Forget postcards, fridge magnets or old currency, Gen Z and Millennial travellers and tourists have found a more permanent souvenir for their vacations: tattoos. 

My flatmate is a session musician who travels a lot for work. From Bristol to Bogota, Amsterdam to Accra he collects a different bag of coffee beans whenever he travels to a new place, usually in beautiful, reusable packaging. I think it is such a beautiful concept. He has found something so universal (coffee is drunk pretty much everywhere) yet so diverse. Then when he comes home he drinks the product of that land and is forever reminded of the taste in its beautiful reusable packaging. 

This sentiment helps me, as a Gen Z creative with not a single tattoo, to understand this new craze among many Gen Z and Millennial travellers. Tattoo tourism or “tattourism” is the latest trend pioneered by Gen Z and millennials, who choose to memorialise a trip with a tattoo as the ultimate souvenir. They’ll often travel far for the opportunity to get etched by a renowned tattoo artist, whose creativity is on display on social media and whose highly coveted designs sometimes lead to wait lists that span from months to even years.

There are now even famous “tattourist” influencers such as 32-year-old Andy Glickman, a hair stylist and yoga teacher from Philadelphia. His body art takes you on a journey of not only his travels but his heritage and interests. From a Star of David tattoo on a trip to Israel, where he delved into his Jewish heritage to a hand-carved Sak Yant tattoo on his back from a Buddhist monk in Chiang Mai, Thailand – a bid to strengthen his spirituality. “Each piece signifies a transformative moment in my life and a bond to the exotic location.” 

Themes of legacy and connection seem to be key themes among “tattourists”. Similarly, Rachel Ahrnsen, a 30-year-old grant writer from Cincinnati, Ohio, sought out Razzouk Tattoo in Jerusalem, a shop that has tattooed pilgrims since the 14th century. “It’s cool to feel connected to people hundreds of years ago, who were tattooed with the same design,” Ahrnsen said, who chose a Love and Family design with its tree and birds imagery.

As you can imagine, it wasn’t long before brands started capitalising off this trend. In 2019, Moxy Hotels, a Marriott subsidiary known for its youthful vibe, signed up tattoo artist Jonathan “JonBoy” Valena (whose clients include Justin Bieber and Kendall Jenner) for an exclusive residency at their Times Square hotel. Virgin Voyages’s onboard cruise offerings now include a tattoo shop curated by World Famous Tattoo Ink (which boasts half a million Instagram followers). Frank Webber, Virgin Voyages’ SVP of Fleet Operations, came up with the idea after going to a well-known tattoo artist in Miami Beach and learning that customers came in before or after a cruise to commemorate their vacation.

Gen Z and younger Millennials are known for their ‘don’t give a fuck’ attitude and ability to embrace inclusivity and individuality. Sean Flynn, a 36-year-old editor spontaneously got a tattoo on a recent trip to Barcelona and summed up this sentiment beautifully in a quote to the Wall Street Journal. “What’s important is not what someone else thinks of my tattoos, but what I derive from them, the satisfaction and personal joy they bring me […] That’s better than any souvenir.”

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