Getting a Haircut While Traveling: A Men’s Guide

by wheretheroadforks

While traveling long term, you’ll find yourself in need of a haircut every month or so. When your hair starts looking a little scraggly, you have two options: You can visit a barbershop or you can cut your own hair. In this guide, I share my tips to help you get a decent, consistent, and affordable haircut while traveling anywhere in the world.

To read about cutting your own hair while traveling, click here to skip to the second half of this article.

inside of a barbershop

Classic barbershop

Getting a Haircut While Traveling

Getting a haircut in a foreign country can be a nerve-wracking experience. You may not be able to communicate with your barber because of a language barrier. Explaining exactly what you want can be a daunting task. Styles and hair types also vary by region. This makes the barber’s job a bit more difficult. The following tips will make the process just a bit easier and less stressful.

1. Do your Research Before Choosing a Barber Abroad

Go online and search for “barber shops near me.” Even if you don’t speak the local language, Google Translate is good enough to give you plenty of information. Read through the reviews. Take note of the highly reviewed shops and eliminate the ones with poor reviews.

Check the pricing. Look through any customer photos to check for the quality of haircuts that they offer. Look for the name of specific barbers who gets good reviews. Take note of the name so you can ask for them when you go into the shop.

Of course, this is only helpful if you’re in a city. If you’re in a rural area or small town, chances are, they only have one barber shop.

2. Take Some Pictures of Your Haircut to Show to Your Barber

Before your trip, you’ll probably want to get a haircut at your regular barbershop. While the haircut is fresh, take a few photos on your phone. You at least want a photo of the front, back, and side.

Show these photos to your barber abroad. This way, he’ll know exactly what you want, even if you don’t share a common language. Whether or not he knows how to do it, who knows?

If you’re already on the road and don’t have any photos of a haircut, just look online for a style similar to what you want. Save the photo to your phone so you can show it to the barber.

Barber's chair

Barber’s chair

3. Know How to Describe Your Haircut

Most men’s haircuts involve using clippers. You should know the length that you like on the top and sides. Most hair clippers use a standard set of numbers to describe the length. For example:

  • 0 or no guard – 1/16” or 1.5 mm
  • 1 – 1/8” or 3 mm
  • 2 – 1-4” or 6 mm
  • 3 – 3/8” or 10 mm
  • 4 – 1/2” or 13 mm
  • 5 – 5/8” or 16 mm
  • 6 – 3/4” or 19 mm
  • 7 – 7/8” or 22 mm
  • 8 – 1” or 25 mm

Once you know the length that you like, you can use the numbers to describe to your barber exactly how long you want your hair. To find these numbers, simply ask your regular barber. They’ll tell you what length they usually use. If you don’t know the lengths, that’s okay too. Many barbers can estimate using a photo.

For more info on hair clipper lengths as well as some photo examples, check out this article from Give it a Cut.

You may also want to know a bit of hairstyle terminology so you can accurately describe the exact style that you wan. Check out this guide from Men’s Hairstyles Today to help you identify the name of your haircut. Even if your barber doesn’t speak English, he probably knows the English names of popular haircuts.

4. Don’t Tell your Barber that you’re just Traveling Through

Barbers build their business by developing a loyal following of customers who regularly return for a haircut. They know you’ll keep coming back if they give you a great haircut and pleasant service.

If the barber knows that you’re never coming back from the start, they have no reason to put in the extra effort. They may even rush through to get to one of their loyal clients.

Basically, I’m saying to lie to the barber if they ask you what you’re doing in their country. Tell them you just moved into town and you needed to find a new regular barber. This little lie doesn’t do any harm and may help you get a better haircut while traveling.

A barber cutting hair

5. Plan Ahead for Your Haircut While Traveling

While you can find someone to cut your hair pretty much anywhere on earth, you’ll probably have better results in larger cities. If you’re going to be spending the next month in a rural area or small town, get your hair cut in the city first. Cities are better for finding a barber for the following reasons:

  • Cities offer more options in terms of barbers and shops- You’ll have more barbers to choose from.
  • You’re more likely to find an English speaking barber in a city- City people are more likely to speak a foreign language. 
  • City barbers are more likely to know the modern styles- You don’t want to end up with an outdated haircut unless that’s your style.

