On She Goes

How to Maintain Your Natural Hair while Traveling

I’ve perfected a smooth Ciara-like backbend to the hands of strangers who have never heard Solange’s song, “Don’t Touch My Hair.”

Nia Hampton
Nia Hampton
May 15, 2017
Story hero image

As a two-time “expat” and vagabond, I’ve grown to be savvy on how to maintain natural hair while traveling. I’ve mastered my go-to low-maintenance style of Bantu knots and two-strand twists, and I’ve perfected a smooth Ciara-like backbend to the hands of strangers who have never heard Solange’s song, “Don’t Touch My Hair.” In my travels I’ve learned that the easiest way to avoid going back to the creamy crack while living far away from your salon is to either cut it all off or lock it up. But those styles may not be for everyone. Some people want those curls to pop in their Instagram pictures, and I feel that deeply. Naturalistas on a long trip abroad can still easily maintain their hair with some easy prep.

Bring your products
The natural hair movement has spread worldwide, but that doesn’t mean your favorite products will be readily available. It’s beautiful to see women from all over the African diaspora embrace the way their hair curls. Even if you’re flying into Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, for the March of Curly/Kinky Hair, a march where women and men are encouraged to demonstrate the love and pride they have for their natural hair textures, make sure to stock up on your own hair care products. Similar to the way that films about Black life in the States have a hard time finding distribution abroad, there seems to be a lag in the availability of natural hair products abroad.

Taliah Waajid, Oyin Handmade, As I Am—all of your favorite natural hair products are much harder to come by abroad. So be smart and stock up on your products and tools! Be sure to store your products in your checked bags, though, or the TSA will be having exceptionally good hair days at your expense! If you’re one of those carry-on types, remember to squeeze your products into TSA-approved containers. If you forget your products, there are recipes online that can help you make products yourself.

Get it braided up before you go
If you’re going to Iceland, you’re going to want to visit the famed Blue Lagoon and soak in that mineral water. You can’t afford to waste time trying to get the sand out of your hair in Dubai.

It gets hot in Cali, Colombia, and braids allow the breeze to get directly to your scalp. Braids are chic, efficient, and low maintenance. It’s better to visit your salon or your homegirl and just get those beautiful long braids installed before you leave and be done with it.

I won’t lie to you naturals, being Black and being a woman abroad is an exhilarating experience.

Reuse that hair
If you’re traveling for longer than a month and your hair grows fast, you may find yourself dying to remove your braids. Go ahead, but don’t you dare throw that braiding hair away! Unless you brought more hair with you, remember that you may be hard pressed to find a beauty supply store with the hair you want. And if you do find a shop, you’ll end up paying much more than you would in the United States, so why not save your cash for something else? Clean it (http://www.curlynikki.com/2015/09/tips-on-how-to-wash-and-reuse-marley.html ), let it air-dry, and keep the loose hair braided until you use it again.

Bring head wraps
If all else fails—wrap your head up. Buy long silk scarves, watch head wrap tutorials in between packing for your trip, and know that you’ll have a backup plan! A silk scarf or two won’t take up too much space in your luggage, and they can do double duty as a wardrobe accessory as well. Depending on where you are in the world, you might have to wear your hair covered in public at all times anyway.

Make friends with Black girls
Snatch her up with the quickness, because not only will you want to enjoy her as a person, you two may be able to “get” each other in a way that others won’t. She may be able to suggest places to get your hair done quickly, or she may be able to braid up that hair real quick.

I won’t lie to you naturals, being Black and being a woman abroad is an exhilarating experience. There’s the rush from exploring a new and unfamiliar landscape, while acknowledging that anti-Blackness and sexism are global. Contrary to what social media would have you think, straight hair is still very much the required look for women around the world, and you will have moments that will test your choice to wear your natural hair. You will be stared at. You may even get nasty looks. You might also get looks of admiration. But it’ll all be worth it when you meet other Black women who can relate to your journey or who are inspired by your courage to wear their hair natural as well.