping your hair beautiful when you’re travelling is to keep it healthy. Just keep it healthy.

Taming the Beast

It’s a well known fact that over-exposure to the sun causes skin damage but did you ever think about what that burning yellow ball is doing to your hair? Your luscious locks are just as easily damaged by the sun as your skin. Humidity also causes frizz and can contribute to that wild, crazy bush-woman look that we all know so well…Windy weather, cold weather, basically over-exposure to all natural elements will damage your hair, and especially if you’re not used to those elements.

So what can you do?

In India - hiding my locks! I got so much attention there...
In India – hiding my locks! I got so much attention there…

Well short of embracing the grunge or packing up and going home… here are 5 tips which I personally use to tame my locks and to keep my hair healthy as I travel. They’re easy to incorporate into your schedule, and they’ll keep your body healthy too which is always a good thing when on the road! Enjoy.

1. Drink like a fish:
Okay yes, while we all love a nice, icy beer at the end of a sweltering day, I don’t actually mean alcohol. I mean water. Drink a lot of water, people! The IOM recommended daily water intake for an average adult woman is 2.7 litres and for an average adult male it is 3.7 litres, but if the weather is hot or you are doing a lot of physical activity your intake should be increased.

I am currently in Southeast Asia and I consume about three big 1.5 litre bottles every day, simply because the crazy Southeast Asian sun makes me constantly thirsty. Maybe this is a bit excessive! But the idea is to keep hydrated, because water makes your whole body healthier and happier, especially your skin and hair.

2. Eat like a god:
You are what you eat – simple. And on most backpacking trails us travellers are lucky enough to have very easy access to an almost endless variety of freshly grown, prepared and served foods!

But there are also a number of widely available foods and drinks all over this world that won’t do your hair any favours, and most of the worst stuff is also the cheapest stuff. The best example of this in Ho Chi Minh City is ‘ca phe’. Coffee. VND10,000, rich, sweet, addictive and very easy to drink far too quickly.

When I first came to Vietnam I used to drink about 4 of those street coffees every day, but I now avoid more than one coffee per day, and actually I drink Italian coffee rather than Vietnamese. This is more a matter of taste than health – I’m an expresso snob and you can read about my favourite, cheap Italian coffee shops in Saigon here.

But coffee aside, if you want smooth, healthy hair (and not to mention a healthy body) iGoat’s a good plan to make sure you get enough Vitamin D, B and C in your diet as well as enough Omega 3 fatty acids, and cut down on the junk food and the coffee.

Think fresh fruit and vegetables whenever possible, fish, nuts or trail mix, green teas and dietary supplements. Here in Vietnam most road-side pharmacies will sell fish-oil tablets and vitamin supplements, and this is quite standard for most countries around the globe. If you can’t afford or can’t access fresh foods then buy a few pills!

3. Invest in being oily:
Natural oils are good for your hair no matter where you are in the world, who you are or what you are doing, because they moisturise and strengthen it. Your scalp actually produces its own natural oils! But when these are depleted by over-exposure to the sun, to pollution, or to shampoos, chemical dies and heat styling tools, its a good idea to replenish them yourself.

The best type of oil I have found for my own hair is cold pressed, 100% natural coconut oil, and you can buy this at most big supermarket chains here in Vietnam. I also use Argan Oil which I buy from Saloon 99 in District 1, for VND120,000. A hot oil massage for your scalp every few days is a great way to apply your oil, or a quick brush through in the morning before you leave the house.

Take about 1/4 cup of oil (coconut is best) and heat it until it is gently hot, but for goodness sake don’t burn yourself! Then take some on your hands and massage it into your scalp and ends. If you want a REALLY good, intense treatment for you hair then put a towel on your pillow and sleep with the oil in. Removing it can be difficult, and dry shampoo can help to clear up any excess oil.IMG_5343

4. Remove all heat (except oily heat) from your life:
So it turns out that covering yourself from the sun like the Vietnamese do might be a really good idea!

