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There’s something about traveling to a new place and experiencing new things that makes us feel alive.
There is excitement on the morning horizon and adventure in the night.
It’s easy to get swept up in a moment on vacation; it’s easy to lose ourselves as we discover new opportunities. It’s also in our nature to try to capture the moments we spend on these journeys.
We take pictures, write postcards and buy souvenirs to try to hold on to what we’re seeing and feeling. In some cases, it may seem like the best way to prolong the experience is to do something permanent and life changing…
Like getting a tattoo.
When it comes to travel tattoos though it’s a roll of the dice. Either you come up a winner with something you’re happy with forever, or go home with something you wish you could leave behind.
The Pros of getting a tattoo on your travels
Let’s be optimistic first shall we? There are plenty of people who have gotten a travel tattoo on an adventure far from home and live to love and show off their ink.
There’s something about exploring foreign territory that makes us want to explore new parts of ourselves. Almost everywhere you go some part of the local tourism caters to thrill seekers. Think sky-diving, rock climbing, white water rafting, zip lining, bungee jumping, the list goes on and on.
What they all have in common is this: adrenaline. Each of these activities causes a rush. And so can getting a travel tattoo.
Many people actually cite the surge of adrenaline as one of their favorite parts of the tattooing process. The human body is programmed to respond to pain with both adrenaline and endorphins. They protect us from feeling excruciating pain, by making us feel good.
That’s why in spite of the fact that getting tattoo involves sitting in a chair and not free-falling off a bridge it does fit into the same category of adventurous activities.
Things we might never do at home become viable options while we’re away, so a travel tattoo could seem like the ultimate snap shot of your trip.
It may be an image you’ve considered for a long time or something inspired by the culture surrounding you. So you think; “Do it. Carpe diem dude.”
In the best of circumstances you wind up with something you love. An image that each time you see it, you feel the same rush of joy you experienced the day you got it. But there’s a really good chance it could go the other way.
The Cons of getting a tattoo on your travels
Sometimes the best ideas in the moment turn into really bad memories. Of course, that can happen with a tattoo whether you get it done across the street or across the planet.
But while you’re traveling, the chance to do something lasting can be an enticing temptation. However, there’s a huge possibility that when you are back to your daily routine, the new addition might not fit. It could cause problems at work or awkward situations with family members.
So before taking on the needle mentally take a walk through a day in your life imagining it with a tattoo. Of course, if you’re thinking about getting a travel tattoo somewhere far from home, tattoo regret could be the least of your worries.
Having a request get “lost in translation” isn’t so bad when you meant to order the chicken and wound up with monkey brains. That’s only one night down the tubes. But what if it happens when you are trying to breach a language barrier with a tattoo artist? There’s always a chance your intentions could be, misconstrued and you could end up with a travel tattoo that was not at all what you originally intended.
If you’re going to do it, make sure to have an image with you. A picture says a thousand words in a universal language. If you are choosing a word or character that is not your native tongue, think like a sick person and get a second opinion. Confirm that the tattoo you want means exactly what you think it means.
That way you can avoid the potential of the humiliation of thinking your tat says “strength” when it actually says “cow”.
The Ugly side of getting tattoos on your travels
Now let’s talk about the elephant in the room. The biggest risk involved with getting a tattoo on the trail is about your health.
The tattooing process involves using needles to put pigments in the skin. Anytime you’re breaking the epidermis and introducing foreign chemicals into the body there can be any number of complications.
There is well-establisheded set of rules and standards that are enforced in tattoo parlors in the United Sates and many other countries. But the further off the beaten path you go, the more you will find yourself in un-regulated territory.
The risks of getting tattoos with inks that contain toxins or unsanitary needles are very real. There are a number of conditions that can develop as a result of getting a tattoo in less than ideal circumstances.
There could be infection, allergic reaction, herpes, staph infections, tetanus, tuberculosis, some forms of hepatitis, and even HIV. Just to name a few possibilities.
If you do want to get a tattoo on a vacation make sure that the place you choose follows some basic hygienic procedures including the use of gloves and a proper needle sterilization process.
Also make sure you know what kind of ink is going into your body, avoid low-grade inks which can have impurities and contaminants.
