One of my old co-workers once had the name and image of the cruise ship we worked on tattooed to his upper arm. We were on Nassau in the Bahamas and he was drunk on this sudden, new found love for the cruise line industry as well as just plain drunk from two many tequila shots at the crew bar.
Last I heard he’s since gotten an office job on land somewhere in the suburbs of upstate New York. I wonder what he thinks about his mini-blue cruise ship tattoo now?
I’m not against souvenir tattoos in general (after all, I’ve got two of them!) and I actually like the one pictured above (although I’d never get something quite so large) but it makes me wonder: What is it about traveling that makes people want to immortalize the experience by undergoing the painful and expensive process of scarring themselves irreversibly?
Photo by Twiggy
Photo by Juan Pablo Giusepponi
For me, that answer lies somewhere in my fear of change. I find that right before I’m about to make a scary leap of faith into uncertainty, I’ll get this sudden urge to do something risky, challenging, frightening or drastic, like bungee jump, chop off all of hair or get something pierced or tattooed.
In a weird way, it makes whatever transition I’m about to face a lot less frightening. Leaving my job at Disney World and moving to New York, for example, seemed like a walk in the park after facing my fear of needles and getting my tongue pierced (fortunately, I came to my senses a few months later and took it out! So not classy).
But it also has to with nostalgia and the desire to preserve a cherished experience, as well. When I was in Germany, my best friend at the time and I got tattoos on the same place on the right side of our lower backs. We’d decided that our friendship, which we’d decided was already sealed by fate, should also be sealed by blood. We called ourselves ‘tattoo buddies’, (“We’ll be friends for life!”). Ironically, ‘life’ when I was 22, meant the following six months. I haven’t seen or spoken to my tattoo buddy since I last visited France, almost four years ago.
But I like the fact that wherever I go in the World, I’ll carry a little part of my Germany experience with me, even if it’s only the ink from a tiny back alley tattoo parlor in Leipzig.
Sure, I’ll probably regret it when I’m 80, and my red hibiscus tattoo has been so badly stretched out and faded that it looks like a painful welt or rash. But like Carlos, my tattoo artist in Japan told me, “A naked, old person is ugly with or without tattoos. At that point, you won’t care what you look like.”
Sometimes though, I think that there are a probably a lot less painful, less expensive ways to honor a memorable trip or time abroad. A picture or a postcard might not last as long, but it won’t be something you’ll regret as soon as that ‘vacation high’ wears off. I think I often fall easy victim to the thrill of a new experience and feel this impulsive need to get tattooed, just as I feel the impulsive need to buy a collection of hand-painted bobble head creatures in Mexico or a necklace made out of Yak teeth in India.
I think this dangerous ‘impulse tat’ habit I’ve been developing, is something that I definitely need to work on. After all, I wouldn’t want to ever rue the day I got suckered into getting something as cheesy as a Japanese cherry blossom etched onto my ankle, (oops! Too late…). Or how about the ever classy and sophisticated subway map on the stomach tattoo?