What to Consider Before Getting a Tattoo Abroad
Getting a tattoo abroad can be great way to commemorate your travels, but there are so many risks associated with inking your body permanently while away from home.
When in sunny Spain this summer I got my fourth and most stressful tattoo yet, even though it is one of my smallest and least unique designs. Being abroad adds an extra sense of stress and spontaneity to making long-lasting life decisions, and there’s lots you should consider before getting a travel tattoo.
Sun, Sand and Infected Tattoos
Tattoos hate everything that makes a holiday a great holiday: sun, sand, chlorine, sea water… If you have your heart set on getting a tattoo be prepared to sit out on splashing in the sea and getting a tan. A tattoo is an open wound until it is fully healed, and the last thing you want to return home with is a scabby and infected reminder that you didn’t take care of your new ink.
A week is the absolute minimum time you can go before exposing your new tattoo to chlorine, but I would highly recommend longer. I usually go two weeks before even submerging a fresh tattoo in clean water for an extended period of time (see you later baths), as it can interfere with the healing process. It’s going to be on your body forever, and if you want your tattoo to pass the test of time, take care of it!
If you are desperate for a tattoo but don’t want it to interfere with enjoying your holiday, book it just before you leave. The day before is always the best, and it gives you something to remember the holiday by.
Your tattoo artist will usually give you specific aftercare instructions, but there are some general ones that might be difficult to stick to while you’re away from home. Keeping fresh ink away from the sun will probably be the hardest, especially if you’re staying somewhere warm. It’s advisable to keep your tattoo covered by clothing while outside until your tattoo heals completely, so if all you’ve got in your suitcase is swim suits and shorts then it may be difficult.
You’ll also have to keep your tattoo hydrated, applying an approved moisturiser 4-7 times a day for up to 2 weeks. You can use coconut oil, cocoa butter, aloe vera, or anything your tattooist recommends (sometimes parlours will sell their own aftercare products), which are usually quite easy to get a hold of. It may be better to grab a travel-sized bottle, one that you won’t have to throw away when you’re at the airport.
Be Prepared to Pay For Quality
Good tattoos cost money, no matter where you are in the world. Be prepared to splurge a little, or a lot. It’s going to be on your body forever, I’d say a little investment is worthwhile. Haggling the price is also going to get you nowhere, other than outside the tattoo parlour. By trying to get a lower price, you are unintentionally insulting the artist and their work. If the tattoo is genuinely out of your budget, you could mention that and see if they’d let you have it cheaper if you got it smaller or with less detail. If not, move on, you’ll have to find somewhere else.
A good thing to note is that tattoo parlours in tourist-heavy areas usually charge more, such as the middle of a city or the coastline. These shops usually have high demand from holiday-goers who want an inky momentum, and therefore charge more. If the price tag seems steep for the quality you are receiving, trust your instincts and find somewhere else to get your tattoo done.
Research Your Artist
High quality and highly personal tattoos are the result of the tattoo concept and the tattooists art style matching up. If you have something specific in mind, find an artist whose style you admire and fits well with your idea. If you’re wanting a full colour piece, research nearby artists that specialise in vivid colour - or if you want more detailed black and white piece, research into line work specialists. There are hundreds of different tattoo styles, and millions of artists who have their own unique touch, so no two artists will ever be the same.
For my tattoo I knew I wanted a black and white piece with some shading, after some research I found my wonderful artist Dimonia who specialised in dot work. I loved her style and portfolio, and finding her meant I ended up with a tattoo I absolutely adore.
My go to way to look for artists is using Instagram, where you can browse a large portfolio of their work (especially from the tagged photos of healed pieces). From their profiles you can find their tattoo studio, contact information etc...
When looking for my artist in Barcelona I browsed through the #BarcelonaTattoo tag until I found my perfect tattoo artist, generally if you search # Insert Location Here tattoo you’ll find all the artists you could ever dream of.
Trying to communicate exactly what tattoo design you desire is difficult enough to begin with, now imagine that neither of you can speak the same language. It’s not as simple as pointing to a design and getting it done, you and your artist have to talk details, sizing, placement, cost, aftercare etc…
When I got a tattoo in Barcelona my artist didn’t speak any English, but I loved her designs so much and wanted to make it work. Lucky enough, my Spanish friend didn’t mind tagging along and being my unofficial translator (I think she just wanted to see me in pain). I’m so thankful she was there as we ended up making some last-minute changes to the tattoo to better fit around my body, and I wouldn’t have been able to discuss any of this with my tattoo artist without her help. If you can convince a local to come with you, I can guarantee you that your experience will be 100% more relaxing and less god damn stressful.
If you don’t have any native-speaking friends to drag along to the tattoo parlour, stick to an English-speaking artist. It may limit your options, but at least there won’t be any miscommunication and errors in your tattoo! To find these look around more touristy areas, main cities and coast lines will most-likely have some English-speaking tattoo parlours specifically designed for tourists.
Side-note: I think it’s always polite to know how to say thank you in your artist’s native language, so give it a google if you don’t know how to say so already!
If you are getting words tattoos, be careful. Please, and I cannot stress this enough, spell check before you put it on your body forever. Check it and check it again. Especially if you’re getting a tattoo in a foreign language. You don’t want to be the person walking around with barbecue girl on your palm forever (sorry Ariana)...
Laws and Limits
Different countries have different laws around what age you can get a tattoo. In Barcelona, for example, you can get tattooed from age 16 with parental consent. On the contrary, in the UK there is a strict 18+ ruling, even with parental supervision. Nothing is worse than turning up for your appointment just to be turned away because you’re too young (especially if you’ve already paid a deposit), so make sure you double check the laws where you are before you get your hopes up.
Be Prepared For Pain
Tattoos hurt, we all know this. The general rule is that the closer to bone the area is, the more it’ll hurt. Thigh tattoos are usually quite bearable, because thighs are lovely and squishy. On the other hand, a chest piece kills like a b*tch.
Basically, don’t get a tattoo on your elbows, knees, palms, feet, or private parts (unless you’re a real badass)…
You know your body, you know what you can handle, so weigh up your options before you have to stop your tattoo halfway through because it’s too painful. Especially if this is your first tattoo, start small and build up from there - saying that, my first tattoo was a large piece that took three hours, but I never take my own advice anyway.