Being Tattooed Abroad

Body art and modification have evolved a lot over the years.  It used to be used strictly for tradition and now the art is used to express individuality or often cope with difficult events.  I have 6 tattoos.  I have three large tattoos and 3 small ones. And though I’m not inked from head to toe, I’ve still come across a lot of different opinions about my body art as I’ve traveled around the world.

Some of my tattoos

About 40% of the US population between the ages of 26-40 have tattoos.  So in American it is very normal to see body art.  People don’t really bat an eye at a girl with a full sleeve or a man with a chest tattoo. But other places in the world, specifically Europe, there are still taboos about body art.

Now if you are an inked person then should you cover up your tattoos?  It depends on your comfort level.  When I came to Spain in 2013, for a summer study abroad, I got a lot of stares and awkward comments about specifically my large back tattoo of two crows. One time a guy in Puerta de Sol, city center, was asking my friends to take a picture of him and give him money.  He was dressed as Mickey Mouse.  I told him “no” several times.  He even got in between me and one of my friends and got in my face. I started screaming at him then he said, “If you can have tattoos you can pay for a f***ing picture.” And I just said, “My money is for you, pandejo.”


It used to bother me but now I’m very used to people pointing at my tattoos and staring.  They are usually just a bit shocked.  Now in Spain, the number of tattoo shops have grown and I see more and more people with tattoos.  A few of the teachers I worked with last year had small tattoos.  So the attitude is changing.  However, more often than not, I’m the most heavily tattooed person in a room, beach or pool.

While I was in Israel, I had an older guest, in his 60’s, at the hostel tell me I got tattoos for attention.  It was just to look sexy and they had no meaning.  Luckily I was with a group of Americans who were also tattooed and we together tried to explain ourselves as politely as possible.  In America, tattoos are common.  Our tattoos represent things that are important to us. We can show or hide our tattoos as we want it doesn’t mean it’s for fashion or attention it’s just how we want to be. It’s really no one’s business how I decide to decorate my body.  He eventually gave up.  But we managed to be civil.

Phazed sexy trippy colorful tattoo

So my tips for inked people:

  • Expect stares and don’t take it personally.  Ignore people or respond politely. There is no need to get angry.  People are just curious.
  • In most places, I would say dress conservatively.  You don’t want to call attention to yourself or be offensive while you travel.
  • During tourist season it is important to be inconspicuous.  Tattoos are a major tell that you are American so it makes you a target.  And for women, there is a stereotype that ink= slut.  So be very careful.
  • At the beach, I would say it really doesn’t matter.  I have a one piece suit in case I want to cover up more but usually the beach is where everything goes. LOUIS VUITTON SPRING 2014 RTW

In general, tattoos or not, try to blend in.  I wear dull colors, I cover my knees and shoulders, I wear light make up if any, and I cover my tattoos. IF someone notices you, they are going to try to target you. And one thing I have to say, is when you are traveling you play by that country’s rules.  When you go back home let your freak flag fly but traveling is not the time for that.


Travel is an amazing experience but people’s views evolve at different paces.  Some of the world is not ready to accept body art as artistic expression.  Enjoy the world and also let the world enjoy you.

Phazed psychedelic drugs magic animated gif

P.S. Shout out to for these dope gifs


6 thoughts on “Being Tattooed Abroad

  1. Did you not have problems getting teaching jobs with tattoos? I taught in Asia for a while and was constantly being told to cover all my tattoos/take out piercings etc. Without fail some recruiter would say ‘oh I think it’s totally cool how you look but other people are so conservative you know?’ It was always ‘other people’ who would object.


  2. Wow never thought about that. I have a huge back tattoo, I’m sure that’ll spark some fires. Do you know how they feel about piercings? My nose and bellybutton is done.


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