Traveling with Curly Hair – Battling Backpacker’s Frizz

Do you have curly hair?

Why yes, I do. And I’ve been backpacking around South America attempting to stick to the Curly Girl method. Once my first set of products ran out, it wasn’t easy to procure them again. And living out of a backpack in hostels meant that making apple cider vinegar rinses, or rice water rinses, or other handy tips from my fellow Curly Girls at home wasn’t possible. I also don’t have the space in my bag for a diffuser (or of course, 6-8 months worth of Kinky Curly Custard or Shea Moisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Leave-In).

Normally at home I’m a 2C/3A mix, but with the ranging weather, ranging water quality and lack of products/time I’m more 2C than 3A at the moment (2C on top, 3A on the bottom).

ecuador quito pocket atlas

My curls haven’t gone to complete sh*t whilst being away!

Spam of myself so you can get an idea of my travel girl hair

So Amber, tell me – what is this ‘frizz’ you talk of?

I really wish I had to ask this question. It was like a time at work when a girl said “what is cellulite” and every other woman in the vicinity sighed because we know all too well what it is.

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Most people think they know what frizz is but I’ve come across so many girls with typical ‘white girl’ hair who think frizz is their hair getting slightly kinky around the hairline. I mean, I guess it is frizz in a way but curly haired girls whose hair resembles the aftermath of an Australian bush fire will wave their fists in anger. YOU. DO. NOT. HAVE. FRIZZ.

Traveling Backpackers Frizz Curly Hair

Raise your hands if you’ve been personally victimized by frizz

FYI these are also the same people who say “oh but I wish my hair DID something” – really? You wish your hair had a mind of its own? I already have too many variables in my life without having to worry what my hair will decide to do in the morning.

Regardless of what makes your hair appear frizzy (when travelling, usually humid weather paired with liaises-faire attitude to showering), the underlying cause is usually the same: a raised cuticle layer. As a result, the hair looks dry and frizzy instead of laying flat. On the contrary, the hair appears smooth when the cuticle layer stays flat. Curlies tend to have frizz more often than those blessed with straight hair for one simple reason: dehydration. In general, curly hair is drier than straight hair. This leaves our hair susceptible to frizz.

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If you’ve decided to ditch your straighteners on the road (which I recommend as happiness is directly proportional to how much sh*t is in your rucksack) – read on for my 10 tips on how to make your curls look fabulous!

#1 Don’t wash it so much! #greaselightening

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Seriously, stop washing it as much. Firstly you’ll be lucky to come across a warm shower if you’re backpacking so standing with your curls upside down 25 minutes in a communal shower is not ideal. Curly hair is more susceptible to being dry because with all the twists, bends and turns, the sebum (read: scalp oil) cannot easily flow down from the scalp to the ends. ESPECIALLY as curlies don’t tend to brush their hair; in straight hair, sebum can glide down with ease helped by a hairbrush. Lovely 😜.

At a minimum was your hair only every other day. I try and wash my hair around twice a week.

#2 Forgoe Shampoo (certainly with sulfates)

Avoid shampooing every day or using very harsh shampoos – since the sebum takes time to reach the ends of your curls, shampooing everyday can strip your hair off the bare minimum that’s already there. When you do shampoo use a sulphate free shampoo (watch out for SLS or Sodium Laurel Sulfate in the ingredients). Or just co-wash (wash with just conditioner, SILICONE FREE) by scrubbing your roots with your conditioner of choice. 

#3 Forget Silicones

If you’re forgoing shampoo also forgo silicones – sulfates are the only thing that can remove silicones properly (unless they’re water soluble but nobody expects you to have a chemistry lesson before going to Boot’s). Without sulfates, silicones will weigh down your hair and make it heavy and greasy. Not good.

Dimethicone and cyclopentasiloxane are the most common silicones in conditioner but you can find a full list here. I’ve become VERY good at reading labels; most silicone free conditioners will advertise that they’re silicone free but not all! This is something I discovered in Peru, much to my delight.

#4 Don’t touch your hair!!!

