Jennie Lay: Ode to travel


Oh, sweet travel, how I love thee. How may I count the ways?

Nope. Uncountable. Too huge. Would set new mathematical parameters.

It's a vice. It's a way of life. The passion keeps multiplying itself into an all-encompassing essence of being.

Some people say it's out of control. They predict my vice will end. They think I will tire of shoestring adventures. They think an apprehension about foreign destinations will quash this lust for visiting less than familiar locations.

They say, "Get a life."

I say, "Get a plane ticket."

A visit to the bookstore rarely ends without a swoop down the row of travel books.

Maps are like an opiate, transfixing me in their calm yet exhilarating grasp.

Trips to the airport make my skin tingle with the sheer possibility of all the places you could just up and go.

My potential trip list is long -- very long.

There are only a few places I wouldn't be thrilled to go.

As my mother always says, "Only boring people are bored." There's got to be something interesting everywhere. And if it's really that boring, weird or uninteresting and you went there, at least you'd know firsthand, which would be pretty interesting in itself. And certainly there's always another more curious town just down the road, I figure.

But shenanigans such as this take time. The more time, the better.

There must be time for acclimatization, disorganization, exploration and a feeling of integrated appreciation. I am not talking about well-planned resort vacations. This is strictly in the category of buy a plane ticket, read some armchair travel books, get there, go to the local pub, ask questions and figure your trip out from there. An inability to verbally communicate makes for all the more excitement and intrigue.

My mother points out that I am spoiled rotten in my extended travel adventures. She is right, of course. But it's hard to do most places justice on a two-week vacation. Sometimes you need to take what time you can get -- but at least try to finagle a lot. Time is more precious than money.

Now my only predicament is, should we start saving our pennies? Should we plan for space travel with something like a college fund? Will peons like me really be able to do what space tourist Dennis Tito paid the Russians $20 million to do?

The moment SpaceShipOne safely landed in the Mojave Desert, "a trip to space" officially plopped itself onto my wish list.

Despite the pressure of five Gs while coming down, civilian astronaut Mike Melvill had a darn good time up there looking down on all of us, letting his M&Ms loose in the cabin just so he could see what weightlessness would look like.

Last winter, I interviewed a rocket scientist who designs interior quarters for spacecrafts. He had lots of intriguing things to talk about, but it was hard not to remember his tales of the "vomit comet." That's what he called the plane that NASA uses to test zero gravity, flying in repeated parabolas that give passengers moments of weightlessness. It made him really sick.

This makes me wonder what might happen if I sell all my worldly possessions for the quick, expensive thrill of going to space one day. What if my friend the rocket scientist doesn't figure out a way to reduce air sickness in space, which is currently the focus of his research?

I already get seasick pretty easily. Sailing around the world, across giant open, wavy seas is on that very short list of travel adventures I will happily live without.

Still, it's undoubtedly worth puking my guts out to see the Earth and the heavens from up there. And floating M&Ms must be infinitely more surreal in person than in the movies.

In a space visit's brevity, there must be unfathomable clarity.


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