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.
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.
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?