Hair & beauty on the road: how to look wonderful worldwide

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Travel is a beautiful thing. But, often, travellers are not.

No offence. Itʼs just it can be tough to stay gorgeous when contending with high humidity, dry heat, extreme cold, dehydration, chlorinated water, salt water and a limited capacity for carrying beauty products.

True, many travellers donʼt give a jot what they look like – being more intent on seeing the world than worrying about unruly eyebrows. But wouldnʼt it be nice to do both? Here are some tips for looking lovely on the road.

Copy the locals

Check out local products – which will have been well tried and tested on the ground. In India invest in coconut oil: massage it into your scalp for lustrous hair. In Thailand, bottles of lotus flower extract are just a few baht, perfect for rejuvenating dry skin. In Israel and Jordan, try salty Dead Sea products.

Check out local customs too. A Middle Eastern hammam (public steam bath) is a cheap way to get a deep clean and an insight into the life of local women. Hammams are sex-segregated; towels, clogs and soap are usually provided. Ask at your hostel/hotel where the best ones are.

Similarly hot springs are good for the skin and for tapping into local culture. Sitting in an onsen breaks down barriers with the Japanese (nakedness is the norm), while Icelanders love to socialise in their volcanic steam baths.

Try cheap treats

Treatments that cost a bomb back home are often far cheaper overseas. Beach pedicures in Bali, leg-hair threading in Vietnam, having your dead skin nibbled off by doctor fish in Hong Kong.

Bargain beach massages in India can be hit and miss, though a stay at an ayurveda retreat could be just the ticket (try Keralaʼs Somatheeram Beach Resort). Wat Po in Bangkok, Thailand, offers excellent pummellings; Lilaʼs in Chiang Mai offers treatments performed by released and retrained prisoners.

Keep a lookout for beauty schools, too: they need guinea pigs, you get freebies. Even big chain hairdressers offer cheap cuts if youʼre willing to be practised on; appointments are often during the day – no problem when youʼre travelling.

Try cheap cheats

Becci Coombes runs www.girlstravelclub.co.uk, a treasure trove of girlie travel goodies and advice. 'Vaseline is a wonderful thing,' she says. 'Leave your lipstick at home – it'll melt in the heat. Instead take a tin of Vaseline, which will also melt, but will be less annoying. Use as a lip gloss, then smear a dab on your cheekbones for a healthy glow. It can also be used to secure windswept eyebrows, on cracked heels and toes, and to soften cuticles.'

No need for posh creams either. 'Mash up a ripe avocado and plaster it over your face for 15 minutes – youʼll smell like a chicken salad but your skin will feel revitalised,' reckons Becci.

Need a body scrub? 'Pinch a cup of porridge oats from the breakfast buffet, tie it up in a sock, float the sock in a hot water, then use as a puff to massage your body.' Or, adds Becci, 'keep a couple of sugar sachets in your washbag. When your skin feels dull, mix one with a squirt of shower gel for an invigorating scrub.'

A word of warning

Image by Rob Hogeslag

Not all bargains are worth it. As one girlfriend noted: 'Learnt an important lesson in India. I went to a barber for a cheap haircut, but because they were only used to cutting menʼs hair, they chopped my hair off squarely where my sideburns would start. Not a good look.'

Conveying your needs to the beauty practitioner can be tricky: take a photo if youʼre worried. And be prepared for different ideas of beauty, as another female traveller notes: 'Iʼd recommend Thai de-hairing treatments, although beware – theyʼll remove every piece of hair from every bit of body given half a chance.'

If disaster befalls, be prepared: 'I had a dreadful cheap haircut in Peru, where they cut a "step" in the back of my hair,' confesses one unfortunate lady. 'My friend had to try to rectify it with a pair of nail scissors.' Pack a hat that you can whip out in such emergencies.