The Developing Relationship Between Crossing Continents And Lines Of Ink

When I got my first tattoo more than ten years ago, I never imagined my body would eventually be covered in them. Every time the tattoo needle traces a design on my body, it’s therapeutic to watch my creative vision come to life. Like me, millions of people all over the world use their bodies as a canvas for their stories, ideologies and emotions. It wouldn’t be too preposterous to consider then that instead of making a trip to the nearest tattoo parlour, one would cross continents to get that specific design inked.

Miryam Lumpini

The intersection of tattoos and travel dates back longer than we know. Sailors usually got tattoos as a testament to their travels. Ancient pilgrims were known for marking their bodies as proof of their pilgrimage. Razzouk Tattoo, located in Jerusalem’s Old City, has been popular among Christian pilgrims since the 14th century. Similarly, Ajarn Noo Kanpai’s studio in Thailand has seen a consistent rise in clients ever since Angelina Jolie got a traditional Sak Yant inked on her back. If enthusiastic travellers can plan their vacations to explore picturesque locations or try out uniquely local cuisines, they can do the same to adorn their skin with ink.

Tattoos by Chaim Machlev


Collecting souvenirs from around the world is common; however, inking a memory to cherish forever is picking up among travellers. From couples getting matching tattoos to friends getting one in honour of their friendship to purely impulsive ones, tattoos and travel have found a sweet spot for interaction. Shomil Shah, a self-taught hand poke artist who travels all around the world to ink clients, explains, “A lot of the clients that come to me are either from the diaspora having lived abroad for the better part of their lives while some of them are from other countries.”

Shomil Shah

Experienced tattoo artists often have a distinctive style that sets them apart. This has been true for Cape Town-based tattoo artist Alex Muller. “Since I specialise in stark portraits of women and animals, people travel to my studio to make these designs a permanent part of their body,” she says. Similarly, Miryam Lumpini, a Swedish tattoo artist based in Los Angeles who has tattooed the likes of singer Jhene Aiko and DJ Skrillex, explains, “Individuals travelling to get themselves tattooed is a lot more common than everyone thinks it is.” She reveals that there’s always a 50 per cent spike in clients during vacation season. Her clients come to her because they’re looking for a specific design that only she can offer.

Francesco Ferrara, an Italian artist based out of Los Angeles, finds that travelling as a guest artist opens up new avenues for him. Some of his clients also travel to catch him at a studio closer to them.

Social Influence

Like other artists, tattoo artists have also benefited vastly from social media. Chaim Machlev, an artist with studios in Berlin and Los Angeles and has inked rapper Machine Gun Kelly, confirms this. He says, “The extended reach of social media has allowed like-minded individuals all over the world to access our art and designs and take back a piece of their travels with them.

Chaim Machlev aka DotsToLines

What began as an underground subculture, relying solely on word of mouth or booths at tattoo conventions with artist portfolios has become a globalised industry that cuts across borders, thanks to social media. Shomil says, “Social media allows us to broaden our perspectives on the different kinds of patterns and designs that are native to a particular location, inching us to explore more.” As
an artist who has been making concerted efforts with his project, the India Ink Archive, social media has been an integral part of maintaining a visual repository of tattoo designs and traditions.

Tattoo by Chaim Machlev

The Future

The tattoo market has evolved – from the designs to the technology. What began with a limited set of designs done using simple tools has now transformed into intricate designs that incorporate line work, geometric shapes and shading with colourful ink. The stigma around tattoos, too, seems to be going away. They’re now widely accepted as a personal and intimate art form.

Tattoo by Shomil Shah

For my 13th tattoo, I booked tickets to Bangkok in Thailand. Intrigued by the traditional Hah Taew Sak Yant and its cultural significance, I decided to travel to its origin and make it a permanent part of my identity. The Wat Bang Phra is a Buddhist Temple known for these traditional tattoos. A revered monk engraved this tattoo on me after he chose the design himself after blessing me. Like me, Tej Brar, Head of Festivals at Nodwin Gaming and a tattoo collector, often plans vacations based on the tattoo he wants. “I believe getting inked is one of my major motivations to travel. I enjoy getting tattoos all over the world, and it allows me to remember the positive memories I made in that place. Like a timestamp which gives you perspective each time you look at it.” He had his ankles tattooed in Tokyo, and on his right arm is a collection of old-school pieces from artists in Boston, Chicago, London and Seoul. He embodies the essence of a tattoo traveller.

- Beauty Writer


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