I saw his tattoo before I saw his face. It was etched on the top of his back; the world engraved in his skin.

His back was facing me and all I could make out was his short black hair and tanned skin. His grey shirt was slick with sweat, not surprising in the humid air. I felt drawn to him and to my surprise, found myself walking towards him, something out of character for my usually reserved self.

“Is this seat free?” I asked, gesturing to the empty seat beside him. Once he nodded, a small smile on his face, I sat down beside him.

The music pulsed all around us, permeating the air and sweeping through our bodies. My friends were on the dance floor, dancing to the music. It was upbeat, seductive, and I found myself tapping my feet to it as well.

I drew my attention back to the boy next to me. I couldn’t really tell his age. He had an air of someone young and old at the same time, and he looked at me with uncharacteristically sophisticated eyes that drew a stark contrast to his youthful face.

There was a small smile on his face. I found myself smiling back as he held out his hand for me to shake.

His name was Jai, a boy from south-east Asia, who hadn’t been home in over 3 years and who carried everything he owned in the world in a huge backpack, left at his hostel that night.

I had never left home before, and here in front of me was a young man who had been gone for what seemed like forever to me. I looked at my friends on the dance floor, and the thought of not just seeing them, but not having their familiarity, security and comfort around me, made me feel quite exposed.

“That’s the point.” He remarked when I told him this.

“Leaving home means finding your place without your friends, family or comforts from home to hide behind. Your vulnerability is what makes you strong.”

He took a sip of his beer before continuing.

“It is addictive. That feeling of getting on a plane, or a train or even a boat and not knowing what to expect. And getting off that plane, train or boat and realising that even though you didn’t know what to expect, everything that you may have expected was completely wrong. It’s having to rely on yourself to navigate through the world, learning to trust not only strangers but yourself. Knowing that when it comes down to it, you will be okay because you, and only you, will make sure that you will be.”

I nodded, although it was an experience unfamiliar to me. I had always hidden in the comforts of my own home and what I knew. I liked it there.

It was safe. It was secure.

“Everything I need, in practical terms, is in my backpack. Money, water, passport, a change of clothes. It’s easy to carry that with you. Everything else is superfluous. It’s that belief that you need these extra possessions when you really don’t. People collect things; I collect memories, experiences and knowledge.”

“How many countries have you been to?” I asked him curiously. In reply, he gave a short chuckle.

“I lost count, to be honest. I tried to at first but then I realised that there was no point. I don’t want to count the places I’ve been to. I’m only focused on the places I have yet to travel to.”

I felt a pang of sadness in my chest. He had lost count of countries he had been to and I haven’t even gotten one ticked off the list.

“And yourself?” He tilted his head to the side as he looked at me, as though he already knew the answer.

“I haven’t been anywhere yet. Never really been out of the country, though I did travel interstate once, for a school trip.” I quickly added at the end.

He replied, “That’s the beauty of travel. No matter what age you go, or when you go, or even if you visit the same place two, three or four times, you have a different experience every single time. So it’s never too late to start.”

We sat in silence for a while. I wasn’t sure what he was thinking about. Maybe his next destination or maybe about the girl sitting next to him who was his complete antithesis, while he embodied everything she wanted to be and more.

“It’s easy to be scared.” He suddenly commented, as if he knew what was stopping me. “And it’s easy to focus on what you will miss – your family, your friends, the security of knowing where you will be sleeping that night, or who to call when you are lost or even how to speak the common language.”

He stops, deep in thought. “I just choose to think about the things that I will miss if I don’t do it. If I don’t get on that plane, if I don’t wake up in the morning in a foreign country with new places to explore at my feet. That’s what I fear the most. That feeling of missing out on that and not knowing that I had.

“That’s why I decided to mark the occasion,” he said with a laugh as he saw me looking at his tattoo. From my angle, I could only see the edge of Australia.

“Lots of people have a tattoo of the world somewhere on their bodies but it means something different to everyone. For me, it symbolises all the places I have been to and how each one has left their own unique mark on me, and of course, of all the places yet to.”

He glanced at me, with his brown eyes. I realised that he was probably the same age as me but had seen so much more of the world than I had that he seemed older.

“You learn a lot, by leaving home.”

“About the world?” I asked.

“Yes”, he replied, “and about yourself.”

He smiled, crinkling the skin around his eyes, and held his beer up at me.

“Cheers”, he said.

For the rest of the night, we sat in the bar, slowing sipping our drinks with the music pulsing through our bodies; a boy with the world on his back and the girl who had yet to see it.

