The Definitive Amsterdam English Bookstore Book Tour

Looking for English books in Amsterdam? You’ve come to the right place. As someone who loves 1) books, 2) a bargain, and 3) giving unsolicited advice, I’ve combined all three, and put together the Definitive Amsterdam English Bookstore Book tour.

What is this Definitive Amsterdam English Bookstore Book Tour? The Definitive Amsterdam English Bookstore Book Tour (DAEBB, for short) includes a selection of the best English bookstores in Amsterdam. What makes them the best? The places that made this list each offer a different type of book, with a different environment, varying price points, and are all within a short radius of each other in the center – for ease of access. Plus, I’ve highlighted pit stops on the way so that you can keep up your caffeine and sugar levels in between.

What makes this book tour “definitive”? Easy: it’s got everything you’d ever need in a walking book tour:

  • Walkable
  • Picturesque
  • With various price points, putting the most affordable reads first
  • Much-needed pastry breaks

Here is the route to take if you want to get as many English books as possible, accompanied by well-timed snack breaks along the way.

Starting secondhand: The Book Exchange – Used English Books

The Book Exchange – Used English Books, Kloveniersburgwal 58

The Book Exchange – Used English Books is the perfect starting point to your book tour for several reasons:

  1. You can unload your old books, trading them in for cash or store credit. They don’t take in all English books, as it depends on if they think it will sell. But, you can always head to their site, where you can send them a picture of the book spines, where they’ll tell you in advance which ones they’ll take in.
  2. It’s got the largest selection of secondhand English books on the European continent. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a popular title or something more obscure – they’ll have options for both.
  3. Out of all of the stores in this tour, this one is the cheapest. You can satisfy that book-buying urge with little financial guilt, from the get-go.

The space itself is a book-lovers dream, with three floors and a basement filled top-to-bottom with titles of all kinds. You could spend hours rummaging around, enveloped by the smell of well-worn books. As should be a requirement in any good secondhand bookstore, the staff are characters in their own right and know their stuff.

Oh, and if you’re a sci-fi or fantasy buff, head straight to the basement. Their sci-fi and fantasy selection is incredible – from the usual big names to obscure, D-list titles, with amazingly cheesy covers.

Indepent bookstore for activists of all types: Fort van Sjakoo

Fort van Sjakoo, Jodenbreestraat 24

Exiting The Book Exchange, you’ll head straight on to Waterloopplein, where you’ll find the independent bookstore, Fort van Sjakoo.

Here, there’s a different kind of book selection, available mainly in English and Dutch. The titles sold at Fort van Sjakoo are more political and radical than what you’ll find at your average bookstore. Now legitimized, this store has its roots as an unofficial bookstore in a squatted building. You’ll find titles about climate action, anti-racism, communism, anti-fascism, and everything in between.

If you’re trying to steer away from mainstream literature and towards more critical political ideology, it’s worth a visit.

For the ones looking for that diamond in the rough: Oudemanhuispoort

Oudemanhuispoort, Oudemanhuispoort

Leaving Fort van Sjakoo behind, we’re retracing our steps, crossing familiar canals, and going back towards the center, through the Oudemanhuispoort passage.

Cheap, second-hand books have been sold at stalls of Oudemanhuispoort – now owned by the University of Amsterdam – since the 18th century. Van Gogh himself used to frequent these booths, having documented his purchases at the time.

Nowadays, you can find a selection of books in English, Dutch, and occasionally other languages. While less curated and organized than the other options on the list, for those with enough patience, it’s worth perusing the selection available. For those without, you should at least walk through and experience a bit of Amsterdam’s history.

Snack break: De Laatste Kruimel

De Laatste Kruimel, Langebrugsteeg 4

Time for a snack break.

On your way to the next stop, there will be a bakery called De Laatste Kruimel, tempting you with baked goods in the window. Do not resist the temptation and go in.

Doesn’t matter if you’re more into sweet or savory, there’s something for everyone: scones, quiches, cakes, pies, and croissants. Grab whatever it is you’re craving, get a coffee, and get ready to head to the next stop.