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#5 Get a good haircut before you leave

Before you head off try and visit a salons that specialises in curly hair – the best kind of cut being blended layers. You need a cut that will both showcase and allow you to manage your curls, rather than a style that requires a hairdryer and paddle brush. If you’re lucky enough to afford a ‘Deva’ cut (where each curl is cut curl-by-curl) lucky you, but they’re hard to come by out of the major cities and are expensive.

Alternatively do a 2007 Britney Spears and shave it all off. Some people look cute with a pixie cut.

#6 Wear your hair in a ‘pineapple’ whilst you sleep 🍍

Wear your hair in a pineapple before you go to bed. It’ll stop you sweating and flattening your lovely curls in the night.

Amber… what the f*ck is a pineapple? 

Pocket Atlas Battling Backpackers Frizz Travelling Curly Hair

Hey Rhiannaaaaaaaaa

To recreate this extremely sexy look, simply flip your head upside down and collect your curls into a scrunchie as close to the hair line as possible and voilá! Good enough for Spongebob to live in! 🍍

#7 Plop those curls into an old T-shirt

DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT USE A TOWEL TO DRY YOUR HAIR. The fibres from the towel will cause your hair to frizz!

Basically, plopping involves setting a large t-shirt (an XL long-sleeve works best) on a flat surface (such as your bed), flipping your sopping-wet hair over and onto the centre of the t-shirt, then folding, twisting, and tying the sleeves around your head to form a weird, helmet-like structure. Unlike the classic wrapping-wet-hair-in-a-towel situation, which stretches out your curls and leaves them frizzy, plopping lets your curls sit in a self-contained mound on the top of your head, allowing them to dry with better definition and volume, without any of the frizz! It’s that easy!

You can also use a microfibre towel to do this. This is what I do, as laundry is scarce whilst travelling and I’d rather not wet a T-shirt when I have a towel.

#8 Pack a silk pillowcase

Instead of packing a massive towel for your hair (even for your body a Turkish bath towel or microfibre towel should do – space is directly proportional to happiness when travelling) pack a small silk pillowcase for at night. I packed a silk sleeping back liner from NodPod and wrapped it around my pillow at night in the hostel. Two uses in one – fabulous!

#9 Crème or gel those curls

There are many curl crèmes on the market – basically when your hair is still sopping wet in the shower before plopping flip your head upside down and scrunch some gel/curling crème through those locks to help hold and define those lovely ringlets.

Once you leave the UK/US, curly girl friendly gels/crémes are less hard to find. Most supermarkets will sell clear styling gel, just ensure you check to see that the ingredients are silicone free!

#10 Braid your hair into a big fat plait

Going out in a rush and don’t want to leave with sopping wet hair, but desperate for a shower? After plopping for 5 minutes and scrunching with curling cream/gel braid your hair very lightly and tie at the bottom with a big 90’s scrunchie.

Traveling long term?

If you’re visiting countries with a largely black population most shampoos or conditioners should be designed for textured hair BUT I recommend ordering stuff off of amazon and sending the gear to your hostel if you’re based somewhere long enough.

A note on South America: In Colombia, often the only silicone/sulfate free range I could find readily in supermarkets was Maui Moisture. Maui Moisture was heavy, did not agree with my hair and in the end I had to do the occasional shampoo to stop build up. Peru and Ecuador I could not find silicone/sulfate free products AT ALL, but Bolivia turned out to be my beacon of hope as I found Tresemmé Perfectly (Un)-done in most supermarkets. Result! European/American brands are much easier to procure in Chile and Argentina.

A final note…

You have to live your life! Travelling can wreck your hair what with the seawater/pool water, sunshine, wind, rain etc etc. Simply by not regularly colouring or straightening your hair will combat some of the damage done by travelling. Your curls won’t look as perfect as they may do at home.

If you can’t get hold of ‘Curly Girl Friendly’ products for a while, don’t stress. At home the condition of my curls worsened because I used to straighten my hair, highlight it and I had years of using improper products. A couple of weeks of improper products (until you find CG friendly ones) will not cause your hair to revert back to being terrible. As said, simply by not applying heat or bleach and some of my other tips will help to improve your hair anyway!

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Be Kind!  🌈  ✨


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