Also, consider the cost of haircuts where you’re traveling. If you’re traveling in an expensive region, wait until you’re somewhere cheaper. For example, a budget haircut in Scandinavia could cost $30-$40. If your next destination is in Eastern Europe, you should probably wait. A haircut will cost less than a quarter of that.

6. Talk to The Barber Before Your Haircut

Try to gauge whether or not they understand exactly what type of haircut you want before they touch your hair. If you absolutely can’t understand each other, you may be better off looking for another barbershop.

The same is true if the barber just seems unpleasant or in a hurry. If you sense that they just don’t care, it’s better to walk and take your business elsewhere. Another barber would be happy for your business.

7. Pay Attention During the Haircut

Even after showing the barber your pictures and explaining exactly what you want, you still need to stay alert during the haircut. Sometimes your instructions go in one ear and out the other. Some barbers think they know better than you and do whatever they want. Sometimes there is a misunderstanding.

Whatever the case, you must keep an eye on the length of the guard that they use and the amount of hair falling off of your head. If something doesn’t look or feel right, stop them and explain again what you want. Maybe you’re not too late.

8. Consider Cutting Your Hair Shorter While Traveling

Wearing your hair short while traveling has a number of benefits including:

  • Haircuts last longer- Maybe you can go 6 weeks between haircuts instead of 4. You’ll save a bit of money and hassle this way.
  • Short haircuts are easier for the barber- The likelihood of a mistake is lower.
  • Short haircuts are cooler- While traveling, you’re more active. You’re probably also in a hot climate. You can keep cool by wearing your hair shorter. For more hot weather tips, check out my summer travel guide.
  • Short haircuts cost less- Some barbershops charge more to cut long hair. You can save some money by keeping your hair short.

9. Get a Cheap Haircut While Traveling

If you just want a buzz cut or something that the barber can’t screw up, just go ahead and look for the cheapest possible shop.

In the developed world, go to a chain barbershop. They generally have low prices. Sometimes you can even find a coupon or discount. Another option is to look for a barbershop in a lower-class part of town. They may offer lower cost haircuts as their clientele has lower income.

In the developing world, look for a small roadside shop. In Africa, Latin America, and much of Asia, you can find people cutting hair in open air shops on the street. Sometimes you can get a haircut for just a couple of bucks.

roadside barbershop

An open-air roadside barbershop

10. Enjoy the Barber Shop Experience

Visiting a barbershop abroad is a bit of a cultural experience. Getting your hair cut gives you an excellent opportunity to talk to the locals and get some culture. Chat up the guys waiting around as well. Chances are, they’d be happy to talk. Try to enjoy your foreign barbershop experience.

If you’re really adventurous, you could even get a shave. An old school barber with a straight razor can give you the closest shave you’ve ever had. This is an experience in and of itself.

11. Go Extreme: Choose a New Haircut While Traveling

If, after reading this, you really don’t want to get a haircut while traveling abroad, you have two options:

  1. Let your hair grow- Nobody really cares how you look while you’re traveling. Maybe you’ll like the style. Besides, hair doesn’t grow that fast.
  2. Shave your head- You’re going to go bald one day anyway. Just shave it all off. Travel offers a great opportunity to try the bald look out without shocking your friends and family with the new look.

Final Thoughts on Getting a Haircut While Traveling

Getting your hair cut abroad is kind of unnerving at first. When you walk into an unfamiliar barber shop with a barber who you can hardly communicate with, you just never know how you’ll look when you walk out. You might pay $2 for the best haircut of your life from a barber working on a street corner in Mumbai. You might end up with a buzz cut against your will at a high-end shop in Mexico City. While you’re traveling, it doesn’t really matter all that much. It grows out in a month and you get to go through the whole experience again.

