Ups and Downs of Traveling with a Beard

Matt in Antarctica

I’m new to this whole beard-wearing thing. For my entire life I dutifully shaved on a regular basis, unless taken ill by plague or kidnapped by rebels. Which is to say I never failed from my clean-shaving razor duties. I wasn’t even sure if I could. In college I went through a Kerouac, I-want-to-be-a-1950s-Beatnik phase and attempted a goatee. That experiment failed miserably and I never again attempted to enter the ranks of Cool Guys with Facial Hair. But then last December something switched, and I decided to give it a try. Maybe I wanted to look like a rugged adventurer or maybe I was just really sick and tired of shaving all the time (the latter) but I put down my razor and waited for the Ben Affleck-like cool beard to fill in. While that never happened, once I got past the initial awkward stages (neck hair is not attractive) and the terrible itching, I got used to my new friend. I’m not sure if I’m going to keep it or not, but I have learned a little bit about the trials and tribulations of traveling with a beard, as well as some nice perks too.

Look like a fugitive – I work from home so I don’t typically interact with many humans throughout the week and I’ve had the beard for a few months now and honestly have forgotten that it’s there. Maybe that’s why I was a little surprised when I arrived at the airport. The first eyebrow raise was when I checked in to business class. I thought the days of questioning my ability to be in a more luxurious seat had passed a few years ago, but the beard brought all of those feelings of “Maybe I don’t belong here” rushing back. The gate agent shrugged her shoulders, probably assuming I was an artist or filmmaker of some sort, and I proceeded to the next station of awkwardness, TSA security check. I presented my passport and boarding pass and was met with the astute observation, “Hey, you have a beard!” Why yes Mr. TSA Man, I do. My passport photo was taken seven years ago and not only have I gained weight, light grey hair and some fine lines, but I have a beard too. It was at that moment that I got nervous. What if they think I’m hiding something? Complex stories of an art thief on the run or a drug mule trying to deliver the goods to South America began flowing through my imagination. I have seen enough episodes of Locked Up Abroad to know that sometimes bad things happen to good people. I wasn’t thrown into a Federal penitentiary though and I began to think of the transformative effect that a beard has. I had gone from Clark Kent to his evil twin (all evil twins have beards) in a matter of weeks and I kind of liked it.

Things get caught in it – Everyone sees the handsome Hollywood stars sporting dashing beards and excessive stubble and think “Wow! How glamorous!” Well there’s also a dark side to the beard, and that is the ability of things to get stuck in it. Think about it for a moment, men with beards are basically sporting a portable sponge. Just like a sponge, things adhere to it. Messy soups, drinks, dog hair, food products, small birds and other bits of flotsam and jetsam all wind up in that formally dashing beard. While traveling in Antarctica it was particularly annoying, especially since I was sick for part of the time. Think about it for a minute. Got it? Yeah, it’s gross. That makes it necessary to wash one’s beard hopefully on a daily basis. At first applying shampoo to my face was an odd sensation, but it helps; a lot. But when traveling taking care of the beard, ensuring you aren’t wearing something in it you don’t want to is a bit of a hassle and on more than one occasion a kind fellow traveler was nice enough to alert me to bits of foreign matter in my facial hair.

Annoying when you get hot or wet – This may be the number one reason I shave off the beard before summer or traveling to a tropical destination. It’s damn hot. When you sweat, the beard gets disgustingly sweaty, itchy and one starts to feel like a caveman, wiping his upper lip with his arm and shaking his fist at the heavens. The longer the beard, the worse this phenomenon becomes, especially if you get caught in the rain. I was shocked at how much water my beard can sop up. After a shower or being in the water I have to dry my face longer than my hair, an odd sensation if there ever was one. I’ll give it a shot though; I’ll go to one hot and humid location with my beard and if I can survive that without too much bother, then it stays. I shudder to think what it would be like to explore Southeast Asia in the hot season with facial hair though.

No need for razors – Before growing my beard I had to pack enough shaving materials to withstand the need to shave every other day. That is a pain and it frankly adds a lot of toiletries to my bag. I still shave with my beard, but not nearly as much. I only shave certain areas of my face and I only do that once a week. It’s fast, I haven’t had a shaving cut or ingrown hair in four months and I can travel lighter. I do need to make sure that I carry conditioner for my beard though and usually an electric razor so it doesn’t grow out of control. There’s a fine line between a hipster, trendy beard and scary homeless person beard and it can transform quickly. Find and do not cross this line.