In the end, whether or not you decide to commemorate your travels with a permanent addition to your body is a personal decision only you can make.
But don’t rely on the tattoo removal process to undo any impulsive moves. Yes, procedures exist, but they can still be costly, time consuming and even painful.
It may be exciting and important to you to get this done while you are traveling, in the throes of your self exploration. There’s nothing wrong with that, but think it through.
Be smart, be safe, and be sober if you do it.
Did you get a tattoo on your vacation? Was it a good decision or a poor one? We want to know in the comment section!
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41 thoughts on “The Pros and Cons of getting a Tattoo on your Travels”
While you can probably disregard the State Department’s warnings about possible terrorist activity in Europe (seriously, an entire CONTINENT?), pay very close attention to this post!
LOL! What a paranoid world we live in. Aren’t you so glad that as a traveller we tend to live in a world that is free, safe, friendly and fun.
I always want to get a tattoo, so when I’m gone for long term travel I might get small one. I alreay have a design.. So this is really informative article for me.
My 1st tat was in the Bahamas at age 14. I regret the tat but not that I got it overseas.
I’d love to see a pic of it.
I got 4 on my trip and need to get 2 more (one per continent). Love each one, even the one that isn’t done that well, because I didn’t speak Spanish and the guy that did it didn’t speak English. Here is a blog on one of the ones I got.
I love how you are getting a tattoo for each continent- very unique. I love the kili tat!
Great post! You’ve really captured the essence of the need to do something out of the ordinary while traveling. I’ve gone back and forth between a tattoo on our trip. We’ll see what I end up doing!
Let us know!
I haven’t got a tattoo yet but I have thought about getting one while traveling. My fear are exactly those mentioned before, what if the tattoo comes just because of the adrenaline and the feel-good of the moment and the place I’m at.
One thing I know, whatever tattoo I get, it will be small (I don’t consider myself a notebook to be all inked) and it will be meaningful to me.
Great thoughts Norbert. You could maybe get one of those fake ones first to see if you really like it.
oh, great idea… never had though of that. Thanks Caz!
There’s definitely a lot to consider. Also, if you’re on the road, keeping the newly-inked area clean, out of the sun, etc. can be more difficult.
I have one tattoo that I got in the U.S., but I do want to get another. The one I want to get is New Zealand-inspired, so I really want to have it done the next time I’m in NZ.
Awesome post! I would be out getting one right now if I had the money… alas it goes towards more travel than a tattoo.
great article! i got a travel tattoo in argentina, hungover slash drunk. the place was clean, but halway through the process i asked the guy where he learnt: ´in prison. i spent seven years in there for dealing drugs¨ i sobered up pretty quickly. he actually did a really good job, was honest about his past and a really nice guy. ill be a bit more careful next time though.
I kind of want to get a tattoo to represent my travels. I’m not sure what, but it’s been on my mind for a few years now. It has to be symbolic of a time period of my life an not something I stand for or just think is cool because that changes as I get older.
This makes a lot of sense Jenny. It is something you really need to think carefully about- there’s no turning back
Great post! Topical for us because we’ve been watching too much Miami Ink and have been talking about getting tattoos while in Berlin during our upcoming round the world. I actually have one already and if I remember correctly, there’s some post-tattoo care you need to take to protect it and preserve your tattoo, as well as preventing infection, especially large pieces. And when you’re traveling, it can be difficult to maintain that cleanliness, care regime, keeping it out of the sun, etc. So may be better to wait until you are back home.
This is a point that I actually kind of expected in the article, the post tattoo care. When I got mine (granted fairly large and in color), there was like 2 weeks of careful showers and mandate to avoid the sun, including the cleaning every day. This would be really difficult in most hotels and hostels I’ve ever been in.
By all means, get your ink; but do it at home as a way of extending the travel memories.
Nice post. That big tat on the lower back looks oh-so painful!! I love the one on the foot, though. I have a few tats and I would definitely consider getting one on the road if the urge hit me. So far though, I haven’t had a strong urge to do so yet…but I’ll be hitting the Benelux region in a few weeks and who knows, I might come home with a permanent souvenir this time…something from the city of lights, maybe?
