15 stories behind the ink – tattoos from awesome travellers

Have you ever noticed that a lot of travellers have tattoos? I was standing on a train recently in Bangkok with a lot of other travel bloggers, and it being a hot country we were all showing a lot of skin – and a lot of tattoos. It occurred to me that travellers make up a very high percentage of the tattooed population. And so, I asked some fellow travel bloggers to share the stories behind the things we’ve got inked while travelling in far off lands. Incidentally, we’re all vegan travellers and you can read about why some tattoos aren’t vegan here. For my last tattoo (the bird) it was totally spontaneous so I connected to their wifi and did a quick Google of the ink they use. Luckily, it was vegan. He pretty much freehanded it so the transfer paper wasn’t an issue. And I carry a little pot of Lush ultra balm (Lush Ultrabalm Body Balm 1.5oz Tin which is lip balm, chapped hands balm, and excellent spontaneous vegan tattoo aftercare. It lasts forever, too (I used it for both of mine and still have 1/3rd left – enough for my next one?). On with the stories.

Amélie – Mostly Amélie

Durian fruit tattoo

I wasn’t going to get a travel tattoo because I think they can sometimes be a little tacky, but I have developed such an obsession with durian fruit while in Thailand that I decided to go ahead and get one tattooed on my leg. The meaning goes beyond the simple fact that I am passionate about the stinky fruit: I would say it’s a bit of a metaphor for the quest for new and exotic things I am on when exploring new countries. And the crown and “hail to the king” writing is a bit of a cheeky double sense wink to what is called the “king of fruits” and the country where I got the tattoo, Thailand and its beloved king.

Amélie is a hungry fun-loving vegan Canadian graphic designer and travel writer who’s ditched the 9 to 5 lifestyle in favor of something that lets her roam the world at her own will and follow her ever itchy feet. She is currently cycling between Istanbul and Berlin. Follow her adventures on her blog Mostly Amélie. You can also catch her on Facebook.

Randi – Veggie Visa and Just a Pack

Watercolour travel tattoo

Watercolour travel tattoo

I remember admiring Michael’s tattoo while sitting across a table from him the first time we met. It was the first one I had seen in this style and it was magnificent. The colors, the meaning, even the fact that he got it in Nicaragua made me envious.

Nearly a year later, I found myself in the same small surf town with Michael where he got his sunset backpacker tattoo. I was constantly surrounded by people with fresh ink from the same artist, Guy Mark.

I knew I wanted one of Guy’s incredible watercolor tattoos but couldn’t decide on the subject. For days I wrestled with different ideas but in the end was drawn to the splatter marks that appeared as an accent on so many of his tattoos.

About an hour before my appointment I decided I would ask Guy to design an abstract piece for me that loosely represented my intense connection to, and love for, water.

Randi is the co-founder of the travel website Just a Pack and Veggie Visa. She is a vegan, loves to cook, and is happiest when lying on a beach in a foreign country.

Facebook: Just a Pack & Veggie Visa

Twitter: Just a Pack & Veggie Visa

herbivore clothing co elephant tattoo

HERBIVORE CLOTHING CO. ELEPHANT TATTOO
Tattoo Charlies in Louisville, KY

In the fall of 2011 I set out on what turned into a pretty epic adventure. I had quit my job earlier that year, got rid of almost everything I owned, and moved into a renovated Chevy van. My Dad helped build a bed in the back of it and everything! The goal was to try and eat at every vegan restaurant in the United States.

About six months into the journey I landed in Louisville, Kentucky. I’d discovered a lovely coffee shop offering a variety of vegan treats, called Highland Coffee, on Bardstown Road.

Looking around the coffee shop I realized I was about 10 tattoos short of “fitting in.” Almost everyone around me was covered and I had but one wee vegan “V” on my left wrist at the time. So, I sent out a tweet about how I needed some more ink, in order to fit in. Seconds later I received a reply from @TattooCharlies. It read, “@wtfveganfood We can help! 39 years of quality in Louisville, cruelty free inks too! No animal ingredients or testing.” I loved this for many reasons but mostly that a business took the initiative not only to keep an eye out for potential client opportunities, but to start the conversation on a note that made it clear that they “get me.” Amazing!

After a few more tweets we moved our chat to email. I learned that the shop owner had recently become vegan, as did his family, and before I knew it he’d invited me in to get a tattoo.

