Tips For Getting a Great Frugal Haircut While Traveling Long-Term
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If you’re traveling for more than a few months you’ll find yourself needing a haircut along the way, unless you know how to cut your own hair of course. Furthermore, if you’re a digital nomad and long-term traveler like us, you’ll find yourself needing haircuts in cities all over the world. Just like at home, haircuts can range from a few dollars to over $100. So, since we're traveling frugally, we’re not walking into just any salon or barbershop to get a haircut. We're always on the search for the best value possible. Furthermore, if you add in the complexity of traveling in a place where you don’t know the language you may find yourself having trouble communicating the type of haircut and style you’re looking for.
For both men’s and women’s haircuts, we’ve learned a few tips and hacks along the way to saving money and walking out with a haircut we’re happy with!
1. Take a Picture of You’re Style and Haircut
A picture is worth a thousand words, and we’d argue that it’s worth a few extra when we don’t speak the local language. We each keep several pictures of our preferred haircut taken from different angles on our phone. Being able to show pictures is helpful even in English speaking countries, since the stylist or barber can see exactly what we want done.
We learned this valuable lesson in Budapest when Sergio needed a haircut and things didn't go so well...
Unfortunately, we didn’t speak Hungarian but ended up in a salon where the stylists didn’t speak English. With a few hand gestures, our translation app, and a small amount of English from the manicurist, we were able to communicate that Sergio wanted a short fade. The stylist nodded that she could do it, but it quickly became apparent that she’d bit off more than she could chew. Both Sergio and I cringed when she buzzed the top of his head, and shortly after her nerves got the better of her and she dropped the trimmer. In the scramble to find the pieces of the now broken trimmer, she exchanged a few words with another stylist, who agreed to take over the haircut. Thankfully, the new stylist was able to fix the haircut enough to narrowly avoid us shaving his entire head out of desperation!
That day we learned a huge lesson! As soon as Sergio’s hair grew out and he had a haircut that was exactly what we wanted, we took pictures. We have several angles (front, back, each side, and from the top) that show exactly what his haircut should look like. Now we can show any barber or stylist exactly what we want. We also learned that even after we show the pictures, we still need to be specific and assertive (step 2)...
2. Be Specific and Assertive
When you’re a digital nomad and long-term traveler, you’re likely going to a new stylist or barber for every haircut. So unfortunately, the luxury of a person who knows what you want as soon as you walk in the door is gone. To get a good haircut with a new stylist or barber, the most important thing you can do is be specific about what type of haircut you want. Make sure the stylist knows exactly what you’re looking for. Having pictures (step 1) is extremely helpful, but you should still look for clues in what they’re saying that shows they understand your expectations. Pay close attention to the verbal and non-verbal cues they're sending, like repeating your request back to you, giving head nods, or confused looks. Also, don’t be afraid to ask if they're comfortable undertaking your type of haircut.
Tip: If they don’t seem to understand you may be better off declining the haircut and finding a different salon or barbershop.
You may think that your work is done once you’ve confirmed the stylist or barber understands. But not so fast, we've found that we can't necessarily sit back and relax during our haircuts. Even when you feel confident the stylist knows what you want, you’ll still want to pay attention to what they’re doing. If they don’t cut your hair short enough, get the wrong angle, or start to do something that makes you uneasy, speak up. It’s the only way the stylist will know to change or correct what they’re doing.
Tip: It can be hard to be assertive, but remember, it’s your hair and you’ll have to live with it for the next few weeks or even months. If your kind, approachable, and nice through the process (we always recommend this, kindness goes a long way!), speaking up and correcting something will likely go over well.
3. Get a Free Haircut!
Whether we’re traveling or at home in the United States, we’re always on the lookout for a free haircut! Many beauty and salon schools offer reduced rates on female haircuts and free or reduced rates for male haircuts. It’s a win, win situation; the student gets experience doing a haircut and we get a free (or inexpensive) haircut.
Here are a few tips we recommend when getting a haircut done at a beauty school:
- Use Google to search for beauty schools.
