On She Goes

You Know You’re a Traveler with Natural Hair When…

The perfect selfie is complete with your curls and kinks on voluminous display.

Kim Wong-Shing
Kim Wong-Shing
December 12, 2017
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You made it—you’re finally on vacation. Now all you need is the perfect selfie, complete with your curls and kinks on fully contoured, voluminous display. There’s only one problem: it takes about 10 hours and 50 products to get your hair into a photo-ready state, and you’re traveling with only one suitcase!

You’re not alone. Here are eight relatable scenarios every natural hair traveler will relate to.

You haul 15 travel-sized bottles of hair product with you.
If you’re traveling for more than a couple of days, you’ll need to do your hair at some point. That means that you need to lug your entire arsenal of hair products with you, including your shampoo, conditioner, leave-in conditioner, oil, cream, and gel, not to mention your cleansing hair mask, your deep conditioner, your pre-poo, your—

Okay, you get the idea. Why don’t more natural hair companies make travel-sized products? Have you ever tried to dispense Eco Styler gel into a travel-sized container? It’s not pretty.

You become extremely inventive with styling products.
If you’ve never used body lotion as edge control, are you even a true naturalista? If you’ve never used your boyfriend’s conditioner for a twist-out, do you even LOC, bro?! Yeah, these tactics are definitely last-resort material. But only a woman with butt-length kinky hair knows the desperation of unmoisturized, tangled hair in the middle of Austria after having run out of her favorite conditioner.

When you’re in that situation, you’ll use just about anything—plain water? Olive oil from the kitchen? Whatever—just put it in my hair and prayer hands it!

In a creek at Tunica Falls in Mississippi.
photo by Kim Wong-Shing

You only enter the pool up to your waist.
That whole stereotype of Black women not liking to swim is not true. I love water activities! The beach, the pool, the rainforest, waterfalls, you name it. But there are just so many good reasons not to get your hair wet. Natural hair take a long time to style, and it needs to last for several days. Plus, natural hair takes a cool five hours to fully dry. So if I’m going to get my hair wet, it better be worth it.

You hate weather. All kinds.
Listen, I love nature. I grew up camping and tubing and once went skinny-dipping in the Yuba River even though I couldn’t swim at the time. But the thing is, natural hair stands no chance against the weather. One time I tried to straighten my curls while living in West Africa for a few months, and I swear I could hear my hair strands laughing in my face.

Most people know that humidity is not very hair friendly, but it’s really all weather that sucks. Dry air, cold air, rain, snow . . .  ya can’t win!

You evaluate each destination based on the shower quality.
When you have natural hair, you spend a lot of time in the shower, whether you’re in L.A. or Istanbul. You become intimately familiar with how each shower differs from another, with some lodging offering a better experience than others. Ideally, you want a showerhead that delivers a steady stream of hot, soft water. That way, you can take your time in there and your hair ends up silky and soft. Unfortunately, you don’t always know what you’ll be dealing with until you get there.

Hard water? Ughhh, the buildup. Low water pressure? Blocking the hotel on Instagram so I don’t ever have to think about it again. No hot water? I’m hyperventilating at the mere memory of it.

You die laughing at the hotel’s complimentary shampoo/conditioner.
You’re telling me that I’m supposed to pick up this tiny little bottle, squeeze it once or twice, and use that to do my entire head of hair? Ahahahahaha.

I could use an entire bottle of hotel conditioner on a quarter of my hair. These hair products are . . . hmm . . . what’s the word? Weak! They’re usually thin and lightweight, designed for women with much less texture on their head. However, I still use them when things get desperate (see above).

Wearing some very heavy braids in Accra, Ghana.
photo by Kim Wong-Shing

Your best friends are braids and scarves—kind of.
Sometimes you just need to tuck your natural hair in and put it to sleep. Go home, natural hair, you’re drunk. By installing braids, you can avoid almost all of the daily upkeep while also protecting your hair. The only downside is that long braids are unexpectedly heavy and can literally hurt!

Similarly, a strategic head scarf is a lifesaver no matter where you are in the world. A scarf seems simple enough, until it keeps slipping off your head or you can’t come up with the “right” way to tie it. It often ends up looking amazing, though, which leads me to my last point.

You still look hella good at the end of the day.
The funniest thing about natural hair upkeep is that a lot of it is really just for us, not for other people. You may fixate on the frizz, lack of definition, or lack of volume. But all that other people see are big, natural hair and a beautiful woman underneath, enjoying herself in a new and exciting place. You’re traveling and you look great! You did it, sis!