Hair clippers and scissors

Hair clippers and scissors

How to Cut Your own Hair While Traveling Abroad

I’ll admit, I got sick of going through the hassle of finding a barber and struggling to explain how I wanted my hair cut while traveling. These days, I always cut my own hair. Even when I’m at home. Benefits of cutting your own hair include:

  • You save money- The average haircut costs $5-$15 depending on where you’re traveling. You also save money on transportation to and from the barbershop. For more money saving travel tips, check out my guide to ultra-low budget travel on $10 per day
  • It’s faster- I can cut my hair in about 20 minutes. When you factor in the time it takes to find a barbershop, travel there, then get a haircut, you’ll have spent over an hour.
  • It’s self-sufficient- You don’t have to rely on another person to maintain your hair.
  • You get to learn a new skill- If you like the way your hair looks when you cut it, you can continue cutting yourself at home.
  • No more bad haircuts- After you get the hang of cutting your own hair, it looks exactly the same every time. When visiting a barber abroad, it’s always a gamble.

What do I Need to Pack to Cut My Own Hair While Traveling?

The only drawback I can think of to cutting your own hair while traveling is the fact that you need to pack a bit of extra gear which takes up space in your pack. Here’s what you’ll need:

Hair Clippers

When selecting a pair of clippers for travel, look for the following features:

  • Comparable with 110-240v power- So you can use them anywhere in the world, no matter the power standard. Alternatively, you can buy a pair that runs on AA batteries. I made the mistake of taking a 110v only pair of corded clippers on my first trip. I just didn’t think to check the comparability before I left home. I fried them the first time I tried to cut my hair. I ended up going to a barbershop instead for the remainder of the trip.
  • Powerful enough to cut hair- Some clippers are designed only for facial and body hair. Head hair is usually longer and thicker and can clog up some low powered clippers. Make sure the clippers you choose are designed for haircuts.
  • Equipped with enough length settings- This depends on your hairstyle. Make sure your clippers allow you to cut your to your desired length. Most max out around 1 inch (2.54 cm).
  • Durable- This is a piece of gear that you shouldn’t cheap out on. Basically, you get what you pay for. You don’t want your cheap clippers failing in the middle of a haircut. Even an expensive pair of hair clippers will pay for itself after 3-4 haircuts.
  • Waterproof- This is a nice feature to have but not required. It makes cleanup much easier. You can simply wash your clippers off after a haircut. You can even cut your hair in the shower.

Travel Hair Clippers Recommendations

Wahl Color Pro Cordless Rechargeable Hair Clippers

This kit comes with everything you need to cut your own hair while traveling including guards, scissors, oil, and a carrying case. Personally, I’m a big fan of the Wahl brand in general. I’ve been using their clippers since I started cutting my own hair and haven’t had any issues with their products.

Remington HC4250 Shortcut Pro Self-Haircut Kit

This is a great option for guys who shave their head or wear their hair short. It’s also very compact which makes it ideal for travel. The kit includes 9 guards, oil, a travel pouch, and a cleaning brush. 

Wahl Professional 5-Star Cord/Cordless Magic Clip #8148

This is the high-end option. It includes a more powerful motor and longer run time per charge than more consumer-oriented clippers. It comes with everything you need including guards, a brush, scissors, oil, and a case. You could open up your own barbershop in the hostel with this bad boy.

Additional Gear That You May Need to Cut Your Own Hair While Traveling

  • Small handheld mirror- So you can see the back and sides of your head while you’re cutting your hair. I have a small round bathroom mirror that’s about 5 inches in diameter.
  • Hair guards- These determine the length that gets cut off. Most clippers include the guards.
  • Scissors- If you have hair longer than about 1 inch (2.54 cm) on the top of your head, you might need to trim it with scissors rather than clippers. Remember, these may not be carry-on acceptable in some countries. Consider buying a pair at your destination if that’s the case. 
  • Oil- Some clippers require that you oil the blade after a few haircuts. This depends on the model that you get. Most clippers include a small bottle of oil when you buy them.
  • A carrying case- After a few haircuts, your clippers get hair and oil in them. You don’t want to get this on your clothes or other travel gear. A case keeps everything clean. You could also just use a plastic bag.
  • A comb- This can help you move hair out of the way that you don’t want to cut if you have long hair. Also good for styling once you’re done.
  • A razor- For cleaning up the back of your neck and hairline. Also for shaving.

Scissors

Where Can I Cut My Hair While Traveling?

