This is such a touchy subject, and one I’ve actually really been looking forward to writing about. Getting tattooed, while you’re travelling overseas. The irony of this is that “overseas” is different for us all. I live in Melbourne. Maybe you live in London. Or Rome. Or Seattle. Or Vancouver. Does that mean that you, living in Seattle, wouldn’t feel safe getting a tattoo in London, even though hundreds of people are probably seeing tattoo artists there every day??! Of course not, that’s completely ludicrous!
I think that the main issue with this topic is that many people have preconceived notions that:
a) Only irresponsible idiots get tattooed to begin with.
b) If you get tattooed while you’re travelling, it must have been a spur-of-the-moment idea that you probably had while drunk and will really regret it later on.
c) Because it was such a stupid, unplanned decision, you’re probably just going to get it done in some dirty, back-alley garage by a big guy in a torn leather jacket who doesn’t sanitise his needles or even wash his hands between appointments, which he smokes his way through.
While point a) irks me to no end, being the happy owner of we’ll over a dozen tattoos, I’m not writing this as a rant against people’s uninformed assumptions; if you’re not willing to consider the opinions of others and see both sides of a story, I don’t care much about what you think. Instead, I’m writing this for those of you who, like me, are admirers of art, and have maybe seen some work by talented artists across the globe who you might consider visiting on your next trip. Or maybe there’s just a city you really love, and want to take a memory of that city home permanently, and you need to find the right person for the job. Either way, there are a few things to consider….
1. Do your research regarding design:
* Don’t just turn up with a vague idea and expect it to be perfected immediately. They’re tattoo artists, not magicians.
* It should go without saying, but if you’re planning to get a tattoo in a language you’re not familiar with, for goodness sake, make sure it means what you think it means, and make sure it’s spelt correctly!!!!
2. Do your research regarding tattoo artist:
* If you’ve been following someone’s work for a while, this step is a lot easier. Otherwise, search online for “best tattoo artist in XXX” and read through all the lists that come up – if certain names seem to keep popping up on every list, chances are that’s for a good reason.
* Check that reviews/lists are actually recent and still relevant, not advice from 10 years ago.
* Try asking around on online forums, like Trip Advisor and Yelp.
* If you’re in a country where you don’t speak the native language, be sure you’re going to be able to communicate exactly what you’re wanting.
3. On the day:
* Does this place take walk ins or do you need to make an appointment in advance?
* If you need to make an appointment first, is a deposit required? Is it refundable (often it won’t be)?
* Are they a cash only place when it comes to payment, or are you able to pay on card?
* How can you get in touch if your plans change?
4. Consider the point in your trip you’ll be getting tattooed:
* Generally, you don’t want to expose your new tattoo to long periods of time submerged in water or exposed to the sun, so if your next few destinations are going to involve swimming and sunning yourself, it’s probably not the best time to do it.
* If you’re a party person, it’s also worth considering how many big nights you’re going to be having, and not getting your tattoo done the day after. Alcohol thins your blood, which means you’re going to bleed a lot more, and that’s not ideal.
5. After care:
This will be a bit easier if you’ve been tattooed before – while the general guidelines are pretty similar everywhere, only you know how your body heals and responds to certain ointments. As such, this advice is not to be taken as gospel, but for me, I know that:
a) I need to use Bepanthan cream for 4 – 5 days on my new tattoo, then switch to a gentle, non-scented moisturising cream.
b) my tattoos heal best when they’re kept covered for the first few days, and then left uncovered with a layer of Bepanthan where possible, or covered with plastic wrap over the Bepanthan again if they’re in an area that needs to be covered with clothing.
Knowing this, I packed some plastic wrap, medical paper tape and a tube of Bepanthan – I have sensitive skin, and after so many tattoos, I’m not willing to risk trying anything new at this point when this system has been working well for me for the past 12 years!
As you can see, we not dealing with some secret tricks – it’s basic common sense for the most part. If you do decide to get a tattoo in a foreign language made up of some cool characters that you’ve seen on a street sign after leaving a night club after having way too much to drink, and you do stumble into the first tattoo parlour you see with a quick iPhone snap of the street sign, then yes – you are an idiot and no one feels sorry for you and the crappy tattoo you’re going to end up with. For the rest of you who are looking for a lasting piece of artwork as a souvenir from a meaningful time or experience that you can literally carry with you for the rest of your life, I hope this helps! 🙂
As for me, I left home wanting to add to my collection, and …
Done by Martin at Sweet Hell Tattoo, Reykjavík, Iceland
Done by Pabby at Downtown Tattoo, New Orleans, USA