How To Travel To 21 Countries In One Year — Life Lessons From The Nomad Barber
The first years of school are not only about writing, reading and arithmetic — it’s also the time when we start thinking about what our future careers might be. I clearly remember the day in class that our teacher introduced the concept of choosing a job to us. The idea that we got to choose was a revelation for six-year-olds, and we wasted no time. The most glamorous jobs, like astronaut, footballer and chef, were chosen by classmates in a heartbeat, but I took a more strategic approach: What did I really want to do? Explore the world! And what profession would let me do that? At that time, my answer — as absurd as it may seem — was horse tamer (a fancy word for “cowboy”). You might laugh, but if I had said barber, it probably would have sounded just as strange, wouldn’t it? Well, we’ve met someone who has done exactly that.
Childhood Dreams Don’t Age
Miguel is a 29-year-old entrepreneur from Liverpool, England. Miguel is also known as the Nomad Barber, a traveling shave virtuoso who has a web series documenting his worldwide adventures. When I first came across one of Miguel’s Nomad Barber videos on Youtube, I was excited and inspired. Here was a true pioneer, a person living an unusual and adventurous life — a life worth living! He had the courage to make decisions that might seem crazy to others. I knew I had to meet him.
Just like a true nomad, Miguel spends most of his days on the road; when we had our first skype call, I caught him between flights. So imagine my excitement when I realized that one of the towns he keeps coming back to is Berlin! I walked to the canal area in Neukölln and found his barbershop to be one of the most beautifully furnished subterranean spaces I’ve seen. Miguel has created a traditional high quality barbershop decorated with souvenirs from all over the world. Not only does his space feature shelves full of exotic shaving and hair products (best gift inspirations!), but also (oh happy me!) one of the best barista coffees in the neighborhood. At his self-made bar, Miguel and I sat down with coffees in front of us and the smell of spicy aromas in the air. I was excited to learn more about his story and trace the roots of his success.
Searching for Something Beyond Ordinary
Miguel was drawn to barbershops from an early age. His fascination startled me at first. In my own narrow mind, barbershops are for two things: close shaves and straightforward haircuts. However, in Miguel’s mind, barbershops have a much more crucial function: They manifest local culture and provide a safe haven for multiple generations of men from every part of the community. He has seen a granddad take his son and grandson along and introduce them to the ritual. He has heard the stories men tell each other about their personal struggles — as if the barber was a priest and the shave was a confession. Your experiences might have taught you that people connect with each other through food or music, but for Miguel, the art of a good shave enables connection and communication. So he decided to master it.
Years later, Miguel — now a practicing Barber in his hometown of Liverpool in Northern England — was giving a 90-year-old customer a shave, when the man hit him with a startling fact. The customer proudly boasted that he had never been outside of Liverpool in his entire life. Confronted with an example of such a narrow view of the world, Miguel decided then and there that he needed to travel outside of the U.K. before it was too late. He put his good job on a hold, despite the advice from some friends, and booked the next flight to the country of his father’s birth, Chile. His dad had to flee Pinochet’s military dictatorship before Miguel was born, but now it was time for Miguel to explore the country by himself.
Overcoming Fears and Uncertainties
Landed in Santiago, the town his family is from, Miguel’s journey led him quickly to a familiar place: a barbershop. At the time, Miguel only spoke a few words Spanish. “Sometimes I felt shy or intimidated to go to places I’ve never been,” he tells me with a laugh. Part of that uncertainty was not knowing a language well enough. Reading vocabulary as preparation was not the same as actually using the words in real life. But those doubts were quickly forgotten once Miguel started engaging with local people. “In the end,” Miguel advises, “you just kind of have to force yourself. Just do it.” Going to Chile and embracing the language and culture of his heritage was only the beginning of the journey. In the following year, Miguel travelled to 21 countries and documented his encounters with fellow barbers in his web series, Nomad Barber.
Even though Miguel wasn’t fluently speaking the language of any of the places he traveled to, he picked up enough words to get invited into local barbershops. How did he do it? “I’ve always found that children are the best mediators,” Miguel explains. “Kids all over the world are raised with English television shows. They have learned the English language at school and their interests lay mostly in the Western world. So speaking to kids and convincing them to translate for me was an easy way to start interacting with adults, too.” In all the different places he has been to, Miguel was always looking for the local community that assembles at the barbershop. Who were these people exchanging their stories over beard trimmings and haircuts? Finding the answer to that question would become the unique way for Miguel to combine his profession with his passion for travel.
Fueling Your Inspiration
Miguel’s web series took off to become an entertaining travelogue, an archive of foreign languages and a glimpse of how one trade can be practiced differently around the world. Among the many videos that Miguel made of his trips are fascinating encounters like this one with Baba in Pushkar, India:
One of Miguel’s most emotional journeys led him to Calais — a refugee camp in the so-called “jungle,” to be precise. Inspired by his father’s migration experience, Miguel wanted to get to know the people whose destiny was so controversial in the news. As his dad once told him about his own flight from Chile, “nothing would have felt better than someone offering a haircut, making me feel a little bit better about myself.” With scissors and blades on hand, Miguel was determined to connect with the residents of the jungle by offering the service his dad didn’t get.
Living a Cosmopolitan Life
Between his travels, Miguel started his own business in London, called (what else?) Nomad Barber. With his barbershop quickly becoming a local success, it attracted both female and male barbers to work there as well as customers of all ages. Miguel continued to use his free time to travel. It was during a trip to Berlin that he observed the lack of a diverse local barber scene. For him, this was a unique opportunity. He rented out a space and decided to expand the local variety by offering his specialty: a classical British shave. Yet again, Miguel integrated into the local culture to grow a team and establish a loyal community around his barbershop in Neukölln.
So far in my life, I’ve never had a shave. And, let’s be frank, chances are I won’t need to get one. So why do I still find Miguel’s story so inspiring? The two main reasons, I believe, are his adventurousness and his entrepreneurship. We all share this childhood dream of exploring the world. And then, reality bites — our job or family gets in the way. Or so we think. Miguel shows us that there is always a creative way to make your passion central to your everyday life. He also shows that making the effort to interact with people puts any initial communication struggles into perspective.
There are as many keys to unlock the world as there are languages to speak. Do you remember where you have always wished to travel to? Today, exploring the world is no longer a privilege reserved for the elite. Travel has become affordable, and even democratic in a way. But becoming a traveler — in contrast to being a tourist — is a lifestyle decision. It’s not just about relaxing on a foreign beach for a week. You have to be ready for a different kind of commitment: Are you ready to immerse yourself in a foreign culture? Are you curious to experience unforeseen encounters? Are you willing to try your first words in a language you haven’t spoken before?
If you are like me, you’ll answer yes! to these questions in a heartbeat. Explore the world — and the next time you sit in a hairdresser’s chair, make sure to tell your story.