Emily Trinh
Author

I write poetry and prose, hoping to inspire and connect.

  • Catarina Alexon

    If it’s a positive or negative story depends on why the young man left his home and country. If it was because he wanted to and is able to support himself it’s great. However, most people in his positions are fleeing powerty hoping to get a fantastic life in the West. There are about million people in the world that fit that desription at the moment. What’s interesting is that only some of them explain how horrible their situation is and the rest want to save face and pretend their life is fantastic even though they frequenstly resort to crime to survive. Or worse, are used and abused by criminal networks.

    • The story is up to your own interpretation and it could go both ways but I like to think of it as a positive story 🙂

  • Lovely narration, Emily!
    We should travel at least once a year to see life from an entirely different perspective! And he was right, it is never too late to start exploring..

  • Hello Emily. Travel changed my life for the better and has added so much more depth to my insight, and ability to understand people and what motivates them. You don’t have to be a nomad like the young man you were speaking to. But taking one trip a year as Tuhin suggests is a great way to start. Start with somewhere that is safe and affordable, and that you have a keen interest in. That way, you are setting yourself up for success as a traveler, and will look forward to the next trip with even more vigour.

    • I really truly believe that travel can change everyone’s lives for the better. It is such a great experience whether you go for a couple of days to a couple of years!

  • Phoenicia Oyeniyi

    Beautifully written Emily – you are a natural with words. I cannot imagine what it must be like to walk around with everything I own in one rucksack. There is something about living a simple lifestyle – free from a wealth of possessions. I like the idea of travelling but am no longer of the age to go backpacking for several months, stopping at youth hostels etc. Looking back I could have taken time out to do this after finishing university. I was eager to get into full-time employment!

    • I love the idea of doing that as well and plan to go backpacking around Europe in a couple or a few years but I don’t think I will be able to do it for 3 years thats for sure! I think that you can go backpacking despite whatever age you are! When I was travelling around Europe, I met people from all ages at the hostels though they were mostly of the younger crowd, that is true. 🙂

  • Wow you write to beautifully =o) I was enchanted by the words

    https://dreamofadventures.com/

  • Michael

    When I was 15 I applied and got a passport without my parents knowledge. I got on a flight out of New York to Paris. I bought a Eurail pass for $50 which gave me unlimited train travel throughout Europe for six months. I stayed in youth hostels where I learned about the real world. That trip formed the basis for the rest of my life. I still can see and remember the beautiful people from all over the world that I met. The ideas, viewpoints I was exposed to laid the foundation for my life. I regret that I wasn’t able to stay in touch with them, the world was a different place then. My hope I that I positively impacted their life as they did mine. Thank you E for giving me the chance to revisit that time and share it.

    • Thank you for your kinds words. That sounded like an amazing experience! I similarly was in Europe for six months on student exchange though I did travel throughout the semester and a lot more at the end, and you meet so many different people from all over the world that can really change how you see things. Thank you for sharing your experience with us 🙂

  • A beautifully written story, Emily. I wanted to find out how it ended. That’s the mark of a good story-teller. And the title was a real grabber. Look forward to reading more of your stories.

    • It had a different, more boring name at the start – The Tattoo – but it didn’t feel right at all until I thought of this one. Thank you for reading! 🙂

  • I think it’s so important to figure out who you are independent of other people. This usually comes to mind when I think of young couples. // I think it’s so refreshing to portray a boy being open about his vulnerability! I think more boys and men need to realise that they don’t have to prove their manliness all the time -_-” -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey’s

    • I completely agree. For some reason in my head, I couldn’t imagine his character being a girl at all. Thank you for readying 🙂

  • Travel is indeed a great teacher of our inner and outer worlds, and always great fodder for stories 🙂

  • Entertaining, this is a refreshing post!
    http://www.busyandfab.com

  • I left home very young, but I too have yet to really see the world. I’ve seen quite a bit of this country, but I’ve only traveled out of the country a little. This was a really well told story.

  • About a month ago, Emily, you told us that you would be diving headfirst into uncharted waters in the wake of ‘parting ways’ with your previous employer. With today’s post it sounds like you are ready for another dive, travel-wise…

    • I am always ready to travel somewhere, bank account says otherwise however haha

  • I love this calm and introspective style of narrative! 🔮🙏

    http://www.composure.design/journal

    • Thank you so much. I love writing them 🙂

  • Rose Mary Griffith

    What a lovely story. It never is too late to start traveling and learning new things and meeting new people. The world is always waiting for us.

    • That is definitely true. Thank you for reading 🙂