How to Get a Decent Haircut in a Foreign Country
I love getting feedback from my readers and every time I receive a message with clarifying questions I’m thrilled because I know you found them useful. I do my best to respond quickly to your emails. But since I spend much of my time exploring remote parts of the planet, this isn’t always easy. Recently I got a message from my reader asking if I ever had my hair cut while traveling abroad. And here is the post covering this issue.
Being constantly on the road and traveling from country to country means eventually you have to get a haircut from people who often don’t speak your language. I know a lot of good folks (including me when I hit the road for the first time) who’d rather let their hair grow out just to avoid this daunting and confusing venture. However, because my hair is short and grows very fast I have to get it cut at least once a month.
During my stay in Budapest, I was pretty happy with my 6 EUR haircut from cheap establishments just outside the main tourist routes. But when it came time to get a hipster hairstyle, my friend Zsombor was just there to advise me on where should I go. I ended up at Budapest Barber Shop in Kiraly street. While more expensive, they provided service I was looking for at that moment.
Since I’m not a big fan of cutting my own hair, I do prefer asking for recommendations or searching on the Web, rather than just randomly walking into a salon. When you travel to a foreign country and realize you need a haircut, there is a simple way to overcome a language barrier. Download a picture on your smartphone or print out the hairstyle that you want so the hairdresser know exactly what you need.
In fact, I never worried about getting a haircut in a foreign country. Every time I get a haircut abroad is some kind of an experiment. While each barber has its own technique, I neither know the exact time I will spend in a chair nor the hairdress I will get by the time I leave the shop.
I remember one time in Hanoi, I felt like a superstar when I decided to have my hair cut in the street. While it cost me around 25.000 VND we gathered a crowd around the chair willing to see a shaved foreigner.
What I learned from traveling the world is that hairdressers are the last people who should know you’re on the road. Yep, I admit this may not work for everyone. But since most hairdressers work to build a client base they tend to prefer regular customers to occasional customers.
When I was visiting Belgrade in 2010 I desperately needed a haircut. The hair shop in Dorcol was busy, so I had to wait for 30 minutes. When my time came I sat down expecting to gesticulate a lot to get the haircut I needed. To my surprise, the barber spoke decent English, so I easily explained what I wanted and we got started. As we were chatting, he asked what I was doing in Belgrade.
My mistake was to tell him I was there spending a weekend. Despite the fact that I was the last in line and there were no people, I felt like he was trying to finish his work as soon as possible and get rid of me. Only 5 minutes later I was out missing the equivalent of 5 EUR.
Since that poor experience in Belgrade, I came up with an idea that it is better not to tell the hairdresser I’m only here for a couple of days. I just hate lies, but the fact of white lie can do a lot in this case.
Depending on a country there are hair shops that may not set out a clear price. In that case, you have to negotiate it before sitting down in the salon chair. I’ve had such haircut experience in Agra and it resulted in overpaying. Also, prices differ dramatically depending on the part of the world. The cheapest haircut abroad I’ve ever encountered was under 1 USD in India. Several outdoor barbershops had their basic cut rates at 70 INR. That is a little more than a buck! The usual price is 3 or 4 USD, however.
So what do you need to get a decent haircut in a foreign country? Here are some short tips!
1. Learn some basic phrases in the local language. There are plenty of books and translation apps that will help you to get the exact haircut you want. Be specific, avoid gestures that may be misinterpreted.
2. This is a no-brainer but go off the beaten path. While touristy barbershops may possess hairdressers who speak your language, they can charge way too much as well. Stick to the local barber shops that are few blocks away to get the best prices.
3. Getting haircuts in foreign countries and visiting different barber shops can be a great insight into the local culture. Since hairdressers and hairdressers in small towns know almost as much as taxi drivers, they can be a valuable source of information. Chat with them to know what you need and get the most out of your trip.
4. It may be a tricky way, but still worth trying. Find a person that has hair texture similar to yours. Ask him where he gets his hair cut. Once you in the barbershop tell the hairdresser the guy you asked sent you. It worked out for me in Italy.
5. Find someone with hairdressing experience. Backbackers, ex-pats or your hostel roommates can do you a favor for extra cash. If they don’t ask for an information on which barber shop you should hit!
Have you ever had a haircut abroad?