The Pros and Cons of Getting a Tattoo on Vacation

The night before my best friend and I took a week-long trip to Belgium, I casually mentioned that I might be ready to get another tattoo. I had been thinking about finally getting a travel-related tat, and what better place to get one than while on vacation, especially a vacation that I may not be returning from.

She immediately lit up.

“I had been waiting until we were in Belgium, but now that you mention it… I was thinking we should get matching tattoos,” she said.

As it turns out, we were both picturing basically the same tattoo, and we both wanted it in the same place. So we did some rough sketches of what we wanted and we finished prepping for our trip.

Upon arriving in Bruges, we wasted no time. After dropping off our bags at the hotel, we made our way to the nearest parlor and got inked. Having done it, and now that it has safely healed, here are the pros and cons of getting tatted abroad.

CONS:

You’re getting a tattoo in a potentially questionable place.

There are probably all of three tattoo parlors in Bruges. We went to the one closest to the hotel, which ended up being half clothing store half tattoo parlor. We weren’t given any releases to sign. As far as we could tell, the place was clean, and it had good reviews on its Facebook page. But if you’re the kind of person that is used to a more formal tattoo proces or has a trusted artist or goes only on personal recommendations, that might be hard to come by abroad.

There may be language barrier.

We fared pretty well in Bruges, but I imagine that seeing a non-English speaking artist may have been problematic, at best. As it is, we had to describe a trail line from the back of our tattoo airplane as a “swoosh.” We got the point across, but it took a few tries. If you’re getting words, I recommend seeing an artist that speaks the language he is tattooing on your body.

Carrying luggage and sightseeing with a tattoo is a bitch.

This is especially true if your tattoo is large or in a bothersome spot. We got tattoed on the wrist, so wearing long sleeves was irritating. And since we moved from one city to another every couple of days, we were encumbered by our still-sore tattoo all over Belgium. Trust me, you do not want to risk scraping your fresh tattoo on your bookbag while you run for the train.

It may interfere with other vacation-related activities.

There are a lot of things you can’t/shouldn’t do with a fresh tattoo, like submerge it underwater or expose it to the sun. So if you’re vacationing on a beach in Tahiti, it’s probably worthwhile to wait on the tat. I also learned that drinking with a new tattoo can cause excessive swelling and irritation. So thinking that my tattoo was infected due to all the redness in the middle of a nice brewery tour was a bit of a downer, albeit a temporary one.

PROS:

Getting a tattoo on vacation will always be a memorable experience.

For us the experience was also special because it was our 5th anniversary of vacationing abroad together every year and because we’re practically sisters. We celebrated with a strong Belgian beer.

I don’t make it a habit of doing things I’ll regret. So, sure it was a pain to take care of the first few days of the trip, and the artist may have even missed a spot or two, but I’ll always look back on this trip fondly for it.