Getting a tattoo can be a big deal, especially if you are leaning towards collecting. If getting a peice of flash from your local shop is not for you, then you may find yourself spending weeks, and even months, planning your next tattoo. First you have to decide on a concept/design, then select an artist/shop, and most likely wait a while to even get a consultation... and this is all looong before a tattoo machine ever touches skin. Frequently this kind of tattoo collecting can lead to out-of-state travel. That's when things can get a little nuts. Now you are not just getting a tattoo - you are taking time off from work and travelling for ink. Most people you know will not understand.
Like ice climbing, tattoo collecting is a hobby reserved for those who find pleasure in it. You will never catch me strapping crampons on my feet and wielding an ice axe for "fun", but hopping a plane to get that perfect tattoo from an artist I admire? Hell yes. Last week I made my fourth out-of-town trip for a tattoo. I flew to Seattle to get my sleeve finished by the uber-talented Tina Bafaro. All this travelling for ink has given me ample opportunity to make major mistakes and also learn how to do things right. Now I share this hard-won wisdom with you, fellow ink addicts.
Seven Secrets of Successful Tattoo Travel
1. Plan Your Flights Carefully
What do I mean by carefully? I'll tell you. You are already taking time off from work for your tattoo travel and most likely the tattoo itself will be expensive. Add in travel costs (hotel, food, parking, flight etc.) and your new peice of body art can get very expensive very fast.
The temptation is to keep your away time as short as possible. Fly red eye and get tattooed the day you arrive, then book it home the same day or morning after your last session. I have done this. It is bad. Why? Because you are heading to your session worn out from travel and that is not a good way to get tatttoed. Every experienced tattoo collector knows you should show up for your session well fed, well rested, and well hydrated so you can better manage the pain and be able to sit well for longer. Arriving strung out from travel and most likely underfed and hydrated is a disaster because you run the risk of fading early, getting dizzy and/or nauseous, and even fainting. (Me, me and also me!)
If at all possible, arrive the day before your first session and fly home the day after your last session (or at least take the later flight so you can sleep in). That trip home is going to suck. You will be sore, worn out, and you won't be able to attend to your dressings while travelling, which is a recipe for infection. Better to give yourself a full day of healing before you head home - your skin and tattoo will thank you.
2. Do All Sight-Seeing Before Your Tattoo
Quite often, tattoo travel takes you to a cool place that you want to check out. That is one of the things that makes this kind of travel fun. Make sure you do all your major sight-seeing before your first session. I know some of you are animals and can hit the town like a Viking on a village raid after sitting 6 or 8 hours for a tattoo, but the rest of us need rest. Lots of it. Arrive early enough to do your vacationing before tattooing so you are not tempted to push your limits to cram it all in between sessions. Also, your sessions will most likely be long (over 5 hours at least) because you travelled all that way and the plan is to get that tattoo done, so the ability to do sight seeing on session days is likely limited.
3. Pack For Healing
You will need to pack everything you need for healing so you can attend to your tattoo at your hotel. Some artists, like the lovely Tina, give you everything you need - plastic wrap, medical tape, guaze, salve (thanks Tina!!) - but not all artists do this. Many simply wrap you up at the end of your last session and send you on your way with care instructions because healing is your responsibility. Be prepared! Bring plastic wrap out of the box (that serrated edge on the cardboard will make TSA nervous - believe me), medical tape, healing salve, latex gloves, medical gauze, and teeny tiny nail scissors small enough to not trigger a strip search at airport security. Then don't make dumb jokes about needing to dispose of a body Breaking Bad style - TSA does NOT think you are funny. Believe me. While we are on the subject of packing...
4. Pack Light and Pack Your Darks
Hopefully you are not an over packer, but even if you are, try to restrain yourself. Getting there is one thing, but travelling home will be hell with a lot of heavy bags and cumbersome carry-ons. No matter where you got tattooed, you will not be as mobile on your travel day. Make life easy and pack light and small. Remember to bring your dark, lightweight, and loose cotton clothing. And if you are an exemplary human, bring your own dark sheets and towel for the hotel.
5. Prepare For Your Sessions Properly
Don't let the confusion of travel distract you from getting the water and food you need before your sessions. Travel dehydrates you and so does tattooing. This is so important it bears repeating: take the time necessary to fully hydrate and eat before your sessions. Even if you have to make do with what is near your hotel, don't skip this critical step. Remember you are trying to maximize the amount of tattoo time you can squeeze in on this trip. Be smart and fuel up beforehand to make your sessions more productive.
6. Bring A Friend... If They Like to Read
Having a tattoo travel buddy can make the whole experience more fun. You have someone to sight see with before your sessions begin and hopefully someone to help you out when your sessions are over. Choose your tattoo wingman carefully, though. You will be busy getting tattooed and then most likely not up for much after your sessions. Don't bring a party animal who will be bent out of shape when you want to go to bed at 8:30. The ideal tattoo wingman likes reading, sitting quietly, and doing small favors like getting drinks and snacks. This person is not afraid to help out with goopy wraps and will carry your bags in the airport if needed. If you have a friend like that, they are gold. (A big thank you to MY tattoo wing man Jenny - xxoo)
7. Bring Gifts and Thanks
The people in your life that support your tattoo habit deserve some love, too. It might be your spouse, partner, kids, co-workers, boss or even the neighbor who watches your house or pet sits for you. Someone is helping you out with your crazy idea of fun. Show them some love by bringing home a few small gifts that let them know how much you appreciate their support of your (somewhat) irrational habit. That way when you schedule your next out of town tattoo, they will be on your side!
Travel Smart, Travel Well, Get a Great Tattoo!