Lifestyle Thailand Travel

The One With The Travel Tattoo

Getting A Travel Tattoo

Perched on a chair, every muscle in my body trembling with a mix of fear and adrenaline, I consider if I might be making a bad decision. Next to me a man I’ve only just met, a stranger, is prepping his equipment. Sterilised needles are bound to a stick of bamboo with a thick plastic string. A lighter is applied to melt the string together, holding it in place. On my foot a target marked out in pen and ready for the punch of the needle, waiting for those first drops of ink that will adorn my skin forever.
Yes, I’m getting a tattoo.
I have been considering getting a tattoo while I was overseas for some time. Well apart from the fact that tattoos are almost always cheaper to get in places like South East Asia, the design I had in mind was travel related and I didn’t really see the meaning in getting it done at home. Dengue fever got in the way in Bali, and to be honest I’d almost forgotten about the idea until I got to Thailand. Wandering the streets one evening and watching people get traditional bamboo tattoos I was struck by a thought. Why not get a tattoo here? As well as getting the design I wanted I was giving myself a chance to try out bamboo tattooing, which I’d heard was much easier on the body and had a considerably faster healing time. But I wasn’t just going to run into a situation without some research…

Getting A Tattoo Overseas

Safety and Hygiene

No surprises these two are at the top. Be aware of your surroundings when you’re looking for a place to get a tattoo done. Know what a tattoo parlour should look and feel like, and be conscious of what isn’t safe or hygienic. Make sure your tattoo artist uses fresh, sterile needles and that the shop area is clean. I would definitely recommend asking around in the area to see if other travellers can recommend a tattoo parlour, maybe one that they’ve used without issue. The most important thing overall is to be on the ball about your health, which follows on to point number two.

Never Drunkenly Tattoo

I know that butterfly on your arse cheek seems like an absolutely amazing idea when you’re out on the buckets with your buddies, but the next morning there’s a big chance you’re going to seriously regret it. Under no circumstances, including fear or apprehension, should you get your tattoo in an inebriated state. As well as the fact that you won’t be aware enough to make sure you’re in a safe and hygienic parlour, you also won’t be making sober and informed decisions about other important things, like the tattoos design.

Have Design Ideas

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the ‘pick one out of the book’ tattoos, but in the end that’s your decision. When I went to get my tattoo done I had been planing it for quite some time, and knew almost exactly what I wanted. Especially if you’re in a country where English isn’t the first language of your tattooist, make sure that your design is mapped out exactly how you want it, and don’t be afraid to speak up if your tattooist is suggesting things you don’t like. This is going on your skin after all, and although a tattooist might be able to provide some very useful tips, the final decision is of course your own.

Plan For Aftercare

Tattoos need time to heal, and regardless of where you are now or where you’re heading, you need to make a plan for the aftercare of your tattoo. As my tattoo was a Thai bamboo tattoo, the healing time in terms of getting it wet was only 12 hours (I gave it a day to be safe). But, gun tattoos may need up to two weeks to fully heal, which means no swimming or similar activities (among other things). So think about where you’re going to be in the next few weeks after you get your tattoo. Obviously if you were planning to spend them island hopping, restricting yourself from the water is probably going to be a horrible idea.


Once I’d considered all of these things and I felt suitable prepared it was time to get down to business. I had picked my tattoo parlour and spoken to the tattooists there who, despite the fact that my tiny tattoo design was no big deal for them, were really wonderful in helping me feel at ease throughout the process. The pain, although it was a bit of a shock to the system at first, was definitely completely manageable and I even managed to crack a few smiles and thumbs up at the rubberneckers walking past on the street in front of the parlour. In just 20 minutes (bamboo tattooing takes longer than a gun) I was done and ready to show off my new ink.

Verdict? I love my new tattoo, and I think I’m actually much happier giving bamboo tattooing a try instead of just getting a gun tattoo. Now not only do I have my travel tattoo design, which means so much to me, but I also have the cool memories of getting a bamboo tattoo during my time in Thailand.

The Meaning Behind My Tattoo

So what’s the story behind my tattoo? Well it’s a travel tattoo that I designed. True to my writerly background, it’s a play on the German word wanderlust, which I’ve noticed on several travelling bodies in the last few months. To be honest, I didn’t find myself connecting that much with the German word as it was, so I decided to put my own spin on it. Seeing as I’m a freak for daydreaming, and often spend hours thinking of all kinds of randomness while I’m on my travels, I wanted to incorporate not only the wandering part of my life, but also the wondering part. Blending the A and the O together seemed like a good way to accomplish this collision of similar words

Adding onto this was a serious love of the following quote:

Not all those who wander are lost” from the mind of the magnificent J.R.R. Tolkien, which brought about the second part of the design.

In my mind, there’s nothing better than spending a day wandering and wondering, totally lost in my new surroundings as well as in my head, and I’m happy that my tattoo is going to accompany me on my next adventure.

This post originally appeared on, the pre-evolved version of Maps And Mandalas. I’ve republished it here with its original date because I love it that much.

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