18 Aug How to Look Your Best on the Road / Why Appearances Matter
It’s not always easy to look your best on the road. If you travel like I do, you know what I mean. Tent camping in the wilderness with nothing but your drinking water or staying in budget hotels that may or may not have decent amenities leaves a lot to be desired in the appearance department. I’m going to share my go-to tips for staying pretty and clean on the rugged, budget road.
Wait, I’m sorry. Why do I care? If I’m backpacking, overlanding or traveling on a budget, why does it matter? Shouldn’t I be allowed to be grubby?
Don’t think I’m uptight for this buuuuuuut I’m speaking from experience.
I’ve always prided myself on being a low-maintenance girl, ready to go in a jiffy and never needing many accoutrements. Of course, backpacking and overlanding require minimalism because both space and weight are commodities.
I’ve also enjoyed using pajamas as my “travel outfit” and generally giving it to the man by not combing my hair and carelessly expressing irritation at borders and in TSA lines. This has, on several occasions, backfired. Instead of giving it to the man, I’ve ended up in secondary – or worse.
On one particularly bad occasion, Sean and I were at the Belizean border with Mexico. We’d spent a month overlanding in Guatemala and after surviving an international highway blockade that rattled our well-traveled cages we decided to book it through Belize and head directly home to San Miguel. No biggie …or so we thought.
Belize gave us a complimentary 24 hour vehicle pass so we could drive through without paying the car importation fee. It was evening and we planned to cruise right through without stopping. When we arrived at the border, we’d been through the sweaty jungles of Guatemala and on the road for a good 10 hours without so much as a glance in a mirror. We were dirty and sloppy to say the least.
While Sean went in to clear the vehicle papers, I stayed outside with Podes (our NAS-D) – she’s completely open so someone has to wait with the bags. After a while, he hadn’t come back and I started to wonder. I walked to a spot where I could peer into the immigration office and there he was – dirt visibly smudged on his face and shirt, ripped jeans, hair matted from the rover and pulled back with my hot pink, heart-shaped hair clip, kneeling on the floor with his head in his hands.
F the bags. I went inside.
Long story short, he was rejected at the border. The immigration guard decided he wouldn’t let us in and sent us back to Belize. Belize had only given us a temporary pass, so suspicions were aroused when our “home” country wouldn’t take us back. Plus, look at us! They almost rejected us, too.
Needless to say, by the time we negotiated our way back into Belize we were FREAKING OUT. It was 1 a.m. in an unknown border town and we didn’t know if we’d ever get home.
The next morning, over fried jack breakfast burrito, we drilled lines and planned anything and everything we could scheme up. Then a miraculous thing happened. Despite being 8 am on a Saturday morning (that was incidentally independence weekend for Belize), the consulate was open. In fact, it was a lovely little grandma’s house and she came to the door in pjs, soothed our woes and told us to go back to the border and cross. Our rejection was illegal, she said, besides new guards would be working anyway.
Well, we’d learned our lesson. We scrubbed and tidied like never before in our crappy hotel bathroom. We even tried to steam Sean’s shirt in the shower. And when we walked into the immigration office, they didn’t hesitate. Stamp, stamp, have a nice day.
Moral of the story? When you look dirty and disheveled, you catch a lot more flack. Whether at military check points, borders, TSA lines, police, even hotel or restaurant owners – whatever the case – there are judgments made on your appearance. You can clean up and make it easy on yourself, or you can screw the man and actually screw yourself.
Ok, fine. So, how do you propose I do such a thing?
What is clean, anyway? It’s definitely relative to your environment. Especially when camping and overlanding, this can be a challenge. But if you have dirt on your skin or clothes, people will notice.
Here are some of my tips:
Eco-friendly baby wipes
Simple, scentless, bio-degradable dirt-be-gones! I use these to wipe down my body and face when a shower isn’t an option. It’s also a great option for those who don’t like deodorant (like myself) but don’t want their smell to belie how long they’ve gone since their last shower.
Some people brush their hair often; others not so much. I’m of the latter breed – my curly mop prefers less brushing, but having a matted mess up top is a sure fire way to get negative attention. In honor of space, go with a collapsible, and if you have long, unruly hair like mine, find some easy up-dos or braids that can stand up to long days of travel. My go-to looks include the ponytail braid, milkmaid braids, and the Fridha.
Know you’re coming to a border or other point of interest and you’ve had a long day? Change your clothes! Often we don’t notice how busted we look (or smell) when we’ve been beating the road all day – we’re tired and just ready to arrive. A little forethought will go a long way to making a good impression. On an extended trip? If you can, air out your clothes in the car or hotel room prior to use.
Look Your Best
A little awareness can go a long way! Once you’ve made sure you are squeaky clean, you need to take a few simple steps to look your best.
Here are my tips:
Seriously. Just look in a mirror. The car has a rearview (well ours doesn’t) and side mirrors. Or stop in a gas station restaurant and take 5 to groom yourself with some reflective confirmation.
Doll it up
I personally wear makeup on the road. I’m sure some of you will roll your eyes at that, and that’s cool. You do you! I find that a little makeup makes me feel put together, presentable and confident – especially when dealing with stressful situations. Want to know what’s in my travel makeup kit? Stay tuned for a Q&A post on it (a reader just asked).
A Sunny Disposish
Attitude is everything. Be friendly. Smile. Remember that these people are just that – people! They aren’t uniformed robots. If you’re kind, helpful and pleasant you are way less likely to have problems.
Have thoughts on looking your best on the road? Let’s us know in the comments below! Comments are my sunshine.