Upon popular request, here, my friends, are all my tattoos. Yep, every last one, from teeny tiny to covering my entire back. They tell a story, and so I present the tale to you in chronological order. Some are travel tattoos – either done abroad or about my travels – while some were done back in Canada and have nothing to do with my travels. Maybe they’ll give you some tattoo ideas for the travel lover. Many are travel inspired, while many are an inspired tattoo for some other reason. And no, there will be no world map tattoos. Too cliche, sorry.
And so we begin…
Travel Tattoos and More… all 28 of them.
1. The Weed Leaf
This was my very first tattoo, and incidentally done abroad. Perhaps it was unknowingly the first of my wanderlust tattoos.
Yes, a pot leaf was my first – and most thought out – tattoo of the bunch. I had a strict rule: I would not get a tattoo unless I wanted the same thing for an entire year. This cannot be applied to many – if any at all – of my future tattoos. But I waited.
Yes, I was a giant stoner back in those days, but it’s not why I got the weed leaf tattoo. Rather, it was to reflect everything I gained from marijuana – the way I interacted with people, found common ground, resolved my problems, and generally looked at the world differently. Should I ever stop smoking weed, this tattoo would still mean the same thing. And it has done just that as I’ve reduced from a stoner to the occasional toker.
Did I wait a full year for my first tattoo? Nah. Six months I waited, upon which time my first boyfriend (of two and a half years) and I broke up, leaving me for the path ahead all alone: a backpacking trip we planned to Peru. I had never backpacked. I had never traveled alone. And there I was, in a strange new country, gaining my footing. A week and a half in it was decided: this was the time to get my first tattoo.
And so it was done in a friend’s mansion in Lima, Peru.
2. The Wolf and the Moon
It was decidedly time to leave. I had been back in Edmonton for six months after my eye-opening first backpacking trip, paired with my first solo trip ever. Finding myself at Shambhala music festival, tripping out on acid, somehow far away from all the friends new and old I had at the festival. I began thinking… I wanted a tattoo to represent what I’d learned on that first trip, but what? An idea started to form…
I wanted a symbol of the balance between dependence and independence. That you can only depend yourself, and are alone until the end, with only you by your side, while at the same time the whole world – whether old friends, new friends, acquaintances you meet on the street – have your back as well. This balance is something I still often forget.
A friend did the tattoo; I am not much one for creating visuals, and she came up with the idea of the wolf howling at the moon – while a pack creature, it is always seen solo as it howls at the lit up sky beneath the full moon.
But the day we were set to do the tattoo she messaged me early in the morning. “I’m so sorry. I thought I had two bottles of black ink. It turns out they’re both almost empty. I’m so insanely sorry, but there’s nowhere I can buy ink in town.” It was the day before I was set to leave for Victoria.
I was saddened, but all of a sudden, it occurred to me: I do not give up that easily. Racing online, I began contacting tattoo shops that were closed, before thinking that perhaps, just maybe, there were other tattoo artists that worked from their homes who could help. I found a few, and explained my situation.
We met at the mall and he squeezed some beautifully karma filled ink into a jar for me.
A stranger had helped me on my quest – a quest that would never have begun if it weren’t for my fierce strength. The balance the tattoo was to represent was fulfilled in the ink itself. And so my second tattoo was completed.
For how could I not? Clearly a travel tattoo here. In three months of solo backpacking I’d learned more about the world and myself than in my entire 20 years combined. I’d found my true calling, even if I was yet to realize it. Travel was my life, and this is where I fell in love with it.
And no, it’s not New Jersey or reversed Florida (what?) It is not any state for that matter, stop asking me that, Americans.
4. The Phoenix
Ah yes, the phoenix. It was a while before I got my next tattoo, but I was ready. After two trips to Peru, and a massive depression arising due to the fact that all that mattered between trips was saving for the next one, it was decided: I would leave forever. I had no idea how I was going to do it, and no funds to support me (try $6,000 in credit card debt and not a penny in the positive instead). But I knew my transformation had to begin.
The outline was done in Campbell River, and was indeed my fourth tattoo. It was, however, not shaded in until a couple years later in Mexico City. The transformation was complete.
