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Tattoo tourism: Where ink and travel meet

Visiting tattoo shops and learning about the people who have expanded the art form can be as inspiring as visiting any art museum.
Image: A man has his leg tattooed during the th
A man has his leg tattooed during the third Sydney Tattoo and Body Art Expo on March 11, 2011. The expo, billed as the largest tattoo convention in the Southern Hemisphere, has over 320 tattoo artists including 110 internationals and over 60 retail vendors. GREG WOOD / AFP - Getty Images
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Visiting tattoo shops and learning about the people who have expanded the art form can be as inspiring as visiting any art museum. It has been said that tattoos are 5000 years old and are as diverse as the people who have them.

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Traveling for a tattoo follows a rich legacy of trend-setters. There are many places still using ancient tattooing traditions that might inspire you to travel for a piece of their traditional art. Destinations known for their ritual tattooing include Tahiti, Hawaii, Japan, New Zealand, Borneo, Thailand and Samoa.

Whether you get a tattoo for fashion, tradition or commemoration, there are many reasons to seek out an artist whom you admire. Many people choose to travel to a specific tattoo conference where they can get inked by a world-renowned artist while immersed in all things tattoo. (There is some debate about whether you get a bargain at a convention as most artists raise their rates due to demand, but the costs can be rationalized considering you'll presumably have the tattoo for life.)

Tattoo culture has a rich history of outlaws, misfits and travelers. Bert Grimm, the “grandfather of old school,” tattooed Bonnie and Clyde, the famous outlaws who traveled the Central U.S. with their gang during the Great Depression. It’s unknown exactly where and when Grimm tattooed the famous pair, but Bert Grimm's World Famous Tattoo was the oldest continually operated tattoo parlor in the continental U.S. If you're taking a road-trip up the Pacific coast it’s fascinating to check in at locations that shaped the industry as we know it today. You can pay your tributes at Seaside, Ore., where Grimm is buried, or you can stop by the shop he was best known for running, which was located in an amusement park called Nu Pike in Long Beach, Calif. (The tattoo shop was under threat of condominium developers but it was purchased in 2004 by tattoo artist Kari Barba and two silent partners and still operates as a tattoo studio today.)

The highly popular exhibition Skin & Bones: Tattoos in the Life of the American Sailor that was staged at the Seaport Museum in Philadelphia beautifully illustrated the journey of tattoos from the East to the West; the melding of travel tales and art. Sailors didn’t just carry cargo from port to port; they also brought new forms of artistic expression on their skin.

So, want to blend tatts with travel? Here are some places of interest:

Top-rated international tattoo conventions:
Singapore Tattoo Show
Miami Tattoo Expo
New York AM-Jam Tattoo Expo
Sydney Tattoo & Body Art Expo
Moscow Body-Art Festival
The Calgary Tattoo & Arts Festival

A short list of internationally renowned tattooists:
Jean-Luc Navette, Lyon, France
James Robinson, Nine, Brighton, UK
Jonix, Holy Trauma, Barcelona, Spain
Tu, Siamese 5 Tattoo, Phuket, Thailand
William Yoneyama, Tattoo Magic, Melbourne, Australia
Lars, Loxodrom, Berlin, Germany
Steve Moore, Get Moore Tattoos, Vancouver, Canada
Edward Frazier, Tattoo Ritual, Dearborn, Mich.
David Glantz, Archive Tattoo, Toronto, Canada

Other great tattoo resources to check out: A website produced by Bob Baxter, tattoo artist, writer and tattoo historian The world's largest online tattoo museum
50 tattoo artists you need to know

This story, Tattoo tourism: where ink and travel meet, originally appeared on

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