Title Image for Tattooed Like an Old Salt

The way I travel means that I spend a lot of time in hostels and cheap guesthouses. As a result, I encounter many other travelers that are much younger than I am. I have so many new twenty- and thirty-something friends, that I have lost count.

Peer Pressure?

One memorable encounter was with three young Americans taking their gap-year touring Italy and Spain. With their encouragement (peer pressure??), I took the first vodka shots of my life in San Sebastian.

They took videos of the toast it got passed around on Facebook. Now I was empowered! What else had I missed out in life?


Because I am in contact with so many “young” people, I get ideas I never had even back when I was that age. Remember, I came of age at a time when one of my friends was grounded for getting her ears pierced! But at the same time, women were burning their bras and young men were burning their draft cards. Oh my! No wonder I am so confused.

This is NOT a Good Idea

The crazy idea came to me when I was in Denmark in July. Here is the kind of conversation that went on in my head for the next several months:

Dialogue between my two selves when debating whether to get a tattoo

You can see where this debate was heading. Once the idea was in my head, I could not shake it. I would be in south Asia; maybe I could find a good artist and it would not cost so much. (Hmmm…but would I get some horrible tropical disease?)

And slowly, things took shape. It had to be something that memorialized my trip. I had had so many conversations about how traveling can encourage a person to be more accepting of differences. I had come to believe that if everyone traveled for an extended time to places outside their comfort zone and really met locals, that the world would become a more peaceful place.

And then I decided to think about it some more. I traveled through Estonia, Kyrgyzstan, and to Northern India. The idea kept resurfacing. And each time, I came closer to saying, “Yes.”

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Just Imagine

John Lennon’s Imagine played in my mind a lot during my trip. Just about my favorite song of all time, it says so much.

The lyrics, “You may say I’m a dreamer…but I’m not the only one…,” truly embodies the spirit of my travels: my personal dreams of traveling; my desire to encourage others (especially those who are reluctant) to travel as well; my belief that meeting locals while traveling is an avenue to peace; dreams can become reality; I’m not the only one….

One day, in India I could not help but start playing with designs:

Tattoo Design Ideas

And then, because those lyrics are almost universally recognized, I knew that I could do away with the word “imagine.” People would get it.


In Sri Lanka, I found my tattoo artist: Asanka. I had learned about him after a lot of internet research—checking out his reviews and confirming that his practices were hygienic. My simple design did not do his artistry justice. But he treated me like royalty.

It turned out that his studio was right across the street from my little apartment in Hikkaduwa. We met a couple times and then I committed. It only took about an hour and voila, I was the proud owner of my first tattoo—and probably my last.

My newly created tattoo.

Asanka, my tattoo artist grins in the background as I show off my new tattoo.

I kept it a secret from everyone until my daughter could see it in person a few weeks later. We were to meet in Kuala Lumpur. You can imagine her surprise: “Mom, that is MY TATTOO!”

Imagine is her favorite song as well.

A Universal Message

After leaving my daughter, I traveled to the tiny island of Gili Air in Indonesia. No cars, no dogs. You can walk all the way around it in an hour. The locals are Muslim, so I usually keep my shoulders covered out of respect, even though there are lots of skimpily-clad tourists. But one day the heat was such that I was sleeveless. Aji, a young man I had visited with a couple times, said that he liked my tattoo. Many people in this part of the world have never heard of the Beatles. But Aji knew the song and as he broke into a beautiful tenor rendition, I almost cried.

As I said, my simple tattoo did not do Asanka’s artistry justice. He has won many awards for his amazing tattoos. Asanka works part time in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka and part in Doha, Qattar. So, if you are going to be in Doha or Hikkaduwa, and if you are thinking about a tattoo…well, tell him I sent you. You can contact him via his Facebook page at Hidden Tattoo.

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