I’m planning on getting some work done when we’re out on our next trip. Granted, I worked in a tattoo shop for 3 years so I have the opportunity and the know how on how to be picky about a shop and an artist. Great post!
I think you’ve covered all the bases here – I have three, all of which are associated in my mind with places and travel. I’m lucky to regret none of them. The health related issues are particularly important and well done for stressing them. In most parts of the world these days you will be able to find good practice so avoid the dives.
I got a tattoo ten years ago when I moved to the Philippines. I had never wanted one prior to the trip but felt I wanted something to remember it, I still look back at it with pride.
However, even ten years ago health was my first concern and was relieved as I saw it was a clean place and they explained where they buy needles, I watched them open the package and throw them out.
Another important thing to think about if you get a tattoo while travelling is the care while it’s healing. It has to be kept very, very clean, out of sunlight, and if touch-ups are needed once it’s healed.. can you pop back and get it done?
That said, I got my old tattoo covered and fixed while I was in Mexico and I don’t regret it at all. Making sure you trust the tattooist and know the cleanliness of the place (and equipment) is super important!
I’ve never really considered getting a tattoo while traveling. I think I’m a little too paranoid about unsterilized needles. I did extensive research on the tattoo parlor where I got my one and only tattoo in the States, before I went for it. But I can definitely see the allure of doing it on a trip. Great post!
I got a little one at my back in Bali last year. I’m glad that I’m happy to have it with me at home. I’m considering another one along the spine of my back. 🙂
Great tips, it’s always good to remind yourself of the risks before you make any decisions.
I’d love to have a tattoo made in Bali since I love their style, but I will definitely make sure to do my research before hand to find a recommended place, and I guess I’ll take my last vaccine shot for hepatitis B before I do anything involving needles..!
Thanks Sofia. That hep B sounds like a great idea. Would love to see the design you end up with.
Geez..am I the only one on here that has no interest in a tattoo – traveling or not? I am not one that minds tattoos on others and think they can actually be quite sexy and artistic. However, I would never consider one while traveling because I just don’t care for them at all. If you are considering one, good list of things to consider.
I don’t have an interest either. I thought about it when I was younger but didn’t really see the point to it for myself. I knew that probably in about ten years time I’d want it gone and then I’d be in trouble. But I agree, on others they are great.
I am in the same boat – have no tattoo and unlikely ever get one. The main reason, I am not sure I can handle it;))) It is not that I am against it but it is not for me.
Great response. I like them on some people and always thought of maybe getting one, but in the end I decided it just wasn’t for me. I change my mind too much
I have four tattoos all from different countries. I get tattoos in countries that I have LIVED in; either I studied or worked in the country. I was 19 and studying abroad in Hong Kong when I got my first one. It’s something that I had been thinking about for a year or two, so it wasn’t spontaneous, but I felt that the tattoo aptly represented my time in Hong Kong (which was also my first time leaving the US). My next one was from Japan and this is when I decided to get a tattoo in every country I live in. I haven’t regretted any of my tattoos – ever. And I may be getting another one soon…
It’s a great momentos for you. I like the idea of taking that memory of special times in countries with you. each of your tattoos have a special story behind them. That is cool!
I personally would not get a tattoo in most places abroad. It’s a pretty serious commitment and of course there are health concerns. I do think there are places abroad to get tattoos that are just as good or even better than places available at home, but I really don’t trust myself to find them. I’ll take risks at restaurants and adventure sports abroad-but not tattoos!
Ive been traveling Europe for 9 months now. Im going back to the states on October 4th after i experience a bit of Oktober fest Bavarian style in Munchen. Im planning on traveling Africa with a friend from Germany next April. Starting with Morocco. Not that it matters.. Im getting a tattoo tmrw of the world across my back with the quote; “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” btwn North America an Europe.. Opinions?!?!?!
Love it. Love that quote. I think getting something that is so meaningful for you is a great idea.
whats the tat on Brittany Shey’s foot. Its beautiful?
Does anyone know what the foot tattoo is from/symbolizes? Thanks!
Awesome post! The good thing is that you are able to remove them quite easy:)