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My Travel Tattoos & What They Mean To Me [Mini Photo Essay]

travel tattoos

Having a selfie tattoo photo shoot in my apartment

I’ve always thought of my body as a canvas. Piercings, crazy hair colors and styles, statement piece clothing and tattoos have always helped me express my personality and interests in a way that made me feel confident. I consider myself a bit quirky, somewhat alternative and very passionate, and tattoos have helped me show this to the world, scream it loud without actually making a sound.

I often get people say to me, “But, what about when your 80 and your skin is saggy?”

“When I’m 80 my body will be a canvas of memories from the full life I led,” is my reply.

“But, how could you get something permanent on your skin? What if you change your mind?”

“All my tattoos are about travel. I’ll never change my mind about that.”

One of my best blogger buddies is Seattle’s Travels, who hands down possesses the most beautiful, inspired and well-placed travel tattoos of anyone I’ve ever seen. While I’ll probably never reach her level of tattoo-dom, I’m still proud to show off the five-and-counting that I’ve got.

Note: Most of my readers know I live in NYC, so you’re probably wondering why all of my New York tattoos were gotten outside of the actual city. The answer: NYC is fricken expensive for tattoos! I’m talking triple to quadruple the price of what I pay taking a train an hour outside the city to get it on Long Island. If you want to get a tattoo in NYC there are plenty of great places; however, you’re going to pay a pretty penny.

Note Note: The following photo essay was taken of me, by me, in my apartment with the help of my new Godox Digital Timer Remote, which basically let’s me program my camera to take as many photos as I want without me needing to ever touch my DSLR. Pretty sweet. And less than $15.

travel tattoos

This is the worst photo of the group because, well, I HATE FEET and took this photo quickly to get it over with. I especially hate toes which is why it’s so close up. So why did I get a tattoo on my foot? I have no idea.

1. No Worries

This was my first tattoo I got when studying abroad in Australia at the age of 20, almost eight years ago. I still remember how nervous I was getting this small foot design, how I squeezed (and at times chewed) a magazine for dear life from the pain.

My best friend while studying abroad — still a great friend today — was a girl named Kait, and we decided we wanted matching tattoos to remember our study abroad experience. We were in love with how the locals always seemed to say “no worries” for everything. They phrase also seemed like a simple yet positive mantra to live by. Moreover, we were constantly traipsing over beautiful yellow, pink and white flowers, called frangipanis, which we added to the design.

I’ll admit the tattoo was much brighter when I first got it. People would actually stop mid conversation and stare at my foot if I had sandals on from the hot colors. Maybe one day I’ll get it touched up.

I got this tattoo in Sydney, Australia, somewhere around George Street in the Central Business District, but unfortunately it was so long ago I don’t remember the name of the place.

travel tattoos

travel tattoos

2. The Almost-Thai Flower Vine

After spending a summer in Southeast Asia I decided I wanted to get a vine of Thai flowers crawling up my side. I printed numerous flower photos, as well as a picture I’d found online of a girl with a rose vine going up her side. I asked the tattoo artist if she could keep the idea of the rose vine but incorporate the Thai flowers; however, none of the drawings really touched me.
For fun, she also drew her own interpretation of a rose vine, and I immediately fell in love.

While I went with the roses, the tattoo still reminds me of my wonderful trip to Thailand, because that is what inspired me to make the trip to the tattoo shop in the first place.

I got this tattoo in Albany, New York, at Lark Tattoo.

travel tattoos

3. Freebird

As a runner, I’m not a huge fan of birds. That’s not to say when I travel I don’t love bird watching or see some exotic species in the jungle; however, for the most part I’m reminded of the times I’ve had pigeons crap on my head while going for a morning jog (yes, it’s happened to me more than once!).

That being said, is there any better symbol of freedom and flight then birds? I think not. As a traveler, I like to think that I’m like a bird, spreading my wings and taking off for the next destination, always on the move. That’s how I love to live my life.

My mother, who hates tattoos, always tells me that this one is her favorite of mine.