Cheap, popular titles: New English Bookstore

New English Bookstore, Kalverstraat 223

The New English Bookstore won’t be the most exciting or unique when it comes to its charm or selection, but it is reliable and well-priced. Consider it the Subway of bookstores – nothing to write home about, but you know what you’re getting each time, and there are way worse options.

This store’s specialty is cheap classics and popular books – think around the 5-11 euro range for your Orwells or Austens. It’s nothing too fancy, but a good place to stock up on the basics before you move on to the next store.

More secondhand books: Boekhandel De Slegte

De Slegte, Vijzelstraat 53

A secondhand bookstore that has good options for the Dutchies, too.

I’d skip their English fiction section. Most of what they have on offer, you’ll find at the other stores on this list. Instead, if you’re interested in a specific genre (i.e. history, business, psychology, etc.), you’ll find some gems in English interspersed among the Dutch titles.

Their art, fashion, and design books are the best of the bunch. If you’re looking for a good deal on the usually prohibitively-priced coffee-table books, you’ll find them here. Personal anecdote time: only last week, I bought a great foundational art book that’s been out of print for years, going for 120+ euros online, for only 30 in-store.

Time for a cheeky cocktail with a view: Blue Amsterdam

Blue Amsterdam, Winkelcentrum Kalverpassage, Singel 457

Your feet might be a bit sore at this point, and your bags are probably heavier than when you started, so it’s time to sit down and enjoy a drink at Blue Amsterdam.

If you walk up the busy Kalverstraaat – the shopping street of Amsterdam – and into the Kalverpassage mall, take the elevator all the way to the top, and you’ll be at Blue. They’ve got an assortment of bites to eat if you’re feeling peckish, and some cocktails too, if you’re feeling cheeky. Most importantly, they’ve got a panoramic view of the city that’s all yours to enjoy.

So sit down, have a drink, and enjoy the view, before moving on to the next one.

Ol’ Faithful: The American Book Center

The American Book Center, Spui 12

At this point, you’d think you’ve seen everything there is to see, but that’s where you’d be wrong. If there’s a bookstore in Amsterdam that has that one trendy book that you haven’t been able to find anywhere, it’ll be at the American Book Center.

The American Book Center (also known as ABC), feels like it has every book, on every topic you’d think of. Music biographies, art, fashion, fiction of all types, graphic novels, business, self-help… everything. They always have a selection of recommended books by the store, including a wall of “what we’re reading” that gives it that personal touch.

The American Book Center was the first English-only bookstore I’d been to in Europe since I moved from the US. It holds a special place in my heart, which is why I recommend it over Waterstones, which is just opposite, closer to the Kalverstraat. You can go there too, but in my totally subjective opinion, ABC has a better selection

Bonus round on Fridays: Book market

Amsterdam Book Market, Spui

If you’re still on the prowl for more, follow this route on Fridays. Every Friday, from 10:00 to 18:00, there’s a book market right in front of American Book Center and Waterstones, on Spui square.

People will be selling new and secondhand books, and even art prints, for those more artistically-inclined. It’s a fun bonus round of buying if you catch it at the right time.

Now hobble on home, and get ready to curl up with your new selection.

Thank you for joining Livelong’s Definitive Amsterdam English Bookstore Book Tour. Please don’t forget to leave us a scathing review on Yelp (we live for the drama) and be sure to pick up a typo-riddled t-shirt written in Comic Sans at the gift shop on your way out!

Oh, and here’s the Google Maps route if you want to give it a go.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every Sunday/Monday where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

How To Read 100 Books In A Year (From Someone Not Organized Or Good At Finishing Things)

If there’s something I hate, it’s book snobs.

You know the ones.

The ones who give you 75 quotes on why every successful person on the planet reads 5 books every day so you should be doing it too. The ones who put reading books on a pedestal of “the ultimate, bestest way to consume information and improve yourself/your life”.

I love books and reading is an important part in my life, but I feel like people forget that reading should be accessible and easy and fun.

While sure, reading can make you more productive or intelligent or more empathetic or a more interesting person, it doesn’t have to be the end goal. I read because it’s fun. And you should too.