5 and 6. North and South… my version of a compass
I was on a mission: I would hitchhike all the way from Canada to Patagonia, a massive journey indeed. But some hiccups occurred along the way. First was my breakup with my third boyfriend, who I had hitchhiked 6,000 km in six long days to profess my love to. I would then spend six days hitchhiking away from him when we split up in Mexico, this last time for good.
And so I got the north and south tattoos, to represent my journey from Canada to Patagonia.
Of course, my journey would be halted in Mexico as I met a man who would spin me off my path and split me into a thousand tiny pieces.
These were, however, the first tattoos I got in a place I’d thought I’d never find again: home. Yes, these tattoos come from my very first time in Zipolite.
7. The Tribal Woman
She was on my mind for at least a year before I got her. But not all tattoo artists are created equally, and finding one who is good at faces is far easier said than done. I knew I wanted her, but I couldn’t visualize her. One day I found myself in Pai, Thailand, gazing through the local tattoo artists’ portfolios on Facebook. That’s when I saw her: a similar woman, wearing a wolf headdress, with tribal markings on her face. She was beautiful. I quickly contacted the tattoo artist, he made me a new, better sketch of the woman, and put her on my leg.
While not a tattoo related directly to travel, it was done in Thailand, so it kinda counts as a travel tattoo, right? My inner strength was now outer, never to be forgotten again.
8. The Mushroom
Another one of my travel tattoos – both done abroad and based on experiences elsewhere abroad – this one is a bit of an inside joke, and the first friendship tattoo I ever got. On Christmas Day in Laos, I was surrounded by friends new and old. There was the one I’d met tending bar in Peru. The one who I’d not been able to stop chatting with in Thailand. The one I worked with in Australia. And the one who had pizza on Christmas Eve morning for breakfast, causing a friendship to begin.
There may have been some mushroom pizza and shakes involved… though quite honestly, I had a weed pizza. And I was more fucked up than everyone else from it. Yes, I fell asleep at a bowling alley, and had to be escorted back to my hut, where the others chatted for hours on my deck, staying close to me as we were still connected despite my different pick of drug and my slumber. I heard them as I was in and out of sleep.
And so, we all got the tattoo but one… she assures us she will be getting it soon, but here’s the thing: she is the one who designed it, though we all made small modifications. And so, we remain all five connected whether she has it or not. It was a truly special day, with people who remain very dear to my heart.
This was also the second time I got tattooed in Zipolite.
9. The Pod Person
This one has to do with my childhood, and was my first ode to my family. It goes out to my mom, who growing up always told me I was a “pod person” – a type of alien really – and that the pod people had brought me to her. She doodled them on everything.
I asked her to draw me a pod person to have tattooed on me, and so it is her masterful art that is on my foot, walking through life with me.
I’m starting to think they’re all travel tattoos… if they aren’t tattoos to represent travel, they seem to be tattoos done while traveling…
10. The Dragon
Right after I said that, we’ve got one of my only tattoos that isn’t at all related to travel. No, this was done in the land from whence I came, and does not represent anything travel related.
My introduction to my tattoo artist in Edmonton at Platinum Ink began with the dragon. I had fallen into a deep depression along my travels, and eventually it came time that I had but one choice: I had to return to Edmonton – my own personal hell – so that I could be treated by a psychiatrist. I had never had luck with psychiatrists, anti-depressants, or psychologists before, but it was do or die trying.
And so I met with my psychiatrist for the first time. And honestly? I thought he was a wack. He posed questions in such quick succession I couldn’t fathom how he could possibly prescribe me with the right things – he wasn’t getting to know me one bit!
I want to hug him now. He truly saved my life, and if it weren’t for him I don’t know where I’d be. Possibly in a hospital.
The dragon represents my depression. When I am depressed, there’s a fire breathing dragon into my brain. But when I am in recovery, there’s a god damn bad ass dragon on my side. My depression is simultaneously my biggest weakness and my biggest strength.
