Maintaining kinky, Black hair abroad is no joke! And everyone knows that Black women do not play when it comes to our heads. The first time I left the country to study abroad, I prepared for everything except my hair. I did not know how scarce Black hair care products were in other cities abroad and got a rude awakening when I barely made it through the semester. I changed my ways when I left to teach abroad, having learned my lesson when dealing with my 4c natural hair. Black hair abroad is not as taboo as it used to be, especially with the increase of expats and Black travelers in bigger, more international cities everywhere. But after a few different adventures abroad, I have Black hair travel tips for all my naturals.
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THE TIPS YOU NEED TO KNOW
Just bring your weave with you (and wear some too)
If you know how to do your own hair, or think you can find a stylist abroad to do it, pack the weave you want! I didn’t bring extra hair with me to study abroad in 2015 and I suffered. I was a mess. The second time around, I went to Spain with box braids and extra hair packed right into my suitcase. Don’t take any chances with your destination, especially if you end up in a small town like me. Pack what you need now, to know that you will be ok throughout the duration of your trip! You’ll be grateful for it later.
Protective styling is your BFF
God bless whoever thought of Kanekalon, Marley, Senegalese, and Havana twist hairstyles. These are some of the low-maintenance, protective styles you can choose from when dealing with Black hair abroad. Protective styles are great for long-term travel, such as teaching abroad or studying abroad for a semester. However, they also work for short-term vacations. Sew-ins, wigs, mini-twists (no weave), and flat twists (no weave) are more viable options for Black naturals abroad too. Remember, if you do a style with weave, just bring the hair with you!
Aluminum foil can curl your braids or twists
Sometimes, you can’t pack everything. Luckily, if you have braids or twists, an easy way to curl your ends without bringing your flexi rods is by using aluminum foil. Spain had aluminum foil, so this was a simple walk to my grocery store. For curls, roll a layer or two of aluminum foil into the length size of a perm rod, apply it to your braids or twists, then dip the ends in hot water. Keep them in for a few hours, or sleep in them overnight. Put a towel over your pillow because your ends will be wet. Unroll when you’re ready and you have curls!
Ask Africans (or anyone Black) in your community
Headed to Europe and need to find the nearest Black hair stylist or beauty supply store? No problem. In Logroño, Spain, a town of 150,000 people, many African women I encountered rocked some form of twists or braids. I asked them where to buy our products! Finding and talking to Africans, or anyone Black in a country that doesn’t have predominately Black people, is a resourceful way to find what Black hair care products you need. I even had an Afro-Spaniard student who rocked braids. And yes, I asked about her stylist and where she buys her hair too.
Wrap it up with a head scarf
Whether it’s the bonnet you sleep in, or a super cute one from The Wrap Life, head scarves are a black hair abroad must-have. I didn’t use too many head wraps while abroad, but that’s only because I forgot them! Don’t be like me, and pack a mix of solid or printed headscarves. A good limit? Maybe 5, at most. These can also double as scarves for fall or winter, depending on your climate.
Build hair time in your travel schedule
When I taught in Spain, I made sure I had one weekend a month to do my hair. This was often a non-long travel weekend, which was also beneficial to help me relax and practice a bit of self-care. I would binge watch Netflix shows I neglected, but saw everyone talking about back home, as I did my hair! It was nice to not rush to the airport for a red-eye to a new destination every weekend of the month. I would normally go on a day trip that Friday or Saturday, then take that Sunday to do my hair.
Avoid straightening your natural hair often
Straightening your hair abroad can be a fickle situation that is hit or miss for Black travelers. I have never straightened my hair while traveling, but through my conversations with other Black women abroad it can be done! Many Black women straighten their hair before going abroad, then pack ponytail holders and headbands for styling. Since it may be difficult to find someone who knows how to do kinky hair while living abroad (outside of big international cities and Africa), pack your flat ironing materials before you go just in case. You can also consider buying a flat iron upon arrival. Just remember that outlets are different around the world, and you don’t want to fry your hair or your adapter.
Go to “YouTube University”
Yep, you read that right. While it is not an “official” university, there are a plethora of YouTube natural hair gurus who can help you take care of your Black hair abroad. Watch their videos on protective styles and head wraps to get natural hair ideas for traveling. Time permitting, try these styles before your trip to see which options work best for you. DIYing your hair may be the cheapest and best option to prevent any damage too.
Join Black travel groups on Facebook
Prior to teaching abroad, I joined a Black woman only group in Spain. Here, I asked women who were already in Spain about my options and their experiences with Black hair abroad. Since I was not in the big cities, such as Madrid and Barcelona, I knew prior to leaving that my options were slim. Utilizing online resources only takes a few minutes with a Google search, or even browse an Instagram hashtag. Search Black travelers and the location of your destination to find them on Facebook! They are full of travelers waiting to offer advice.
Forget something? Shop online or DIY
Since my experiences are based in Europe, big cities such as London and Madrid are more likely to have a product when you arrive. But, if you are not living in a big city, you can double check to see if your products are available online to be delivered. This will probably be more expensive than normal, even buying them in a foreign country can cost a few dollars more, but if may be an option if you forget products to manage your Black hair abroad. Or DIY it if you can find the products for homemade recipes!
BLACK HAIR ABROAD PACKING LIST
The ultimate tip: stock up on your favorite products! I’m 95% your destination will not have all your favorite products. If there is something you cannot live without, pack it to save you a headache. Also, wrap your products in plastic bags or Ziploc bags if they are open! You don’t want them to spill in your luggage and ruin everything you have packed. Here are some ideas that you can alter based on your routine and needs:
- Bonnet, durag, satin scarf or pillow case
- Weave (for braids, wigs, or sew-ins)
- Flexi rods, bobby pins, hair ties, headbands
- Headscarves (Tip: I love The Wrap Life)
- Gel, mousse, styling cream
- Conditioner, shampoo, shower cap, clips (to section hair)
- Combs, brushes
- Essential oils (if you DIY your products or are a black hair mixologist)
- Converter/adapter (if bringing a flat iron or curling iron)
- Travel-size containers
- Microfiber towel or favorite t-shirt to dry hair
Figuring out Black hair abroad, can be just as difficult as Black hair at home. Sometimes, you get creative and figure out what works for you based on climate, water quality (and how your hair reacts), and product availability. You may make mistakes along the way, but it’s not the end of the world. While I don’t recommend packing a suitcase of products, be sure to pack enough to last you for the duration of your trip. You can’t be prepared for everything, but hopefully these tips can help you out a little!
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