Because I wanted to get back into enjoying reading as much as I did when I was a kid, I’ve been setting reading challenges for myself. After two successful reading challenges in the last couple years, I’m finally on track to conquering 100 books for this year.

There’s a lot of advice out there online, but most of it seems to be for the more organized, hustle-culture, productivity-booster type of individual. I do not count myself among those. I’m more of a loosey-goosey, absent-minded, eccentric-art-teacher, later-in-life-diagnosed-ADHD kind of type.

And here’s what worked for me.

Start small.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’ve heard it all before: don’t run until you can walk, don’t bite off more than you can chew, slow and steady wins the race, ad nauseam. It’s cliche, but in this case, it’s cliche for a reason. Of course it’s exciting to set your first reading target to be 100 in a year. It’s an impressive number, but it can be overwhelming if you’re not already in the habit of reading regularly.

If you’re starting off setting a reading challenge, have it be relative to your starting position. For me, I started with 25, then 52, and this year 100, because that’s what felt feasible.

Build up to it. As you see your want-to-read list grow, you’ll also be motivated to take on more next time.

Prioritize reading

There’s no getting around it, you have to make reading a priority. Expect to significantly cut down on watching shows, movies, or spending time on social media.

It’s necessary to be mindful of what you’re reading when building in the habit to go for a book instead of… anything else. If you use other forms of media to unwind, don’t try to immediately replace them with books on gender or quantum theory. Try to go for something that you could see as being equally as entertaining.

Basically: you’ll have to get off that darn phone, but feel free to replace mindless scrolling with mindless fluff books if that’s your jam. Just make it a switch you look forward to.

Read what you like (and what you think you might like)

Start off by reading what you like.  

If you’re not sure what you like because it’s been some time since you picked up a book or are deciding to start for the first time, this is where you brainstorm.

If you’re already a reader, go back to your old favorites and start there. If you’re not, there will be genres and topics you find interesting in other forms of media that you can carry over into the books you choose.

I love comedy, but never read funny books when I was younger. One of the first things I did when starting my first reading challenge was look up “funniest books” and tick off a bunch on that list. Even if your niche is “bleak Scandinavian detective shows”, there will usually be a literary equivalent.

Feel free to start exploring topics you’ve always wanted to know more about. I do enjoy non-fiction (despite what it may seem like from my tips), but only in very specific topics like illustration, gender theory, autobiographies, or marketing and communications – because I can apply the last one to my regular job.

If you suspect there might be a topic you could enjoy, add that to the list.

Do your research

What do I mean by the list?

The list will be the place where you put everything you want to read. This can include anything from:

  • Book recommendations from friends
  • Book recommendations from influential people you respect
  • Books you’ve been wanting to read for a while
  • Genres you want to explore
  • Specific authors you enjoy and want to know more on
  • People you find inspiring/interesting who you’d like to read about
  • Topics related to professional development (your job, industry, productivity tips)
  • Topics related to personal development (hobbies, self-actualization, philosophy)
  • Anything and everything you could think about that you’d like to spend time on.

The list will be essential in meeting your reading goals.

Now that you’ve given some thought into what you’d like to read, jot them down. Organize it however works best for you – through Excel or through an automated platform.

Sometimes one of the biggest problems with reading is wondering what you’re in the mood to read. Take the guess work and mental strain out of figuring that out and just use your list as your go-to.

Automate keeping track of what you’re reading

If you’re not on Goodreads already, get on it. And for those who don’t want to support Amazon (Goodreads is owned by Amazon, in case you didn’t already know), StoryGraph provides a great alternative that gives you even more data on your books, like mood, average length, and difficulty.

Either of these platforms will give you a great place to input what you’re reading, let you set a reading goal, tell you if you’re on track with it, and a place to dump your want-to-read list. Plus, you can categorize and rate each book, which will lead to more book recommendations.

If you’re looking to switch over to StoryGraph, you can even export your Goodreads data into StoryGraph so you don’t have to manually input everything.