- Check the website or call the beauty school to see if they offer free or reduced rates on haircuts.
- Ask specifically if they offer free haircuts for men. Some do all of the time, while others only do on particular days.
- Unlike the US, in the UK students earn their license by practicing under stylists, not in schools. We found postings in windows with notices of “models needed”. Keep your eye out for these signs when walking around town, or call up salons and ask if they need models for student hours.
- We always ask if there’s a teacher who will be there in case the student needs help and to review their work at the end of the haircut. An experienced stylist or barber to finish your haircut means you’ll get a great haircut in the end!
- Plan your schedule accordingly and allow plenty of time for the haircut and style. Students are learning and haven’t done hundreds of haircuts, so it’s not yet second nature for them. We generally plan on a males haircut taking about an hour, with a female haircut taking as much as an hour and half, even though this isn’t always the case.
- Some beauty schools have different prices depending on the seniority of the student. So, the more experienced the student, the more expensive the price. The choice is up to you and how adventurous you want to be with your hair.
- We’ve both had students who were doing their first few haircuts and stylists who were about to graduate do our hair. We’ve had amazing haircuts, and okay haircuts, but overall found that our luck with students is about the same as going to a regular salon with seasoned stylists.
4. Find a Deal or Use a Coupon
In our experience, expensive haircuts don’t necessarily equate to great haircuts. We’ve paid top dollar for haircuts and received mediocre results, and we’ve gotten inexpensive or free haircuts that are fantastic. So, since it’s less about the price and more about the skill of the stylist or barber, we might as well find a good deal with a skilled stylist or barber!
- Look online for coupons. Often times, sites like Groupon or Living Social will have deals for salon services. This is a great way to save money, especially for women’s haircuts and colors. Shannon uses this strategy while traveling, but also when we’ve moved to a new city. It’s a great way to try out different salons, save a few bucks and find someone who’s great at cutting your hair that you can come back to again and again.
- Look beyond a cities downtown and mall for salons and barber shops. We find the best deals when we go off the beaten path and are willing to venture away from polished, name brand salons. When we're walking around different parts of town we keep our eyes peeled for barbershops and salons. Prices are sometimes listed on the window, but oftentimes we need to go inside and ask. As an example, while in Bucharest, depending on the part of town we were walking through, we noticed that men’s haircuts ranged from $2.50 to $15 USD.
5. Plan Ahead for Your Haircut
Once you’ve decided how often you need a haircut, it’s a good idea to be forward looking to ensure you have your hair cut while you’re in a city with a lower cost of living. For example, if you’re going to be in Zurich or Oslo, don’t be surprised if the only ‘game in town’ is a $25 men’s and $40 women’s haircut. On the other hand, if you plan things out, you can get a haircut before or after your visit to a high cost of living city and end up paying much, much less. During our travels, we’ve seen men’s haircuts as low as $2.50 USD and women’s haircuts as low as $6.00 USD in Budapest, Bucharest, and Istanbul.
6. Gauge Your Level of Tolerance and Adventure
The more risk you're willing to take, the more you’ll save on a haircut. If we’re willing to sit in a chair, with a stylist who doesn’t speak English, who is in a ‘hole-in-the-wall’ shop, and no one waiting in line, we’re going to pay rock-bottom pricing. But how good will the haircut be? That's anyone's guess and part of the adventure!
In our travels, we’ve realized that Sergio is the risk taker, and Shannon is a bit more cautious with her hair. So, Shannon’s haircuts cost more than Sergio’s, but in the end it evens out. Sergio’s hair is so short that he needs a haircut every three to four weeks, but Shannon only needs one every few months, so in the end, the average cost per month is similar.
We’ve traveled to 25 countries and have been able to get great haircuts and have never paid over $15 USD (including women’s haircuts!). We’ve even found free haircuts along the way. In the end, as life typically is, getting your hair cut while traveling can be a mixed bag of results, but at least you’ll get a few great stories along the way! So what are you waiting for? Get out there while on your long-term travels, just about everyone needs a haircut eventually…