road inked: stories underneath travelers’ tattoos

A cultural practice, a religious symbol, a mark of a hero, a baptism of fire, and more have characterized the tattoos of the early days (actually, even up to now). Today, this practice has cut across cultures and is borne by different gender, ages, and nationality. Some got it in Miami while in the middle of their Florida Holidays and some got it from a traditional Sak Yant Monk tattooist in a monastery in Laos. As I spend time on the road, I have noticed a huge population of travelers sporting one, if not a lot. And so goes with the traveling circle I have come to know and admire.

Feel our stories…

Eileen of PossiblyPinay:

“Me and my then officemates, a Canadian-Brazilian Events Coordinator and a Croatian Hostess, just planned on getting a tattoo about a week before we actually jumped off on a Mexican island and decided to have it done. The date was January 16, 2008.

“I’ve always wanted to have an angel with an anonymous face on it – representative of a very crucial point in my life – but I couldn’t find an angel design yet, so the first thing I had made was the wing. Yup, I just had the wing made and had it placed on my left front hip. The artist’s name is Fernando, he was living in Playa del Carmen but worked in Cozumel, Mexico – he knew very very very very little English.

“Across the pond and into Europe, I finally found the design of a child I wanted and had my first tattoo completed about three months later in Sweden by a Filipino artist. Coincidentally, the same artist did the Baby Daddy’s giant leg tat.

“And to stop myself from getting more – I promised myself to get my next ink either in the US or in Japan. I’ve already got a design in mind.”

Kaiz of MissBackpacker:

“I am not any artsy. I don’t know what it’s called or how to call it. I’ve been dreaming to get inked. And just like our many “firsts,” I wanted it to be extra special. I thought of asking my friend Yas Doctor, an exceptional artist, to draw something that can be placed on the left side of my lower back, something which she thinks represents me. I almost gave in to this idea of my grandchildren playing around and them asking what does this tattoo mean. But then, after several minutes of contemplating, I came to my senses that this won’t look good on my aged skin. “Lola, why do you have men’s organs on your body?” I let the artist made adjustments to the draft and I’m happy with the results.

“I find my second tattoo cute, in fact, I love it. Why? I often hear people talking behind me, on a different manner though, having discussions what those tiny things inked at my back are. Some perceive them as butterflies, while others see it as plain flies. Ew. I’m sorry to rain on your parade, but they are birds. Yes, birds that fly.

“It’s just today that I realized that you may think I am trying to imply something with my tattoos but I am definitely not. I also feel sad that I haven’t had any inks which really symbolize my hobbies, my principles, or my whole personality.”

Rain of rainamantiad:

“Calligraphy “iamdavid’s” by heavy metal rockstar Andy Wroe | August 2009 | Wellington, New Zealand

“What I tell people: I AM DAVID’S – is my take on the biblical young champion, the underdog who slew the giant. It embodies everything that I stand for– loyalty to the land, love of family and the will to rise from the ranks of poverty. It also signifies my faith, even in the smallest of things, like hitting bulls-eye with a lone slingshot.

“What is true: I fell for someone who I knew, even then, would never be in my future. So I chose to immortalize what was in my then present and etch a claim that I will carry on my back for as long as it takes. (He also had my name cover his forearm.) I loved many others after that and it was heartbreaking to see them bear the truth of me having somebody else’s name on my skin. But it turned out to be the most reliable test of acceptance, because in the end, I took who stayed.”

 Gay of pinaytraveljunkie:

“Gecko tattoo’s inspired by my first (among seven!) visit in Sagada about a decade ago. That’s where I was bitten by the travel bug. Sagada remains to be one of my fave places in the Philippines. I had it inked on a very special date, for some reason which I prefer to keep secret  (but I could probably tell you guys).

“I had the lingling-o or fertility symbol (which I also saw in Sagada) tattooed exactly a year after I found out that I was pregnant. The tattoo shows the uterus and the umbilical cord *cringe*

“Alibata tattoo spells my name (this one’s my first). And the three stars and a sun, obviously, was inspired by the Philippine flag.”