Physical books, tablets, and e-readers, oh my!

You don’t have to stick to physical books during the entire challenge. If you want to save money and space, combine them with a tablet and/or e-reader.

Having several devices for reading is beneficial because each has their own benefit:

  • Physical books can be great to read at home, especially if you’re reading before bed.
  • Physical books are easier to read if you’re prone to getting distracted.
  • E-books are cheaper and take up less space than physical books.
  • E-book libraries are much more accessible than physical libraries since you don’t have to worry about physically returning anything.
  • If you’re traveling, an e-reader or tablet is more practical than carrying around books. Plus, if you get bored with your current read, you’ll have many more available.

Not limiting yourself to one medium means that you can read whenever works for you. Yes, this means you can still have screen time and read at night and sacrifice your sleep. We’re focusing on how to read more. If you’re already going to stay up late, you might as well replace your phone or TV time with a book.

VARIATION. IS. KEY.

Don’t stick to just one genre or author. Combine short books with long ones. Switch up difficulty levels: combine dense novels with easy breezy reads. Go for fiction and then non-fiction.

Read several books at the same time so you can hop between them in case you get stuck on one and don’t be scared to keep on turning to the list and mixing things up.

If you’re not easily bored, you can skip this one. But, if you’re like me, keeping things varied will make sure you don’t feel stagnant. Following up a marketing book with a graphic novel may seem odd to some, but it can help keep the challenge exciting.  

Variation keeps things fresh.

Keep a mini-library

Make sure you’ve got a pile of books ready to be picked up. This goes for both physical and digital copies.

It’s almost inevitable that you’ll reach point where you don’t know what to read and you want to make it as easy for yourself as possible. If you have pre-selected options to choose from based on the list you made, you’ll be more likely to keep going.

If you’re feeling stuck, going out to buy a new book could be an extra mental hurdle that leads to procrastination. If it’s already there, you’ll be less likely to resist the idea of starting a new book because it’s glaring back at you to read it.

So keep your e-reader stocked with options and stop vilifying the unread stack of books piling on dust in your house by using and replenishing it.

It’s more than fine if you fall behind

I’ve already professed how great I think Goodreads is, but I must admit that sometimes it’s a love-hate relationship. Goodreads will let you know if you’re on track for your reading challenge. And it feels great when you’re ahead.

But when it shows you that you’re four books behind (like I currently am at the moment of writing) it can be a teensy bit anxiety-inducing. I want to read and achieve the goal of 100 books, but I know if I panic, I’ll end up procrastinating.

Then I remind myself that I set this goal for myself and no one else and that the whole point is to have fun with it. And I also know this has happened before and I can catch up – I just have to prioritize reading a bit more for the next couple of weeks.

Remember: this is for you and it’s really all about reading more, not about hitting that magical number 100. Don’t stress if you’re behind. Enjoy the journey and read as much as you can.

Part of what led me to challenging myself to read more were some key encounters with old friends. Right when I’d resigned myself to reading less (the motivation wasn’t there anymore) quite a few people in my past started bringing up the fact that they became interested in reading because of how voraciously I read.

The reasons why? Up until then 1) they didn’t realize that reading being fun was an option and 2) they thought to be an avid reader you needed to be on some higher level of self-improvement, or some intellectual path.

That’s really what it took to get the fire going again. A reminder from some old friends of something I’d almost forgotten: reading should be fun and accessible.

If you want to know what didn’t work for my disorganized brain, head here.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every Sunday/Monday where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

Europe Has Bad Food Too: Rating Sad Meals I’ve Had Across Europe (And What You Should Eat Instead)

For three years, a combination of circumstances led me to the least glamorous job with a seemingly infinite budget for food, allowing me to eat my way, for free, across Europe. Some of these meals were so bad, that the memory still incites anger to this day.

While there have been many good meals, time and location constraints sometimes meant godawful food due to limited options. The job itself already sucked ass and we took a lot of abuse from people on the daily, so food was the highlight of the day. A lot of times, the only place open that was still serving food plain sucked and it would crush your soul just enough so that for a moment you reconsidered all the choices in your life that led up to that exact moment.

