want to do something. . . bold. Something that will remind me of how I felt during my time here.”

“A tattoo!” Sophie said. “Or maybe a lip ring?”

“Nah… I think it’s time I get my nose pierced.”

Sophie and I were sitting on Om Beach in Gokarna, an uber hippie beach town in Karnataka, just south of Goa. I arrived 10 days prior in a flurry of emotions. Having recently bid adieu to Mia, I was traveling on my own in India for the first time. My internship in Delhi started mid-January, but between Christmas and then, I was sort of in limbo.

Om beach is shaped like an Om symbol -- hence the name
Om beach is shaped like an Om symbol — hence the name

Which is why I was so thrilled to learn that Sophie, a spunky English girl I met while bartending in Brazil (and who subsequently traveled the coast with Mia and I, before eventually flying to DC to stay with me after her South American adventure was complete – oh the beauty of making travel friends!) was also in India. She sent me a note saying she planned to be in Gokarna for New Years, so I booked the first train down without hesitation.

And Gokarna – a town I knew nothing about before arriving – ended up being exactly what I needed and more.

It was a sanctuary of creativity.  A safe-haven for free spirits. Everyone was so talented. I was surrounded by musicians, artists, filmmakers, professional festival-goers. Everyone was so interesting.  And no one cared to ask one another about their pay grade or job title.

In fact, there were hardly any questions asked at all.

Life in Gokarna was lived fully in the present. Each morning started with a swim in the ocean and every evening concluded with a bonfire on the beach.

For those 10 days, I was cheek-numbingly happy.

And thus, on the night before I left, I decided to do something to commemorate that feeling. I decided to get my nose pierced.

There was a little rinky-dink tattoo and piercing shop that I’d seen in town a few days before. When Sophie and I arrived, there was a line of people ahead of us. We waited patiently outside as people trickled in and out, one by one, each looking very content with whatever they’d had done. One guy, who clearly was also very taken with with this place, had the Hindi translation of Gokarna tattooed on his leg.

Finally, there was only one person ahead of me. A small, Asian woman walked in, looking very determined. The shop’s door was closed, but still we could hear every bit of their conversation as the two made small talk while the piercer prepared the needles.

Then, all of the sudden, we heard a blood-curdling scream echo from within. Disturbing, certainly, but what was more alarming was that she would not stop screaming.

Twenty-plus minutes of shouts, moans, heavy breathing, and explicit language.*

Not exactly what you want to hear when you’re next in line.

But finally it ended and my turn was up.

I sat down on the small cot inside. Sophie settled in next to me, offering moral support and a hand to hold.

The piercer showed me the ring, which I immediately loved. It was so tiny! It was perfect! Though I was extremely curious about how he would actually manage to get that itty bitty ring into my nose.

That should’ve been a red flag right there.

Next, he dipped his gloved finger in some rubbing alcohol and then shoved it up my nose. That’s normal, right?

Then it was officially time. He told me to count to three. I grabbed Sophie’s hand and inhaled deeply.

“One, two. . . arghhh!!”

He’d plunged the needle in right after I’d said two. What a trickster! Ow!!! It continued to sting for a moment. . . but then it was over. Phew. Not so bad at all.

Or so I thought.

Next came the process of removing the needle and replacing it with the ring. Which turned out to be a very painful ordeal.

You see, not only was the ring super tiny, but it also didn’t have any proper opening. Usually rings have a section that pop out so you can easily insert or remove the nose ring, and then clasp it back in place. The nose ring I had just so lovingly admired did not have this. Rather, it appeared to just be a thin medal ring that someone had haphazardly clipped a bit out of. So in order to insert or remove it, you literally needed to bend the medal in and out of place.

Fuck me. And fuck that tiny ass ring.

I started cursing all the things. At one point I nearly punched the poor man when he would just not stop man-handling my nose.

Sophie initially tried calming me down, but then she peered over to see what exactly was happening.

“Oh, God! There’s so much blood! Oh. My. God! DON’T LOOK!”

Thanks, Sophie. Because again, that’s exactly what I want to hear when I have a needle, a ring, and a strange man’s fingers all up in my nose at the same time.

Right when I started thinking that this was the worst idea ever and that my nose would surely be forever marred, it was all over. The pain subsided, the blood dried and crusted over, and I apologized for my potty mouth.

As we traveled down the bumpy road back toward Om Beach, I kept sneaking glances at my shiny new addition. Despite the pain, I was beyond pleased with how it had turned out. As I would discover over the next few months, it’d heal up nicely without any problems. The man with the rudimentary piercing parlor had done a very good job. And now I’ll forever have a little metal token of Gokarna attached to my face. How romantic a memory.

*I later learned that the screaming woman had gotten her nipple pierced. Ouch.

Have you ever gotten a piercing or tattoo abroad? What was your experience like?