 Ron says…

It took me more than a decade to finally decide and get inked. I came from a family who is a bit closed-minded about getting a permanent stamp because they are still stuck in the mindset that only convicts and inmates get the inks. I mean come on! I’m not getting a mediocre portrait of that hooker I met at the bar or some inscriptions like “Eddie Boy” written on a ribbon wrapped around a bleeding heart.

At first I was convinced to have one just for the “cool factor” reasons but eventually the purpose changed to something more profound: First is being a Filipino, a race where Pintados (Painted ones) ruled the archipelago before westerners kicked off their little soiree which lasted for three centuries. Tracing back to history being a pintado is holding a permanent pride of the culture and identity of the land where you came from. The other reason is that I pretty much took this life seriously in the recent years (sign of aging) and I somewhat realized that getting a tattoo is more than just an art, it is a poetic pledge, a storytelling of one’s past, and there is something about the pigments grounded on living skin and the pain it incurs during the process that emotes a poignancy unique only to the mortal human vulnerability.

I always wanted to have something unique, that is the reason why I opted designing my own. It is a bilateral compass star with baybayin alibata letters in each core, on my right deltoid says SILANGAN (East) on my left KANLURAN (West). Now I’m pretty sure I won’t get lost.

Ink to paper is thoughtful. Ink to flesh, hard-core. But if only Shakespeare were a tattooist, we’d appreciate body art more.

As for me…

It was five years ago when I decided to get inked.  No, it was not out of peer preassure; I only knew one person who had in my class. It wasn’t also because it looked cool; I had friends who tattooed the names of their girlfriends on their shoulders only to break up with them after two years and others had tribal tattoos that did not mean anything. I had it because I was lost. I had it because my life was a mess. I had it because everything I did was a mistake. I had it because I wanted to take control and reclaim my life. I had it because it made me feel that every pain i felt and will feel was and only is superficial and after I heal, I am someone more beautiful, more refined, more defined…

My first tat is a dagger on my nape as I wanted to assume control in my life, I wanted to find balance. The second one is from my favorite Bible verse (Psalm 91): “She who dwells in the secret place of the most high shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” It’s a tat that my bestfriend and I share… The third one is a Japanese calligraphy that means “emerging to drowning” on my upper right back that, in my interpretation, means to be able to emerge from dying out of love but then will find a way to drown in it once more, a tattoo of hope. My fourth tat is an ambigram of the word “faithful.” It did pertain to a person… Me, because I am a person full of faith. And the most recent is a compass as I have started traveling. I may wander for a long time in this life but I know that when I meet the One, I will be ready to come home. And no, it doesn’t move and I can’t use it when I am lost…


I have come to realize that the best tattoos come from the best and the worst of journeys. They are like pictures, but more alive as they are permanently part of our skin. They are landmarks of the turning points of our lives, a living map…

*do you have travel inspired tattoo? share your story!

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  • Mark Wiens

    November 27, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    Great post! I also notice plenty of travelers that have tattoos. I don’t have any tattoos, and probably never will (because I don’t think I could ever settle for 1 thing), but I have quite a few friends with tattoos. A good friend of mine loves to look at the stars, but sees his own imaginative constellations (instead of the Big Dipper or Orion). He has a couple of tattoos of the constellations that he sees in the stars!

  • Rica

    November 27, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    Nice! I actually had the map of Vietnam tattooed on my left arm with the words “Yeu” which means love and “Phu Nu” which means woman. After visiting Vietnam for the first time in 2009, I fell in love. So when I came back to Manila, I went to a tattoo shop immediately to have myself inked. I went back to VN the following year and spent more time there. Some of the Vietnamese folks I met recognized it immediately hehe I admit I was too shy to show it to them but they liked it 🙂 Vietnam rules!

  • gayE @ pinaytraveljunkie

    November 27, 2011 at 6:39 pm

    Interesting read! Now I’m itching to get inked again…

  • Claire @lakwatsera de primera

    November 27, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    I’ve been meaning to get a tattoo for a long time now but my world-map-like birthmark on my thigh and left hip seemed to be enough as a lifetime tattoo.