We’re reliving the worst of the worst. By worst I don’t mean fast food or anything in that vein – I love trash food, as long as it’s not a sad meal. Anything from molecular gastronomy to a home-cooked meal to chain restaurants to regular ol’ fast food (if the timing’s right) is all good by me. What we’re talking about today is a sad meal, with 1 being “I might have just ordered wrong” and 5 being “I definitely shed at least a couple tears after eating this because it was so sad”.

Sad meal: a meal that made me sad to eat. A meal I wish I could go back in time and un-eat because the meal brought me nothing but emotional tragedy.

Madrid

Spain is a country I know intimately. I spent 7 of my formative years there and go back at least twice a year to visit family. I used to love Spain unconditionally, until working there, because we always ended up with the worst of luck. Madrid in particular has been the culprit of many sad meals.

The most memorable of the bunch was when my team had a late-night dinner at VIPS – a Spanish fast food burger joint. We rushed to VIPS, hoping for a reliable meal option after finishing off almost two weeks of non-stop 11+ hours-a-day work.

VIPS did not say they were closing and that we were about to be kicked out at as soon as we received our order.

We sat outside their steps on the sidewalk to finish our meal. Somehow, they managed to burn both the burger and bun on each of our burgers, while simultaneously serving cold fries. To set the mood, I played sad off-tune Titanic flute music from my phone while we ate and said goodbye to a terrible stint in Spain with a too-fitting meal.

Rating: 4/5 burnt burger buns.

What you should eat instead: go to a local cerveceria and get tapas. The name is deceiving (they serve much more than beer) and you can find some gems. Avoid food near the main tourist places and go one or two side-streets down.

Alternatively, try a Latino restaurant! Madrid has many good Latino restaurants – anywhere from Mexican, to Colombian, to Venezuelan, they’ve got most of it.

Lannion

Lannion is a beautiful seaside city in Bretagne that does fish very well. We ordered the seafood platter for four people, for three of us. During the meal, the seafood platter did not feel like a mistake. It was all the oysters and shrimp and crab legs and sea snails a human could eat. This particular seafood platter – a four tier tower – had every mollusc and crustacean you could imagine. It was a decadent and well-deserved treat for an overworked bunch.

The seafood platter became a mistake that same night. And the day after. And the day after that. And even a few more after.

Whatever joy we had during that meal was ripped away the following days. It turns out four tiers of all the seafood you could imagine is a terrible idea for your gut. This became evident once my colleague and I spent the next days passing the keys to the bathroom to each other like you’re passing a baton in a relay race.

Rating: 0/5 during dinner; 5/5 for the 5 days following.

What you should eat instead: get a plate or two of fresh seafood, but don’t get a platter. Your insides will thank you.

Lisbon

I’ve always been reluctant to call someone useless. Up until recently, I thought everyone had their purpose in the workforce – even if it’s just because they’re fun to be around.

This was until I met useless Michael.

No one understood how useless Michael had gotten assigned to one of the most labor-intensive, headache-inducing, prestigious projects available to his department. All we knew is that one day there was no useless Michael, and the next day there was.

One incident with useless Michael that will forever stay with me was during a tech summit where we were receiving over 1,500 guests a day, from 8 to 19 – 7PM for the Americans. Useless Michael was meant to cover me and my colleague whenever we needed our breaks (usually only a half-hour lunch). Useless Michael decided to disappear the entire first day of the event.

Seeing that he was nowhere to be found, my colleague and I went for lunch regardless, getting a burrito somewhere in the venue. Because no one was attending our parts of the exhibit, our Portuguese contact complained to us and to him about him not taking over during lunch. They specifically clarified that my colleague and I needed our half-hour lunch break and that he promised the stand would always be attended, so he should not disappear.

Instead of taking over the Herculean task of working for one whole hour, useless Michael volunteered to pick up lunch. This way, we could have a quarter-hour lunch break instead, because according to him, ordering lunch took the other fifteen. Because he’d already proven to be of little help, we agreed in order to save us a headache or two.