I hadn’t exactly planned ahead for this so when I walked in on the day of my appointment I peered down at my shirt, looked up at the artist and said, “Could you put this on my arm?” I was wearing a grey fitted tee from the Herbivore Clothing Company. It had a picture of an adorable, bubbly elephant on it that read, “I’m vegan and I love you.”
About 30 minutes later I had my first forearm tattoo as well as a horseshoe on my right wrist.
Van travel tattoos
GERTY THE VAN TATTOO
Scapegoat in Portland, Oregon

My dear friend George (@linchipin on Instagram) is a fellow vegan foodie traveler. We first met a couple of years ago when he’d arranged a vegan lunch for some local San Fran vegans, when I’d arrived in the area during my road trip. After the meal a few of us walked across and back, over the Golden Gate Bridge, then went out for some donuts. It was an awesome day! George and I stayed in touch thereafter and would occasionally chat online about boys and food (of course).

We had a few opportunities to hangout over the years, one of which was only about a month ago when George met me in Portland, Oregon. I was there on book tour and he came out for the food and to finally get our matching tattoos! We’d been talking about getting matching “Gerty” tattoos ever since George finished reading my memoir, Will Travel for Vegan Food. He said he’d felt inspired by the journey and wanted to get a tattoo of my road trip van (ie, Gerty – short for Gertrude).

So, we planned ahead for my arrival in Portland and each booked appointments with our favorite artists at Scapegoat Tattoo; a vegan owned and operated shop on Stark St. in Portland, Oregon.

I started the day with some folks from the Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM), protesting a local dairy company, then met up with George to grab some food from Homegrown Smoker, Back to Eden, and Sweetpea Bakery, before heading to Scapegoat. I got my piece done by Aron Dubois (a black outline of the van, hand drawn rendering by artist Jacki Graziano)​ and George’s was done by John Wilson (his was based on Jacki’s art as well, and then John added in some color and accent imagery).

Even though Gerty is no longer with me she will now forever be “with” me, carrying me through life’s adventures, as she’d once done during my “Will Travel for Vegan Food” cross country road trip. D’aww.

'Limitless' tattoo in Sanskrit

SANSKRIT TATTOO
No Coast Tattoo in Fargo, ND

Just before I left for my road trip my mom gifted me a t-shirt that, hidden on the *inside* bottom seam, contained the mantra, “I am limitless.” This phrase stuck with me and has very much become how my family, friends, and adventures have made me feel; as I nomad around, living out my wildest and most passion-driven dreams.

Post road trip I landed in Chicago for a few months before heading to Fargo to visit North Dakota and check it off my bucket as I only had 2 states in the country left to visit, at the time. As I was prepping to leave Chicago I had a sudden urge to finally get this piece of art that I’d been thinking about for a few years (since I got that shirt from my Mom). Since I ran out of time to plan ahead, I made an agreement with myself while on the flight out to Fargo: ‘If there happens to be a tattoo shop located across the street from whatever place turns out to be my favorite coffeehouse, only then would I commit to getting the tattoo.’

After the third or fourth day in a row at Atomic Coffee, on Broadway, I happened to notice a tattoo parlor…you guessed it, immediately across the street from the coffeehouse. THE BEST PART—I walk up to order a soy mocha latte and the woman behind the counter says, “You know, you look a lot like this vegan chick I follow on Instagram. She travels around for vegan food.” We have a good laugh, I find out she’s vegan, AND she ( @ramblinfever_ ) just so happens to be a tattoo apprentice at the shop located… yep, just across the street.

And so it goes (in Sanskrit): “Limitless.”

Kristin Lajeunesse is the author of Will Travel for Vegan Food: A Young Woman’s Solo Van-Dwelling Mission to Break Free, Find Food, and Make Love. In 2011, Kristin quit her job and moved into a renovated van in an effort to eat at and write about every vegan restaurant in the United States. Find out what she’s eating now on Facebook.

Cristina Luisa – Chronicles of a Travel Addict

Argentinian tattoo

GEOMETRIC DESIGN 
Buenos Aires, Argentina

The first tattoo I got while traveling was in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Eight months beforehand, I’d bought a one-way ticket to EZE and swore I’d never return to the U.S. But after living in Argentina and backpacking through five other countries, my pockets were empty and I decided to return. Finding myself drastically changed from my time in South America, I wanted something permanent to always remind me of all that I had discovered. And so, two nights before my northward flight, my Ecuadorian friend and I decided we’d get tattoos together. I had been pondering this ink for months, and I still was at a loss as to how to put all of my experiences into one little tattoo. I thought of the Incan and indigenous cultures in South America and their belief in the power of four- a perfectly balanced number representative of the sacred animals, elements, and cardinal points. Overestimating my rusty artistic abilities (I had drawn my first tattoo, after all!), I drew a square- a symbol of strength and solidity. I then drew another square within, which would be colored purple to represent the third eye chakra. This would help me to see clearly and maintain my passion for travel when I returned to the United States. Coincidentally, my friend stuck with the geometric theme and got a small dot. I’ve debated on removing this tattoo, as it’s not the hottest piece of ink, but I can’t bear to erase the reminder of my beginnings as a traveler.

