This post was contributed by Ainhoa Woodley.
Upon the bathroom (and living room, and bedroom) shelves at my house in the United States, my fierce army of natural hair care products rest by the Ibuprofen and Fenty highlighter, awaiting their next use earnestly. DevaCurl No-Poo sits patiently next to Shea Moisture conditioner, Cantu curl cream leans against a jar of Trader Joe’s coconut oil, scrunchies and Denman brushes lie nestled together like Barack and Michelle.
A fresh bottle of any of these things are just a block away at home, but outside the US border, this is certainly not the case. Unfortunately, most of our population isn’t yet on board with the global trade of sulfate-free moisturizing items for us naturals. Never have my curls popped less than when I have crossed international waters (you do not want to see me on Day 5 in Southeast Asia- #HotMess). And yet, never have I felt more proud of my hair, and confident in my abilities to care for it and know what it needs.
Since I am still scarred from my braid experiences as an 8-year-old (the monster under my bed had nothing on the woman and her soap operas squeezing every last nerve from my scalp), I am always determined to forgo protective hairstyles and maintain my natural hair wherever I am. While this requires a literal sh!tload of persistence in the face of adversity, it can be done, and my surviving (yet perhaps thirsty AF) hair is the proof.
In my experience, there are consistently at least 3 things you will always be able to find at a local market, grocery store, and/or gas station (desperate times) when traveling abroad.
The only place I have ever seen any of my trusted products outside of the United States was in Amsterdam (shout-out to the Dutch), when I meandered into a Flying Tiger-esque store and was blessed with an array of Shea Moisture bottles, glistening like Lizzo amidst the fluorescent lighting. But if you find yourself somewhere like Buenos Aires or Bangkok, it will be close to impossible to find conditioners like the ones you hold true at home. Yet, I have found certain cheaper conditioners in other countries that work well with my curl pattern (which is somewhere between 3c and 4a), like Garnier Fructis Moisture Lock (Curl Nourish too, if you’re lucky enough to find it), and Herbal Essences Hello Hydration.
In some European cities like Paris and Madrid, there are neighborhoods where you can find more African-clientele-focused groceries and markets (hollaaaa!) that will have natural hair masks and creams. You can also create room in your *checked* luggage for a couple bottles of conditioner, but if you’re anything like me, your deluge of clothing that you most likely won’t wear and those special edition Nikes you just ~have~ to bring will make that nearly impossible. You can put your products in smaller bottles too, of course, but for long-term travel, it will make it far more miserable once you inevitably run out. You will most likely have to sacrifice the tranquility of knowing your hair is getting fed “properly,” but if it keeps those curls fresh for the time being, you will rest easy.
OILS & EGGS & MAYONNAISE (YEP)
While trusted name-brand conditioners are difficult to find outside the USA, two items remain ubiquitous just about everywhere: olive oil and/or coconut oil. While not replacements for conditioner, rubbing either of these oils into your hair can help lock moisture into your curls after moisturizing. They are also essential bases for many different DIY hair masks, where other grocery store items like avocado, banana, eggs, and mayo come in handy.
For international moments (and otherwise, y’all know frizz can slide in anytime) when your hair is feeling brittle from dips in the Mediterranean, or from the heavy Thai humidity, mix one egg with two tablespoons of mayo, a tablespoon of olive oil or coconut oil, and one tablespoon of honey and leave in for about half an hour before washing out. There is a formidable array of other combos out there if you have limited items available.
If the only things available are the Folger’s coffee grounds and packets of honey leftover from the hostel breakfast, you better believe you can do something with it.
Even if you are traveling with a backpack where every square centimeter of space counts, you will never regret bringing a hair bonnet and a satin pillowcase!! No matter how moisturized and detangled your curls are, all of your efforts will be futile if you fall asleep on a starchy hostel pillow with no protection for your crown. If you want to avoid looking like Hagrid met a troll doll, just wear the damn bonnet (putting your hair in a pineapple works too, but the bonnet requires less effort and therefore is the best method IMO). If you find yourself only having time to wash your hair before bed, like after moonlight swims, bring a T-shirt that can double as an overnight wrap for wet hair. You have to accept that you may will appear bougie ‘n extra to the curl-less crowd, but it is a small price to pay for having the best hair in the room every day.
For other hair accessories, one actually positive (gasp!) thing about traveling is the amount of markets you can find with headbands, hair ties, clips and more. Some of my favorite bandanas, scrunchies, and barrettes have come from various stands on international streets. Take advantage of those opportunities to find some unique things and spare yourself another trip to Sally’s, Walgreens, and Amazon.com.
effort EFFORT to be a Natural Queen™️ , and things only get more challenging when we leave the conditioned comforts of home to tackle the un-moisturized unknown. But if your hair is one of the things preventing you from experiencing the world, you need a vibe check. Wherever you are, it is possible to rock your curls, every damn day. Keep it curly, sis!
Meet Ainhoa: Ainhoa is an earnest traveller, determined to integrate our global society and explore all of the profound beauty our world has to offer. She has been to 19 countries and counting, keeping it real & curly along the way. Keep up with her on IG.