  • Eileen/ Possibly Pinay

    November 27, 2011 at 10:56 pm

    I loooove the getting inked or freshly inked photos!
    That initial raised feature that makes it seem like it’s a distinct ridge. Like Gay, I feel like I’m itching to get inked again. I swear, if I didn’t put a major condition on getting another one – I’d be a total pinatados.

    I find that the sexiest tats for guys is along the tricep. or inner upper arm. It’s very subdued and understated – you dont’ expect it then BOOM isang taas ng kamay and boom – hotness revealed.

    for girls, I love seeing tats on the nape or right below it, under shirt collar type. And also behind the ear. Unassuming hotness. 😀

    Share nang share, di naman tinatanong — basta, yun na yun.

  • Kaiz Belga

    November 27, 2011 at 11:11 pm

    I want another tat! Gusto ko covered na yung whole left leg ko. Masakit kaya yun? 🙂

  • jenjenk

    November 28, 2011 at 3:47 am

    i love how deep & meaningful your tats are. Most people’s tattoos I just don’t understand. I’d love to get one, but like mark, I can’t seem to commit to just one that I’d love forever.

  • flip'n travels

    November 28, 2011 at 4:48 am

    @mark: constellations seem to be a great idea for tats, especially if you are a traveler. i always thought i’d only have one, but as i go though with my own journey, i always find a symbol that would represent each chapter of my life, thus the multiple tats. 🙂
    @rica: nice one! a tat of vietnam is one of the most unique tattoo ideas i’ve ever heard!
    @gaye: super thanks for contributing teh! isa pa! haha!
    @claire: haha! i like yours, instant… and very natural… 🙂
    @eileen: i find tattoos on guys very sexy… as long as the tats have stories behind them. getlaks ka na ng isa pa!
    @kaiz: astig! that’s a big project. nah, i don’t think it’s going to hurt… although i also don’t think you can finish one whole leg in one session… hehe!
    @jen: thank you! 🙂 you just have to find something that really represents you. i know that when i get old, i can recite my biography by looking at my tats!

  • Micamyx|Senyorita

    November 28, 2011 at 5:32 am

    Interesting post 😀 I don’t have plans of getting inked, but i admire those people who are brave enough to express themselves via permanent tat. Among the filipino celebrities, Lovi Poe’s My Gravity Tattoos are my favorite. 😀

  • killerfillers

    November 28, 2011 at 8:30 am

    Still thinking of a good design for my first tattoo. A bit worried though that someone in the family might need my blood for transplant. Anyhoo gudjab on this article!

  • David @ Malaysia Asia

    November 28, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    I’ve always seen tattoos on many travels, some brand new which are collected from country to country while most are the seasoned travelers who’s tattos have faded like mine. I got my tatt done back in 1988 when I visited Singapore. Lets see, it’s been a good 23 years and never did add on as I regretted doing the tattoo about 10 years ago. I simply live with it now.

  • joan | the backpack chronicles

    November 28, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    I find tattoos really cool. pero I don’t think I will ever get one. Baka iatakwil ako ng tatay kong Pastor!

  • Stephanie - The Travel Chica

    November 28, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    I am in pain just looking at these photos!

  • flip'n travels

    November 29, 2011 at 4:21 am

    @mica: i’ve seen that tat, i think it’s really sexy where she has it.
    @killerfiller: i also though about the blood donation thing but i realized i’m too thin and anemic to begin with… haha! thanks for dropping by!
    @david: i think the most of the best tats are rooted in travel. i guess that is the importance of getting a tattoo- that you really have thought about it and want it enough to see it on your skin permanently… 🙂
    @joan: haha! i don’t want to sound defiant but your parents can’t do anything about it when it’s there >_< @stephanie: it is really painful! but the pain is worth it. 🙂

  • Robbie

    November 29, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    That’s it. Crush ko na talaga si Monette. <3

  • flip'n travels

    November 30, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    @robbie: hahahaha! haba ng hair ng lola mo! :-*

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