How do people shave when backpacking?
June 23, 2008 10:35 AM   Subscribe

When backpacking around tropical climates where most budget hostels seem to only provide cold showers or bucket showers, how do people go about shaving?

The cold showers themselves aren't an issue, in 28 degree weather, it's refreshing, but now I'm looking at doing some extensive travel around South East Asia and India it does occur to me I'm going to want to shave and was sort of planning on not taking my electric shaver to keep weight down.

But clearly people are managing to shave in such conditions, so is everyone using electric shavers, or is there some knack to shaving in cold water? Or is there some secret method I'm missing?

Any thoughts welcome!
posted by paulfreeman to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can't beat an old fashioned razor and shaving powder IMO.
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 10:38 AM on June 23, 2008

Boil up some hot water in a tea kettle and use that (after it has cooled, of course).
posted by nitsuj at 10:49 AM on June 23, 2008

My solution was not to shave for extended periods of time, and then shave when at a guesthouse that happened to have hot/warm water. Another option might be to leave the water in a bowl overnight so that it is at least room temperature. Using shaving gel instead of foam is another useful solution, but yeah, obtaining boiling water is pretty darn easy.
posted by furtive at 11:04 AM on June 23, 2008

Best answer: Having travelled a bit in that area, I'd recommend a couple options. As ISeem mentioned, just bring your own supplies (that's the easiest). Regular soap works fine unless you have particularly heavy facial hair. I would recommend staying away from store bought disposable razors in that region unless you have to. Those cheap environmentally unfriendly knock-offs are like shaving with broken glass.

Another option (depending on your location) is: go to a barber! They dont call them that over there, but in even moderate sized towns, there is often a barber-type shop. The process is really quite quaint and they'll sometimes even give you a neck massage. After six weeks of trekking in Nepal I got shaved in Pohkara - in fact I had them shave my whole head bald.. with a straight edge no less and lathered up with the stinkiest oil ever created by man. If you are up for a cultural experience, try that. The tale is worth a drink in a bar somewhere, I assure you ;-)

If you are in remote areas and you see a shaved man, why not try asking what they do? Oh sure the language barrier might be a problem, but nothing breaks that down like a shared experience. They have to shave, you have to shave.... They'll laugh at you, but you might have a cool experience and they may even show something like a local plant or something (like, for instance, the so called Indian Soap plant in California that the natives used for bathing etc) that they use.

Have fun!
posted by elendil71 at 11:05 AM on June 23, 2008

I shave with cold water all the time (well, usually a couple days a week) and I live in Florida. No special knack to it. I suppose it might require toughening your skin up slightly, but frankly I've never noticed and I usually get a pretty clean shave. For that matter, I don't use shaving cream either. Just a bar of soap. I promise it's not so bad.
posted by penduluum at 11:05 AM on June 23, 2008

That said, I usually don't shave at all when travelling, particularly during the backpacking kind of travel.
posted by penduluum at 11:06 AM on June 23, 2008

SE Asia backpackers are not the most smooth-cheeked folk you'll ever meet.

Shave post-shower. Your whiskers will soften up given a few minutes in the shower even if the water is lukewarm. Also, even $2-4 dollar hotels often have electric water heaters that make for warm, if not hot showers. If you're moving from place to place every couple days, you'll probably run into such places unless you're actively trying for the very, very cheapest accommodations.
posted by bluejayk at 11:11 AM on June 23, 2008

I lived in a cold-water-only bungalow in Indonesia for a year and shaved daily. All you really need is a way to warm water - this could be as easy as shaving every evening with a bottle of water that's been strapped to your backpack, warming in the sun all day, or asking a little neighborhood/village tea vendor for a mug of hot water. Hell, you could even just heat a pot of water over a gas hob or an open fire. Once you've got the warm/hot water:

1) Divide the water into three parts: one part for wetting the face, one part for rinsing the razor, one part for rinsing your face post-shave.
2) Find mirror and shaving implement: razors there are fine, but I brought a few nicer Mach3-style blades with me so I didn't have to shave as often. I used little individual packs of shampoo once I ran out of shave cream and my face turned out fine.
3) Go to town!
4) Rinse. Cold water is fine.
5) Aftercare: most shops anywhere with people will sell a surprising number of consumer goods. I found using a tiny dab of aloe-vera style after-sun lotion helped ease the redness if I had any. The higher humidity is also your friend, keeping your skin soft.

You also want to make sure the water is clean enough. Topical infections on your face are no good.
posted by mdonley at 12:10 PM on June 23, 2008

I'm heartily recommending the barbershop solution in India. It was never a problem to find one - in fact, we never had to actively find one, they were always just around; this was 10 years ago, but I doubt it's changed. The shaves are the best I've had, and in addition to a neck massage, you might also get treated to all sorts of strange cheek and head massages! They usually ask before doing so, though, so you can opt out. They use a disposable blade per customer, so there's no problem with hygiene, and they're very affordable. Of course, if you're a definite shave-a-day kinda guy then that might be a pain.
posted by bunyip at 12:41 PM on June 23, 2008

Try out a Shaving Oil (NOT pre-shave oil!!). Many brands; google, buy, try at home.
2 oz bottle, a few drops spread on the face before shaving allows for shaving "dry" otherwise; should last over a month. Not for the paper-skinned or iron-bearded, but a tiny bottle of this magic stuff and a razor is all you need for a serviceable shave when backpacking, or on trains, planes or automobiles.
posted by bartleby at 1:24 PM on June 23, 2008

As a female I just don't shave when I'm in a bucket shower/outhouse situation. I have to wear trousers and long shirts for cultural reasons in a lot of those places so no one will see my hairy legs anyway. I agree that local men probably go to a barber. Also, I'm fascinated by how little hair some people of different cultures/climates have. A lot of people who live in hot places don't even have arm or leg hair and they probably don't need to shave as often as a burly man from North America.
posted by Bunglegirl at 1:49 PM on June 23, 2008

I got a shave from a barber in India and it was one of the most horrible experiences of my life. The guy used a brand new disposable straight-edge razor and still, I think every single hair follicle on my face got infected. I thought it was so cool at the time, too, but I felt the pain about an hour later. I envy all you folks on here who got good shaves.

I love shaving with a normal razor at home but I feel that the most convenient thing while traveling is using an electric razor. I know that Braun razors will adapt to whatever voltage you'll find out there - your only issue then will be a simple plug adapter. Big deal.

Oh, and this is unrelated, but still a great idea: have a little spray bottle handy. Spray that on your wrinkly backpacky clothes, put them on, and voila, no more wrinkles.

Good luck!
posted by redteam at 6:22 PM on June 23, 2008

Best answer: sort of planning on not taking my electric shaver to keep weight down

Easy: get an immersion heater. They take up almost no room, work in any electrical system (make sure you get one that's dual-voltage), and weigh practically nothing (it's really just a piece of thick wire).

With that one lovely object, you now have boiling water. Boiling water! That means:
  • Culinary options on-the-cheap increase by at least an order of magnitude... soup, noodles, pasta, tea, coffee, etc.
  • Sketchy water is no longer an issue.
  • Oh yeah... and now you can shave.

posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:24 PM on June 23, 2008

« Older Baby Boy goodness?   |   Our e-newsletter script went broke... need help! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.