Traveling While Tattooed: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

I got my first tattoo, a little purple rose, when I was 16 and ever since then I’ve been hooked. Over 40 (combined, not consecutive) hours in the chair later, I have seven tattoos and a full sleeve (meaning my entire right arm is tattooed).

While my tattoos were something that I opted to get, on my own body, I’m still met with discerning looks around the world (including my home country of America) because of the negative stigmas associated with people who have tattoos.

I fully understand that some people just do not approve, for cultural reasons, religious reasons or otherwise but what I don’t understand (and may never know) is why so many people react in disgust to my tattoos as if I strapped them down against their will, tattooed profanity across their forehead and doomed them to a forever fate of a tattooed face.

Traveling While Tattooed: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly - Get Lost With JackieOne of my most recent tattoos, an ode to traveling (and Frank Sinatra), because “I’ve got the world on string, sitting on a rainbow, got the string around my finger”.

My tattoos are MINE, they’re on MY body and they in no way, shape or form affect someone else’s life.

The exception to this rule would be my parents who don’t necessarily “approve” of my tattoos (neither of them having any of their own) yet they are (most often) fully accepting of my choices for my body.

Traveling while tattooed has had me in very interesting situations – all around the world. I’ve become a spectacle in some countries, I’ve sparked thoughtful conversations, I believe I’ve changed some minds and I’ve also pissed some people off.

Traveling While Tattooed: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly - Get Lost With JackieMy tattoos blending in with 50 shades of blue in Wynwood, Mimai.

The Good:

I’ll start with my first international trip while tattooed – Bali, in 2013. The Balinese I encountered were super accepting of my tattoos, and some were even in awe! Being that my skin is such a light tone the colors in my tattoos POP which is something that the native Balinese can’t acquire due to their darker skin tone. I was met with smiling faces and inquiring minds and even some comments of jealousy because of the bright hues of my ink. I had similar encounters when I returned to Bali in 2016 – some even jokingly asking if my artist would come to tattoo them (she would!).

Another place I’ve traveled that was terrifically tolerant of my tattoos was New Zealand! I only spend about five days on the North Island in/around Auckland but every local who inquired about my tattoos did so in a respectful, appreciative manner. Some even commenting on the ocean theme of my sleeve – we were, after all, at a big surfing beach.

While not super progressive in the “accepting of tattoos” department, I was surprised to have a healthy conversation in Verona, Italy with an older (perhaps 65-ish) woman who I caught staring at my arm (I’ll go into that a bit more when we get to, “the ugly”). This woman looked frightened of me when her eyes made their way up my arm and to my face. I greeted her with a light, friendly, “ciao”, and her entire facial expression changed. I could tell she was expecting me to be, for lack of a better phrase, a rude bitch and I could also tell she was pleasantly surprised to hear a warm tone come from my mouth.

I asked her if she wanted to see the inside of my arm, as until I twist my arm around – no one would know what’s on the inside, and she said, “yes”. She went on to admit that she never expected all my tattoos to be on the arm of, “someone who is so nice” (read: stereotypes).

In all these instances – my tattoos have sparked healthy discussions. From simple curiosity to full on conversations, my tattoos and my decisions were something that were respected.

Traveling While Tattooed: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly - Get Lost With JackieBoldly braving with all my tattoos out in super accepting and equally beautiful Bali.

The Bad:

I’ve always claimed Italy as my favorite country. Perhaps its due to my mom’s lineage tying to the boot shaped peninsula, perhaps it’s the cuisine that varies from region to region but remains consistently, “uh-maaaazing” across the whole country, or maybe it’s the history. Whatever it is, I love Italy.

Even when I’m getting chewed out by a nonna (grandmother) for my personal decisions, Italy is still my favorite country. This has happened to me COUNTLESS times in Italy and it never really bothered me as I chalked it up to cultural differences.

Until, the one. The nonna that pushed me over the edge. She said, “perché, faccia bella?” (Why, beautiful face?) I’ve heard that I’ll regret my tattoos, I’ve heard that ‘they’re just not for me’ (as if I asked someone what MY tattoos were for THEM), I’ve heard, “tattoos are for scumbags” (verbatim)… but that was the first time that I heard I was “too pretty for tattoos” (which is what she went on to elaborate on).

I have so many problems with her statements and sentiments. Who said only ugly people can get tattoos? Furthermore, why would it be okay for a person with a ‘less appealing face’ to ink their body up – but it’s not okay for me?

I understand that a lot of her ideology comes from Italy still being a ‘traditional’ (read: misogynistic) country when it comes to a woman’s place in society. What she was implying was that I was hurting my prospects for a man, especially considering I have a pretty face, which would assist me in landing a husband. As, if.

Traveling While Tattooed: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly - Get Lost With JackieJust sweating my life away in France on a 100-degree (30 celcius) day because I preferred to cover my tattoos rather than face people asking a million questions and staring.

The Ugly:

Earlier I talked about a healthy conversation that was sparked due to a woman eyeing my tattoos. Typically, that look over doesn’t end with a healthy discussion over an afternoon aperitivo (afternoon appetizer, or drink).

From Australia to Croatia and everywhere in between (quite literally, everywhere I’ve been, including my home city of New York) there is this stereotypical, disapproving, look my arm gets. If I’m in a short sleeve it usually starts at my wrist and works its way up to my upper arm where 99 times out of 100 they’re met with my blank stare – watching them analyze and judge my arm.

