This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info.
Taking care of curly hair definitely isn’t easy, especially when you travel or live abroad for an extended period of time. After living in China for five years, I definitely learned a lot of tips and tricks when it comes to caring for curly hair abroad. Now I’m doing the digital nomad thing in Vietnam, and I’ve brought those skills with me!
That said, my eyes have recently been opened to the wonders of the Curly Girl Method, which has completely flipped my life (and hair care routine) upside down. The Curly Girl Method (CG Method) has a TON of rules, so I’ll definitely be going through my experience attempting the CG Method for the first time (abroad!!!) in this post as well.
PS- You should all start the Curly Girl Method right now. My hair has never looked (or smelled) better.
Finding the Right Products Abroad (Non-CG Method)
If there’s one thing curly girls worry about, it’s products. If you’re only traveling for a week or two, it’s easy to bring your products from home with you. However, if you’re traveling for months on end or moving abroad, you need to come up with a few long-term solutions.
Finding the Right Shampoo Abroad
When it comes to regular old shampoo, I’ve never had issues with this abroad. In China, I stuck with Head and Shoulders Shampoo, which I could find pretty much anywhere. Head and Shoulders is pretty moisturizing when it comes to shampoos, and I never had any issues with it. The bottle also lasts forever, since I only wash my hair 2-3 times per week with a little bit of shampoo.
Finding The Right Conditioner Abroad
Obviously, conditioner and styling products are a completely different story. My recommendation is to look into Pantene ProV. I used Pantene ProV Curl Perfection back home in the US and loved how thick and moisturizing it was.
Unfortunately, you can’t really find conditioner specifically for curly hair in Asia, so I looked for other types. In the past, I used the Chinese Pantene ProV with the pink label, which was a super moisturizing leave-in style conditioner. However, in the last few years, I stopped seeing it around, so I went for the one with the gold label, which is supposed to be extra moisturizing for dry hair.
The reason why I recommend Pantene is because it’s super moisturizing and you can find it in pretty much any country. I saw it in Tanzania and here in Vietnam too! Obviously, if you’re following the CG Method, just ignore these product suggestions. We’ll get to you later!
Bringing Products From Home
I’m a huge lover of gel for curly hair, and I’m happy to say that I feel super vindicated after learning that the CG Method recommends gel too! (Take that, stupid hairdressers!)
While I can easily find gel abroad, I’m always disappointed by the quality. Most of the gel I find comes in small bottles and is aimed at men. Either it has a weird smell, or is super alcoholic. My most recent gel I bought in Bangkok literally smells like vodka and has “alcohol” listed as one of the ingredients.
What kind of alcohol is it??!! Is it vodka???! Probably.
I was always a huge fan of Dep Sport gel and LA Looks Sport gel (this one is CG approved!). What I typically do is stock up on gel when I go home for a quick visit. I bring two big bottles of LA Looks and a small bottle of Dep. Then, if I happen to run out, I just attempt to buy a decent gel abroad (and fail miserably).
When it comes to moving abroad or traveling long-term in Asia, I always recommend bringing gel from home, along with other products that are super expensive in Asia, like face moisturizer. The longer I stayed in China, the more products I found that worked (Innisfree and Nature Republic saved my life on many occasions- Thank you Korea!!!). But I still haven’t found a good replacement for an awesome gel.
Traveling With Your Products
While some travelers swear by going carry-on-only, I hate to break it to you curly girls… Give up on those dreams right now.
I don’t know about you, but my super long curly hair needs a ton of conditioner and gel to function, so travel-size bottles just aren’t going to work for me. Besides, my moisturizer is also too big, and I need a ton of that too. (Dry skin, dry hair… I’m cursed!)
I find it needlessly stressful and expensive to try and find conditioner and gel while I’m traveling. There have actually been times where I just CAN’T find conditioner. My friends hated me a little while we were traveling in Vietnam and I made them walk around a random town with me for 20 minutes to try and find a store selling conditioner. We failed.
