Humans are curious animals, and exploring the world around us is in our DNA. For millions, the best vacation is one that involves travel to somewhere exotic and new. For people who like adventure, a tattoo that relates to travel and exploration could be the perfect choice. Tattoo motifs that evoke traveling and journeys can be a statement about your personality and goals in life, or they can simply be a reminder of a great holiday in an amazing place that’s close to your heart. Journeys and exploration also have a more spiritual dimension, symbolizing the capacity for growth through new experiences and a desire for self-improvement and enlightenment.
Go Exotic with a Palm Tree Tattoo
Images have enormous power to conjure up associations and a palm tree is one of those images. If you live in a city or inland, there’s nothing like a tropical island vacation to take you out of the mundane everyday. What could be a more exotic location than an unspoiled beach fringed with palm trees, where you can relax on a lounger in the sunshine, perhaps with a piña colada or a Mai tai? When you look at your palm tree tattoo you’ll almost be able to feel the tropical breeze and smell the coconuts. There’s also a hint of the jet set associated with the palm tree: think Palm Beach, Florida, home of billionaires. Celebs Zoe Kravitz and Dua Lipa have palm tree tattoos. Luckily, you don’t have to be rich or famous to have one, and to appreciate the palm tree’s evocative charm as a tattoo motif.
Like all tree tattoos, palm trees can have deeper symbolism. Trees in general are symbols of resilience and, sometimes, long life. Usually a palm tree does not live longer than seventy or a hundred years, but a palm holds the record for the oldest viable seed. A two thousand year old palm tree seed found by archaeologists in Israel was successfully germinated in 2005.
There are fourteen species of palm trees, belonging to the genus Phoenix. In arid areas, and in the Near East and Mediterranean regions, date palms are the common species. The date palm has been cultivated for centuries for its fruit, but it also has religious associations, featuring in ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian religion, as well as in Judaism and Christianity (think of the palm branches in Palm Sunday celebrations, which represent Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem).
The form of the palm tree, with its slender stem and feathery crown of fronds, makes for an elegant elongated design that’s especially suitable for the arm, calf or thigh. Its associations with the tranquility of idyllic islands can be emphasized by the addition of waves, golden sands, tropical flowers or the sun. A particularly striking design is a black palm tree rendered in silhouette and set against a glowing orange background representing a sunrise or sunset.
Fly Away with an Airplane Tattoo
For travel fans, a tattoo of a plane says it all. Today, many journeys begin with a flight and even seasoned travelers will recognize the frisson of excitement that comes with boarding a plane to take off for a distant destination. A plane tattoo could signify that you’re a sophisticated, paid-up member of the international jet set or simply that you like to take to the air and head off to somewhere new.
People have always marveled at the freedom of birds, swooping and diving through the air, free from the earth and almost seeming to defy gravity. Planes not only enabled us to get to faraway places far more quickly than on land; they have associations of reaching for the sky and transcending the ordinariness of daily life. Although air travel is commonplace now, it wasn’t long ago that it was an expensive form of travel that stretched or exceeded the average person’s budget. Air travel still has some of the connotations of glamor and luxury that it once had, even if these days it’s as likely to be a trip in economy class that’s no more stylish than taking the train.
You don’t have to be an aviation buff to appreciate that a plane has a certain beauty as a man-made object. There’s a certain elegance to the streamlined form of a plane and that can carry over into tattoo designs. Planes like the Concorde were design icons of their era. A plane depicted either in outline or as a solid shape in monochrome (usually black, for maximum contrast and impact) emphasizes the graceful contours of the classic form. Because the shape is so distinctive it can be stripped down to its essentials and scaled down as a small tattoo for the neck, wrist, ankle or even a finger.
As always with tattoos, there are plenty of different visual treatments and variations on the theme that you can use to customize your airplane tattoo to suit you. Old planes, like biplanes, have a funky retro appeal and evoke the days when flying was in its infancy and a really daring adventure for the brave pioneer aviators of a century ago. Fans or members of the armed forces or military history might fall for a classic plane from World War II or the sleek beauty of a modern fighter jet.
You’ll find plenty of stylistic choice too, from realistic to whimsical. What dimension of the airplane do you want to emphasize? Is it the plane itself (such as the type, or its power) or is it the escape into the air that it represents? You can add color and additional details according to your personal taste. Add some soft watercolor-style sky as a background, or some clouds. One effective way of depicting planes is in the style of an industrial blueprint or technical drawing, with clean and precise lines. To emphasize its speed and movement, add the vapor trail it leaves behind it, or a line that shows it looping the loop, in a display of aerobatics. For a bit of fun and humor, consider a paper plane tattoo.
Find Your Way with a Compass Tattoo
If there’s a single image that evokes the intrepid explorer, it has to be the compass. In traditional tattoo art, compasses were popular with sailors and fishermen, for whom compasses were absolutely vital pieces of equipment while out navigating the vast oceans. A compass tattoo would still be a good choice for sailing enthusiasts or anglers, but also for anyone who enjoys venturing into the great outdoors and hiking in wild places. There’s something about the classic look of a compass that’s evocative, even if today most people rely on the faceless GPS on a smartphone.
Compass tattoos also have less literal connotations. For a globetrotter or person with wanderlust, the four compass directions suggest that you can go in any direction you want. Choosing a compass tattoo can signal that you’re the kind of person who is open to new experiences and always seeking to expand your horizons. The compass itself can be a symbol of protection on a journey, because it’s a device that will help you choose the right path and guide you as you travel to your chosen destination. It’s an aid for a spiritual voyage, just as much as a tool to ensure a safe physical journey on land or sea.