I got this tattoo at LI Ink on Long Island in New York. I believe the artist was named Sean.

travel tattoos

4. Paper Plane

Another symbol of freedom and flight — and a major representation of travel — is the plane; however, I didn’t want some bulky Boeing drawn on my crotch. I wanted something whimsical, fun and slightly sexy. So, I logged onto Pinterest and started searching until I found this.

When I posted a collage of four tattoo ideas and asked people to vote on social media what I should get, the paper plane won by a landslide. While I always like to customize my tattoos a bit when I find the designs online, I was too in love with this one to make any alterations.

It’s on my hip/pelvis area, drawn to curve with the lines of my body. I love how simple yet powerful it is, at least for me.

I got this tattoo at LI Ink on Long Island in New York. Artist : Justin.

travel tattoos

travel tattoos

5. Sketchy Bike

Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows my bike is something I couldn’t live without. Not only do I love riding to get around NYC, but it’s my favorite way to travel as you can truly feel the beat of the destination you’re in. So, I decided that I would dedicate my wrist to a bike design.

And this is where my blood starts to boil a bit.

My original idea was this chunky bike design, a simple but artistically drawn bike without spokes. I told the artist he could get a bit creative and change it a tad, and when he was done with the drawing I really liked it; however, when he actually drew it (permanently) on my skin he added some lines inside the wheel for a lighting effect. Neither myself nor my friend who was with me could recall this effect from his original drawing. To both of us they looked kind of like half-drawn spokes and didn’t see his vision, so I decided to have him just make them into spokes.

The tattoo ended up being a lot more detailed than I wanted, and the bike is large that when I move my arm the skin on my wrist twists and it becomes distorted. While I love that I have a bike tattoo, it’s definitely my least favorite and one I wish I could re-do.

That being said, a good friend of mine answered my disappointment by saying, “You love bikes and the tattoo has meaning. It’s perfect for you.” I’m deciding to take that attitude. Also, one of my Instagram followers suggested I get another artist to weave colorful flowers through the spokes to make it into a funky design, an idea I think is genius.

I got this tattoo at LI Ink on Long Island in New York. Artist: Justin.

Do you have any travel tattoos you’d like to share? Post a photo or share your story about it in the comments below.

*The Godox link above is an affiliate link, meaning I make a small commission if anyone purchases one through the link. I am not sponsored by Godox and purchased mine with my own money (and love it!).

Also Check Out:

Transportation Stories: Notes On Being A NYC Bike Commuter

That Time I Rode The NYC Subway…Without Pants [Photo Essay]

Charlie Hebdo: “I’d Rather Die Standing Than Live On My Knees”

Jessie Festa standing in front of grafitti wall

Hi, I’m Jessie on a journey!

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  1. Candice on January 16, 2015 at 1:33 pm

    LOVE those, especially the flower vine! It’s stunning. I got my first one in Greece, an outline of Newfoundland on my inside wrist (like your bike). I’m in love with it, and now I want another.

    And DAAAAMN girl, your body is smokin’! Hahaha

    • jess2716 on January 16, 2015 at 11:14 pm

      @Candice: Why thank you 😉 And I’m already wanting another too! No clue what yet but I’m kind of obsessed with this idea: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/173177548147680881/

      I’ll admit I do feel a little bit like I’m cheating finding all these ideas on Pinterest though…lol

  2. Sky on January 16, 2015 at 2:33 pm

    “When I’m 80 my body will be a canvas of memories from the full life I led,” – YES. Exactly that.

    I have three tattoos, though only one is related to travel. I actually got it around two months ago, it’s “Wanderlove” on my wrist, inspired by the novel Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard about a girl my age who runs off to Central America. There’s a quote in it that particularly stood out to me –

    “Wanderlust is like itchy feet. It’s when you can’t settle down. But Wanderlove is much deeper than that . . . it’s a compulsion. It’s the difference between lust and love.”

    • jess2716 on January 16, 2015 at 11:12 pm

      @Sky: I never heard of that book but it sounds amazing. I’m adding it to my Kindle list. GREAT quote!