The next day he comes in with three large pizzas from Pizza Hut. Of these three pizzas, there’s a cheese, a shrimp and corn pizza, and a canned tuna pizza. He proceeded to eat most of the cheese and leave the other two abominations to the human palate for the rest of us, hurrying us in the process.

Not only were they the worst flavor of pizzas from the worst place, but they were crumpled. He complained that the people working at Pizza Hut must be idiots. We almost believed him until the next day, when we saw him walking in with the pizza being carried vertically in a plastic bag.

Turns out, Useless Michael not only couldn’t choose pizza properly but he also carried it in a way only someone completely unhinged and disconnected from the world would.

Rating: 6/5 sideways pizza boxes.

What you should eat instead: Lisbon has a surprisingly good Chinese restaurant, The Old House, near where the tech summit was hosted. It can be pricey, so skip sad lunch and just have a big dinner there.

Toulouse (en route)

A common rule of thumb when choosing a good place to eat is that pictures on menus indicate a low quality restaurant. While I no longer agree that this is entirely true, I wish I would have followed this on my train ride to Toulouse.

Already not feeling the freshest because of a bad hangover, I chose to eat a burger to settle my stomach. The burger in the picture already looked sad enough – like someone took a blurry iPhone 4 picture of a McDonald’s burger. But the reality was so much worse.

The burger that I received had 0 vegetables – yet still reeked of onions. The buns were stale, the burger patty looked (and tasted) like a hockey puck, and was microwaved right in front of my very eyes. In my self-induced dehydrated and overemotional state, I was very close to crying when I saw it.

Not only was it offensive to consume, it was physically offensive to my body as well. The second the last bite of this burger hit my stomach, it set off a bomb I was ill-equipped for. That train ride felt eternal.

Rating: 5/5 microwaves.

What you should eat instead: buy yourself a good French sandwich at whichever station you’re departing from – jambon beurre (ham and butter) is my personal preference and a delicious, but safe choice. Avoid train food at all costs. It’s like airplane food, only without the excuse of changes in air pressure making things taste worse.

Romania (somewhere on the road)

Romania is a country that exceeded my expectations when it comes to food. Despite having Romanian friends, no one had ever touted Romania as being a killer place to eat (which it is)

One typical Romanian delicacy that I tried is a small sausage called mici (pronounced meetchee) or mititsei. We stumbled upon it during a roadtrip that spanned 5 Romanian cities. Romania has two main highways, with the rest being mountain road, so getting from one place to the other means a lot of meandering through the Romanian countryside.

During one of these meanderings, we started smelling the distinct odour of grilled meat. There were no establishments in view where this grilled meat could be made. The grilled meat mystery was solved a few minutes later where a whole stretch of street vendors selling fruits, vegetables, Romanian plum-based moonshine (tsuica), grilled meats, and most importantly, mici, came out of seemingly nowhere.

Mici is amazing. A small sausage that’s packed with flavor and super super super affordable. We picked up the mici with some tsuica and left very content.

We became less content once, one by one, we got the meat burps. The smell of the gas that came out should be classified as a biohazard – especially in enclosed places. Considering we still had 5 hours to go on our roadtrip, a “no mici if there is driving” rule was implemented from that stretch of the trip onward.

Rating: 1.5/5 unlabeled tsuica bottles.

What you should eat instead: pick up some roadside mici!!!! It’s delicious!!!! Just don’t stay in an enclosed location with anyone who’s eaten it. If for whatever reason you want to avoid the mici meat burps, the best steaks of my life were eaten in Romania. They know how to cook meat well and, compared to Western Europe, it’s affordable.

Lyon

Fun fact about Lyon: Lyon is considered the food capital of France and one of the food capitals in the world. Knowing this, I somehow managed to fuck up our experience in Lyon so much I had the worst meals of my life there.

Let’s start with the worst pizza I’ve ever had.

My team and I had arrived late at night at this parking lot, ready to set up for the next day’s event. Working on almost no sleep, but still in high spirits, we ordered the only option available in this industrial area telecom parking lot: pizza. The pizza took an hour and a half to get to us, and our French/Chinese contact had to argue on the phone with the delivery driver for it to even get to us at all.