Look like a fugitive – To every negative there is a positive, and there is definitely one to the aforementioned fugtivelike appearance. When traveling, a beard creates a certain image and it’s not of a hackney tourist. I felt like an adventurer as the Zodiac boat cut through the icy waters of Antarctica with me in front, bearded adventurer exploring the deepest recesses of the seventh continent. Now in actuality I’m a guy who lives in the DC suburbs who also just happens to love to travel. Bear Grylls I am not. I get cranky if the sheets in my hotel are of a low thread count. But that’s the image the beard portrays. People trust travelers with beards (well not women with beards, but that’s another story). I look like I should be trekking through the jungles of Peru looking for lost civilizations and you know what, I like that. It’s a conceit, without a doubt, an ego booster and a way to feel better about myself but ultimately isn’t’ that what a beard is? It’s a statement. It’s a personal decision to alter one’s appearance, like hair coloring, tattoos or piercings. Yes, it’s egotistical but I don’t care. I like the beard and I like the way I look in it. Sometimes looking like a fugitive isn’t a bad thing at all.

Do you have a beard? Do you know anyone who does? What additional things do you think should be added to this list?

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

23 thoughts on “Ups and Downs of Traveling with a Beard”

  1. I think it suits you! I’ve tried growing a beard before, but the itching was just unbareable after about 10 days of not shaving. I gave in and shaved it off. Travelling without the need for razors would be lovely, though; perhaps a good enough reason to try again…?

  2. Unfortunately I cant really grow a bread. That doesn’t necessarily stop me from trying though. Not that you have a big, long “moonshiner” beard, but have you been in a culture yet where the beard is not commonly accepted or out of place and you get looks from people?

  3. I cant grow a beard….mainly because I am a woman. I think it makes you look more sophisticated. However I think it depends on what you wear as to what the beard makes you look like. Ben Affleck wears a thousand dollar suit and looks very grown up, if he wore trackies and an old t-shirt he probably would look like a homeless bum. One of our famous rugby players Richie Maccaw pulls off stubble really well, have a google (plus hes a bit of alright)

  4. When I first traveled with my beard to Asia in 2008 (for some reason, I got lazy and didn’t shave between Dublin/Budapest and my Asia trip), I got a ton of comments, as I was clean shaven on all my prior trips. Five years later, even after living for three+ years in Taiwan, I haven’t been fully clean shaven since! Was great fun for the years when i was still on my old passport…but now my passport has the goatee in it…not sure what will happen if I ever try to enter a country again on this passport without it!

  5. Beard looks good, Matt. I sported a beard last summer for a while. All was well until I shaved it into a mustache…

  6. I have a beard and spend most of my year in southeast Asia. Oddly enough, it doesn’t bother me. I do have to admit, however, that the main reason I have it is that I hate shaving. Also, it helps me to look my age (I’m in my mid-thirties and sometimes am mistaken for a teenager when I’m clean shaven).

    What I want to know is….. Is that a giant hamburger in the second photo?

  7. My husband had the same problem with his passport, he grew a beard and lost 20 kilos, lol. So last time he took his passport picture he made sure to have his beard in its full glory. One positive about having a beard in Europe is that people always assume he is a national, no matter what country we are in. I am not kidding! It is hilarious!! He has been thought Polish, Hungarian, Italian, and Greek. Clean shaven he is called out as an American every time.

  8. I have had a beard ever since being stopped from shaving for a skin condition during my military service in the 60″s. I would have the same problem if I shaved now as all my passport and Identity documents show the beard. Its great for travelling as it means extra 15 minutes in bed.

  9. I have a full beard and it is getting fuller everyday. One of the joys of travelling with a beard I found are the reactions you get from children in countries where beards are rare or sparse ie. Vietnam. Another advantage is at work where I can give the impression of being deep in thought simply by stroking my beard when in actual fact I am day dreaming about something completely unwork related. I do get pretty tired of being called a Taliban. Keep on travelling and sharing your adventures.

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