What Does A Dragon Tattoo Symbolize?
It is interesting how in the East, dragons are considered lucky and overall positive animals, however in the West, they are often viewed as destructive monsters.
Either way, dragons are packed full of symbolism and date back to ancient times when they were created by either the Chinese or Japanese (we won’t get into this argument).
Dragons are truly fierce mythological creatures, however, they represent many positive aspects of life and bring good luck to anyone wearing one as a tattoo.
Here are some of the main meanings involved with dragon tattoos :
- Good Fortune
- Triumph Over Evil
Dragons traditionally, especially in Chinese culture, have always brought good luck.
The dragon in almost any style or design represents good fortune for those who wear it as a tattoo.
Luck is needed in everyone’s life, so why not bring some with you?
Dragons may not technically be real (I guess that’s debatable) but they are known to have powerful abilities that supersede those of animals.
A dragon tattoo means that you are either a powerful person or you want a little more power in your life.
Dragons are also strong.
Not just in the physical way, but with their minds, dragons are strong and capable beings that can help people in many ways with their powers.
Dragon tattoos provide the wearer with positive strength that can help them through dark times.
Dragons are in fact so powerful that they even have the ability to triumph over evil.
Dragons are typically ethical beings who want the best for humans.
A dragon tattoo can represent the desire in the wearer to defeat evil and bring good into this world.
Dragon Tattoo Meanings Across Various Cultures
Though dragon mythology originated in the East, many cultures all over the world have taken on the concept of the dragon and came up with their own meaning for the representation of the creature.
Let’s take a look at what dragons mean to different cultures, including ancient cultures, around the world:
Japanese Dragon Tattoo Meanings
Dragons have been a popular subject throughout Japanese tattoo history since 1757, with the development of woodblock printing and the translation of the Chinese novel Suikoden, which showed heroes with tattoos of dragons, tigers, and other such images.
Japanese dragon tattoos can be colorful, exciting designs, emphasizing the dragon’s sharp teeth and fiery scales.
The colors used in these tattoos can be blue, yellow, pink, and red.
When the dragon tattoo is done in black ink, the dragon’s body is often contoured as if it is in motion.
Each Japanese dragon tattoo design makes the dragon look like a powerful, strong, and menacing creature.
As far as the meaning of Japanese dragon tattoos, the dragon to the Japanese is a mythological creature that symbolizes strength, wealth, and is seen as a guardian over people.
These are just a few of the meanings of a Japanese dragon tattoo.
For example, it can also symbolize wisdom, being noble, and power.
Among these many meanings, there’s a commonality of the great positivity that a dragon tattoo has for the Japanese and for their culture, unlike western cultures, which can view dragons as an evil menace that must be killed.
For the Yazuka, the dragon is a common Japanese tattoo symbol.
The Yazuka believe that dragons symbolize the duality of heaven and Earth and that there is never a winner or loser in life because we all end up in the afterlife.
It is also important to note that dragons in Yakuza tattoos are placed on the upper part of the body because they believe dragons are rulers of the sky.
Japanese dragon tattoos have different meanings or personalities depending on the color of the design.
We’ll talk a little more about specific colors later, but for now, here are a few key colors to be aware of.
Red dragon tattoos are powerful while green dragons are associated with nature.
Black dragon tattoos are wise and experienced, while blue dragons are benevolent and forgiving.
Gold dragon tattoos represent value and virtue, not to be confused with yellow dragon tattoos, which represent a noble nature.
- Neo-Japanese Dragon Tattoos
If you like the style of tebori tattoos but want something a little more modern, a Neo-Japanese dragon tattoo is the way to go.
Neo-Japanese tattoos take their inspiration from traditional images and work contemporary elements into the design.
This often means re-imagining historic depictions of Japanese dragons from paintings and woodblock prints in a 3D perspective.
Sleeves are a very popular form of Neo-Japanese dragon tattoo due to the mythological creature’s intricate, twisting shape.
- Tebori Dragon Tattoos
For a Japanese dragon tattoo that’s really authentic, you might want to consider the tebori technique.
This traditional method of tattooing dates all the way back to the start of the Edo period in the 17th-century and involves using a slim bamboo or metal tool called a nomi with a set of needles fastened to its tip to apply the tattoo by hand.
