I make a strong effort to collect permanent souvenirs as I make my way around the world. Whether it be tattoos that I get while traveling or tattoos with a travel theme, there’s nothing I like more than a little international ink.
Here’s a small collection of some of my favorites, along with a bit of backstory for each.
I got this outline of a world map tattooed on my left wrist at Sacred Heart Tattoo in Vancouver, BC, after a five-day train journey across Canada. My best friend and I had arrived just in time for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics and decided that we'd both celebrate with some West Coast ink. As a self-proclaimed map-obsessed geography major, it wasn’t a question of if I'd get a map tattoo—it was when. We got our tattoos and celebrated many of Canada’s great medal wins. This is still my favourite tattoo to date.
After getting the world map tattooed on my left wrist, I wanted to get a compass rose on my right to display as a pair. The same friend I'd traveled to Vancouver with was getting some work done on her sleeve at Immortal Impressions in the small, rural town of Keswick, ON, so I tagged along on the three-hour drive. The artist made it quite a bit darker than I'd hoped, so this is the only tattoo I'm slightly less than impressed with.
It took me about two years of searching all over the world to find a place that would tattoo the hand of someone who wasn’t already heavily tattooed. It isn’t something that tattoo artists like to do, so I was excited on the day an artist at New Tribe Tattoo in downtown Toronto finally said yes. It was a quick walk-in appointment, and, before I knew it, I finally had a tiny airplane on my right ring finger.
Aside from getting travel-related images, I make a point of trying to get a new tattoo in each country I visit. I got this feather on the inside of my upper left arm at Inner Vision Tattoo in Sydney, Australia, after spending one month road tripping around the country. One of the reasons I decided to get a feather was to represent one of my favourite quotes: “I always wonder why birds choose to stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on the earth, then I ask myself the same question,” (Harun Yahya).
I might get a lot of tattoos while already traveling, but this was the first tattoo I actually planned an entire trip around. I'd been a fan of Nick Bertioli’s work for quite some time, so when I learned he'd be coming back to Montreal for a short time from London, I immediately booked an appointment, and a bus ticket. I made the eight-hour Megabus journey up to MTL Tattoo, spent a few days eating and drinking in the city, and got this incredible portrait of Chief Seattle on my inner right forearm. Not only was I named after Chief Seattle because of my Native heritage, but I really admire the man he was and love his words, “Take only memories, leave nothing but footprints.” Nick Bertioli currently works at Seven Doors Tattoo in London, UK.
After a winter adventure trip around snowy Finnish Lapland, I returned to Helsinki and headed straight for Paradise Tattoo + Piercing, a small second-floor shop in the city centre. One of the most painful tattoos to date, the word "wanderlust" was scripted onto the top of my right foot. The special Finnish connection behind it is that the letter “t” is blue to match the blue cross of the Finnish flag. This is the only coloured tattoo I have.
Along with majoring in geography at university, I also specialized in GIS (geographic information systems). This meant a lot of time with digital mapping software, GPS devices, and a big focus on learning how to properly use coordinates. So it was only natural that I'd want to get coordinates permanently embedded on my body. I chose the coordinates to the house I grew up in and still consider my home, as well as the coordinates of the first place I ever visited outside North America, which was southern Italy. These coordinates were positioned on the top of my right shoulder at Dawg Pound Tattoo in Niagara Falls, ON.
I have what I admittedly refer to as my “cheesy tourist tattoos,” ink that has a lot of meaning to me but is probably shared with thousands of travelers around the world. The first is the outline of the Hawaiian islands on my left foot that I had done at Island Ink in the hippy town of Paia, Maui. Combining the fact that Maui is my second-favourite location in the entire world with my background in geography, I knew I wanted a map of the islands to represent that. The placement on the top of my foot was even more painful than the previous wanderlust tattoo.
After one month of rescuing sea turtles, exploring rainforests, and some hardcore relaxation in Costa Rica, I couldn’t think of a better way to round out the trip than to get a tattoo. While I originally thought the motto pura vida (directly translated to "pure life") was more of a clichéd, North American adaptation after a surf holiday, I soon learned it was simply the way of life in Costa Rica. I heard it day in and day out, used for hello, goodbye, okay, no worries, and to express general agreement or acknowledgement. I expected a bit of an eye roll from the artists at Anchor’s End Tattoo in Jaco, but Fito de la Rocha happily set to work scrawling the words across my left rib cage. Added bonus: I had it done on Earth Day.
My travel-themed half sleeve is my largest and most carefully thought out tattoo. I put years into planning it and will likely spend years getting it done, eventually becoming a full travel sleeve. So far, it consists of three large roses with animals that represent the members of my family (an elephant for my mother, a fish for my father, and an owl for my sister), which are all surrounded with passport stamps scanned directly out of my passport (Iceland, Finland, Turkey, and Australia). I plan to add at least two more animals and several more passport stamps to blend them down into the lower half of my arm. This beautiful work of art is being done by Morgan MacDonald of Seven Crowns Tattoo in Toronto, an artist I highly recommend.
By way of taxi, van, bus, and finally a rickety motorbike for three, I traveled from exhaustingly chaotic Bangkok to peaceful Wat Bang Phra, Thailand, questing for a magical sak yant tattoo. This wasn’t just any tattoo—it was a traditional bamboo tattoo administered inside a temple by a Buddhist monk continuously tapping the end of a long pole to puncture the skin in a chosen design. However, the choice wasn't mine. Not only did the monk decide where the tattoo would go on my body, but he chose what design to give me. I received a Hah Taew design on my left shoulder blade, which displays five rows of magical spells for protection, good luck, love, fortune, and success, all sealed with the monk's blessing.
I originally contacted Tribo Tattoo in Prague, Czech Republic, to request an appointment with one of my favourite artists, Musa. In a bittersweet twist, Musa was out of town, but award-winning portrait artist Adam Kremer was in. I took one look at his portfolio and knew exactly what I wanted. There was a bit of a language barrier, but we communicated enough to make sure everything was understood before beginning. The second installment came from Mike Beddome at Adrenaline in Toronto, ON, where the following addition of Morrison’s poetry was made: “There’s only two ways to get unraveled, one is to fly and the other in travel.” Both are placed on my left thigh.