11. The Ship
Do you really need an explanation here? I’ll just leave this one for Frank Turner’s Tattoos: “We’ve got hearts for the lovers, and playing cards for the gamblers, black flag bars for the punks, and sailing ships for the ramblers. We got skulls for the living, and the pain pays our dues, and some of us we have tattoos.” Obviously, one of the many tattoos for my travels splattered across my body.
12. The Day of the Dead Woman
I got this one in Mexico cause Mexico.
…I’m totally kidding, I didn’t get the cliche tattoo everyone gets in Mexico. I mean, I got it, but for different reasons and not in Mexico at all. This was another piece of art from Kris at Platinum Ink, just like the previous two. The day of the dead woman is said to represent the death of a loved one. To me, she represents the death of my past. By this point I was through my depression, ready to sail onward to the next life. She reminds me of the past, that it was there, that it counted, and that it is no more. The tattoos just keep coming…
13. Friendship Tattoo Volume Two
It’s a fucking star, okay? I don’t care if you see a flower. It’s a star.
I got this with my best friend and another close friend. My best friend got a sun, my close friend got a moon, and I got a… a flower star. They connect us all no matter the distances between us.
14. Le Petit Prince
If you’re asking yourself why I have a tattoo of a hat on my neck, you’re exactly why I got this tattoo… to not be like you. My favourite book on earth is Le Petit Prince (or, in English, The Little Prince) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. We read it as children in French immersion, and then again in our late teens, to find an altogether different book.
The first page of the book details how the author wanted to become an artist when he was a child. He had heard that boa constrictors could swallow things vastly larger than their own size. And so he drew his very first picture: a boa who had eaten an elephant.
Adults, however, did not understand his first picture. They saw a hat, as they thought in a linear sense, and could not see the world through a child’s eyes. They did not see the beautiful reality, but only cold hard facts laid in front of them. When one made a new friend, they would ask how much his parents earn, rather than what his favourite colour was.
This tattoo reminds me to look at things through the eyes of a child, and not as a cold hearted adult.
15. The Pocket Watch
It was time to expand my collection of beautiful tattoos. I wrote on a Facebook status that I wanted a tattoo that represented that one must live the journey, not the destination. This magnificent sketch was drawn up by a dear friend. She assured me she would draw up a new one – it was but a sketch! I said no, for I was simply in love with the sketch. It was tattooed in Mexico, right after my recovery, and on my third trip to Zipolite.
16, 17, and 18. The Glyphs
No, I don’t know where these glyphs come from, nor do I care. What I care about is what they mean to me. From left to right, they symbolize explore, protect, and transform. These were done at the same time as the above tattoo, and a good friend I was with decided on a whim to also get transform, as she was on, well, a journey of transformation as she galloped around Mexico with me, backpacking for the first time ever. Tattoos done in Puerto Escondido, Mexico.
19. The Coordinates
Remember the friend who designed the mushroom tattoo? I worked with her and the friend in this photo at those coordinates together. Also, coincidentally, the transformation glyph tattoo matched with this girl’s sister. Yeah, it’s all connected. We got the coordinates of the place we met, Cape Tribulation, Australia, to keep us together no matter how far apart we may be.
20. Oh god… not 20. The cover up of a cover up.
Remember that outline of Peru that I got? Well at the same time, I got the hideous image you see on the left. It was the name of a friend who passed away, so that he would walk with me forever. And he still does, as I know what’s beneath all that ink. But there were two problems: 1. the awful, terribly ugly lettering, and 2. I did not know his last name meant wedding in Spanish. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, I was walking around with wedding on my foot for several years.
So I got it covered up by the middle image… the silhouette of a woman in a ballgown hitchhiking. Did you get that from the photo? Me neither. The so-called artist totally fucked up her shoulder, her ballgown, and worst of all, her thumb. It was ginormous and deformed. This would not do… this WOULD NOT DO!
She plagued me. I had a big black blob on my ankle. Watching a ton of Ink Master at the time, I fell in love with the trash polka style of tattoos after a particular episode. I had no colour in any tattoos except for the weed leaf, but throwing in some red sounded cool. From my extensive viewings of Ink Master I knew that fixing a bad tattoo – in other words doing a cover up – required making a much bigger tattoo. I was going to have to think on how to balance this out.
