I recently watched a travel channel show about tattoos, Miami Ink. I am still a bit bewildered about what tattoos have to do with travel, but when you are hungry for English you’ll watch anything. Surprisingly it was actually quite entertaining at 11PM.

When I was a wee bit younger I always entertained the idea of getting a tattoo. These thoughts mainly came when I had drunk too much beer in my mid-twenties, or when I was doing tequila shots on a beach in Cancun. Thank God I made it through those times without a permanent scar. However, my recent trip to the US Embassy in Vietnam made me realize that I already have hundreds of tattoos. They are colorful, painless, and full of memories and meaning: my tattoos are in my passport.

I arrived at the US Embassy in order to have more pages added to my passport. I always find it fun to make a trip to the US Embassies in other countries because even though it looks like a DMV waiting room, it doesn’t operate like one; they are actually quite efficient and pleasant. The embassy in Vietnam was laid out in a segregated style. There were sections for immigrant visas and non-immigrant visas; both were waiting areas outside on stone benches. Fans blew around the heavy humid air in an attempt to give some sort of relief to the hordes of people waiting in line.

As I stared at the people all waiting patiently for their turn, an Embassy employee ushered me out of the area and pointed at a sign for American citizens. I didn’t even say a word, she knew I was American; I think the sweat dripping from me probably gave it away. The sign pointing to the American citizen services directed me inside; following the arrows I suddenly felt frigid air gush towards me — ahhhh — air conditioning. The American citizen section was situated inside a briskly air conditioned room with nice padded chairs and a little ‘take a number’ machine positioned at the front of the room. Quite the contrast from the non-citizen sections and queues! Nice to know that America is taking care of its own I guess.

Passports and visas

As I sat there in the lovely air conditioned room for American citizens and waited for my number to be called, I entertained myself by paging through my passport. The memories came flooding back of each country, each adventure, each challenge; friends, food, and weather. For an independent traveler like myself, a passport is a badge of honor. There’s an untold prestige that goes with a full passport; it’s kind of like driving a Porsche in Beverly Hills. The more stamps you have, the more you move up the travel ‘chain of command’. As I looked at my full passport, I felt like a general in the vagabond army. The beauty is that not one of these stamps came from business travel–not one.

My choice for a travel tattoo!
My choice for a travel tattoo!

This wasn’t the first time I had pages added to my passport. Two short years ago I was sitting in the American Embassy in Australia having my first set of pages added. My passport is now so thick that it no longer easily fits into its little plastic sleeve. This girth makes me beam with pride. However the thing that makes me the proudest is the fact that this is my first passport. I received this passport nine years ago when I was 30 years old for my first ever trip abroad. Since then I’ve managed to fill it with memories beyond my wildest expectations. To top it off, I’m now living abroad in a country that I probably couldn’t have even found on a map nine years ago!

I look at my travel tattoos and swell with pride. You never know where life will take you. With an open mind and patience, it will always take you somewhere good. Forget this economic recession, isn’t it time you started getting some ink?

Your thoughts on "Travel ink: the joy of passport stamps"

  • Passport stamps as travel tattoos,I love it! And they're definitely not the kind of tattoos you want to cover up as you get older. :)

    on January 7, 2009 at 8:03 am Reply
  • Yes! Be proud of your stamps!!! They are painless too!

    on January 7, 2009 at 11:20 pm Reply
  • what a great essay. YES, these are the marks we carry - brilliant!

    on January 8, 2009 at 10:34 pm Reply
  • Funny! We have been to 4 continents, 29 countries since we started our open ended world tour in the summer of 2006 and we have gotten very few passport stamps since we travel mostly by land. Now all the photos, videos and memories...those are priceless and over flowing. ;)

    on January 9, 2009 at 7:57 pm Reply
  • I feel ripped off! As a British citizen travelling in the Schengen zone, I received next-to-no stamps. Linda, travelling on her Kiwi passport, has pages and pages of them.

    on January 9, 2009 at 11:29 am Reply
  • I've done overland travel also and always had my passport stamped! I traveled from Kenya to Tanzania overland and got a stamp as well as Thailand to Laos. Overland crossings are always the most memorable though! Soultaveler3 - I agree with you - in addition to the stamps, the pictures are priceless! I had over 11,000 that I actually edited and kept from my around the world travel!

    on January 10, 2009 at 9:54 am Reply
  • I know they don't check passports on the internal Schengen borders but I thought they would in Africa and South America. It's not the case in your experience?

    on January 9, 2009 at 9:12 pm Reply
  • What about the big ones? Like China? ;)

    on May 9, 2009 at 6:35 pm Reply
  • Oh yes, China makes you pay dearly for the priviledge of seeing their country! Plus, you get a huge passport sticker/visa with a picture of the great wall on it! But seeing the Great Wall in person...priceless...

    on May 13, 2009 at 12:00 pm Reply
  • We're just in the process of getting visas for China right now. Seems like the standard photos + passport + itinerary + return tickets. Oh, and piles of cash.

    on May 13, 2009 at 10:20 am Reply
  • I have watched Miami Ink a couple of times and it is quit good. I like Kat. Lovely lady with a wild attatude. I have a couple of tattoos myself but I would much rather trade them in for your passport:-).

    on November 5, 2009 at 2:29 am Reply

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