Kuching Iban tribal tattoo

IBAN TRIBAL OWL 
Headhunter Studio – Kuching, Borneo

Tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap. I lay on a bamboo mat in Kuching, with one man stretching the skin on my back and the other nailing ink along my spine. I had just landed in Borneo – a land I never dreamed I’d actually visit- a few hours prior and here I was, already getting inked. After serendipitously discovering Headhunter Tattoo Studio, I met Ernesto Kalum, a world-renowned artist, and jumped at the chance to get a traditional Iban tribal tattoo. Ernesto designed an intricate owl for me, representing protection, wisdom, freedom, and solitary power. The nail-tipped bamboo repeatedly submerged the ink into my skin for over three hours. There was no comparing the pain this traditional method set upon me with that of a mechanized needle. I reminded myself to breathe. Three quarters of the way through, I couldn’t take it anymore and needed pause. The owl was headless, and I seriously contemplated leaving it like that. But I’m not one to surrender. 45 painful minutes later, skin freshly swollen, the results were breathtaking. I’d endured this unexpected rite of passage, and my Iban owl will forever remind me of the tenacity and bravery I possess.

Dia de los Muertos Gato tattoo

DIA DE LOS MUERTOS GATO
Martian Arts Tattoo Studio – Portland, Oregon

 

In 2013, I went through a major life change, propelling me to finally to take a road trip from the Bay Area, California, up to the Pacific Northwest, hitting up Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; and Vancouver, BC, Canada. I’d been to Seattle once before, but Portland and Vancouver were completely new territory. For some mysterious, cosmic reason, I knew I’d eventually move to Portland before ever stepping on its green city streets. Once I arrived, I was equally drawn into Martian Arts Tattoo Studio’s colorful Victorian lair, seating myself and preparing for two new tattoos done by Joanne. This incredibly talented woman, and her husband Jerry- also a brilliant tattoo artist- would eventually become my good friends as I settled into Southeast Portland. Flash forward to Halloween 2014, and I once again felt the rush of the needle buzzing into my skin. I lay on my stomach in a meditative state as Joanne etched a Day of the Dead cat calavera into my calf. This was partly an homage to my Mexican roots, but more so a dedication to my cat Cuddles, who grew with me through the awkward preteen years until my carefree post-college years. She was my soul mate, my best friend, and is still very much alive in my dreams. And now, her memory has manifested into gorgeous artwork that will be close to me, no matter where I go.

Cristina Luisa is a travel writer, photographer, and freelancer with a passion for animal rights and all things Latin America. Follow her journey on Chronicles of a Travel Addict.

Amelia – Plant-Powered Nomad

Japanese Mandala tattoo

THREE MANDALAS 
Shi Ryu Doh – Tokyo, Japan
I had known I wanted a tattoo on my back for a long time, and being a traveller it seemed logical to get one while I was in a different country. When I moved to Taiwan I did a Google search for ‘tattoo artists in Japan’, and that led me to Shi Ryu Doh. The moment I saw his work I knew I needed to something by him, as he specialised in mandalas. Mandalas are something I’ve always loved: the geometry, the symmetry, how grounding they are. Traditionally they also represent journey through life, and so it seemed appropriate that I got them at the start of the biggest journey I’ve been on so far. A year after first finding the artist I flew to Tokyo, Japan, having quit my job and decided to travel full time, and spent two days being tattooed by the artist, Ron. His studio was tiny and full of beautiful Balinese (mainly) artwork, collected on his travels.

Thailand watercolour bird tattoo

WATERCOLOUR BIRD
Forever Tattoo – Chiang Mai, Thailand

I’ve wanted a watercolour bird for years, more so since I worked in the Amazon doing bird research and working with them. I admired a friend’s tattoos in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and asked if she’d got any here. She told me three of them were from a studio right by our guesthouse, and so I decided to wander in and have a look. “I want a bird, coming out of lots of colour, and it needs to be a bird that isn’t recognisable as one type of bird,” I told the man behind the desk. “You’ll have to show me what you mean,” he told me, looking confused. I pulled up my favourite watercolour artist, and scrolled down the images until I found a bird. “Like that, but with a longer tail, and more colours,” I said. The artist did it in his style, filling the colour in totally freehand, and this is what I came out with two hours later. It couldn’t be more perfect: it has colour, movement, and symbolises freedom.

