Getting Tattoos Abroad

Souvenirs don’t always have to be tangible. They don’t always have to last forever. And they definitely don’t have to cost you money. Your memories can be souvenirs. The pictures you took can be souvenirs. They’re some of my favorites.

I don’t go shopping too often when I travel so often I don’t come home with new clothes or jewellery. Sometimes I like to get books from local authors. Almost always I will bring back some local liquor (rum from the Caribbean, wine from Israel, and whisky from Scotland and Ireland are all currently lining my bookshelves in my living room).

My other favorite souvenir though are tattoos.Tattoos tell stories about different times of my life and what better way to tell part of that story than to include them in a travel memory?

I’ve now gotten four out of my six tattoos while travelling outside of the US. It is not overly difficult to get them away from home, but there are some things to keep in mind, most of them similar to if you were getting them at home.

The most important aspect that getting a tattoo, regardless of where you are getting it is to do your research. Read reviews of the shop, make sure they have a good health record. Spontaneous tattoos are super fun, especially with friends, but an infection is not. 

If you have an idea in mind, make sure that you also research the artist. If you want a traditional style tattoo, do not go to someone who specializes in Japanese. It won’t be a bad tattoo probably, but it won’t be what you’re looking for either. So talk to the artist beforehand, which can be as simple as an email or two discussing what you want and if you have photos definitely send them. I personally try to give my artists anywhere from two to six different photos so that they can have a few different references to draw from.

However, the photos aren’t necessary. Sometimes it’s fun to just say “I want a robot and the Wicked Witch of the West holding hands under an umbrella” and letting the artist just take it from there. That would let you get their most creative idea into a piece that you want on you. I have a few ideas in that realm that I am so excited to get and see how they turn out.

Those who have tattoos know this but if this is your first tattoo, please keep in mind that there is a taboo subject of copying tattoos. It’s a controversial subject but just remember this: do not go into a shop with one photo of a tattoo on someone else and say “I want this, don’t change a thing.” That’s not cool. Another artist and the customer both worked hard on that idea and artwork and you just taking it exactly is not right. Take the tattoo and get inspiration from it and make it your own. That picture that you found is someone else’s story to tell.

When you get tattooed abroad a little bit more research needs to go into it. Because you probably aren’t going to be able to go to the shop in person beforehand, make sure you read up on the reviews from previous customers. Look at the website for the artists’ portfolios and even try to find them in Facebook and Instagram. I prefer Instagram because they tend to post more of their work there. This is also a good way to make sure they are adept at the style you are interested in.

If you are going to a country where you don’t speak the language, try to get as many pictures as possible to convey your design with as much detail as you can. Also it might be a good idea to learn a few words in that language that could help, such as the body part you want it on, the colors, and a small description. Or even learn to say “Surprise me” if you’re thinking of just getting anything. I’ve personally thought about doing this in Southeast Asia because their tribal work always looks awesome online.

As with any tattoo shop, make sure the place is clean when you go in. Watch them open and clean the needles in front of you so you know they’re new. And have fun with this. Tattoos are a great way of expressing yourself and the tattooer’s artistry and creating lasting memories.

My first tattoo on my thigh. Done at Touch of Color in Hamden, CT
Shakespeare tattoo on my side. Also done at Touch of Color in Hamden
Gothic cross on my chest. I can’t recall the name of the parlor, I think it was Graphicaderme? In Avignon, France
Bookworm tattoo (part 1 of my sleeve) on my shoulder. At Lose This Skin in Cork, Ireland
“In the end, we are all stories” in Greek. Done at Jimmy’s in Athens, Greece
Fox and rose with Peter Pan stars, part 3 of my literary sleeve. Done at Lose This Skin again

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