When I began this journey around the world five years ago, my skin, and my passport, were a blank canvas.
If you’d told me back then that a few years later I’d have five tattoos, one of which takes up a good portion of the left side of my body, I would have thought I’d gone crazy. Then again, just about everything I’ve done since then would have blown 25-year-old me’s mind.
I view my body now like a vessel for the journey and the adventure of life that is constantly unfolding. My ink tells a story of where I’ve been, and guides when I need a reminder of where and what to return to. These are my stories, and a few others who have amazing travel tattoos:
Each tattoo of mine has a unique story to go along with it, so I made the video above to show you a closer look at my ink, along with my personal story behind each one and what they mean to me. Here’s a more factual explanation of each tattoo to go along with it:
Hah Taew, five lines: The Hah Taew on my shoulder is a sak yant given to me by a monk in Thailand. He chose the tattoo, he placed it on my shoulder without me knowing what I would get, and he blessed it. The first line cleans out unwanted spirits, the second reverses bad fortune, the third protects against black magic, the fourth energizes good luck, and the fifth is to gain charisma.
Gao Yord, nine spires: Also a protective tattoo to bring loving kindness, power, good fortune and luck, magical protection, and many other related blessings. The spires reach up towards the heavens and below each is a Buddha represented by the set of ovals under each of the spires.
Om: The most sacred mantra in Hinduism and Buddhism and the opening of many prayers. It’s difficult to pinpoint a definition as Om can be everything all at once – the universe, the past, present, and future, and extends beyond the limits of time. It’s meant to be felt all throughout the body and soul when one chants it.
Sacred geometry and Mandalas: Sacred geometry is all about the harmony between geometric ratios, nature, and a higher power. For my leg, it flows with the natural curve of my body, blooming into mandalas, which are 2D representations of the universe common in Hinduism.
It may seem from all of this that I’m a religious person. I have studied and learned about Buddhism and Hinduism, have participated in Vipassana retreats and rituals encompassing parts of them, and I see truth in a lot of different places and through many combinations of what I’ve learned – my truth, which is different from anyone else’s. Maybe that doesn’t make much sense, but for me, it makes perfect sense, and it’s what I’ve chosen to display on my body.
For now I love what I have. I love that they’re all pretty easy to hide, and that they make a statement when I choose to show them. Perhaps I’ll get more but as I said before, the old me would never have imagined what I’d have ink and life-wise now, so it naturally makes sense that present me has no idea what future me might do!
These are just my stories and etchings in time and skin, and I wanted to share a few more as well. Here are several more beautiful tattoos and the stories behind them:
The Bucket List Sleeve
“I have a random computer algorithm that chooses destinations from my 600+ item bucket list and when I’m done checking things off, I get them added to my bucket list sleeve. Well, it started out as a sleeve but now it goes up over my shoulder and down my back, so I’m not sure what you call that! I’ve attached a photo showing Big Ben in London, the Equator in Uganda, and a hot air balloon ride I did over the temples of Bagan, Myanmar. Not shown are part of the Acropolis in Athens and a mountain gorilla with whom I had a close encounter in Uganda. I’m pretty far behind on the tattoo as I’ve checked off over 100 bucket list items, though!” – Leslie of My Adventure Bucket
A Compass to Find Her Way
“After silently suffering from Anxiety Disorder and Depression, I decided to leave my “good job” and backpack through South East Asia. I wanted to have something that would remind me of how valuable life and time is to me. As a traveler, I wanted something to represent travel and never “losing my way” in life. So, I found a compass that I loved and decided Thailand would be a good of a place as any!” – Rachel of Rachel Travels
“I have the GPS coordinates to the Antarctic peninsula on my left ankle. It’s a simple tattoo with an important story. After a difficult divorce at 27 years old, I set a goal for myself to reach my 7th continent by the time I turned 30. It seemed almost impossible, but I set foot on the continent of Antarctica one week before my 30th birthday, in March of 2017. This trip was so meaningful to me because it meant reclaiming a part of my identity (love of travel) that had been suppressed in my marriage, as well as reasserting my financial independence. And I did it! So I got this tattoo to remind myself of everything I went through + everything I accomplished.
