Travel Hair Products: answering a reader’s concern

curly hair girl

The wind isn’t kind to curly hair either.

Oh, to be a curly girl!

There is no hotter market for hair products than women with curly hair. Despite everyone declaring how lucky we are to have “naturally curly hair” we suffer from:

  • Frizz
  • Bed head
  • Hat head
  • Wind that turns our hair into a puff ball.
  • Chlorine that turns it into a Brillo pad.
  • Too little product one day.
  • Too much the next.
  • Horrible haircuts by people who don’t know what to do with our wild locks.
  • A lack of curl on occasion. Yes, there’s nothing worse than curly hair that’s gone limp.
  • And never knowing what our hair will do from one day to the next.

So when I received an email from a reader asking me what products I pack for my curly hair my heart ached as I know her pain. Then I resolved to offer her (and possibly, you) solutions.

Curly Girl book

This is the book that changed my life as a curly girl.

A hair confession.

This book changed how I manage my hair. Curly Girl made my hair routine simple. I had been using shampoo, conditioner, leave-in conditioner, de-frizzer… and the occasional deep moisturizing treatment. And when it wasn’t working out, I would toss a product before it was finished and try another brand. After reading this book, I changed my routine to simply conditioner and a cream de-frizzer. That’s it. And it really doesn’t matter what brands I use.

Travel Hair Products.

So, I confess: I don’t wash my hair with shampoo. I wash it with conditioner. Made to rinse out of hair, it does a fine job of getting it clean and in the process, it doesn’t strip my hair of natural oils.

So I travel with one 3-oz bottle of conditioner and one 3-oz bottle of de-frizzer. If I’m going for more than a week, I’ll take two bottles of conditioner. Longer and I’ll just take one and buy conditioner there. You can buy it anywhere.

Simple hair tips for travelers.

Yet still, hair problems will arise on the road. When they do, there are often simple solutions.

What if you run out of product?

Most hotels and hostels have some pretty basic shampoo. This is not what you want to use on curly hair unless you absolutely have to. To counteract the damage the shampoo will do use olive oil or a natural hand lotion as if it is a de-frizzer. Both will add moisture to your hair and keep the frizz down.

For $6 you can add this Hot Sock Diffuser to any hairdryer. Cheap and light-weight.

For $6 you can add this Hot Sock Diffuser to any hairdryer. Cheap and light-weight.

What if you have to blow dry your hair?

I might blow dry my hair once a year. I really try to avoid it because it’s bad for my hair. If it’s something you find necessary, carry a diffuser with you to keep the frizz down. (Hotels rarely have them.)¬† This simple sock diffuser takes up no space or weight and is $6 on Amazon.

What if you color your hair?

There was a time when I colored my hair but I couldn’t imagine doing so when preparing for my 10-month trip to Europe. Before leaving, I cut my hair (which was well below my shoulders) to less than an inch. Yes, basically a curly-haired pixie cut. I went grey overnight and I haven’t looked back.

Ok, my solution was simple but not everyone will make this choice. I’m not a colorist but you may want to check out The Colorista for lots of advice on DIY hair coloring. Personally, I would do my research, test my color solution before leaving and then do it myself on the road rather than trust a strange salon.

What if you need a cut?

One good thing about curly hair is that a good cut can be extended with a simple pair of nail scissors. I carry a pair with me on my travels and, surprisingly, they always manage to pass security in my carry-on. If my hair gets too bulky (one of the woes of curly hair) I take scissors to it and lighten it up. I always have my hair cut dry and I watch carefully as the stylist cuts into it releasing the curl. I simply copy what she does but to a lesser extent. Doing this I can grab a few extra weeks out of a cut.

Return with great photos of yourself

As I’ve written in The Tricks of a Solo Photographer it’s really nice to return from your travels with photos of yourself as well as all the fabulous sights you’ve seen. It’s even better if you look great in those photos. Hopefully the tips above will help – at least they’ll help the curly girls.

Do you have a hair solution that’s great for your hair type? Please share in the comments below.


  • jenner

    I hope you found the shampoo and it works for you!

    Haha! I know… we *could* wash and go if we didn’t mind looking like drowned rats… =D

  • Reima

    I’ve tried Paul Mitchell ‘The Cream’ and it was a miracle worker! I wish I could find it now and use it! Don’t know if it is still out there though.