A lot of people think that tebori tattoos will be more uncomfortable than a modern tattoo machine, but this is a common misconception.
Tebori tattoo technique is less invasive than a modern one, resulting in a faster aging process.
Have a search for your nearest Irezumi artist to learn more about the process and Japanese tattoo history.
Aztec Dragon Tattoo Meaning
An Aztec dragon tattoo typically is a dragon shown as if made of Aztec stones like a sculpture.
It also has a feather headdress just like tattoos of Aztec Gods, or, a long stone tail spreading into oblivion at its tip.
These tattoos are interesting-looking and look both fierce and artistic.
The meaning of this style of tattoo is hard to define.
Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent God, was a sort of dragon.
Therefore, many Aztec tattoos that look like dragons may be in fact representing Quetzalcoatl.
Because of this, it most likely means attaining knowledge and being wise, as well as a love of life and great luck throughout life’s challenges.
Yin Yang Dragon Tattoo Meaning
One of the main concepts of the dragon tattoo is the yin and yang meaning.
This tattoo usually shows a dragon circling or wrapped around a yin and yang symbol.
The dragon is typically in color to emphasize the white and black yin and yang symbol.
The yin yang tattoo represents the flow of energy and equalizing qualities of the universe.
There are both yin dragons and yang dragons, which can each be shown stylistically in the tattoo.
For example, yang dragons are shown as wingless and masculine.
They represent acting on your motives in a positive way with courage.
On the other hand, a yin dragon is a feminine symbol and represents darker energy full of introspection.
Whichever dragon you pick to be along the yin and yang tattoo will say something about your personality.
Chinese Dragon Tattoo Meaning
For the Chinese, the dragon is arguably the most important symbol of their culture.
Chinese dragon tattoos can be in color, made with black ink, or made with black ink, and a little bit of color used as an accent such as adding red flames in the background.
When color is used, the dragon is generally green or red.
When the color is used as an accent, it is typically red, purple, or blue.
Also, a dragon aimed toward the sky is the way it should be: dragons aimed downward in a tattoo are bad omens.
The Chinese dragon tattoo has many meanings including good luck, protection, wisdom, peace, strength, and power.
Getting Chinese dragon tattoos can help you enhance any of these skills or properties in your life.
Perhaps the most important part of Chinese tattoos is their meaning of good luck, which is celebrated throughout Chinese history as well as in their culture today.
The Chinese also include two of our most popular meanings for the dragon: power and strength.
These two meanings do not seem that different at first glance, but they differ greatly.
To the Chinese, a powerful dragon tattoo is one that shows that you have great control over others (in a positive way) because of your ability to be a great leader.
Strength in a dragon tattoo refers to the greatness of being centered enough in life to succeed in an upward trajectory and never lose focus on your goals.
Korean Dragon Tattoo Meaning
Korean dragon tattoos differ in their appearance greatly.
There are Korean dragon tattoos with a dragon flying upwards with Korean symbols on its body, or even ones with large colorful dragon faces with sharp fangs.
These tattoos can use back ink or be in bright colors.
The dragon’s face may even be part of a large mask with its eyes and fangs popping out of it.
The Korean’s view dragons in a more spiritual way than the Chinese of Japanese.
They play a large role in Korean ancient stories and a huge part of their culture.
One figure of these stories, called the Dragon King, welcomed strangers and all who came to him and was generous in that way to a fault.
Therefore, a Korean dragon tattoo means that you are welcoming and kind to others.
Another meaning of a Korean dragon tattoo is luck, providing the wearer with a good omen.
Korean dragons are also associated with power, meaning if you have this tattoo you are or will be a powerful person.
Viking Dragon Tattoo Meaning
The Nidhogg was the name of the historic Norse dragon, and it was viewed by Vikings as either a serpent or a dragon that stood for losing one’s honor or being a ‘bad guy’.
This is probably because the Norse believed this monster chewed up the bodies of those who have done harm to others, such as adultery or murder.
Nidhogg tattoos typically appear tribal, with many curving stripes wrapping around the monster often with Norse lettering.
The tattoos almost appear to be wood carvings in style.
They use black ink along with grey ink and white for shading to create the Nidhogg as either a singular image or as part of a large piece full of Norse tattoo imagery.
The meaning of having a Nidhogg tattoo isn’t that you are a bad guy.