I got the tattoo in Seattle with my then-fiancé, now-husband while we’re on a year-long cross-country road trip. It was pretty much the perfect ending to that chapter of my life!” – Annabelle of Evergreen Lane
“I have four different tattoos, and three of them are travel-related. My most recent one says “wanderlust,” and I got it when I was traveling in New Zealand. The travel theme is obvious, but it has an additional cool story behind it, too. It’s written in a “hobbit script” (Bilbo’s hand, to be specific) from the “Lord of the Rings” films, and was written out for me by Daniel Reeve, the guy who did all the calligraphy and map work in the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” movies. I asked him to design it for me, and then a few days later got it inked on in Wanaka, right above a compass tattoo I have on my forearm.” – Amanda of A Dangerous Business
A Berber Symbol of Freedom
“After spending a transformative month traveling around Morocco in 2016 I memorialized my trip by getting a tattoo of a Berber symbol. The name for the symbol is yaz, which means free man. The motif is seen around Morocco and I was very attracted to its symmetry and meaning. I got the tattoo in red ink as red is the color of life for Berber people. It is also the color of resistance. It reminds me of the incredible people I’ve met during my three trips to Morocco, and especially the family I spent nearly two weeks with in the Sahara desert.” – Lola of Miss Filatelista
“I traveled to Bali marking my first overseas visit when I was 26. This trip was special as I traveled alone to Bali from India while I didn’t even know what is an immigration form. I planned this trip mainly for two reasons, one this was my bachelorette trip and secondly because I wanted to celebrate my freedom before it would have gone (generally in India there are so many things you can’t do once you are married!). From boarding my first international carrier to understanding the literal meaning of green and red exit signs at the airport, every moment gave me a sense of liberation as I traveled Bali from one junction to the other. I made a companion at the very first day of my trip, my guide Su, that’s not his real name but a name that I gave him as his real name was nothing less than a tongue twister (I never meant to be mean). Su was part of my every adventure at Bali and heard about my courtship with my to be husband in depth enjoying every bit of it. He continued to ask me all these days what am I planning to buy for my boyfriend from Bali. This was indeed difficult to decide but soon I decided on something bold, liberal and an enduring gift. I had never mind to express my relationship in front of the world and maybe it was time to go all out. Next morning when I met Su, I surprised him by saying that, “I want a tattoo as a gift for my boyfriend, I want a tattoo on my wrist of his name” Su, was pleasingly surprised with my idea and being a man who knows it all, he took me to his friend who was a tattoo designer. I spent an hour in Nusa Dua at his parlor and got the desired tattoo. Now, I have a tattoo on my wrist which is not just a forever gift for my husband but a very doting memory of my first solo travel overseas.” – Mokshta of Miss with Migratory Wings
“My most recent travel tattoo was completed during a visit to San Diego, California. This was a celebratory getaway in honor of taking a leap of faith to follow my heart and my passion. I had decided to walk away from my former business, sell it, and start fresh at the age of 31 to do what I love most, travel. (taboo in todays culture) The dissolution agreement of my former company was completed right before this trip. I decided to place the 7 continents, in a very simple geometric form, on the back of my arm as a reminder that my “GOAL” is to visit all 7 and to successfully have travel become a pertinent part my life. It was that moment that the true GOAL Traveler was born.” – Cydny of The GOAL Traveler
A Watercolor World
“I LOVE tattoos. Before I started traveling I had a couple, but as I traveled I began collecting them in different cities across the globe. Not necessarily a travel tattoo, but the one that was a catalyst to my travel journey is a tiny elephant that I have on my hand. Elephants are my spirit animal and every time I look at my hand I am reminded to be Wild and Free. Because of that, I packed my bags and left the country for 6 months. 4 Continents, 15 Countries, 6 Months.
One of the tattoos I got on my journey around the world was by the AMAZING and extremely talented Joel Alcalde at Stefano’s Tattoo Gallery in Lima, Peru. If you want an amazing watercolor or just an all around badass tattoo, he’s the man to see. He made my tattoo dreams come true and did a stunning watercolor map of the world on my forearm. It took 4 hours and I was dying from a pretty serious respiratory infection, but I hung tight and it was totally worth all of the pain, tears and exhaustion.
All of my tattoo experiences abroad have been amazing and I love that I get to carry the memories of my travels with me everyday, everywhere I go.” – Katie of The Journey Within
“I’d always thought about getting a tattoo overseas, but finally made it happen for my 29th birthday. I was spending two weeks in Nicaragua at a creative retreat. I had a few days in San Juan del Sur before moving on to Ometepe and walked past a tattoo shop a friend had recommended to see if he had any openings. The Canadian owner was watching Harry Potter, so it seemed like a good sign. I decided to get a wave, which had a few meanings. I don’t put that much stock into signs, but I’m a Cancer and have always felt connected to the water. Everywhere I’ve lived and loved has been near water, whether the ocean or river. And the wave also represents the peaks and valleys that happen in life. I put it on my inner arm as something just for me, not that everyone would see.” – Caroline of Caroline in the City
It’s so much fun to learn about the tattoos that others get – representations of their journeys and what each step has meant to them. We are on similar paths in some ways and in others, completely different ones. This is so well displayed in the art that we chose to decorate ourselves with.
I can’t wait to see how we each decide to keep adorning our canvases.