Often the owner of the denouncing look, immediately looks away and pretends they weren’t hyper analyzing my decision to make my own arm inked up. But sometimes the questions start, and most often when they start in that manner (the horrified stare and gazing) I’m met with “why”. No one walks up to a stranger and says, “Why are you wearing those shoes?” or “Why did you decide to dye your hair purple?” because they’re generally aware that it’s none of their business, at all. So, WHY strangers around the world feel the reason to ask me WHY I got tattoos is beyond my level of comprehension.

Another, extremely typical and equally “ugly” thing strangers do is grab my arm and twist it to see what tattoos exist on the inside of my arm. This is not okay. Please, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m almost positive that nowhere in the world is it culturally acceptable to grab some one’s wrist and start twisting their arm. Also, it sometimes hurts, is usually startling and is just plain rude. Please, people of earth, stop doing this to people who have tattoos.

The ugliest tattoo encounter I’ve ever had was on a train from Slovenia to Croatia where I was in a coach with two young women who spoke no English and a man from Macedonia who I wish also didn’t speak English. His overall energy and vibe when he came into the coach was uncomfortable and negative and he began complaining to the young women and myself (in a language I didn’t understand) to which I replied, “I’m sorry I speak English I don’t understand”.

His complaints were then translated in English for me – he had just left a woman’s home he went to visit after meeting her on Facebook and she asked him to chip in for the groceries and the heat in her home and he left because he felt that was rude of her. Strictly playing devil’s advocate to give him the benefit of the doubt here, he was already in a bad mood and anything could’ve tipped him off at that point – what ended up being the fatal shot? My tattoos on my right arm poking through my sweater sleeve.

“Are those tattoos?”, he asked. “They are!”, I replied in an upbeat and optimistic tone, hoping to calm him down. “Disgusting American trash, I bet you voted for Obama, disgusting.”, he abruptly retorted.

This is where I should’ve shut my mouth, but being the strong independent New Yorker I am, I snarkily replied, “I sure did, and he’s the best thing that happened to America since I’ve been alive.” This sent the man off on a tangent about American’s having no “sense of responsibility” and loving “black people”. I’m paraphrasing because I won’t reiterate the racist and profane words he used – but it was bad.

The young women who were in the coach with me couldn’t understand what he was saying – but they felt the negative energy he was omitting, also. When they got up and started collecting their things, I did the same and they seemed a bit relieved for me when I existed the coach with them.

I’ll never fully understand why hate holds a place on our planet or why people opt to “hate” something that doesn’t affect them. My tattoos have been the catalyst for some pretty angry looks and comments but what I love even more is that they’ve also been an incentive to help someone change their mind, to open their mind and to provide them an alternative to the stereotype that has been wrongfully embedded into their thought process.

Traveling While Tattooed: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly - Get Lost With Jackie

Traveling While Tattooed: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly - Get Lost With Jackie

Traveling While Tattooed: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly - Get Lost With Jackie

10 comments so far.

10 responses to “Traveling While Tattooed: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly”

  1. Inge says:

    Was this guy connecting your tattoos to a president? Obviously, we meet nitwits everywhere in the world. I was once yelled at because my hair was ‘too fu***** blonde’ and all of a sudden I was a stupid Swedish ass. I’m not Swedish and I wouldn’t know what’s wrong with that either. Anyway, I love your sleeve! It’s so colorful and I plan on getting a sleeve in the near future! Happy travels!

  2. Joanna says:

    I have just got my first tattoo a few months back and so far I didn’t experience any negativity towards it. The people I’ve met during my travels since then are curious about it and ask me what it represents. I even had a pleasant surprise in my home country (which is very conservative), when I went to redo my ID and standing in the queue a girl admired my tattoo. I do hope I won’t experience the bad and the ugly, it is my body and it was my choice to get the tattoo.

  3. Suzy says:

    This is such a great read. I got my first tattoo in New Zealand and it could not have been a more fitting place to feel the inspiration – somewhere I adore and also somewhere that tattoos are a big part of the historical culture. I’m glad you had good experiences there! Keep on rocking it 🙂

  4. Andrea Mayfield says:

    I agree with you- why is there so much hate in this world?! Why can’t we all just accept each other. We are all unique. Hate you experienced this!

  5. Janine Good says:

    A very interesting read. So surprising of the reactions you get! It is a choice and I am glad you stand up to it!

  6. Sky says:

    People are absolutely crazy. I don’t have nearly as many tattoos as you and the most colorful ones aren’t visible but I still get asked about them allll the time. I have one on my shoulder and people seem to think it’s appropriate to come up behind me and MOVE MY BRA STRAP to read it….and then look flabbergasted when I yank myself away. Tattoos are the business of the person whose body they are on and no one else. I’m sorry you’ve had such awful interactions with them! That man sounds terrible.

  7. Christina says:

    I can SO relate to this! I have “only” two but quite visible tattoos (so far), and I love them. And I get a lot of “I would get so bored looking at my this on myself for the rest of my life” comments, and those are the nice ones. Like, wtf should I care what you think? They mean something to me, and that’s all they ever have to do.
    But luckily, I currently live in Bali and like you said, have very good experiences here. Intend to go to “Tattoos and Tacos Tuesday” soon – free tattoo if you get a taco dinner lol. And btw: Your Frank Sinatra related tattoo is absolutely amazing. And you are gorgeous. Period.

  8. jin says:

    I have a tattoo myself, but it’s hidden. I’ve been to Europe many times in the past 25 years and it seems that these past 10 years, I see more and more European youths getting tattoos! So I believe one day, it’ll be just a normal thing like it is here in The States.

  9. Helene says:

    Completely agree with you. I have 4 tattoos, mostly hideable, so I haven’t run into these kinds of issues yet (fingers crossed). I’m sorry you had to go through these situations… hopefully someday people will stop judging others! Let’s stay optimistic;)

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