After 5 years of flirting with travel I became fully nomadic when I quit my job in Taiwan in July 2015. Now I travel the world doing Yoga and eating delicious vegan food. Follow the links on the right to find all my social media doodads.

Giselle and Cody – Mindful Wanderlust

Cody

Animal rights tattoo

NITNOI 
Jodi – Chiang Mai, Thailand
During our time at Save Elephant Foundation in Chiang Mai, Thailand, we met a solitary little dog named Nit Noi, who would roam the park as a lone wolf, and really didn’t like people touching her. She wore a red ribbon around her neck for this reason, to alert people not to come too close as she would growl or possibly bite.
While working at the dog clinic, Nit Noi came in as a patient and was diagnosed with a contagious canine venereal cancer. She had to stay in the clinic for quite a few months; and during that time, Giselle, and I cared for her, bringing Nit Noi in and out of the clinic, comforting her, and spending time with her.
Nit Noi grew to trust us. Months later her cancer was cured, and she was able to roam freely again around the park. The one thing that changed was her willingness to interact with us. She would always approach us, and I would give her belly rubs, while people would gasp and tell me to be careful as she was one of the dogs with a red ribbon. I spent a lot of evenings just giving Nit Noi love, and she would follow us around the park when we would go on elephant walks with our friend Jodi. I became very connected to Nit Noi, and decided to get a tattoo of her by Jodi.
And there was no better person to give me this tattoo, as Jodi would carry Nit Noi around as a little puppy around the park. Nit Noi is now passed, so this tattoo is especially meaningful.
Meat is murder tattoo
MEAT IS MURDER
Jodi – Chiang Mai, Thailand
This little tattoo is self explanatory. What makes it special, is that Jodi’s 8 year old son Raki drew it up, and Jodi tattooed it on me.
Giselle

Nepalese rose tattoo

ROSE 
French Artist – Kathmandu, Nepal
The traditional rose on my hand is an especially significant tattoo to me although I had never desired to get my hand tattooed until that day. 

Cody and I were in Kathmandu, Nepal having some lunch when two men approached us and asked if we were there for the Nepal tattoo convention.

We told them that we were not, but that we would check it out, and so we did.
I had absolutely no intentions of getting tattooed at the convention but something came over me after seeing so much beautiful work that day that I decided to get my hand done by a French artist. I knew that getting my hand done might deter someone from hiring me in the future, but it was at that moment that I had decided that I would live my life exactly as I wanted to-freely, and with no regrets, and I have been doing that ever since. The rose on my hand represents freedom, and living my life for myself, free from the expectations of others.
Thailand cat paw tattoo
OWL 
Good Times Tattoo, Jason – Saskatoon, Canada
During our many times in Thailand, Cody and I lived and worked at PAWS in Bangkok for 2 months, and fell in love with a little one eyed street cat named Owl who was rescued by PAWS. We had no choice but to adopt her and take her back home with us to Ontario where she had a wonderful life at my mom’s place with a green backyard where she played and rolled around in the warm sun. We spent a lot of time with Owl, and got to learn that she was a sweeter cat than we had even known in Bangkok.
Cody and I moved to Saskatoon for 5 months this past July and said goodbye to Owl for a while. Sadly, two months into our living here, my mom contacted me to tell me that Owl was very ill.
I flew home immediately to be with her, to give her fluids, and make her comfortable until the day we had to say goodbye. It was extremely painful to see her go, as she was such an affectionate cat who was so full of life.
As soon as I flew back to Saskatoon, our good friend Jason tattooed this memorial of Owl’s little paw reaching down from a cloud on my leg.
I love this piece, as every time i see it, it reminds me of our lovely Owl.
Spider tattoo Thailand
SPIDER 
Lady Luck – Koh Lanta, Thailand
I think by now you’ll have noticed that I adore nature, and all of the creatures that help it to thrive.

While volunteering at Lanta Animal Welfare on Koh Lanta, Thailand, Cody and I found a very talented artist named Bezt, at a great professional shop on the island named Lady Luck. I literally just chose this beautiful spider out of Bezt’s book of art, and let him choose the colours for the design. There is no deep meaning to it. I just love the bold traditional design, and nature, and all of the creepy crawlies.

Giselle and Cody started traveling full-time in 2012, and through Mindful Wanderlust the couple shares slow travel stories, great cruelty free food, cultural experiences, animal rights, education, musings on life, and colorful travel videos. Keep up with them on Facebook.

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