So far, I’ve gotten two (of the five) tattoos while travelling. So far.
I want to tell you how I got them and give you some insight into getting tattoos abroad. Getting a tattoo is obviously a big decision and not without risks!
I had two very different adventures getting these two. The sakura or cherry blossom I got during my four-month stay in South Korea and the raven I got at the end of my seven-week USA road trip. In chronological order:
I had an absolute blast studying in Korea. It was everything I hoped it would be and more! I think very early on in my stay the idea started to bloom (heh) that I wanted a tattoo the commemorate the stay. Because I was there during the cherry blossom season, something that lived up to my every expectation, I decided to get a cherry blossom. It might not be the most original idea, but it just fit my journey.
Fun fact, tattoos still carry quite the taboo in Korea. I found that the students at university thought my tattoos were cool, but there was an old man that came up to me specifically to tell me they were bad! He did so in Korean, so I understood about nothing he was saying. He kept pointing to my dragon tattoo though and making a motion (over his own arm) to wipe it off. Sorry sir, but I’m afraid that’s not possible anymore. He wasn’t threatening or whatever, but he kept jammering at me while I was eating ice cream and trying to follow what he was saying. Eventually, I motioned that I was finished eating and walked away.
Another fun fact: tattooing is only actually allowed by doctors in South Korea! It’s considered an invasive procedure. Everybody who tats but is not a doctor is basically breaking the law. So you won’t find all the artists advertising with big signs on their windows as they might somewhere else.
I found the artist I wanted to get a tattoo from through Instagram. I even booked my first appointment through Instagram! Might sound like a horrible idea reading it, but that’s how he worked at the time. A friend I met over there wanted to get a tattoo as well, so when I had the address, she and I set off. We got totally lost of course. Like I said: no big sign on the window and it was in a residential area. Not all the streets were clearly marked and the house we were supposed to go to had three apartments and we couldn’t figure out which one to ring up. Luckily we had come early so we weren’t that late by the time we finally rang the right bell.
We were nervous as hell, looking around for signs of trouble or malpractice, but everything was pristine. The artist, Hongdam, didn’t speak English very well and we of course hardly spoke any Korean, but with hands, feet and Google translate we managed to get our ideas across. We settled on a price and a date and returned to our dorms. The second time around we managed to find it the first time and got the tattoos with no trouble. I had planned my appointment so that I could even go back for a touch up before going home!
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Raven by @barisyesilbas. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an appointment. #raven #bird #watercolor #geometry #linework #abstract #fineline #geometric #tinytattoo #geometrictattoo #blackworker #colortattoo #watercolortattoo #blackartstattoo #brooklyn #tattoo #vegan #vegantattoo #veganny #veganink #williamsburg #bushwick #nyc #nytattoo #tattoo #brooklyntattooshop #gristletattoo #barisyesilbas
The USA is a weird place if you’re from a small country. Everything is huge. The distances, the products, the hypes. It’s a world on it’s own, every state its own unique country. I knew before I left that I wanted a tattoo to represent this experience as well if it was a good one. But seven weeks is a short time to book an appointment. Shops usually have a waiting list a couple of months long, so I had to hope that there was a spot for me when I was there. There being New York, the last place I would visit before going back home. I had been following a really awesome artist in New York, Baris Yesilbas, for a while already and I emailed his shop to ask if he had time. He did! The luck a girl can have.
It took a day out of my New York time, but I got an amazing raven tattoo in return. Unfortunately, the tattoo didn’t heal as well as I would have liked and parts of it got damaged. This time there was no going back for a touch-up, not a week after I got it I was back home!
Two years later, the planets aligned and Baris came to Istanbul. I had the time, the money and Istanbul is closer than New York, so I asked him if he could touch up the tattoo. I had told him about the damage and he was happy that he could fix the bird up. All’s well that ends well!
Tips and warnings
I already said that getting a tattoo abroad is a risk and I think I also showed you why. Usually, there needs to be about six weeks between getting it and touching it up. If you’re gone before that time, you might not have the original artist to fix bits that have fallen off (as can happen during healing).
Of course you also always need to be very careful about hygiene. Getting a tattoo is basically getting an open wound that needs healing. I hope I don’t need to tell you about the risks of dirty needles. A good artist won’t mind you asking about the procedure and will always use new needles. If he works in a shop, you can look around and see how his colleagues are working. If you don’t feel safe or comfortable, just go!
Do your research before you go somewhere. I personally love Instagram to find artists. It’s a good way to get a feel of somebody’s style and you can see how he or she interacts with the followers and the kind of comments that they get. A lot of tattoo artist also use the stories nowadays to show how they’re working. Bonus! Artists often notify their followers of openings and ready-to-set designs (flashes) on social media as well!
I can tell you already that I plan to get more tattoos when I’m on my world trip. My arm might become an abstract world map on which every picture has its own story and its own memories. I love that idea.