If the trip was worth it, it’s easy to fantasise about bringing home a keepsake that will last longer than a fading tan or the desire to only eat Sri Lankan food from now on.
Tattoos – once reserved for sailors of indeterminate origin and motorcycle enthusiasts who conducted their business in grams in pub toilets – are now as mainstream as Grant Denyer. And like Grant, they are everywhere.
It’s therefore understandable that a holiday tatt can become as tempting as duty-free. Only more affordable. We’re not saying you shouldn’t submit to the needle far from home to commemorate a trip, an achievement or simply a new understanding of life/who you are/that one Nick Cave lyric you hadn’t understood until now. What we are saying is keep the following guidelines in mind.
1. KEEP IT CLEAN
Three words here: hygiene, hygiene and hygiene. When getting ink OS – particularly in zones not long out of Third World classification – bear in mind that the only permanent reminder of this holiday you want to bring home is the design.
Unfortunately, however, many establishments will throw in the hepatitis for free. No matter how funky a tattoo parlour – them and massage shops are the only businesses hanging onto this word for some reason – looks in the neon-licked night, do yourself a favour and check it out in the harsh glare of daylight. Then trust your intuition. If it doesn’t smell vaguely of disinfectant or needs a sweep, jog on.
2. NO DRINKING AND INKING
That dolphin on the foot/ring of barbed wire round the bicep/Bart Simpson may seem like a flash of genius with seven mai tais on board, a pictorial portal into your mischievous and mysterious soul. In the sober glare of a hangover, if it still seems the right thing to do, by all means. We’ve all woken up regretting certain things but those requiring laser removal are somewhat harder to shift.
3. THE HOLIDAY ROMANCE
Speaking of intoxicants, nothing beats falling in love in an international time zone. And nothing poses more risks of regret than commemorating this subcutaneously.
He may seem like a combination of Brad Pitt, Timothee Chalamet and John Legend right now but see if you feel the same way after a couple of years of figuring out who pays what bills, emptying the dishwasher without being asked/praised and more foreplay than “so, you wanna?” Should the flame still burn then get his initials discreetly etched in a fancy font somewhere. Otherwise you may be restricted to only having relationships with people whose name starts with “D”. Which – if you’ve had a Tinder/Grindr browse in your city – limits what is already a pretty tiny pool.
4. LOST IN TRANSLATION
Some years ago, this writer met a young lady on a cruise and we got to talking tatts. When I asked her the meaning of the Chinese character on her ankle she flushed a shade more vermilion than a Kuta sunset. She wanted the symbol for “chi” – the vital force forming a part of any living entity – and had it duly imparted on her 4eva, ask the kids might say. A year or so later in nursing college, a fellow student from Beijing plucked up the courage to ask why she had “cheap” written on her body.
One tattoo artist’s “chi” became another’s “cheap”. So just make sure everyone is literally on the same page and don’t assume everyone automatically understands everyone else.
5. CULTURAL CRINGE
This might be a bit uncomfortable for some to hear but visiting a certain place and falling in love with its culture doesn’t entitle you to claim it as your own. Be it in colonial or tattoo form. What we’re saying is unless you’re Maori or part Maori, maybe ease off on that society’s traditional designs, no matter how striking they may be. Sure, you’ll find someone who’ll take your dollars to do it, but that doesn’t mean it’s kosher.
6. SOME PRACTICAL CONCERNS
Tattooing is stressful to the skin itself so it needs to be in the best possible shape.
Which often does not go along with holidays. We are frequently sunburnt, dehydrated or bearing coral nicks and all of these can impact on the final result.
You know how artists prime a canvas? You need to be doing the same or you colour will fade like the popularity of a Republican president after an impeachment hearing. What’s more, you won’t be able to swim or sunbathe without swathing your freshly drawn upon bits in plastic. But it’s better to avoid these altogether so make sure you get inked towards the end of your holiday. But not too late so that you can’t go back to the artiste if touch-ups or amendments are required. Like chi for cheap.