  • Reima

    Thank you thank you! I will have to look for that L’Oreal shampoo and try it! I do use Aussie Moist Conditioner and happen to love it! Lately I’ve been using gel for my hair and love that as well. When I was using mousse, I was using the Tresemme’s climate control mousse, sprayed it with Tresemme’s anti-humidity hair spray and let it dry. Right now I’m using Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Shampoo and Conditioner and I’ve been loving that as well! Seriously, why can’t we just wash and go like most girls can!!

  • jenner

    You’re not doing anything wrong. =) I tried the no-shampoo routine and I just couldn’t take it…it was horrible. Currently (for at least the last couple years, LOL), I use L’Oreal’s sulfate free shampoo because I have hard water and that + sulfate ‘poos = straw-like hair texture; Aussie Moist conditioner then Tresemme’s climate control mousse and let it air dry. I wish I could wash ‘n go…

  • Janice Waugh

    Fun to hear your perspective Michelle. Thanks!

  • Michelle

    I completely agree- I’m a curly girl and got this book at about 14, it changed my life (I have ‘botticelli’ curls)! If I find myself without conditioner, I just rinse it through well, no shampoo. I’ve done the lavender spray in it and loved that too. Great advice about cutting your own hair, thank you! I’ve also never done the curly-haired pixie cut although I’ve always wanted to!

    My biggest problem while traveling is that it’s so easy for my hair to become completely dried out. I go through so. much. conditioner and product on a normal basis. My favorite products are It’s a 10 conditioning spray and Ouidad heat & humidity gel. Paul Mitchell ‘The Conditioner’ and DevaCurl products aren’t bad either!

  • Reima

    Great post for us curly hair girls! I actually find my hair looks better when I travel than when I’m at home! I find the humidity in other countries makes it curl better! But two things–One, I tried just using conditioner but I find it makes my hair look oily?? Am I doing something wrong? And two, are certain de-frizzers better than others? I like mine but I feel it doesn’t last long and my hair gets dry pretty fast. I will say I currently am in California and we are having a hot summer (like we do every year! I’m not a fan of it!) Could that be a problem?


  • Stephanie

    I suppose I’m lucky that I have easily managed wavy hair that I keep in a pixie cut. I just wash it and go- occasionally if I sleep on it funny and it is sticking up in a really odd way I’ll use a little gel or cream or sea salt spray to muss up the rest of it so the sticking up pieces blend in!


  • Sharon

    I have straight hair and oily scalp….I have to wash daily, and try to do it before bed and go to bed wet, then use flat iron in the morning. Wish I had enough curl/wave to let it go crazy when I travel, but mine just looks messy unless I use flat iron.

  • leelaurino

    must admit i have used this sometimes when i am asked what do you do, or why are you traveling solo…..I can be anyone..

  • leelaurino

    beware of plugging in hair dryer and curlers at the same time, i blew out all the electric in an apt i rent, ALL OF IT, had to be reset in the basement,,,,,,

  • Janice Waugh

    Yikes. Heating devices pull a lot of power so they are more inclined to be a problem than other things you plug in. You probably need an adapter with a converter. Some adapters are sold without converters now but they won’t work as well.

  • TammiLF

    My problem is that I have extremely thick course long hair that I need to straighten with tools, a hair iron (Chi) and a curling iron for my bangs to keep them out of my eyes. But I am having a terrible time finding adaptors/converters for the different outlets in different countries. Bought a straightener in Greece, that burned out when used in England because the adaptor didn’t adapt the current properly. I need to take my straighter with me when I travel…but how to find the right device for plugging in for the different countries?

  • Janice Waugh

    I love that — no one knows what you should look like. :)

  • leelaurino

    HA! this reminds me of the 6 week trip when i ran out of mouse….hair gel,…. or what you prefer to make your hair have volume. I was in Portugal and I speak only some Italian so I stopped in each store looking for the hair care dept, finally going into a hair salon where they had my usual product on display.
    after MUCH discussion i was told the small bottle of hair glue would be $30.00 us.
    Well i had no intention of paying twice what it was worth and knowing I would have to discard what was left when the trip was over.
    the salon staff was annoyed and explained it had to be imported, which I understood. Down the same street I found a store with something that looked like hair glue for a few dollars.
    one of the advantages of going solo is NO ONE KNOWS what you should look like, everyone is new!

  • Andi Perullo

    Such great tips! I have straight hair, but always wear it curly when I travel, because then I can get away with it looking crazy for a couple of days, because it looks like I meant for it to be that way haha.