Gemma Fottles spells out the dos and don'ts of going under the needle for tattoos and piercings in other countries
Whether you're going away for a week or a year, souvenirs are usually one of those things that you do not leave your holiday destination without. Ranging from the less than enthralling cheesy fridge magnet, to the obscure and wonderful item you couldn't get anywhere else in the world, they are a great way of bringing back a little bit of your trip.
One of the great things about souvenirs is that moment when you stumble across it buried in your room, months after you get back home, and you suddenly remember what an amazing time you had. But sometimes this random memory trip isn't enough, and a permanent reminder is desired, often in the form of an infamous holiday tattoo.
At the time, a tattoo whilst you're away may seem like the greatest idea to have ever existed. However getting tattoos whilst abroad, and the certain situations in which many people do so, can lead to very serious consequences. Most typical backpacker or 18-30 drinking holiday destinations will have different rules and regulations to the UK. In many places for example, it does not matter if you are intoxicated (in any way) to give consent to a tattoo. This combined with a 24/7 tattoo parlour equals a very bad mix. So many people wake up the next morning having forgotten all about the previous night's adventures, and are horrified when they look down to see some complete atrocity in a random place on their body. Think The Hangover 2. Nobody wants that. Aside from the slightly comical, but still pretty horrific consequence of a drunken tattoo abroad, there are also serious health risks.
Health regulations in some part of the world are, unfortunately, virtually non-existent. This joined with a generally very poor community can sometimes lead to cutting corners to keep down costs and make the most out of the occasional drunken Westerner's money. Corners such as not using new or sterilised needles on each person, not wearing gloves and generally not keeping an acceptable level of sanitation. Dirty needles are obviously a big deal, as they can lead to life threatening diseases and infections, including HIV and Hepatitis. If you're not careful and fail to maintain a decent level of common sense you could end up returning home with a lot more than you bargained for.
However, just because bad things can happen does not mean that they will. Tattoos are often things that people have been thinking about for a while, but have never got around to doing. Sometimes a holiday is the perfect excuse – losing a few inhibitions can sometimes lead to something you have thought about for ages finally becoming a reality. It can also be a chance to experience something complete unique. For example, a lot of Asian countries have experts in bamboo tattoos, the traditional way of getting tattooed. This technique is pretty rare back in the UK and is a totally different way of experiencing a different culture.
I have had both tattoos and piercings whilst travelling, and do not regret either. They remind me of where I was when I had them and hold more of a meaning to me than anything done at home. In hindsight, I probably should have taken my own advice and thought a little more sensibly about the situation in which each of these were done. Thankfully, I was lucky and everything turned out alright. On the other hand, I have met various people who weren't as lucky as me – even if their tattoo or piercing just ended in a minor infection. At the end of the day, horror stories should be taken with a pinch of salt. If you don't take take stupid risks, then you could end up with a souvenir you'll never lose, and no one else will ever have.