In other words: Traveling the world from my kitchen table

As far back as I can remember, the best trips I took began at our kitchen table, my father peering over my shoulders, watching as I absorbed materials from the travel books he had painstakingly assembled for my benefit. It was within those pages that worldly expeditions to cities I couldn’t pronounce came alive — prerequisites to places we would soon be visiting. It was here that tastes were cultivated so that by the time the real vacation happened, I was already familiar with the landmarks I had vicariously visited.

I was fortunate to have parents who brought me along on their journeys. Educating me through travel, and turning me into a sophisticated adventurer, became their mission. And while I balked at the idea of having to pore through historical tomes, it was part of the required reading they had established for me.

“It’s essential to know a city’s history,” Dad preached. “It’s important to understand the culture of the people with whom you’ll be interacting. You need to get a feel of a place before intruding on their lives - familiarize yourself with a city’s background so its richness can be fully appreciated.”

But to a child whose level of patience had not yet developed, and who was more intent on getting there rather than collecting data, these tutorial traditions seemed dry and dull.

And so, with eyes rolling, and filled with ennui, I sat at the kitchen table, slathering jam on my breakfast toast, as I trekked through my imaginary visits to Paris, Rome, Madrid and Athens. Sometimes, for shorter trips, I moved on to places closer to home: Chicago, Boston, Washington D.C., and Miami Beach. My literary meanderings brought me to mysterious, hidden spots unknown to tourists, so that by the time we entered a city’s portals, I was no longer a trespasser, but a child who had earned her visitation rights and could integrate well.

Unknowingly, by placating my father, I was also honing my skills. My mother, already a seasoned traveler, delighted in turning me over to my dad, who enjoyed having a daughter he could inspire. It all seemed ridiculous to me then, my never having realized that I was being groomed for life beyond the kitchen table.

On an upcoming trip to France, frivolity was in the air as we set sail on the Queen Elizabeth, departing from New York. On our third day out, I became seasick and retired to my stateroom. Suddenly, a knock at my door. My dad appeared, and with vigorous vitriol, announced: “Seasickness is simply a state of mind.” There was no time for any of it, and while he purged his thoughts, I ran to the bathroom and purged my lunch. Later, feeling remorseful, he returned with ginger ale and Saltines, my mother applying cold compresses to my head, Dad apologizing for his lack of sensitivity, assuring me it was all part of the experience bypassed in guidebooks.

By the time we arrived in France, I was wobbly from nausea and fatigue, and I was feeling rebellious. I didn’t care about books or travelogues, and simply wanted to experience a place, not read about it. I further announced that my future mode of transportation would be airplanes, not ships. My mother was appropriately sympathetic. But I had clearly let my father down.

On a warm spring morning, seated at the famous Parisian Cafe de Flore, I ate my first croissant, its buttery flakes melting in my mouth.

“See what I mean?” Dad announced. “You’re tasting a country.”

His enthusiasm was relentless.

Over the years of our many travels, I came to understand countries and their indigenous uniqueness. I discovered vineyards in Provence, walked the hillsides of Italy, and bathed in the lakes of Catalonia. I dined on mussels fresh from the sea, and dipped my bread into oil freshly pressed from Portugal’s green olives. I was no longer a voyeur who derived her pleasure from books, but a traveler, who was experiencing new worlds firsthand. But more than that, I came to understand my dad, his earnestness and devotion to a child who was fast becoming his protégé.

Now, during a pandemic not yet over, these moments resonate still. I think back to our kitchen table and the books piled high in front of me. I recall the endless hours of reading about places I eventually visited, and being quizzed by my father, who wanted to make sure I was absorbing it all. We had become quite the traveling team. My emergence into the romance of these places was yet to be experienced, when, as an adult, I would travel with my husband, and see the countries from an entirely different perspective.

But, oh those unforgettable days of my youth, when, after copious hours of poring through the books — my mind sufficiently shaped for travel — my dad would announce with a twinkle in his eye, those words I had longed to hear: “Start packing.”

Westporter Judith Marks-White shares her humorous views monthly in the Westport News and Fairfield Citizen. She can be reached via email at or at