A hell of a lot more permanent than a hostel hookup, travel tattoos are a great reminder of your life-changing adventures abroad. OTP's pinned down what you need to curb that international ink craving.
Tatting has been drawing blood before recorded history. Statues of Japanese warriors with tattooed faces date back to 5,000 B.C. and Otzi the Iceman--around 3,000 B.C.--had 57 of them, probably made with some sort of blunt object and fireplace soot. Lots of Egyptian mummies had them, and in many indigenous cultures across the world, tattoos are still a huge deal. European soldiers discovered the Polynesian art of tatau in the 18th century, and tattooing, as we know it, was born.
Types of Tats
When you walk into a tattoo studio, chances are there will be a display of random butterfly drawings, zodiac signs and other various symbols. Known as stock or flash, these are the Clip Art varieties of the tat world. If you're in it just for the experience of getting inked -- or because you're wasted -- this is probably what you'll end up with. You can usually get an artist to agree on a flat rate for a flash piece.
Custom tattoos are going to cost you more, and at more reputable places, you'll need an appointment to get one. These can be anything your little heart desires, though there are several categories they might fall into:
- Tribal: frat boy favorites. Also come in the tramp stamp variety
- Oriental: dragons or Koi fish
- Biomachinery: like the innards of a bicep
- Fineline: super detailed
- Realistic: you really want that photo of your dog on your thigh?
- Traditional: aka Sailor Jerry-style--usually thick lines with bright colors
Costs vary wildly across the world. In New York City, for example, there's a minimum base price of $100 at almost any studio, and artists charge about $150 an hour. In Beijing you can walk away with two small tattoos for only $40.
The backpacker road lends itself to tattoo inspiration -- there's a ton of weird and interesting stuff out there that would look great on your body: road signs, funky tickets, cool logos and crazy deities are just the beginning. If you're more word-oriented, keep your eyes peeled for particularly moving lines in things you read on the road, perhaps street art pieces. And don't rule out simple designs: images of world maps, buses or planes, compasses and footprints all make great (although sometimes overused) travel tats.
Where to Get 'Er Done
Cities like New York and Madrid might have a tattoo culture monopoly, but that doesn't mean you can't get one just about anywhere. Here are five places on five continents worth a poke:
Arte Sagrado, Lima, Peru
Opened in 1998, award-winning artists Enrique Patiño and Javier Campos keep the ink flowing and the designs hot. Both artists are known for their realistic work. Can't shake that Peruvian princess from your dreams? These guys can put her on top of you forever.
Inner Vision Tattoo, Sydney, Australia
Owner and founder Cliffe Clayton has been at the stabbing pen for a quarter century, and his inner vision became a reality in 1995. Custom work is done by appointment only, Monday through Friday, but any of the talented artists here are worth the wait. We recommend a traditional tat from Megan or Amanda, or an Oriental from Kian or Cliffe.
Way Cool Tattoos Uptown, Toronto, Canada
Chris Hall and Jen Black keep it cool with just about anything you can think of. Both like doing stuff that's bold and bright, but Jen rocks some crazy black and grey pieces, too. Way Cool also does piercings for those in the mood for needles minus ink.
Scratch Addiction, Tokyo, Japan
Japan has one of the oldest tattooing cultures in the world and Scratch Addiction was the first modern shop in Tokyo -- where you could "order" a tat instead of sneaking around in your artist-friend's basement for a cool drawing. Their long history translates to professional, inventive work.
House of Tattoos, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Now that cafes are being phased out for tourists, Amsterdam's got to step it up to maintain its rep -- and House of Tattoos is a good start. Joris is the man if you're looking for a Maori-style piece, and Emilia is your girl for something soft and realistic.
OTP Bonus: For a Sailor Jerry tat in Amsterdam, the place to go is Tattoo Peter, where they've been coloring sea vagrants for over 70 years.
Where to Avoid 'Em
While getting inked might seem like a great way to commemorate your safari in South Africa, avoid getting needled in places where AIDS is rampant and health codes aren't what you're used to. Do your own research on the tattoo laws of a country before letting someone break skin.
The best tattoo spots are found through word of dirty backpacker mouth. Don't hesitate to ask that hot girl at the hostel who did her collarbone, or to walk into studios and browse without feeling pressured to commit. No matter what you get or where you get it done, a tattoo is a souvenir of your trip that lasts longer than smuggled Manchego cheese wheels -- and won't add pounds to your pack.
-- Lisette Cheresson