Travel Tattoos: Why We Get Them And What They Mean


As our body journeys through life, and life journeys on our body – why is it that some people feel the need to make reminders of their journeys on themselves? And what do these look like?

To answer this, we may have to look at our own tattoos differently to begin with – and instead of asking what we got – ask ourselves why we got it; why we actually felt the need that day to leave a permanent mark on our skin…

If you have a tattoo (although I don’t think you need to have one to relate to this) try and remember the moment you got it. Remember? As the ink punctured onto your skin? And the machine buzzed as tiny lengths of pain struck you? And how maybe for a moment you were realizing that this ink was going to be irreversible and forever?

What it became that day, was a choice. An enhanced and controlled version of a scar left on your body by choice. It’s a story to tell, but also a new part of you.

The new you, or a reminder of the old you. So while you were given the body at birth, you are now deciding to add something new to it – and that is something fundamental in the culture surrounding the naked body today (and in older civilizations too) – that we are giving ourselves the power of deciding what we would like to add to it.

If I look at mine, my answer is clear – my tattoos are above all things, reminders – beautiful and meaningful things I wanted to keep close.

And as change is a constant – as our houses, our money, our friends, our things and even our lovers can always disappear – the one thing that we will always remain the closest to, will be our minds and our bodies. They are interrelated. And I believe that sometimes the mind needs to sprawl itself on the body – as much as a body may sprawl itself on our minds.

So where is this analysis heading to? Like paintings and art currents, themes are easy to spot. And as I travel to meet other travelers for my book, it didn’t take long until I understood the categories of tattoos travelers wore on their skin.

Some shared stories of how their tattoos were reminders of their homes – or reminders of where they had been. Typically, these tattoos would come in the form of the outline of a country; a symbol of that place, coordinates on maps etc. They were more precise reminders of the places they had moved to and that had moved them in return. They were reminders of fixed places. A point and place in time. They were the reminders of the geography and lengths they had been to – and those they chose to remember.

Ironically and many may not admit it yet, but travelers are often going great lengths to look for what home means to them. And when they have found a closer meaning of it, that’s when the skin becomes the best canvas to remind it. Because sometimes homes aren’t where we are right now. But they are out there somewhere. Somewhere where we felt AT home…

Finally the last category of travel tattoos I have seen, have to do with symbols and states of minds. Typically these would be sentences like “wanderlust,” a paper plane, a map of the world, a compass…The symbiotic of the wanderlust generation.

Those that have travelled a lot or a bit – but rather than finding – or having found a home, want to keep the reminder of what drives them; the passion for travel, or more so, the will to keep exploring. The curiosity for life and self-discovery.

Our travel tattoos are our resources. Our points of departures – our protections. They are what make us different, and what shape our minds when we fear we might be in doubt. And what makes us doubt more than life itself.

A mind wanders, thoughts flee and memories fade. But tattoos, tattoos are forever.

And if when we travel it is true to say that we carry ourselves with – then it seems only logical to carry ourselves with the resourceful reminders of what we learned while we travelled and when we came back.