Just pack your products in plastic ziplock bags in case they leak. I also recommend grabbing a bar of Lush solid shampoo, because shampoo is the most likely thing in your bag to leak (I speak from personal experience).
Just be careful to let the shampoo bar dry out so that it doesn’t melt and turn to putty in your little tin container. (I also have personal experience with this one as well).
Money Saving Hack: Only Check One Bag
If you’re traveling with a partner or friends, my biggest money-saving hack is to only check ONE bag. Decide which bag is largest/most durable and have everyone put their large bottles and products in just one bag while carrying on the others. Then you can all share the cost of the checked bag!
While this wasn’t super necessary for me in China since I always got a checked bag for free, it helped my friends and my fiance and I save money while flying around Southeast Asia using cheap Air Asia flights!
Getting Your Hair Cut Abroad
DONT. Just don’t. Especially if you’re in Asia.
Cutting your hair in a place where curly hair doesn’t exist is a recipe for disaster. If you’re in Europe, South America, the Middle East or Africa (depending on your texture) you’re probably fine, just check for good reviews online. But if you’re in Asia… good luck.
While there are certain hairdressers in larger cities that cater to foreign expats, I have a hard enough time finding a good salon in the US that won’t mess up my hair, let alone one in China!!
So, what do you do? Personally, I get a really good haircut once a year. Yep- that’s it!
There was a time I considered making it permanently straight
I just tell my American hairdressers how long I need to go between cuts and let them know that they need to give me a great shape that can last me an entire year. After many years of trial and error, I finally managed to find a few decent hairstylists that can do this without chopping all of my hair off.
When I’m super desperate, I take a pair of kitchen scissors and cut my hair dry (which is apparently how you’re supposed to get it cut anyway). I take each curl individually and snip an inch or two off in a diagonal line. It always turns out fine and I get rid of those pesky dry ends!
If you don’t have a hairdresser that knows how to handle curly hair, I highly suggest looking for a Deva certified stylist who has been trained in the art of the CG Method and cutting curly hair. I’m super excited to book an appointment with a certified stylist in Seattle when I’m home!
Starting the Curly Girl Method Abroad
When my friend introduced me to the Curly Girl Method a few weeks ago, I was absolutely HOOKED. I joined the Curly Girl Support Group on Facebook, watched countless Youtube Videos (Shoutout to Curly Susie!) and immediately started searching for CG Approved products.
Unfortunately, I literally could not find ANY CG Approved conditioners in Hoi An or at the large Costco-esque store Megamart in Danang (about 30 minutes away).
Curly Girl Method: No silicones, sulfates, or parabens! (aka what is in EVERYTHING)
After getting some advice from the support group, I used a company called iHerb to order products from the US to Vietnam. While half the products for curly hair don’t actually follow the rules, I ended up finding a solid 15-20 I could work with.
Dealing With Customs and Imported Products
My fiance Chris and I went a bit crazy on iHerb and ordered $100-worth of stuff. However, when it all arrived, our box was held up in customs for a solid week. We were informed by DHL that they didn’t believe that our stuff was only worth $100, so we had to send them the receipt and links to all of the products.
When the box finally arrived, we were told we owed customs $50. WTF!!!!???!!! Yeah, thanks Vietnam. Apparently they only really do this to foreigners, and there’s absolutely no way around it except for keeping your orders under 1 million dong (about $42 USD) and then they probably won’t bother you.
Also, they had ripped the boxes of our supplements and meal bars open and taped them back up, and the cap to my leave-in was completely off and there was conditioner spilled in my box. Really??
Thankfully the leave-in is super thick, so I only lost a tiny bit of the bottle.
Relying on Friends and Family
Obviously, I won’t be attempting to order products again (unless it’s through a Vietnamese friend). This means I’ll need to have my parents bring me a few things when they visit.
I’m still on the hunt for the best products for my 3 a/b low porosity hair (and this is where I lose everyone…) but I’m hoping to find a few products I can get brought over in big bottles to at least last me until I’m in Australia this November.
