Short Haircuts – the Beauties and the Beasts of Travel Hairdressers

Getting a short haircut in a foreign country

As a long term traveller with short hair there is one thing that strikes fear in my heart.

Getting a haircut.

In Australia I had Rae. Rae is able to snip and chop my hair like an artist, and turn my scraggly bedhead into something stylish and funky… every time.

But when I travel I don’t have a little Rae hiding in my bag. There is no Rae in small town Latin America, because women wear their hair long about 99.9 percent of the time until they are ready for a blue rinse that is. There are no more Rae days!

3 signs you are going to get your hair butchered

  • You are informed that your wash, cut and dry will be $7
  • Your big scary hairdresser looks extremely nervous to see you
  • You can’t speak a word of the local language

On point 1, don’t get me wrong… I love a bargain, but a $7 haircut screams “I’m gonna mess you up”.

I have had 5 haircuts in a year of travel. I would have had more except that it is now quite a stressful experience!

The worst haircut

The worst haircut I have ever had, I had in Santa Marta, Colombia. At the time my Spanish didn’t really exist, which only made worse the fact that she would stop every few minutes to ask what she should do next… in Spanish.

Using sign language to explain the design of the back of my head to a woman with a meat cleaver is something I find hard to forget.

After I dragged my sorry self out of there and shed a little tear, I retrieved my big fat headband out of the bottom of my bag and wore it proudly through the next few weeks of regrowth. When you are volunteering for kids from the slums, your hacked locks tend to pale in importance!

Bad haircut recovery

Emergency hair repair – always carry a headband!

The best haircuts

In Costa Rica and Mexico City I had technical “nice” haircuts that were about as edgy as a beach ball.

But I have had two winning experiences that have made me happy.

Firstly in Utila, a little island off the coast of Honduras I found a gem – a lovely Canadian woman called Christine who was as happy to get the opportunity to cut short hair as I was to enjoy her experience and expertise.

And today a second super star stylist came in the form of Julie at Elixir in Berkeley. I knew that the standard would be better in the US as women here sport short hair all the time, but then again you never know when you go to see someone new!

I wasn’t sure what to expect by looking at the website but from the moment I walked in I breathed a sigh of relief.

Staff = welcoming
Décor = spacious and cool
Tea = herbalicious
Julie = brilliant

Julie Elixir

The awesome Julie – 10 points!

So today was a Rae day… only the second Rae day since I left Australia and today is a happy day!

Top tips for getting short haircuts in foreign countries

  • Take a picture of the haircut you want, or keep one from a previous good haircut
  • If you see them about to do something that seems really bad, say something
  • Learn the basic phrases in the language you need to explain in
  • Keep a head band or scarf for emergencies!

Post By Serena Star Leonard

Serena Star-Leonard is a business coach, writer and blogger travelling around the world for 5 years and counting. As well as capturing stories of inspiring people who are making a difference to their communities, her passion is to help people find a way to do the things they love for a living.

Website: → How to Retire in 12 Months


  • Ha ha, love it! Having had short hair cuts before, I’m glad I left it long for this trip so I didn’t have to try and explain what I wanted in Spanish. You are very brave!

    • Haha I didn’t have a choice about being brave, I need to be able to see!

  • very funny and great article! but please, more pix of bad do’s! don’t be shy! I recently went into a hairdressers here in Oz and even showed her a pic of what I wanted and she made me look like Hitler Youth!!!!!!!!!! I was after “short and fluffy” but she must have been hung-over or something.

    • Hahaha classic! I would have shared the bad job photos, but funnily enough I didn;t have many photos taken then!!

  • Haha, I can so relate Serena. I have short hair and usually get it cut every 7 weeks…when I was away for 6 months in 2011 I had one cut in Bali, a cut and colour in Vietnam. Both times were pretty scary – pigeon language only goes so far! This time around I’m definitely taking a photo with me 😉

    • Yeah, every time I get a good cut I wish I had filmed it so they can copy the technique. next time… next time!!

  • Erin

    It’s hard enough to speak hairdressing lingo in your own language, let alone in a second language. (And add onto that cross-cultural differences of what good looks good …yeah, it’s not easy).

    I struggled to find hairdressers I trusted when I was in South America … having long hair meant it wasn’t a big deal, but let’s just say I preferred split ends over Spanish conversations about hair.

    What I found hardest when travelling was getting my eyelashes tinted. It’s hard enough in Australia to find someone who doesn’t make my eyes sting … I really don’t recommend it. Surrender to mascara (or blonde eyelashes, in my case).

    I agree with Nancy — I’d love to see some of the horror pics! 🙂

    • Far out, eyelashes would be even scarier!! Especially in some of the places, who knows what random stuff they would be using. My horror pics all involve having my hair covered!! I will get one next time… hopefully there won’t be a next time!

  • Sarah Von

    Girl, yes. I can’t tell you how many mullets I got while living in Taiwan!