The taste was subpar, but not offensive. What was offensive is what it did to my stomach. I never knew a pizza could double as a laxative until we ordered this one. To this day, I’m convinced that because of whatever argument was happening on the phone with our contact, they might have added something to that pizza to do what it did to us.

The second worst meal of my life was in another parking lot in Lyon, the day after.

After the terrible pizza of the night before, I held out for a good dinner the day after. This did not happen. A series of unfortunate events led to everyone in the team being too drunk on gin to realize that restaurants had closed and our only option was now takeaway. Once we noticed, we ordered doner and ate ravenously in the hotel parking lot.

The circumstances of being in the best European food city, drunk on an empty stomach, and having the saddest of sad meals – this time self-induced – was emotionally too much to handle and I might have cried when half my doner fell to the floor while eating it.

Rating: 7/5 sad sad tears of a clown

What you should eat instead: Anything else in Lyon. Please.

Sad meals are usually avoidable. It’s part of what makes them so sad.

Picking a good place to eat in a country you don’t know is an art in itself. It’s a good skill to hone and one that I think I’m pretty good at (if anyone wants tips on that, leave a comment and I’ll share them). But every once in a while I get reminded that really, you can’t win all the time.

And when that happens, and I’m staring down a sad meal, I try to hold on to the fact that at least most of the time, I nail it.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every Sunday where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

5 Lessons I’ve Learned From 26 Years Of Bad Hair Makeovers

I was not blessed with hair that naturally cascades and shines like that of a heroine in a cheap fantasy smut novel. If left unattended, my hair is somewhere between Hagrid, Hermione, a 1970s teenage skater boy, and Cousin Itt. There’s a lot of it, it’s thin, fragile, and has been described before as “very stubborn”. Pair that with the fact that I am extremely lazy when it comes to any sort of styling, and this has left me heavily reliant on a good hair stylist to make my coif suitable for the public eye.

This epiphany came courtesy of my last three haircuts, where saying “I really like it” at the end was no longer a bald-faced lie. I bit the bullet and paid for a salon-level haircut and have decided I am never looking back.

To avoid the same mistakes I’ve done, here’s a list of the things I’ve learned over the past 26(ish) years of bad haircuts. Avoid these if you can.

1. If you’re going through a major life change, bangs will not solve the problem

Ahhhhh bangs. It’s common knowledge at this point that if your friend abruptly decides to get bangs, the only kind thing to do is ask her over for a glass of wine to figure out what is going wrong with her life. Bangs are a simple way to change up your whole look that requires minimal commitment. Bangs also do not look good on everyone.

Instead of coming out a new person completely – be it quirky and cute like 2010s Zoey Deschanel or disheveled but sultry like 1960s Brigitte Bardot – you’ll end up with a high-maintenance style you’ll love for exactly the one day the salon styled it for you. You’ll then loathe them each morning when they decide to defy gravity. Somehow they’ll either be too poofy and thick or too greasy and you’ll have to deal with that awkward growing out phase, with the added bonus of acne now erupting on your forehead.

Plus, you’ve still have been ghosted by that douche who was definitely way below your standards already. Only now everyone knows it.

2. If you’re going to go blonde, do it right or don’t do it at all.

Although we’d like to think we’re past the times where blondes were seen as the sexy, fun alternative to the dowdy, serious brunette, if you’re not already blonde, there will reach a point in your life where you will ask yourself “do blondes really have more fun?”. Once this starts, it’s over. Despite all the hair coloring apps and filters in the world showing you that you shouldn’t do it, you’ll still be wondering if you’re not reaching your full potential by being blonde.

But going blonde is a commitment. If you’re going blonde, there are a few things you’ll need to keep in mind – it’s one of those things that’s worth doing it right.

