Handling Those Holiday Haircuts

We can be quite precious about our hair. We know how we like it and know how we don’t. The attempts of anybody trying to convince us that our hair looks good when we believe the mirror we’re staring into is telling us otherwise are usually met with scepticism and distrust. A ‘bad hair cut’ can mortify us. It can kick us in the nuts and steal our confidence as we drop to the floor on our knees. It’s for this reason that many of us build up a relationship and return to the same barber or hairdresser time after time. It’s called risk limitation. So how do we handle those holiday hair cuts?

Hair comes in different colours, shades, thicknesses, curls and quiffs. It’s unreasonable to assume that any professional can conquer your locks in one sitting. They need to learn to work it as you’ve had to learn style it over the years. Still – despite attempts to minimise exposure to the terror of an unsatisfactory sitting in the barber’s chair, at random points of our lives it will just happen.

You won’t see it coming. Then suddenly, as you stare into the eyes of your reflected self you’ll spot the fear. Your smile falsifies throughout the idle hairdresser chitchat as the ‘snip’ sound of the scissors becomes deafening and you watch hair by hair drop to the ground. You don’t like what you see. You’re in disaster zone territory. You’ve been done. SABOTAGED!

I might be over exaggerating the accompanying torment of a bad hair cut but I base my findings on the ridiculous behaviour of a largely proportioned (I’m sad to say) Englishman whose ‘peril’ I unfortunately bared witness to whilst waiting for my own hair to be cut a few weeks ago whilst here in Chiang Mai.

When you’re a traveller on the road and in need of a trimming you are always running the gauntlet of being on the receiving end of an unsatisfactory cut. The scissor wielding folk of this world are from varying backgrounds, have different techniques and may not be familiar with the style you’re after. Even in overcoming all these factors you’re still likely to have a language barrier to conquer. You cannot expect perfection.

I’ve had some hilarious encounters:

My first holiday hair cut was back in 2007!
My first holiday hair cut was back in 2007!

There was the time in Borneo, Indonesia I was groomed by an incredibly camp barber and his ladyboy assistant. I was then made to play ‘local celebrity white guy’ and asked to pose for a plethora of photos within the small township of Pangkalan Bun. I’m not sure in themselves these circumstances attribute to the vast amount of sweat that seems to be pouring from my head in the picture above, but it might somewhat be a factor.

Perhaps unsurprisingly ladyboys got hold of me again (oooerr!) on my last visit to Thailand. They massaged and washed my hair before some fancy pants barber snipped around 20-odd single hairs from my head and announced himself done. I’m not sure what the main service was there. The hair cut seemed to be a token gesture!

When it comes to barbershop hospitality, few experiences can surpass the China Town Kota Kinabalu scissor master who immediately pegged me down and had a snigger at my (becoming more obvious these days) grey hairs before proceeding to hack away my back and sides with blunt clippers.

It was Japan however that played home to my favourite historical holiday hair howler. This is me a few days after a buzz cut in a Tokyo salon:

Ok – so it doesn’t look too bad actually.. But!
Ok – so it doesn’t look too bad actually.. But!

Believe it or not – I’d never asked for that skinhead style! Somehow through mix-up of communication it kind of just happened. When first shaved it was actually even shorter. I couldn’t do anything but laugh as the electric teeth ruthlessly grazed over my head. I was powerless. If you ever find yourself in a similar position then I can vouch that finding a similarly bald man to travel with is a great distraction (Thanks Ollie!). Just avoid traveling in packs of more than three to avoid scaring the locals..

This is me with my latest go-to grooming guy.<br />(The mask is normal by the way. I don’t smell!)
This is me with my latest go-to grooming guy.
(The mask is normal by the way. I don’t smell!)

Despite only charging 60THB (£1.30) and never letting me down, it was this man that had to bare the brunt of a shameless tourist minutes before I sat down in the chair myself to have this picture taken. This was the event that prompted me to post this.

As I sat down to wait my turn I could see said tourist was not enjoying himself. I doubt he ever gave the experience a chance. He’d been anticipating a bad hair cut before he’d even sat down in the chair and it wasn’t long before the agitated body language and frowns of the brow gave clearance to a vulgar temper. In failing with his next step of hurling expletive-laden directives at the barber in an attempt to ‘retrain’ him on how to go about his profession, the man eventually upped and left without paying.

Minutes later, the unhappy tourist then returned to the barbershop to advise me to take my business elsewhere. I smiled back and advised that I had been there before, would take my chances and recommended that he pay for any services he received in the future.. We left it at that.

A proud man and a man needing to make a living, the barber chased down the tourist to his guesthouse, and through threats of police action eventually received his just payment. Sadly, I found out later that this was not the first time such an event had expired. I’ve no doubt these negative intercultural exchanges do nothing but strengthen some local views of foreigners being ignorant to their temporary homes and behaving inappropriately.

Hair cuts may be my topic of today but I’m also am mooting the importance of managing expectations.

When you travel things aren’t the same as they are back home. It’s this very notion that inspires so many of us to pack our suitcases or don are backpacks and fly away. We all search for adventure and experiences – and a hair cut can be just that.. But the nonsense of that day left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

If you’re that precious, finicky and pretentious about your head fluff then why would you sit down for a holiday hair cut regardless of it whether it costs 60 Baht or even 6000 Baht!? If you do decide to go for it then more power to you – but only if you accept that in the travelling world things don’t always play out the way you might want them to and you should always expect the unexpected. If your preconceptions of what’s about to occur are negative to begin with then why put yourself through the anguish? Save your headache and save everybody’s time. Hell – you may as well save on your airfare too.

Embrace travel and laugh at its quirks. Your face of thunder will win you no friends here. Let’s not take ourselves too seriously hey? It’s only hair. It’ll grow.



The longest my hair has ever been was when I was trying to replicate David Beckham’s ‘curtains’ many, many years ago. Never again!


Why don’t you let it grow together with your beard? You might start to have the ‘nomadic’ look that way. Try, it might look cool and if you don’t like your new hair style you can always give it a trim :)

Jean Berry

It’s so true that some people just cannot accept that life is different in other parts of the world. Not everybody gets the chance to travel. Those that do should embrace everything about it.


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