Four years ago I decided to go for the big chop. Sitting on the couch one night, while skyping with my mom I was dreading the fact that in two months I’d have to straighten my hair again. I began to dislike the chemicals I put into my hair and started to wonder why I was doing this to myself. My hair had become weak, thin and just plain hideous. So that night while browsing for some hair inspiration on good old Google, marvelous pictures of thick natural hair caught my attention and at that moment I knew it was time. A few weeks later I’d gone natural and I couldn’t wait to show the world the brave decision I’d made.
I soon learned however, that caring for natural hair while travelling is a whole different story. Here are some of the difficulties I encountered:
1. Braiding.The most frustrating part of natural hair is that in order to keep that perfect afro you have to braid it e-ve-ry night. Imagine staying in dorms with a bunch of travel mates and when everybody is asleep, there you are-still braiding your hair. The lights are obviously out which means you’re either lucky and have a night lamp, or you’re doomed and have to sit in the dark. Many times I found myself in a corner somewhere in the hostel, just because I needed light and didn’t want to disturb my dormmates.
2. After washing comes…you guessed it braiding yet again. Going to a shindig after a day at the beach was always hell for me since natural hair needs to be washed immediately. Of course, I could’ve enjoyed the water without getting my hair wet, but being the island girl that I am, that was simply impossible. So while my fellow travelers could easily transition from beach babe to party style in record time, I always had to carefully plan everything. Was I going to keep my hair dry? Or was I going to wash it and skip the braiding part? Hmmm.
3. The weather! It’s unbelievably annoying, yet somehow amazing how sensitive natural hair is to weather and humidity. It shrinks when in warm temperatures, and is more than amazing in cold climates. No wonder my hair was absolutely perfect and easy to handle in places like Iceland, Finland and Moscow, but a straight up mess in Vietnam, Colombia and Panama. Sigh.
4. You know those annoying restrictions when travelling with hand luggage? Yeah well for me that was a major source of fustration. My shea butter, shampoo and hair conditioner all came in “restricted” sizes and yes I definitely needed them. Leaving them at home and buying something at the drugstore upon landing, (like many other travelers do) was not an option for me. I finally got creative and bought travel size bottles and filled them with my shea butter, shampoo and conditioner. My travelmates always had a good chuckle at the millions of bottles I had in my backpack.
5. Then there were times I simply gave up. While in Colombia I basically didn’t do anything with my hair. At the time, I was in the jungle, at the most awesome hostel ever and my hair was a complete mess. But jumping in the pool every day and lounging around in bikini 24/7 sure made up for that. You can’t always look your best you know!
Of course there were times I absolutely loved the “high maintenance” hair I was born with. In Tokyo I stumbled upon two locals, with afros bigger than mine. They were intrigued by my hair and I was amazed by the countless chemical treatments they must have gone through to get this hair that drove me nuts sometimes. We chatted for a while and I remembered feeling absolutely proud of my complicated, yet fascinating natural mane.