  3. Sanja Cuk on January 16, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    Amazing! You have so many great tattoos and stories about getting them! I had a pretty amazing time getting a bamboo tattoo (sak yant) in Bangkok’s rural area! It felt like entering a world completely foreign and sacred! A completely unforgettable memory (literally, I’m branded! haha).

    • jess2716 on January 16, 2015 at 11:11 pm

      @Sanja: So awesome. Did that hurt? I wonder what it feels like compared to getting a traditional Western one. Maybe one day I’ll find out 😉

  4. Ian Ord on January 16, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    “All my tattoos are about travel. I’ll never change my mind about that.” – amen!

    I’ll never forget my the significance of mine too! My first was in college – the symbol for Chi. Balance. A constant reminder of the importance to balance mind, body and soul in life… if one is out of whack, the others will suffer too.

    The second was with my brother. Going through a family crisis, we decided to find what was then still a secluded temple on the outskirts of Bangkok. We each got a bamboo tattoo of the “Paed Tidt”, a tattoo with the enchantment to protect one in their travels.

    Still trying to figure out what the third could be 😛 will be hard to find something of similar significance in my life, though if the right one presents itself, I’m sure I’ll know it when it does. It’s something you feel! 🙂

    • jess2716 on January 16, 2015 at 11:10 pm

      @Ian: So true! When I got my first one I was like “This will be it.” Then every time I get one I’m already excited to be inspired enough to get another 🙂 I love the ideas behind yours, especially the Chi one. Sometimes when I’m feeling stressed/crazy I look at my “No Worries” one and think “Okay, a stresshead wouldn’t get this. Chill out”. ha.

  5. Tammi on January 16, 2015 at 7:41 pm

    You are so beautiful inside & out! And one of my favorite memories is holding your hand while you getting the flower tattoo! <3

  6. Alexis Kensey on January 18, 2015 at 2:01 am

    I love this post! I recently wrote about my newest tattoo too. I LOVE travel related tattoos and both of my ones are travel related and were done overseas.
    One argument I have always had against the whole “what if you change your mind and don’t like it when you’re 50/ it looks bad when you’re 80” – if I still care that much about what my body looks like or what other people think at 50 or 80 then I have my priorities all wrong. 😉

    • jess2716 on January 18, 2015 at 5:43 am

      @Alexis: SO TRUE ha! 🙂

  7. sarah on January 21, 2015 at 11:27 pm

    I always said I wouldn’t get a tattoo until I found something that I knew without a doubt would mean so much to me that I’d never regret it. It’s a bit of a long story so I won’t post it hear but I did write about it on my blog if you’re interested. Btw the flowers are beautiful!

    • jess2716 on January 23, 2015 at 7:40 pm

      @Sarah: Thank you for the compliment. And I would love to read it! Feel free to post the link in a comment here 🙂

  8. Alina Angel on November 2, 2015 at 8:12 pm

    I really enjoyed your tattoos. I really thanx you for sharing your tattoos with us.

  9. Veronica Marks on November 16, 2015 at 9:33 pm

    I’m not a fan of tattoos unless they represent something for that person. Yours are beautiful in the things they mean to you! I especially love the bike on your wrist because it really tells a lot about your everyday life! Thanks for sharing these!

  10. Ryan on September 7, 2017 at 2:10 pm

    Love that bike tattoo! My favorite tattoo of all mine is the least well done, and one that you would think you couldn’t screw up, but… It’s the Black Flag bars. Just four rectangles; easy-peasy, right? Not so much, apparently. And yet, it’s still my favorite, because it represents something that has never changed for me. So, embrace your imperfect ink! Also, I think your bike is gorgeous.

    • Jessie Festa on September 8, 2017 at 6:45 am

      @Ryan: It’s always great when the tattoos have a meaning behind them. Even if they’re imperfect, you can still see the beauty 🙂

  11. Thanks for sharing this wonderful post. Your travel tattoos are really inspiring. Almost all your tattoos tell your story of travel and courage. It is good to read. Thanks Jessie again for this wonderful post!

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