  • If you’re starting off really dark, do not do it all in one 6-hour session. Not spreading out the sessions will help you hair not only look like straw by the end of it, but feel like it too.
  • Be aware of upkeep and TONE IT so you don’t end up with piss yellow hair. No one has ever crooned over “your beautiful piss yellow hair”.
  • Be willing to pay up. Don’t try to skimp on this. If you’re taking up hours and hours of someone’s time and you want them to do it right, pay them for it.

Maybe the reason we revere peroxide blondes is the same reason heavily tattooed people can be so hot: nothing says mating potential like showing off you have large amounts of patience, pain tolerance, and disposable income.

3. Pitch black hair only looks good on a very very very select group of people

At the opposite end of the spectrum of going blonde, we have going pitch-black. Maybe not as popular a choice, but definitely one that will pop up if you’re light-skinned with light eyes, because somethingsomething high contrast. Pitch black hair has a few advantages over blonde. It’s easier and faster to DIY, it gives you that big makeover moment, and it can look striking.

What nobody tells you is that there is no way to dye it any other color afterward. Your hair might lighten a bit, but it will stay dark for a ridiculously long amount of time. Enough time that if you don’t like it, you’ll end up absolutely hating it. If you’re pale, it can wash you out and highlight every blemish and sign of hyperpigmentation under the sun. If your hair is prone to frizz, oh wow will it look fuzzy and fried. Because nothing says good hair like emulating a Brillo pad.

Try dark brown instead: it lightens up quicker if you don’t like it, while still giving a similar look. With the added bonus of not making you feel like either a Russian spy or Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way. Unless that’s the vibe you’re going for.

4. Dyeing your hair at home is actually fine (depending on your end goal)

Some people will tell you that you should never use box dye and that your hair will be irreparable if you do and to only let a professional dye it and yadayadayada. Do not listen to these people. Also stop hanging out with those people too, because they sound really boring.

One of the thrills in life is sitting on the bathroom floor with a glass of cheap wine, waiting for the dye you just haphazardly massaged onto your scalp to finally settle in. And if you can get a friend involved in the process? Boom, that friendship will last as long as those splotchy stains in your sink: forever.

Unfortunately, you need to be realistic. If you want to go from black to blonde with just a bottle of at-home peroxide, it’s not going to happen (see: blonde misadventures above). If you want highlights or to give yourself one of those multi-tiered bright color dyes, you’ll likely be highly disappointed.

But if all you’re looking for is to go slightly darker or a little more red or to dip dye your ends? Just do it. The worst that’ll happen is it’ll be a bit patchy and you can always buy more dye.

5. Don’t (!!!!!) go back to the same hairdresser who never fully gets your hair right

The reason I have trust issues can be directly traced back to the fact that my mother has always insisted that my aunt is a good hairdresser. Which is true if you’re not related to her, but when it comes to doing my family’s hair, it’s not exactly true either. She was my hairdresser growing up because she was cheap, easily available, and meant to understand my hair type. She was also a fan of experimenting without consulting us and prone to spacing out when dishing the dirt about the latest dramas.

Highlights of the capillary torture she’s put the family through include: misreading labels and dyeing half of her sister’s hair pitch black and the other bleach blonde because she was stressed gossiping about an affair. Giving my risk-averse oldest sister a mullet. Giving the entire family bangs and only realizing at the end that our hair type was very different from the model with thin, pin-straight hair. Dying my hair pitch black when I’d asked for dark brown because she thought it would “make my eyes look beautiful”… right after she’d had a lengthy conversation with my mother about not dyeing my hair pitch black.

While this wonderful woman would never do any of these things to her non-related clients, she kept on doing it to us and we kept on paying her for it. This leads me to my final recommendation: if your hairdresser just can’t get it right and won’t listen to you, go somewhere else. Even if she’s the cheapest. Even if she’s family. Even if you’ll have to make up a new excuse every time she asks to do your hair when she sees you.

Here’s the thing about hair: generally speaking, it grows back. Unless you’re suffering from a serious condition like male pattern baldness (my condolences), it will grow back.

So get bangs, dye it box blonde in your bathroom, or do any of the things I said you shouldn’t. Because everyone’s hair is different, so what works for me may not work for you.

Except for the bad stylist thing. Ditch them. You deserve better.