Quite the opposite, it means you agree with the monster and view evil people as those who need to be stopped and maybe even punished.
The Nidghoog is also the symbol of death, meaning its wearer has the ability to conquer death or survive it.
Not to mention, this dragon is huge and powerful, so wearing it may provide you with some of that strength.
Celtic Dragon Tattoo Meaning
Celtic dragon tattoo designs form an interesting style because the dragon itself is created by Celtic symbols, gemstones, swords, arrowheads, and geometric designs.
The dragon is either composed of these symbols or surrounded by them and is in black and grey or in color.
Celtic dragons were considered protectors of the Earth, and for that reason, they symbolize power and the wisdom of leaders.
Due to their mythical powers, they also can represent mystery and the uncertainty of life’s mythological creatures being real or just fantasy.
Worn by King Arthur on his helmet, the Celtic dragon is most often paired with other Celtic tattoo themes of power.
Tribal Dragon Tattoo Meaning
Tribal tattoo style is a common way to tattoo a dragon and is one of the more trendy dragon styles right now.
The style shows a dragon with or without wings made up of just shapes or illustrated in a very basic way.
I say basic not to mean these tattoos are not complex: the shapes and lines used could be called basic, but the composition is highly technical.
The way these tattoos are designed fits shapes and lines together like a puzzle, or like the design of a coloring book.
The meaning of tribal dragon tattoos is combined with legends all around the world.
It includes meanings such as protection, which comes from both Eastern and Western cultures.
Also, many cultures fear dragons and consider them evil creatures somehow related to the devil, meaning a tribal dragon tattoo could symbolize strength and overcoming challenges.
Vietnamese Dragon Tattoo Meaning
The Vietnamese people believe they were descended from a dragon and a fairy according to common mythology.
Their dragon represents the symbol of yang, which represents all of existence, life, and growth.
The Vietnamese style of dragon tattoo is often a highly detailed image.
Done in any color, these dynamic creatures are known to be wrapped up within themselves ready to attack or seemingly squirming like a snake.
They do not often have wings but instead fire coming out of their bodies.
The meaning of this style of tattoo has a lot to do with the Vietnamese belief that the dragon represents the symbol yang, from yin and yang.
These are parts to one symbol which represents balance on Earth, and the yang part of it symbolizes masculinity, the sky, breath and heat (hence, dragon), and nobility.
Therefore, not only do Vietnamese dragons symbolize life, but they also symbolize the power and strength of nobility.
The way they can symbolize masculinity in a tattoo is by saying that you are a good husband or father.
The Meanings of Dragon Tattoo Colors
Every color has its own meaning.
When connected to a dragon, this color takes shape into a specific meaning meant for a dragon tattoo.
These meanings can be more detailed depending on the style of the dragon tattoo and its design.
However, color is an important aspect of any tattoo, especially dragon tattoos.
Let’s take a look at some colorful dragon tattoos and their meanings:
- Red Dragon Tattoo Meaning
A red dragon tattoo is typical of the tribal tattoo style as well as the Chinese style of tattoos though it can be used in practically any style.
It can symbolize strength because the color red symbolizes toughness.
Another reason this is a great color dragon tattoo to get is that it symbolizes power.
Power in a red dragon tattoo represents not only the strength of the dragon but also its magical powers.
Another meaning of this color of dragon tattoo is individuality.
Wearing this tattoo means that not only are you unique enough to have a red dragon tattoo but this tattoo will give you magical help to become more apart from others in a way that’s healthy.
The red dragon is said to represent strength and a vigorous nature.
A red dragon tattoo is a popular choice due to the way its distinctive color stands out against black and grey tattoos.
The tattoo will help you not rely on others as much and find your own way.
- Golden Dragon Tattoo Meaning
There’s a reason that the golden dragon is gold.
It is the king of all dragons, because not only does it represent all life on Earth, but for the Chinese, it symbolizes people’s greatest traits.
It represents wealth, wisdom, and good health.
These are seen as traits given to someone who has chosen the correct path in life and who is a good person.
Someone would get a golden dragon tattoo if they feel they deserve these things and are on the right path.
There’s another reason this is the king of all dragon colors.
The golden dragon for the Chinese would represent the emperor himself and therefore was a highly respected symbol.