The classic compass design is a circle with radiating pointers to the cardinal points (north, south, east and west) and inter-cardinal points (south-east, north-west and so on). Because the pointers resemble the petals of a flower, it’s called a compass rose. It’s also known as a windrose because, as well as knowing which direction to sail, sailors needed to know which direction the winds were blowing from in order to stay on the right path. For this reason, a compass tattoo can symbolize charting one’s course while being buffeted by the blasts that life can blow people off their chosen path.
Dozens of variations on the basic classic compass rose have been used over the centuries. An elaborate antique design is one possible choice or, at the other end of the spectrum, consider a contemporary minimalist style. Go monochrome or go colorful. A feminine version might highlight the resemblance of the compass rose to flower petals. Because compass tattoos have a long history, an old school tattoo, featuring strong black outlines and primary colors, reworks the styles of yesteryear for use in the present. These are probably more favored by men, but they too often feature bold floral embellishments.
Navigate the World with a Map or Globe Tattoo
No traveler or explorer of old would have set out without a map – if there actually was one, since many pioneers went out to map areas of the globe that had never been explored before. A world map or globe tattoo can send the message that you’re a citizen of the world. Alternatively, this tattoo motif can depict a smaller area – a continent, country or smaller region – that has a special place in the wearer’s heart. For travel fans, the exploration dimension of the map tattoo can be accentuated by incorporating a compass into the design.
A globe tattoo has additional meanings, beyond travel. Today people are perhaps more aware than ever of the beauty of our planet and its fragility in the face of globalization and climate change. From this perspective, a globe tattoo can signify the unity of everyone living on earth, and can carry an ecological message. World maps and globes convey that you’re cosmopolitan and broad-minded. A map of a country can recall happy times spent there on vacation, or it can be a patriotic statement about the country where a person was born and raised.
Maps come in many different formats. The standard map shows all sorts of features, like cities and towns, roads, rivers, mountains and much more. Other map types include topographical or relief maps, which show elevation (high and low lying land, as well as other natural features), using contour lines or a color coding system. A map tattoo showing principally roads might be suitable for someone who likes to jump in the car and take a road trip. A relief map could be a good choice for a nature lover with a more ecology-centered outlook, or perhaps a keen climber.
With contemporary tattooing techniques, fine detail can be achieved and it’s possible to reproduce maps with multiple features. As visually effective are simple monochrome outline maps of the world, a continent or a country. The silhouettes of Africa, Australia or the USA (for example) are instantly recognizable by their distinctive shape alone. Although a map of the world tattoo is ideal for the back, chest or abdomen, with fine lines it can be effectively rendered as a small tattoo as well. Globe tattoos can include the classic stand, or just represent the curved orb enclosed within a simple circle. Globe or map? The advantage of a globe is that it lends itself to a more 3D effect, while a map is flat and two-dimensional. It’s down to the look you like.
Be a Freewheeler with a Flying Bird Tattoo
The ultimate sky travelers are, of course, birds. Bird tattoos are always popular because they have so many symbolic meanings and cultural resonances. Many of those derive directly from the fact that birds have a freedom from our earth-bound existence that has inspired people for thousands of years. There’s a timeless quality to the graceful beauty of birds on the wing, soaring and swooping through the air, apparently without a care in the world.
Although the symbolism of flying birds centers on freedom from the stresses of human life, it goes further. For some people, birds are spiritual messengers, or creatures who carry the souls of the dead to the heavens. They inhabit both the sky and the earth and are intermediaries between the human world and the realm of the gods. To fly high and look down on the world – to have a bird’s eye view, as the saying goes – means to have an intelligent grasp of a subject, clear vision and a unique sense of perspective. Flying birds also represent aspiration and the desire to reach great heights in your endeavors.
Flocks of birds also have a specific set of meanings. The ability of birds to migrate across vast distances on a seasonal basis is one of the great wonders of the natural world, and how they navigate their way is still not fully understood. Migrating birds can symbolize the courage needed to survive a great journey. It is known that migration is an expensive strategy, which poses many dangers. A flock of birds can also stand for the courage, both physical and intellectual, that travelers need. It can also stand for solidarity and the power of collective cooperation – stronger together.
The first decision you’ll have to make if you’re looking for bird tattoos is the type of bird, since different species have different associations. Unless you have a favorite bird already in mind, you’ll be spoiled for choice. Or you might want a bird silhouette that doesn’t represent a particular species, but which depends on the visual appeal of the outline form. This option is especially good if you want a flock of birds, because the strength of the design is based on repetition of the basic form, rather than a detailed, realistic depiction of a particular type of bird.
To emphasize the sheer power of a flying bird, a bird of prey is a good choice. What can be more of a statement about pure strength than an eagle, hawk or condor with wings spread wide? This motif lends itself to detailed depiction and a larger scale, suitable for the back or chest. Seabirds, especially seagulls, will suit a keen sailor or someone who loves the ocean and the coast.
For a more feminine tattoo, think of a flock of tiny swifts or swallows, the most graceful acrobats of the air. Or consider a flying dove, which is a classic emblem of peace. Harry Potter fans might enjoy a tattoo of an owl, which fulfills the classic function of the messenger in J.K. Rowling’s popular books. Owls are also ancient symbols of wisdom, dating back to the time of the Ancient Greeks. One of the most beautiful birds is the hummingbird, with its shining plumage and its ability to hover, beating its wings at up to eighty beats per second. They make for a charming and colorful tattoo because they can be depicted with flowers, from which they drink nectar. They are an ideal subject for a small tattoo for the wrist, ankle or neck.
Most of us at some point dream of escape and liberation, adventure, and exciting places that provide new experiences and perspectives on life. Tattoos celebrating great getaways, foreign travel and spiritual journeys will affirm that near-universal human desire, as well as being great to look at.