Low Maintenance Hair: Packing for Travel

Katie is a public interest lawyer living in Chicago with her husband, a basil plant named Boris, and a staggeringly large collection of cookbooks. She has very strong feelings about public schools, letterpress stationary, and beer. (And hair, obviously.) You can also find her at her personal blog, Pseudostoops.

Today, I want to talk about a topic that can strike fear into the heart of even the most intrepid low maintenance hair gal: travel.

Yes, it’s spring break time, and for many that means an escape to warmer climes. If you’re like me, you would really rather not lug a blow dryer, a flat iron, and a bevy of hair products with you on your jaunt to Mexico. (Or your jaunt to your grandmother’s 90th birthday, if we’re being precise about my most recent air travel experience, but let’s stick with “jaunt to Mexico,” as it sounds much more fun.)

If you’re the low maintenance hair type, chances are you’re also the low maintenance packing type, and you want to avoid checking a bag if you can at all help it. You should never, ever, check a bag because of your hair accouterments. That’s just insane. Here are some tips for keeping everything streamlined and carry-on ready.

Some things you DON’T need:

  • Hair Dryer – Most hotels have one, and even if it’s a piece of crap, it’ll do, particularly if you’re just using it for your bangs. If you travel to one place over and over again, consider getting a hair dryer to leave there- the Target model I left at my in-laws’ several years ago has more than justified its $9 price tag.
  • Flat Iron – If your bangs require major intervention, or if you really depend on having straight hair every day (say, you’re traveling for work and have to appear in court or something) you might want to bring a travel-sized flat iron. But unless I’m going to a fancy event where a bad hair day is not an option (wedding, funeral), I leave the flat iron at home.
  • Full sized hair products – If it’s over 3 ounces, you can’t bring it in your carry-on. Buy a travel size, or get a little plastic bottle at Target or a camping supply store and decant some of your favorite product into it.
  • That huge awesome round brush your stylist talked you into buying – Dude, that thing is the size of a running shoe. Wouldn’t that space in your suitcase be better spent on a cute top or two?

Here’s what I bring:

  • Wide toothed comb – Important for combing out tangles, fits easily in a suitcase.
  • Teeny tiny round brush – It may not be ideal for bang styling, but it’s the right combination of size and utility. (I use one like this one that I got for $5 at the grocery store. Nothing fancy needed.)
  • Rubber bands – Self-explanatory
  • Bobby pins – Confession time: I spend much of my vacation time with my bangs pinned back- it’s easier, especially in hot and humid Mexico. (I’m embracing my fantasy here, okay? Don’t rain on my parade.)
  • ONE travel-sized product – Whoorl’s strong endorsement finally persuaded me to buy a Fekkai product: a sample size of the luscious curls cream. I know! It goes against my low-maintenance low-cost ethos! But I highly recommend this strategy if you want to dip your toe into more expensive product waters. It’s a comparatively inexpensive way to try a fancypants product, plus it’s carry-on approved, PLUS it makes vacation feel like a special occasion because I get to use my fancypants product every day. Win-win-win.
  • Pretty bandana/head scarf – When I was a junior in college, I studied abroad in Paris, where I lived with a lovely family. When I left, they presented me with a purple bandana-sized scarf that had been one of their father’s handkerchiefs (he died several years before I lived with them). It’s the perfect weight for folding up and wearing as a headband, and it’s traveled all over the world with me. In a pinch I’ve used it as a napkin, a washcloth, and sweatband. I highly recommend finding an equivalent for yourself.

With these tools, you have more than enough to look presentable in any situation your trip might throw at you, from long layover in Houston to long leisurely dinner at a fancy restaurant. And all it takes is stuff that, all together, weighs less than half a pound.

  1. samantha jo campen

    April 15, 2009 at 9:00 am

    If I ever travel anywhere I will refer to this post. Well done.

  2. Darcey

    April 15, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    I generally bring my hair dryer with me. Mostly because the concentrator nozzle doesn’t fit on hotel dryers (and I’ve yet to find one you can purchase separately that does), and I need it to tame la frizz. Plus, if I dry my hair properly, I can get away without using my flat iron.

  3. Leticia

    April 15, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    I know this is not necessarily relevant to this post, but I HAVE to tell you that your BANG technique is superb. I thought there was NO way it would work on my hair, but it is so easy and so genius. My bangs love you.

  4. Keryn

    April 17, 2009 at 10:38 am

    Have you (or anyone reading this) ever used Pantene Curls Anti-Frizz Creme? I wonder how it compares to the Fekkai Luscious Curls Cream. I use the Pantene and like it a lot, so I’m wondering if I should spend so much on the Fekkai. If it’s that much better, I’d buy it.