When it comes to hair type, 1= straight, 2= wavy, 3= curly, 4=kinky. a= loose curls/waves/kinks, b=medium and c= tight. I’m a 3a/b since my curls range from the size of sidewalk chalk to the size of a sharpie. I have low-porosity hair because my hair has a hard time absorbing moisture but retains moisture (and WATER) very well. You can do a hair test to see what type of porosity you have.
A Few More Must-Have Curly Girl Lifesavers
In addition to products, I’ll also have my parents bring a few simple hair fixes that I can use anywhere.
Firstly, I’ll be getting a satin pillowcase to keep my hair from getting frizzy while I sleep. While I do put my hair up in a Pineapple bun to save the curls, the underside of my hair still gets frizzy. A satin pillowcase will solve all my problems, and it’s super luxurious!
I also plan on getting a travel hair diffuser. This collapsible travel diffuser fits on pretty much any hair dryer and can compactly fit in your bag, unlike a traditional diffuser or Devafuser. While I normally air dry my hair, it would be nice to diffuse if I’m heading out the door, or if it’s been 3 hours and my hair still isn’t dry and I want to go to sleep (that’s low porosity for you).
Finally, I want to grab a few small styling clips to give my roots volume and help my hair dry. I’ve currently been using large hair styling clips, but these tend to clump my hair in weird ways and make my roots strangely straight if I clip them too tight.
Do I Really Have to Bring All My CG Products From Home?
Thankfully there are some major brands that have CG Approved products like Suave Naturals, TRESemme Botanique, VO5 Herbal Escapes, Fruit of the Earth Aloe Vera Gel, Aussie Instant Freeze, and LA Looks Sport Gel that you MIGHT find abroad.
I’d like to think that in China might have been able to find some of these products, or at least non-name brand CG approved products by using JD.com or Taobao, but no promises!
I basically recommend packing a few bottles of everything in your suitcase and requesting replacements from everyone who visits you. Worst case, you can pay to import stuff using companies like iHerb.
Update September 2018
After checking every single store in Danang, I can confirm there are no CG Approved products (shampoo, conditioner, gel… anything) here. You might have luck in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh, but not in Hoi An or Danang. However, if you keep your iHerb order under 1 million dong ($40 USD) customs will not bother with you. Just be sure your order doesn’t contain food because this is an automatic customs flag.
If you find a product called Ichikami that seems to be CG approved, it is NOT. The English translation of their ingredients is missing many vital non-approved alcohols and silicones. The shampoo I bought from them contains alcohol, and the conditioner has THREE different types of silicones AND alcohol. Do not buy Itchikami in Asia thinking it is CG approved.
My Recommended Packing List for Curly Hair Girls
Now that I’m versed in the Curly Girl Method, there are a few things I wouldn’t travel without! Here’s a quick list of what you should bring
- A Low-Poo, non-sulfate gentle shampoo to use 1x week or less
- A big bottle of CG Approved silicone free conditioner for conditioning and co-washing
- A leave-in conditioner
- A Nice big bottle of gel (LA Looks is fine but I LOVE Kinky-Curly)
- An old t-shirt or microfiber turban towel for drying your hair and “plopping”
- A travel diffuser (optional)
- 10 Small hair clips for drying
- A silk or satin pillowcase
- A wide-toothed comb (optional) – I just use my fingers to brush my hair now!
- Invisibobble “telephone wire” hair bands (these things are LIFE) and some bobby pins
Aside from your products, most of these things are super small, so you shouldn’t have a huge issue transporting them. While traveling with a ton of products is never fun, at least your hair will look fantastic??
If you’re living abroad, definitely search for the right products in local stores and online. The less product you have to bring, the better!
If you’re not at all interested in the CG Method, just go for Pantene ProV. It worked pretty well for me over the last five years!
Do you have any questions about managing curly hair while traveling? Want to know more about the Curly Girl Method and how I’ve been attempting it abroad? Do you have any advice for me or other curly haired travelers? Let me know in a comment!
I’m always checking back for new comments, so be sure to get in touch and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!
Want to know more about the Curly Girl Method? Get the Original Curly Girl Handbook on Amazon! This is where the entire CG movement began!