Culture

Why Do We Love Getting Tattoos As Travel Souvenirs?

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Once upon a time when I was still living in Canada and found myself with a week between an old job and a new one, I impulse purchased a ticket to Mexico City for Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Partly because the price was right, partly because I like to travel any chance I get, but mostly because it was a festival that had always intrigued me.

While there, I met a couple of lovely brothers from Costa Rica who were staying in my 12-person dorm room. One of the first things I noticed was that the elder, Alvaro, had a full sleeve of tattoos (I’m a tatt person, what can I say).

As we became friends Alvaro began to explain the meaning behind his tattoos, and honestly, I’ve never been so inspired by ink.

“My very first tattoo is of an ox cart wheel, which is a national symbol in Costa Rica for hard work,” Alvaro explained to me. “I started getting tattoos here in Costa Rica first and they were mostly related to national designs and symbols”.

“If I kept it like that, I would really miss a story on my arm of the person I was becoming after every trip. Every time you visit a new city you become a new person”.

 

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A post shared by Alvaro Jara Aguilar (@evoalvaro)

Ever since meeting Alvaro and learning how he tattoos his story on his arm the way I type mine onto this website, I’ve been interested in why so many travellers decide to get new ink while they’re exploring the world.

I have several tatts myself, but nearly all of them were carefully planned and a long time coming. Not that a travel tattoo can’t be planned, Alvaro is a big fan of researching what tattoo to get and where to get it at each new destination. However, more people I’ve talked to seem to do it on a whim — something they’d never consider in everyday life.

Everything from getting a mate’s name tattooed on a leg purely because of a dare, to last-minute symbols to remember the experience by. I’ve even met people who had been considering getting their first tattoo for a while but only finally took the plunge in a last-minute “why not” move because they were on vacay.

Why? Because Alvaro is right, and every time we explore somewhere new, part of us is changed. Whether the trip was amazing, or everything went wrong, we made new connections, lost old ones or just had a lot of fun — there’s a new piece to our life story. Not to mention we feel a little freer to express ourselves outside the constraints of ordinary life.

Sometimes we put a little more effort into how we choose to mark that change, and sometimes it’s just a stupid dare that we wouldn’t have gone along with in any other situation — it doesn’t matter. We’re still looking to have a permanent way to remember the experience. And that’s kind of wonderful, if you ask me.

 

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A post shared by Kassia Byrnes (@probably_kassia)

My time in Mexico was short, but it touched me. The mentality behind Dia de Los Muertos — the way people whole-heartedly celebrated the lives of their dead loved ones, and expressed how lucky they felt to have known them — was a way of thinking about life and death that completely changed my own views.

So on my last day in the city, when my roommates had already left and a whole new group of people had taken over the beds, I used my five words of Spanish to seek out a local tattoo artist and ask for a tattoo.

He had very little English, so it was really a leap of faith. But the $20 tattoo I ended up with was perfect, and makes me smile every time I look down at my arm because it reminds me of the feelings, philosophies and amazing new friends that touched my heart in Mexico.


(Lead image: provided by @evoalvaro)