This is also part of why the golden dragon symbolizes wealth (emperors are rich) but for other cultures as well as the Chinese this tattoo symbolizes great prosperity because the color gold itself is (obviously) the color of gold.
- Blue Dragon Tattoo Meaning
Descended from 800-year-old blue-gold dragons, blue dragons in Japanese folklore are guardians of the Eastern signs of the Japanese Zodiac and symbolize approaching spring.
They have been used to represent leadership and are seen as gentle and forgiving in nature.
Japanese blue dragon tattoos are often accompanied by flower tattoos due to their links with nature.
The blue dragon is related to certain astrological symbols, representing Leo, Aries, and Sagittarius.
This would be a great tattoo for someone born under these signs.
These astrological symbols also dictate much of the meaning behind the blue dragon.
For example, The Sagittarius sign often means that someone is highly independent.
You may want to get a blue dragon tattoo if you are a lone wolf or someone who likes to do things themselves.
A part of being an Aries is being open-minded, which is the next meaning the blue dragon symbolizes.
This tattoo can mean that you are not only a free-spirited individual but that you have an open mind to matters of religion, politics, and others’ suffering (you may be an empath).
Other meanings of the blue dragon tattoo are generosity in the form of giving to others, and creativity, or if you are someone who comes up with creative solutions to problems.
- Green Dragon Tattoo Meaning
Green dragons are often seen as a branch between heaven and Earth since green is a mix of blue and yellow and is in between being a warm and cool color.
For that reason, they can symbolize life and death and the relationship between the two, causing a green dragon tattoo to mean you understand the life cycle or that you believe in life beyond the one we live on Earth.
Along the same lines, this tattoo is also a major symbol of spring, meaning the regeneration of life.
A green dragon tattoo would be a great tattoo to get for someone who has matured and grown greatly throughout their life.
It also symbolizes that you have learned an important lesson and have become a new person because of it.
- Black Dragon Tattoo Meaning
Apart from being a popular color for a tattoo style, a black dragon tattoo also has a significant meaning.
Since dragons represent good and evil, yin and yang, a black dragon tattoo can symbolize the dark side of the world which is more reserved and even feared.
This can either show that you are a more quiet and intelligent person, or mean something completely different in that you are someone who is tough and not to be messed with.
Black dragons also mean that you know someone who is old and wise, and that person could be you yourself.
You could get a black dragon tattoo to represent someone in your life who you hold dear and who has taught you a lot of lessons.
Or, you could get one to mean that you feel being wise is the ultimate goal in life.
- Purple Dragon Tattoo Meaning
A purple dragon has the power to represent royalty for many cultures.
A purple dragon tattoo can therefore symbolize that you have tendencies to be powerful and ‘rule’ over others with great kindness and respect.
This would be a great tattoo for someone who is a leader and wants to make a powerful and amazing change in this world.
Another meaning of a purple dragon tattoo is, for the Chinese, heaven.
A purple dragon tattoo can represent the power and strength of the Gods/God and can represent your hope that in your belief of heaven some deity will guide you there.
Meanings of Different Dragon Tattoo Designs
Finally, the designs or different dragon tattoos can be meaningful in their own ways.
Many of these tattoo designs include iconographies from other stories and traditions, like the phoenix tattoo or the Hannya mask tattoo, but there are also plenty of different ways to give a simple dragon tattoo a unique look through color, style, and even the way the tattoo is applied.
When the dragon is paired with another important symbol in a tattoo, the symbolism combines to create new meaning.
Let’s take a look at some dragon tattoo designs and why they are meaningful tattoos:
- Phoenix and Dragon Tattoo Meaning
The phoenix and the dragon are both two of the most powerful mythological creatures in Chinese mythology.
According to the Chinese, the phoenix and dragon together symbolize order and stability.
Both being elements of fire, they provide balance in the form of yin and yang.
They, therefore, represent harmony in nature.
A phoenix tattoo paired with a dragon tattoo also provides symbolism for long-lasting connections, excellent for a marriage tattoo to symbolize your undying bond between each other.
In Feng-shui, these two mean that a couple will have life and love for as long as they live.
The Japanese phoenix, known as Hō-ō, is another mythological creature that differs greatly from the Western version.
Unlike the Greek phoenix, it features a rooster’s comb, the long neck of a pheasant, the legs of a crane, the tail feathers of a peacock, and the beak of a parrot.