If you’ve ever been to Southeast Asia you will have seen how careful people are with protecting their skin from the sun, since the whiter you are the more beautiful you are considered to be over here. Strange! I always go under the sun and I, ironically, hate the fact that I never go dark – my skin is always pasty white!

But I have found that covering my head and my limbs when I go outside does keep my skin smoother and less dry, if scarily pale, and it does the same for my hair.So does tying my hair up when I go under the sun.

I would also recommend removing all those beloved hot curls, curling irons, hair dryers and straightening irons from your hair-care regime. They’re impractical for travel anyway!

Think of how much space would be in your backpack if you left the straightener at home. If your hair is insanely frizzy like mine try to tame it by restoring its moisture rather than flattening and breaking it with a searing hot piece of metal.

5. Stop with the shampoo:
Shampoo is so bad. Ew. Especially the cheap stuff you tend to buy when your on the road and on a budget! Your best bet in life and in travel is to wash your hair with water only. This will both save money and protect your poor hair. I personally do prefer to use shampoo, but I only wash my hair every 3 days and I invest in a good, natural shampoo.

I also regularly use a keratin mask which I legit bought from the Co-op supermarket here in Ho Chi Minh City for about VND100,000, and I make sure I only shampoo my roots when I wash my hair. IMG_6357The ends become clean with the run-off. I then condition the bottom two thirds of my locks, leave it in for 5 minutes and then rinse with cold water. Cold water will reduce your frizz! Weird, I know.

If you use your shampoo or other hair products sparingly then they will last much longer, making it okay to spend a bit more for quality, and this will also be better for your hair. I haven’t bought new products in 2 months, and I just buy those 400ml bottles!

6. Chemically tame that fuzz-ball:
This is not a tip for keeping your hair healthy, but it most certainly will keep your hair tamed. I have recently invested in a chemical perm for my hair, from Saloon 99 in District 1. Yes, I got my hair done in Vietnam. I was nervous I confess, since my hair is so different to Vietnamese hair!!

Photo on 19-05-13 at 11.38 AM #5
But the girls at this salon payed such careful attention to their work, adjusting the chemical they used for the dryer areas and constantly checking and re-checking my curls throughout the 3 hour process.

And the result? Well…I feel like a princess! I would definitely recommend this salon. Want to get your hair died? Straightened? Cut? Styled? Don’t want to damage your wallet in the process? Well, seriously consider Salon 99.

7. Don’t tease!!
And last but NOT least is how you style your hair. Do not tease your hair, ever. Teasing rubs the hair strands in the wrong direction and will both increase damage and frizz – why would you do that??!! For a fuller, bigger bodied look to your hair-do try using dry shampoo or lessen the amount of conditioner you use.4-up on 29-06-13 at 3.10 PM #8

Actually, conditioner should never be applied to your roots anyway… Similarly, try to avoid tying your hair up in a tight knot or ponytail that pulls at your scalp, brush your hair when it is DRY and never when it’s wet, and use a wide-toothed comb when you brush.

Your hair is more elastic when it’s wet and therefore more prone to damage, and a wide toothed comb will be more gentle when untangling your locks.

All these things, as well as being damaging to your hair, also take time! Stop frizzing, teasing, preening, and fussing and get outside – why are you travelling in the first place?


So there you have it! Caring for you hair whilst on the road can be hard, but with these tips you will keep both your hair and your body healthy. Let me know if you have anything to add, and please feel free to comment below. Cheers :)


5 comments on “Top 7 tips for On the Road Hair-care

  1. I have straight fine hair so you’d think this wouldn’t be a problem in Asia, right? Wrong! I had a hair cut in Thailand, which took 5 minutes only and the quickest I’ve had in my life! Needless to say, one side of my hair was 2 inches shorter than the other! When I pointed this out to the “hairdresser” she just shrugged and wanted her money. Lucky my hair grows like a weed. In South America, I ended up nearly platinum blond instead of light brown! I don’t think it matters what country really.

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