Finding a suitable place to cut your hair while traveling can be a challenge. Look for a place that is:

  • Private- Personally, I don’t want an audience while I cut my hair. They could distract me and cause a mistake. This means shared bathrooms are out.
  • Well-lit- You need to be able to see what you’re doing and spot any areas that you missed. You don’t want to leave one long strand on the back of your head.
  • Has a mirror- You need a wall mounted mirror in addition to your handheld mirror so you can see all sides of your head.
  • Easy to clean up- You’ll get hair everywhere. Look for an area with hard floors so you can easily sweep the hair up with your hand after you’re done. You don’t want to leave a disgusting mess of your hair everywhere for a housekeeper to clean up. This means carpeted rooms are out.

Private bathrooms are the ideal place to cut your hair while traveling. Hotel rooms also work well. If you’re a backpacker traveling from hostel to hostel, you may have to time your haircuts. If you happen to choose a hostel with nice private bathrooms, take advantage of that and give yourself a haircut. You never know when you’ll have another opportunity. 

How to Cut your Own Hair While Traveling

Cutting hair is a skill. It can take a bit of practice to learn how to give yourself a decent haircut. The difficulty depends on your hairstyle and hair type. Some styles are harder than others to maintain. A few tips for those just getting started cutting their own hair include:

  1. Have all of your tools ready- Before starting, make sure your clippers are charged and oiled. Make sure you have your mirrors, comb, guards, scissors, and all other gear handy.
  2. Start with a longer guard- You can always go over it again to cut it shorter. If you go too short, you’ll have to wait for it to grow out.
  3. Start at the bottom and work your way up- You typically want your hair shorter toward the bottom of your head.
  4. Take it slow- There’s no rush. If it takes you an hour to give yourself a haircut, no big deal.
  5. Ask for help- If you’re traveling with a friend or partner, ask them to cut the parts that you can’t see.
  6. Don’t worry if you screw up- Worst case scenario, you shave it off and rock a buzz cut for a few weeks. Hair grows back surprisingly fast.

How to Cut Facial Hair While Traveling

Many guys decide to grow beards while traveling. Maintaining the clean-shaven look just takes too much effort.

If you wear a beard or decide to grow one while on your trip, you’ll need to trim it sooner or later. You don’t want to get looking too rough. If you let your beard grow to a point where you start looking homeless, people just don’t treat you the same. It can be problematic in some regions.

bearded face

Luckily, traveling with a hair clippers makes maintaining facial hair pretty easy. Simply choose your desired length guard and buzz it just like you would your head.

I buzz mine down to a quarter of an inch or so every month or two. I usually trim the hair on my temples and cheeks a bit shorter as it gets a bit unruly when it grows too long.

A Note About Trimming Body Hair While Traveling

Another benefit of traveling with a pair of hair clippers is that you can use them to maintain your body hair.

I won’t go into too much detail here but I’m a pretty hairy guy. Generally, I embrace the hair but I do make one exception. If I want to wear sleeveless shirts, I have to shave my shoulders or else I just look weird. My hair clippers make that job much faster and easier.

Final Thoughts on Cutting Your Own Hair While Traveling

Traveling gives you the perfect opportunity to give cutting your own hair a try. If you screw up, you don’t have to face your friends and family with a shockingly short cut. It also saves you a decent amount of money and stress during your trip. I highly recommend you give it a try.

Cutting your own hair is a bit intimidating the first time or two. You’ll probably make a mistake. The good news is that it’ll grow back in a few weeks like nothing ever happened.

At this point, I’ve been cutting my own hair for many years. Now, I just shave it as short as my clippers allow. Since my hair started thinning, I just began buzzing it all off every couple of weeks. At this point, paying a barber to shave my head for me would just be a waste of money.

Have you gotten your haircut while traveling or cut your own hair? Share your experience in the comments below!

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2 comments

Taylor Hansen June 22, 2020 - 1:03 pm

I like how you mentioned telling barbers you just moved to the city. I’m going to be visiting California next week and I need to get a good haircut since my hair is getting long. It’s probably a good idea to find a barber that I can trust while I’m traveling.

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wheretheroadforks June 23, 2020 - 1:02 am

Yeah, a little white lie doesn’t hurt anybody and you might get a better haircut out of it. Have a safe trip.

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