Tattoos, depending on the person you’re asking, can be awesome; self-expressive; cliché; or sinful. They used to be a controversial subject, but now they barely faze those who would usually oppose. And, more than ever, they’re being viewed as a way to have a lifelong souvenir from those trips we took when we were young. But, getting a tattoo while on your trip may seem like a good idea, until you end up in a shady establishment.
My first tattoo I ever got was abroad (actually, all my tattoos have been done while out of the country) and was done sort of on a whim. I was planning on getting one on my month-long journey through Europe (the obligatory trip during University), but like every smart University-aged adult, did absolutely no research on shops until I arrived in London. We had a bit of free time one day so I quickly googled places on my phone, decided on one that looked okay and set out on my way to get my very first tattoo.
I didn’t call, I didn’t e-mail, I just decided to show up. A lot of you are probably shaking your heads at the stupidity, and I’m right along with you. Especially when we, finally, found the place. This parlour was located in an alleyway, tucked away behind shops and cafés with people hanging about (granted, they didn’t look very scary, but groups of people in alleyways always give off that sort of vibe, don’t they?). I felt nervous, I kept thinking that this was crazy, my friend was wondering what we were even doing; still, we had come all this way, why not look inside? Surprisingly, the establishment was immensely clean, the artists were professional, and I was actually able to get a walk-in appointment for my 10 minute tattoo.
The guy at the counter and I chatted briefly about what I wanted, quickly drew up a sketch and we were in business. The guy who did my tattoo seemed polite, but said about three words to me, half-watched a WWII documentary, finished quickly and out we went. When we saw two girls walking towards the shop with the same stressed out look we had, I smiled to my freshly red and angry looking foot and knew that they’d be pleasantly surprised. I knew that happening on a shop that was clean, professional, and had a walk-in spot open within an hour was some sort of a miracle. There are tons of places in my own city that I wouldn’t think of entering without extensive research, but somehow, when I was out in a foreign city, all of the smart senses escaped me and the giddiness of doing something so wild and fun took over.
So, how do you get a tattoo abroad and ensure no regrets?
Research is key when it comes to anything new. You wouldn’t just buy a house without checking out the ‘bones’ and making sure that there aren’t any surprises in store for you. The same idea goes when getting a tattoo done, especially when abroad. Although my story turned out wonderful (see Hermes enjoying the sun, above), there are plenty more where tattoos haven’t healed properly and infections set in.
Standards may not be set the same as in your home-country, and although upsetting when the time comes, it isn’t on the country to take care of you, but rather, it’s on you to make your own responsible decisions. A quick google search can tell you everything you need to know about the top tattoo parlours in any city you are planning to visit. Do this BEFORE your trip; I urge you! Checking out pictures of the place, read reviews.
Searching around for places on your phone a day in advance can end up with you getting frustrated when all the good places are booked and you may end up settling for a place that really shouldn’t be in business. Instead of settling, save up again and book another trip, getting that tattoo on your next trip abroad – after tons of research. I mean, finding an excuse to travel isn’t hard, now is it? Find a few places that you like the vibe of, that have great reviews, and have artists that can help you. Once you find that golden tattoo artist, have a very open conversation about what you want and what they can do. Remember that large tattoos with intricate details can take hours, or days, so unless you’re spending weeks on end, think about if the next tattoo you’re getting (or the first one) should be reserved for home.
Converse. Again and Again.
The person who will know what will work best? The tattoo artist. This is why they get paid; this is what they do for a living and they’ve seen it all. You don’t want to be arguing with them about what design will fit where (obvious tip: if you have a very petite frame, don’t expect an intricate design to fit on your ankle when it should really fit on your back). Instead, begin by e-mailing what you are thinking of (even if it includes pictures from the internet) and on what part of your body you’re hoping it will go on, about what would look good, and how the sizing will filter out. You’ll be able to go back and forth and request a sketch of your tattoo to make any necessary changes before you head to the airport. You want to be able to see, or read, your tattoo for years to come, not look at a blob on your wrist. If you want things smaller (like I did with my wrist tattoo, above), but have to settle for slightly bigger, make sure that you’re okay with that.
If you’re feeling that, because of the larger size, it doesn’t look good on the space, think about moving it or abandoning the idea altogether. Maybe make this last one before you’re sitting down in the chair, needle at the ready. But, don’t be afraid to speak up to your artist; they understand that this a life choice and that you need to feel comfortable with the decisions you are making and how the tattoo will be turning out. Believe it or not, people have actually stopped halfway through a tattoo, changing their minds. That is not the place to stop. Could you imagine if I had stopped my tattoo at the first ‘over’? I made my last guy move the stencil three times, solely because I didn’t like the exact position that it was in – even though I had stated that’s where I wanted it in the first place. Annoying? Probably. Worth the re-positioning and not staring at a huge mistake every day of my life? Absolutely. Besides, if you’re getting to be a huge stickler, just tip a little bigger and thank them for their hard work and patience.
Be Prepared to be Disappointed.
Not with your tattoo – that would be very disappointing; that’s the whole reason you talk with your artist. But, be prepared to be disappointed with the plans you’re trying to make for your tattoo. They may not work out exactly as you had planned, you may end up running 5 blocks for your appointment because a tour took a little long (seriously, no matter how much time you think you have, just arrive extremely early…nothing is more stressful than shelling out money for a cab when you could have grabbed the train and walked), or you may not end up getting that fresh tattoo in the city you had planned on.
With my second tattoo, I knew what I was in for and how stupid I was for not doing any sort of research beforehand. So, this time around, I did massive amounts of research. Like, a full year in advance. But….I had this idea that I needed to get it done when we were in Paris. It had to be Paris, nowhere else would suffice. Which is often how I think of Paris. Seriously. I’ve written too many posts about Paris (and more to come!). Anyways…
Luckily, there were tons of great reviews on shops in Paris from locals and travelers alike, and I set about e-mailing a couple of places to set up an appointment for myself. What they don’t tell you, is that most of these shops will not get back to you. Like, at all. Even if you e-mail in French. Then, English. Then, in French, again. Annoyed, I decided to give up on my search for the parfait French tattoo parlour and, instead, looked towards Amsterdam. Sure, I was excited for the tattoo I had been planning out in my mind for a few years, but the location (although pretty damn cool) just wasn’t what I had dreamed up in my head. That’s the thing, once you start dreaming of how it’s supposed to happen, everything in life just seems to fall apart. That is, until, I was outside the doors of this shop.
It was everything I thought a tattoo parlour should be: the artists were pierced out, tatted out dudes looking like they belonged in a basement with a bong in their hands. The two girls inside, both patrons, were covered in tattoos with dark hair and mini plaid skirts, the one getting a huge intricate piece done. The place had a retro vibe with red walls, art and graffiti everywhere and bottles of Jack Daniels. My guy had a shaved head, save for some orange dreads coming out from the middle, tons of piercings and even more tattoos. I was in love. This was what a tattoo shop should look like and I was immensely excited.We started chatting, his ridiculously polite manners kicked in, and my nerves went out the window, letting me shoo away my friends and enjoy my time. It wasn’t Paris, but they spoke English; there wasn’t the fantasy of walking along the Seine or through the cobbled streets of Paris in the rain, but walking along the canals and into downtown Amsterdam felt just as good. Your tattoo plans may not work out exactly as you had envisioned, but as long as the parlour is clean, the staff understands what you’re thinking of, and your tattoo looks good, just go with the flow.