The Elusive Art of Having Flawless Hair on Vacation
Seasoned travelers and hair care specialists provide their tips and tricks.
Traveling is so often a gift and privilege. You’re getting on a plane or a train, and seeing a new part of the world. It’s also an incredibly romanticized experience, and if you watch any TikToks or see photos on Instagram, it tends to include people who are somehow sporting flawless hair while they’re traveling. For the longest time, I’ve attributed this to fantasy of the influencer realm. There’s no way my hair can look like that in real life? But it turns out that even those of us who don’t travel with a ring light can achieve well-styled locks on the road.
"Maintaining good hair during trips can be challenging,” Jason Tavares, celebrity hairstylist and makeup artist, tells Thrillist. “It seems much harder to care for hair while traveling due to several reasons: The difficulty of maintaining a consistent hair care routine, relying on hotel-provided hair products can be unpredictable, and exposure to sun, salt, and other environmental factors. It’s complicated.”
So there’s quite a bit of strategy involved when it comes to having good hair while you travel. First it involves determining what you’re up against.
“There are so many factors,” Janine Jarman, celebrity hair stylist and founder of Curl Cult, tells Thrillist. “Are you going to travel with hot tools? What country are you in? Will it convert? Are you somewhere humid or tropical?”
If you want to travel with your own blow dryer or other hot tool, the “will it convert question” is pretty important. Do you have a dual voltage blow dryer? Are you packing a converter? What about brushes and heat protectant spray? How is all of this going to fit in your luggage? Is it worth it? To answer these questions and more, we’ve consulted with industry experts, traveling pros, and a few of our own Thrillist staffers to learn essential tips for achieving the perfect hair while traveling.
Know the climate, and pack accordingly
Hair, like everything else, is affected by the weather. This is a pretty obvious point, but when it comes to traveling, it means you’ll need to think strategically about what kind of product you’re packing. More often than not, you’ll pack something different for different climates. If you’re going to be blowing out your hair in a humid climate (think Florida) you’re going to need a product like IGK’s Good Behavior, which will prevent frizz and keep your blowout lasting a little longer. In a drier climate (like Arizona), you’ll want your hero product to be hydrating — a high dollar option is LEDA Swiss Hair Serum. It’s pricey, but highly concentrated, so the small bottle is perfect for always packing in your bag. A more affordable option is the Weightless Serum from Kristen Ess Hair.
Don’t forget your converter
The fact that outlets and electricity are different literally everywhere in the world was a big shock to me—I learned from that scene in Just Married in which Brittany Murphy’s character blows the socket trying to plug in her hair dryer. That’s actually possible! And a dreamy Ashton Kutcher won’t be there to make it seem like fun hijinks! In Europe, appliances run on 220 volts of electricity, while in the U.S., they run on 110 volts. That means if you’re packing your American blow dryer, you’ll need a power adapter if you are planning to use it in Europe.
To solve this problem, you can snag a converter for about $30 to $40. This one from Amazon comes top rated, and should work for hot tools.
If you’re willing to invest in a new tool, there are dual voltage hair dryers on the market, which can work on both 110 volts and 220 volts. The BaBylissPRO Nano Titanium Travel Size Hair Dryer is dual voltage, less than $40, and is designed to be packed compactly.
Embrace the minis
If you’re one of those “panic purchase the day before the trip” types, you are already familiar with the many travel sized products on the market. Everyone else, gather round. There are entire sections at Sephora and Ulta dedicated to travel sized products. It’s really a gold mine of little miniature bottles of all the products you might already use, just carry-on friendly.
“I have thick curly hair and it's always the star of the show whenever I go on vacation,” Thrillist Project Manager Morgan Fowler says. “I have to bring full bottles of shampoo and conditioner which means only getting to pack a carry-on is almost never an option.”
For those not ready to part with their tried and true brands that don’t offer travel sizes, there’s always the option in investing in travel sized containers. A brand we’ve suggested before is Cadence, which offers very sleekly designed magnetized mini containers built to last.
Not only will packing small be carry-on friendly, but it will be easier to organize all your products in a central location.
Pack your hair tools carefully
Don’t leave your tools loose! Just throwing them into your carry-on or suitcase is a quick way to shorten the lifespan of your hot tools.
“Look after your hair tools! Always pack them in a cushioned heat proof case. Brands such as GHD and Cloud Nine often provide these and do so for a reason as it helps your tools to last longer,” advises Pete Burkill, a celebrity hairdresser who has worked with Millie Bobby Brown and Bebe Rexha. “Also, be sure to wrap the wire correctly without bends or creases to maintain the connection and avoid long term electrical damage to the product.”
In my journey to have nicer hair while traveling, I have started packing my Shark Flexstyle. It has a lot of attachments, which is nice when I want to try to pull off a few different hairstyles (i.e. diffuse it for most days, but curl it for the nice dinner I had to make the reservation for through Google Translate). To keep all the various attachments together and protected from the chaos of the rest of my packing, I picked up a double layer carrying case. If I’m traveling with something that expensive, I want it to actually make it through the journey.
Learn what your hair needs
I almost always check a bag if the trip is longer than three days. The way my hair looks has a direct impact on how I feel, so I dedicate the real estate in my luggage to bring the blow dryer, the products, the round brush. That’s what my hair needs in order for it to look the way I want to look.
But depending on your hair, you might have different needs to pack for. “Getting your hair to look and feel fantastic on a trip has always been a struggle, but it's been worse since I went gray five years ago for one very important reason, explains Katie Emery, a gray hair blogger. “Gray hair is prone to sun and heat damage that can lead to yellowing.”
Emery’s hair packing list includes items that will protect her strands from the sun, including a UV-resistant wide-brimmed hat, a UV protectant cream, and a SPF spray for her scalp and hair.
Tavares, the celebrity hairstylist, echoes the suggestion to use UV protectant on your hair. He also has some other recommendations.
“Specifically, for curly hair, a useful tip is to create a leave-in conditioner by mixing conditioner and warm water in a small spray bottle. This mixture acts as a protective shield against the sun and UV rays,” Tavares says. “For straightened hair, using serum and a flat iron can help maintain a sleek look. It is crucial to plan and organize a hair care routine before embarking on a trip to avoid haphazard hair management.”
For hair, what happens on vacation unfortunately doesn’t stay on vacation. “Remember, taking care of your hair while traveling not only benefits your appearance but also contributes to the overall well-being of your hair,” Tavares advises. Basically, using that hotel blow dryer and conditioner won’t just leave your hair looking bad in pictures. The split ends they cause will follow you home.