Lonely Planet Writer

Travel debate: Should you get a tattoo on your travels?

When you're on the road and away from your usual surrounds and responsibilities, it's easy to lose your head and really embrace that devil may care attitude that sends you hightailing it to a tattoo parlour for the ultimate, permanent souvenir. Wise idea? Or regrettable folly? Let's debate it!

In the 'Go for it!' corner we have Lonely Planet intern, Courtney:

I have a friend who had a little too much fun one night while travelling in Hawaii with his mate, and they made a pact to get tattoos. Of course, over the course of the night, there were terms added to the pact. They agreed to flip a coin: the winner of the coin toss would get a tattoo that said ‘The Best of Times’, and the loser would get ‘The Worst of Times’ – and it would go right on their derriere. Luckily for my friend, he won.

The interesting part of the story is neither of them regretted getting the tattoos. Not only did they get a good story out of it, but now they always have a memory of that crazy night in Oahu.

Although I wouldn’t recommend getting a tattoo at the end of a big night out, it can be the ultimate memento of your travels. If you want the tattoo, it’s of something memorable to you and the tattoo parlour is clean (priority number one), go for it.

Do make sure you’re prepared for any consequences that come with the tattoo. Sometimes tattoos can get infected if you neglect to take care of them properly (which is quite possible with the distraction of travelling), and since the tattoo will be there beyond your travels, you may have to cover it up when you go back to work. Let’s not forget about parents for you younger travellers – many parents don’t think much of tattoos (even if they have them themselves!)

If you want a tattoo, there’s really no better time to do it than on your travels. The spontaneous person inside you deserves to live in the moment and if a tattoo is a result of that then more power to you!

And arguing against the case for getting a tattoo on your travels, we have Lonely Planet content writer, Bill:

Time spent travelling can provide us with some of our most memorable experiences – experiences that will render lively scenes upon the evolving mural of our life. Friendships made with locals and fellow travellers can be the most important and enduring we’ll ever make – whether they end up our penpals, our spouses or just that wise ol’ dude we quote every now and again, these are the pigments and chromas of our ‘life palette’.

However, the fisherman’s pants we don, the hair we dreadlock, and the catchy Euro-trash pop melody we adopt as our life anthem are, well, a bit different: They are the angsty love letters, the mid-blink photographs and the lost-their-sticky post-it notes of our travel histories. We wince as they randomly and occasionally pop into our consciousness. And then we forget about them again. Because we can. Because they’re not indelible.

Now, let’s talk about the embarrassingly permanent: Attending a Half-Moon party in Thailand isn’t motivation for a Buddhist deity on the back of your stubbly white calf. Hiking the highlands then getting drunk with people who may have known your Scottish relatives does not justify a Celtic armband. Drunkenly stumbling amongst Tokyo’s neon doesn’t give you Yakuza status. And a week, a month or even a year of bunjee and Zorbing in New Zealand (even with a wicked tan) does not a Māori make!

The travel tattoo basically says “I knew nothing before I went on this trip, and here’s the proof.” The Chinese calligraphy running down your spine might translate as ‘Be the dragon, be the fish, be the flower’, but to a passerby it also reads ‘Stop being such a massive plonker’.

Your embarrassing travel stories will be laughed at by you and your friends. Your travel tattoos will be laughed at by people who don’t know you (and by me).


Courtney: Yes, I suppose you could end up with a Buddhist deity on your calf or some Celtic arm band, as Bill suggests. But if you wanted a tattoo before and you are of sound mind (aka not drunk) when you decide to get it, then it will be a fabulous memento of your trip and a great story. And no one will laugh at you...if anything, they'll ask where you got it and what it means - I'd probably give you a high five.

Bill: And so you see there is even a problem with the temporary nature of tattoos – What if Charles Dickens had been on a drunken tour of 19th century Hawaii with a buddy? What if he’d woken up the morning after, head and bum aching, and a nagging sensation that he’d come up with an idea for a book but couldn’t quite remember those opening lines? Rather than producing one of history’s great tomes of fictionalised social analysis, Chuck would have just turned to his still-groggy buddy and, grinning, groaned, 'Duuuuuude, look at your ass!'

What do you think? To tattoo or not to tattoo - that is the travel question. Share your views!