If you’re a fellow traveller consumed by wanderlust, you’ll know the feeling that visiting a new place and experiencing new things brings. It’s a feeling of excitement and adventure, a feeling of being alive. When you’re travelling it’s so easy to get swept up in a moment; it’s easy to fall in love and lose yourself as you encounter new opportunities, meet new people and learn new things about yourself.
As travellers in an age of social media, smartphones and blogs, we want to capture the moments spent on these journeys of discovery. We take pictures, write postcards and buy souvenirs in an attempt to cling on to the way we’re feeling in that particular moment. Sometimes however, it may seem like the best way to prolong the experience is to do something a little more permanent…
Like get a tattoo.
It’s genuinely a roll of the dice when it comes to travel tattoos, though. You either come home with something you’re 100% happy with which reminds you of the most amazing trip you’ve ever had, or you come home scarred for life, with something you wish you could have left at the boarding gates.
Don’t get me wrong; there are many people who’ve gone under the needle while travelling around the world and have lived to love and show off their ink, including myself. Fellow blogger Kasia recently wrote about her own experience of getting a tat while travelling, as well as the stories for the travel tattoos of some other bloggers. There are no regrets there.
But sometimes what can seem like the best idea in the moment (need I remind you of my rash decision to move to Yorkshire…), can end up being a huge mistake (…and my rapid return to Reading). Of course, this can happen with a tattoo you get anywhere, whether it’s done at the parlour down the road or a parlour down under. But while you’re traveling, the chance to do something lasting to commemorate your trip can be tempting.
The psychology behind a travel tattoo.
I’ve mentioned a few times on AlwaysCarryOn.com about how I believe things we’d never do at home suddenly become viable options while we’re away – like that time I got semi-naked and let a complete stranger wash me from head to toe, for example. So getting a permanent memento of your travels might seem like the ultimate souvenir of your trip, and something you’d not usually do. There’s something about exploring a new place that makes us want to explore new parts of ourselves. We push our own boundaries, dare ourselves, challenge ourselves to step out of our comfort zone, to try experiences we wouldn’t usually do.
For the most part, wherever you go in the world, you’re sure to find an experience that you can’t do elsewhere. Like bungee jumping in New Zealand, paragliding over the French Alps, crossing the Arenal Hanging Bridges in Costa Rica, waterfall chasing in the Dominican Republic, a hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia, cliff diving in a Mexican cenote, white water rafting in the Rockies, ziplining in Puerto Rico, hiking the rainbow mountains in Peru, whale watching in Iceland – you get the idea.
What do all these things have in common? Adrenaline. Each of these activities causes a rush, a thrill. And so can getting a tattoo.
A couple of tattooed people I know actually say the surge of adrenaline they get when the needle goes in and they see their design coming to life on their body is one of their favourite parts of the tattooing process.
Our bodies are wired to respond to pain with both adrenaline and endorphins, so happy, euphoric feelings protect us feeling excruciating pain. That’s why, even though getting a tattoo can mean sitting patiently still for hours on end while being jabbed repeatedly by a sharp needle, and not free-falling from the escape hatch of a tiny plane, for some getting inked is still an adrenaline-producing, adventurous activity.
The pros and cons of a travel tattoo.
So you’ve decided, in the heat of the moment, that you are going to do it – you’re getting a tattoo on your travels – congrats! Like when I got my tattoo in Colombia, you may already have an idea or design you’ve been considering. Or, inspired by your surroundings, you may just pick something on a whim. This is where it can get a bit risky though…
Best case scenario, you end up with something you love. A design that still gives you the same rush of joy you experienced the day you got it. This is how I feel when I look at my tattoo; every day when I look down at my feet to put on my shoes and socks, I am transported back to that tattoo studio in Bogota, showing the guy my Pinterest tattoo board and explaining in very broken Spanish that this was what I wanted.
But not everyone’s as lucky with their travel tats. There’s a very high chance that once home and back in your daily routine, your new addition may not seem such a good idea anymore. It might cause problems at work or awkward situations with your partner and/or family members. A study by the University of Portsmouth found that among the most regretted designs were tribal tattoos, star constellations and Asian character tattoos (assuming they mean letters and not Pokemon characters).
And if you’re thinking about getting a travel tattoo somewhere far from home – especially somewhere you don’t speak the language – there’s another factor that could lead to tattoo regret: translation issues. We’ve all heard stories about a mate of a mate who thought he was getting “Peace” written in Arabic/Chinese/Thai on his arm, only to later learn that it actually says “Pigs/Peas/Please”, or worse.
If you’re going to do it, take an image with you. A picture says a thousand words in any language. And if you are choosing a word or character that isn’t your native language, always get it verified by someone you trust, so you know exactly what it means. That way you can avoid the potential humiliation of thinking your tat says “Love” when it actually says “Cow pat”.
The other thing to consider if you want to get a tattoo while travelling, is the health risk. Obviously, the tattoo process involves needles putting dye into the skin. Breaking the skin and introducing foreign chemicals into the body could have complications. Here in the UK there are well-established, enforceable rules and standards of hygiene in tattoo parlours – but don’t assume it’ll be like this everywhere…
Getting tattooed by an unsanitary needle with ink containing toxins could cause infection, allergic reaction, herpes, staph infections, tetanus, tuberculosis, some forms of hepatitis and even HIV. Just to name a few. So choose your parlour wisely and make sure it follows some basic hygiene rules, including the use of gloves and proper needle sterilisation.
Whether or not you decide to mark your travels by marking your body is a personal choice – but it’s one you should think through. Don’t rely on the tattoo removal sessions you see advertised on Groupon, because, yes, while there are procedures available to remove unwanted ink, they can be costly, time consuming and painful.
It may seem exciting and important to you to get a tattoo while traveling on a journey of self discovery. And there’s nothing wrong with that – but be smart, be safe, and above all, be sober if you do decide to get inked.
What travel tattoo should I get?
While I do want to get another tattoo, and I do want some something travel-related, I want my new ink to be personal, unique and meaningful to me. Like the one I got done in Bogota on my foot, I want it to have a story, a reason. So though I do like many of the designs I’ve seen on Pinterest and Instagram, I’m still working on what exactly I want, and where I want it.
Here is some inspiration for those who are considering a travel tattoo though:
1. Co-ordinates tattoo.
2. Famous landmarks tattoo.
3. Hot air balloon tattoo.
4. Simple travel quote tattoo.
5. Simple skyline tattoo.
6. Waves tattoo.
7. Tiny palm tree tattoo.
8. Simple world map tattoo.
9. Simple compass tattoo.
10. Detailed compass tattoo.
11. Tiny plane tattoo.
12. Tiny seashell tattoo.
13. Coloured map and compass tattoo.
14. Mandala tattoo.
15. World map and plane tattoo.
16. Passport stamp tattoo.
17. Detailed world map and compass body tattoo.
Have you ever gotten a tattoo on your travels? If so, what did you get, where did you have it done, and most importantly, do you love or regret it? And if you haven’t had a tattoo before, would you (if my blog post hasn’t put you off)? Drop me a comment below and let me know.