Just like a dragon’s scales, color is important here too; its black, white, red, green, and yellow plumage represents the five virtues of benevolence, purity, propriety, wisdom, and gentleness.
The same phoenix appears in Chinese mythology, where a dragon and a Japanese phoenix tattoo design often symbolize a successful marriage.
- Dragon and Koi Tattoo Meaning
Dragon and koi fish tattoos are often large tattoos that show the two creatures facing one another, or, more often than not the koi fish has a dragon head and the two creatures are literally combined.
Koi fish are often viewed as masculine when in tattoos, and sometimes have water in their background.
Koi fish tattoos symbolize perseverance through struggles in life and coming out on top after all that has been accomplished.
The dragon can symbolize good luck and strength, which are quite similar in meanings.
When koi fish are added to dragons, these tattoos symbolize transformation and rebirth.
- Wolf and Dragon Tattoo Meaning
The wolf and dragon tattoo usually shows the two animals facing each other or even touching their noses together to form a sort of heart shape.
This interesting tattoo can be done in color or with only black ink.
The meaning of the dragon and wolf tattoo is complex.
The wolf often refers to loyalty and cunningness.
But also, the wolf shared with the dragon many characteristics such as generosity and intelligence.
The two together form a powerful symbol that means you are an honorable individualistic person who is strong and on their own but maintains a level of honor.
Yet, if you betray them they are ferocious and will attack.
- Dragon and Snake Tattoo Meaning
The dragon and the snake in a tattoo together create a powerful pair.
They are both considered mystical in one way or another and they both are powerful and feared creatures.
As far as their design, they can be wrapped around one another, their bodies can be morphed together, or they can appear to be fighting.
Commonly, these two creatures represent yin and yang.
The dragon represents fire and wild ambition, while the snake tattoo represents a more cunning and rational side.
These two powerful beings with different personalities when put together create balance.
- Dragon and Rose Tattoo Meaning
A dragon and a rose tattoo are usually quite simple with a back or black and red dragon wrapped around a red rose tattoo.
The red rose pops out almost as much as the snake’s fangs and bright tongue.
This tattoo can be done in any style: Japanese, Celtic, tribal, you name it.
The meaning of the dragon and a rose tattoo is fiery passion.
Dragons are known to be intense in the way that they are powerful and strong.
When we add a rose into the mix, the meaning expands into an extreme passion for something or someone because of the rose which usually symbolizes love.
This tattoo means that you are in a passionate love affair or that you are an extremely passionate person with the power to make things happen.
- Dragon and Cherry Blossom Tattoo Meaning
Who saw such a beautiful tattoo?
These tattoos are simply wonderful.
They often use color to accentuate the pinkish red of the cherry blossoms and put a lot of emphasis on the aesthetics of the design.
They are also typically feminine tattoos because of their pink coloring and because the cherry blossom is often a tattoo for women.
The meaning of this tattoo design is that you must have strength going through life because life is short.
The cherry blossom tattoo symbolizes how ‘green’ life always is and how we should cherish the moments we have.
With the dragon, we are reminded to be strong despite this and to bounce back after tough situations.
- Dragon & Tiger Tattoos
Another creature that appears frequently in tattoos is the tiger.
Just like in Chinese folklore, dragons and tigers were believed to govern elemental forces like wind and rain.
Tigers and dragons can be found in a lot of Azuchi-Momoyama and Edo period artwork, often alongside each other.
Today, the pairing is just as popular, with a lot of tattoos depicting the two beasts engaged in action with one another.
- Dragon & Hannya Mask Tattoos
Even if you’ve never seen a noh play or kagura dance, you’ll probably recognize the Hannya mask as it’s become a familiar icon of Japanese culture and has appeared across various forms of media, particularly in manga, film, and video games.
In theater, the Hannya mask represents the souls of women who have turned into demons through jealousy and obsession.
Hannya mask tattoo design shows a range of emotions; as seen from the front it has an angry appearance, yet when it’s tilted down the demonic face appears sorrowful.
There’s no doubt that combining a dragon and a Hannya mask makes for a powerful tattoo.
Dragon Tattoo Ideas
Need some inspiration for your dragon tattoo?
We’ve got you covered.
Whether you’ve decided to go for a tebori tattoo or something more modern, here are a couple of ideas to spark your imagination.
