Extra Pulp: Endless Journeys

Laura Anders Lee has traveled extensively and discovered that the world is actually a tiny place.

I love to travel. Not only is it the destination that excites me but also the possibilities and the planning as I pore over articles, research reviews and daydream of faraway places. Our desire to transport ourselves is one reason my husband and I especially love Epcot. We can sip moscato in Italy, watch belly dancers in Morocco, and shop in Japan, all in a date night.

Bryan and I have been lucky to visit many wonderful places. We’ve seen the sunrise on the Atlantic in Amelia Island and the sunset on the Gulf in St. Pete Beach. We’ve stood atop a mountain two miles high in Breckenridge and strolled below-sea-level streets in New Orleans. We’ve had Christmas dinner in Key West, seen a rainbow over Rio de Janeiro on Good Friday, and spent our 10th wedding anniversary crossing London’s bridges. I’ve covered my shoulders at the Vatican and covered my head at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. We’ve tasted the world’s best feta in Santorini and sipped limoncello as bright as the sun in Capri.

But these experiences were not gained easily; therefore we do not take them for granted. We’ve suffered through jet lag, airport food and altitude sickness. We’ve endured weather delays, corny motorcoach tours and overpriced tourist traps. A rare strand of E. coli landed Bryan in the hospital on our return from Brazil to Florida.

On a flight home from New Zealand, a bottle of red wine burst in our suitcase, leaving a bloodlike trail through LAX as we rushed to our gate. We missed our flight. Twelve excruciating hours later, we finally lugged our stained luggage onto the red-eye.

On our way to the Rose Bowl, so many flights were overbooked out of Atlanta, we thought we’d miss the national championship game. We got in such an intense argument, I still think a marriage counseling kiosk would do well next to a Brookstone. (We made it in time for kickoff and are still happily married.)

Traveling makes us tired, hungry, and homesick—if we’re not careful, it can bring out our very worst. I’ve learned to expect the unexpected and not let bad moments ruin our entire trip.

Traveling brings out our very best, too. When we drove that tiny car on the left side of the road in Australia and navigated the crowded subway in Rome, we became more confident, more capable to take on the world. Making that detour in Maine made us late for our dinner plans, but without spontaneity, I’d never have seen that spectacular rocky coast.

Experiencing new places together bonds us closer as a family. When our sons were toddlers, we took them on the short flight from Orlando to Puerto Rico. They marveled at everything—the cab ride, the talking parrots, picking up coconuts half their body weight and pretending to fight pirates in the waterfront fort. Everywhere we went, the locals oohed and aahed over their bright blue eyes and William’s white-blond hair.

Traveling reveals our differences as well as our sameness. We recently hosted four 12-year-olds from Martinique for a swim party. They were amazed at the size of our American houses and cars—and the fact that each household not only had a personal vehicle but one for each driver! Their reactions were eye-opening for my children as well, realizing not everyone has what we have. While my sons spoke only English and they only French, the kids splashed and squealed in a universal language. Despite our backgrounds, we are more alike than we think.

On a tour of Sydney Harbor with predominantly Chinese tourists, Bryan and I felt slightly out of place. But outside on the chilly deck, a father wrapped his jacket around his daughter, just as my dad would have done for me. In each country I’ve visited, I’ve witnessed frustrated and exhausted mothers, unable to quiet their child’s screams. “I understand,” I try telling them with my eyes.

Last year on a trip to Rome, I visited the 2,000-year-old Pantheon. Around the room, visitors stood in segregated clumps speaking their various languages. Then suddenly, it started raining. Everyone rushed to the center, where the rain streamed through the oculus 140 feet down to the marble floor. A little girl lifted her head to feel the rain on her face, her joy inviting the rest of us to join in. We reached out our hands to catch the raindrops, our eyes looking toward the heavens as the dome’s creators intended.

This simple childlike act connected us across our country’s boundaries and language barriers. Among strangers 5,000 miles from home, I felt profoundly close to history and humanity.

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