The bird is pretty obvious, much like my ship. Come on. Flying. Freedom. Obvious. The broken hourglass represents that time has no beginning nor end, leaving us in the infinite. And finally, the cover up: the girl now dances, her thumb covered, a free spirit twirling around my ankle. Much better.
21, 22, and 23. My Homes
Well I had to get something to match the other hand, right? These guys represent my many homes: the mountains, the prairies (yes, represented by a line, on my middle finger, as it’s where I came from but not where I’m headed… and you know, flat), and the ocean. They represent the many homes I’ve found while on the go. Unfortunately the wave totally blew out, but not to worry! Kris at Platinum Ink, as always, to the rescue! He fixed it up a few months later with some white ink. Now you can actually tell it’s a wave, which is kinda nice since the ocean is my strongest home.
24. The Open Canvas
While I haven’t quite picked which of my tattoos stands out as my personal favourite, as they all have different unique meanings to me, by far my most noticed and complimented tattoo is the nomadic woman. This is probably my most awesome tattoo. The tattoo design was entirely the artist, but it immediately held meaning to me.
I contacted a few artists at the upcoming Kansas City Tattoo Convention, explaining that I was a broke hitchhiker who’d been wandering the earth – at that time – for four years straight (I’m approaching five!) I told them of my story, and one replied, saying it’s not all about money; he’d be happy to use me as an open canvass.
I adored his work, but I did have two itty bitty concerns: 1. He was a colour artist. My tattoos are black and grey. How was I going to feel mixing colour into all of that? And 2. I was an open canvass. I might totally hate what he designed.
But alas, the moment I saw her I knew what she meant to me, without a clue what she meant when he drew her. She was so obvious; she was the simultaneous beauty and tragedy of the life of a nomad. For in all her glorious beauty, she cries. She was my life, for better or worse, the life that I have chosen, or rather, that chose me. This was not only done in Kansas, but represents everything travel to me. It’s the epitome of my travel tattoos. For every passport stamp, there is this.
25. The Protector
Maybe you know, and maybe you don’t, but my last boyfriend was extremely emotionally abusive (and, in the end, physically). To remind myself to never get into such a situation again, I got this: a symbol of protection against emotional abuse. Hey finally, one that’s not remotely related to travel.
26. The UFO
You telling me you’ve never been tempted by a flash Friday the 13th tattoo sale?! My only tattoo I ever picked from a book, 13 is my lucky number. And it’s getting abducted by a UFO. To boot, I now have a matching tattoo with a ton of people in Honolulu. We all bonded at that tattoo shop as we sat for hours upon hours waiting our turn for our cheap flash sale tattoos. But eventually we all got there, new friends in tow, and there we have it: my good luck tattoo – and another travel tattoo, as it was done in Honolulu.
27 and 28. Ode to My Grandparents
We got there guys, we got there. Do you see why I don’t want to sit there with you and explain 28 tattoos? It takes a long ass fucking time. Did you even reach this point? Congrats if you did. We’ve been at it for a while.
My last two tattoos (to date) were done in Aruba – traveling tattoos once more – a mere month ago, causing me to reach 28 tattoos at the age of 28. The one on the left is for my grandma; Mum Gu is Welsh for grandma, but I’ve always just called her Gu. We’re both born in the year of the snake, hence the snake head in the lettering.
On the right is my tattoo for my grandpa, which he reluctantly allowed me to get. He’s a retired mathematician, and nothing on planet earth gives him the glee that math does. So I asked him: what’s your favourite mathematical symbol? He replied in a calm tone, “The one I invented.” Wait, what?! I give you the Ditzian Totik Moduli of Smoothness. If you know what it means, you’re one weirdo. I like you.
And no, I haven’t a clue what it represents either.
Now never ask me to tell you what they all mean again. I did it. I’m done. Are you satisfied?! And yes, they are mostly tattoos related to travel, so don’t ask me where they were done, because the answer is EVERYWHERE. And you’re welcome for not having an infinity symbol or semi-colon tattoo.