- Small Dragon Tattoos
Large tattoos are a good way to show off dramatic scenes, but it can be even more impressive when something as intricate as a Japanese dragon is presented in a smaller package.
You have a few options to experiment with here, but something that works particularly well is having the dragon coiled around another element.
In keeping with the Japanese theme, try working Japanese flower tattoos or Kanji into the design.
As always, remember to ask an expert or trusted friend when adding symbols or letters that aren’t from your native language into your tattoo to avoid an embarrassing mistranslation.
- Dragon Tattoo Sleeve
Some of our favorite dragon tattoos come in the form of sleeves.
With a long tattoo that covers the length of your limb, there’s ample opportunity to include different colored dragons to represent multiple meanings and create something visually impressive.
As we mentioned earlier, dragons were rulers of the sea in Japanese folklore, and many sleeve designs include elements such as waves and koi fish tattoos.
- Black & Grey Dragon Tattoos
Earlier we mentioned how color can change the meaning of a dragon tattoo.
Black and grey dragons are said to be descended from a thousand-year-old black and gold dragon and are wise in nature.
They are known as symbols of the North in folklore and caused storms, which makes for a dramatic tattoo idea.
Black and grey dragons are a popular tattoo choice, either fully monochrome or with extra flashes of color along their belly or back.
Now that we’ve gone over some of the meanings and main themes of Japanese dragon tattoos, it’s time to consider where on your body you want to get inked.
Traditional Japanese tattoos were often applied to the face and across the back and limbs (though we don’t recommend going straight for a face tattoo).
In modern Japan, some still associate tattoos with crime and disrespect for the body, though attitudes are shifting.
- Dragon Chest Tattoos
Chest placement is a popular choice for a dragon tattoo.
A lot of designs will have the head of the dragon tattooed onto one side of the chest with its body extending across the shoulder and sometimes even into a full sleeve.
Other tattoo styles see a dragon facing off against a tiger in a full chest tattoo.
- Dragon Hand Tattoos
Hand tattoos work well with both traditional and contemporary dragon tattoos due to the creature’s flexible shape.
A dragon tattoo can wrap around the thumb or sit poised on the back of the hand.
Another option for a hand tattoo is to just include the head of the dragon across the back of the hand and knuckles.
Remember when considering a hand tattoo that it will always be visible.
There is still some stigma about tattoos in Japan due to their association with criminal gangs like the Yakuza, so this is something to be aware of if you’re living in the country or planning a visit.
- Dragon Limb Tattoos
The limb is a great placement for a dragon tattoo as it allows you to show off the bright colors associated with the creature.
Limb tattoos tend to have the dragon coiled around the lower limb and forearm with its head at the shoulder, sometimes leading into a sleeve.
Smaller tattoo designs are also popular, with the dragon curled around the wrist.
- Dragon Back Tattoos
Some would say the back is the perfect canvas for a dragon tattoo.
Both tebori and Neo-Japanese tattoo designs are true works of art that usually involve complex details, so with the scope of a back tattoo, you really have an opportunity to show this off.
Although simple tattoo designs are also an option, most back tattoos show one or multiple dragons soaring through the clouds and over the waves.
- Dragon Leg Tattoos
Just like your limb, a leg tattoo is a good choice for a dragon, as the length of the area means you can really show the size of the creature as portrayed in traditional artwork from the 18th-century and earlier.
Some choose to get both legs tattooed with different colors of the dragon, which can provide an interesting contrast.
The dragon is one of the ultimate tattoos for anyone to get.
Not only does it have a ton of symbolism, but it is truly beautiful in its many cultures, colors, and designs.
Dragon tattoos, at the end of the day, mean that you are going to do the right thing.
No matter whether you are getting it because of the dragon’s power, strength, ferocity, or any other reason, the dragon is always an ethical creature among most cultures.
This of course does not include part of the West, which believes the dragon to be an evil monster.
However, for the most part, dragons are good creatures and they are certainly great tattoos.
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Alyssa Renee Hardy is a writer, curator, and photographer who publishes articles on the topics of the arts, culture, and social justice. She graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology with a degree in fashion business and art history and museum professions. Her experience working with a variety of art institutions, her world travel, and her inquisitive nature provides her with a unique insight. Check out her about page, she would love to connect with you!