Why Do I Love to Travel? — Three Gifts From My Father


It seems to me that once in your life, before you die, you ought to see a country where they don’t speak English and they don’t even want to.”

— Mrs. Gibbs, Our Town, Thornton Wilder

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I’ve been asked,”How did you get to be so interested in travel? Where did it come from?” I trace my excitement for travel to three gifts from my father.

Gift Number One
I remember one Christmas morning when I was young enough to have written a letter to Santa Claus, I found a world globe under the tree. It wasn’t a great surprise, because my letter had specified that I wanted “a revolving globe.” It was almost two feet high and it rotated on a tilted axis, with a metal stand — just as I had expected. But as I lay on the floor examining the different-colored shapes and large expanses of blue ocean, some surprises began to emerge.

First, I asked my Dad, “Where are we?” Since last Christmas when I got my first big-boy bicycle, I observed that my hometown was huge. I could ride my bike for a half hour and not even get to 18th street. So, I was surprised when my Dad said, “Our town is so small you can’t even see it.” When he showed me that our town was just a half an inch from San Francisco and that the longest trip I had ever taken — to Disneyland — was only three inches south of us, I was stunned. I looked back at my globe with new respect and I thought, “This is more serious than I realized.”

Suddenly, I was full of questions: “Where are the New York Yankees?” “Where does President Eisenhower live?” Then he opened my eyes to a subject I had not thought of before when he said, “Let me show you where my father came from.” To my amazement, he turned my globe around to the other side and pointed to an orange shape that looked like a boot. “Italy. Reggio di Calabria. Down here near the toe.” I looked at the ‘boot,’ back up at him, then down at the ‘toe.’ I remember wanting to ask more questions, but didn’t know what to ask.

As time went on, my globe helped answer some more complicated questions. As a kid, I noticed ‘old people’ like my grandparents talked in words that I couldn’t understand. I also noticed that some of the ‘middle-aged’ people in the family seemed to understand those strange words, but still spoke to me in the words I understood. Nobody my age understood this way of speaking. So, I drew a logical conclusion: when people got old, they started speaking in a strange new way — “old-people talk,” I called it. I figured that when you get to be “half-way old,” like my parents, you began to talk funny to older people but hadn’t completely lost the “right way” of talking to younger people. I figured that when my parents got “old,” they would undergo the complete transformation that I observed had happened to my grandparents.

When my Dad overheard me explaining this “fact” to one of my nephews, he took me over to the globe and explained that grandma and grandpa spoke “Italian.” He spun the globe and showed me; “People who grew up here, in Italy, spoke Italian from the time they were little. When grandma and grandpa came to America they had a hard time learning to speak English like we do here.”

Then came the really interesting part. “Here in America,” he told me, “We speak English because many of the people who came here a long time ago came from England.” He spun the globe again. “Right here.” The different colors I had wondered about on my globe all turned out to be different countries where they spoke different languages. What a revelation! “People from France spoke French. People from Spain, the yellow one there, spoke Spanish. People from Portugal, like Father Perdigon from church, spoke Portuguese.” And so on.

In the year between that Christmas and the next one, my questions led to more answers; and a second gift from my father dramatically increased my interest in spinning the globe.

Gift Number Two
That year I found under the tree a Viewmaster Viewer. It was a thing that looked like a pair of binoculars only you inserted a three-inch cardboard disk into it before you put it up to your eyes. Each disk contained about twenty color slides. When you pulled the handle, the disk rotated to the next picture. The disks that came with it were labeled “Egypt,” “England, “ “France,” “Italy,” and “China.” A little booklet explained the pictures. This gift taught me about leaning towers, pyramids, and Great Walls from all around the globe. Looking back, the pictures made the countries seem bigger and more interesting and the globe seemed much smaller.


I learned something more when I started showing my Dad the pictures in the Viewmaster. I showed him the leaning tower and asked, “Was that tower leaning like that when you were there?”

“I’ve never been there,” he said without taking his eyes from the Viewmaster. “But you need to go there someday.” As we talked about the other pictures — the pyramids, the Great Wall, Big Ben, the Eifel Tower — I came to realize that he had never been to any of the countries he had introduced me to. “But you need to go there someday,” he said; and he said it more than once.

Gift Number Three
This gift was not at Christmas. It was during the summer. Perhaps I had whined about “nothing to do around here.” Or maybe my Dad said something like, “What do you do all day?” I don’t remember. What I do remember is that one day he brought home a booklet: Collecting Stamps for Fun and Profit.” (No fooling.) He told me that all the countries on my globe publish their own postage stamps to charge people for sending letters and packages. He showed me in the booklet that the words on the stamps were written in the language of that country and that they put pictures on them illustrating the people, places, and events that were important to them.


When he took me to the hobby store — one of the customers of his insurance agency — and showed me the stamp collecting albums with pictures of all the stamps you can collect from different countries, I was hooked. I brought home the “Regent” stamp album (I still have it), another book called The Stamp Finder to identify the country a stamp was from, a magnifying glass, and my first package of assorted stamps from around the world. With all of that, I learned that other countries called themselves names different from what we call them — Francais, España, にっぽん, Italia. It didn’t take long before I had developed favorites and became determined that “I need to go there someday.”

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So, whoooooosh, fast-forward to today and I can look back on those three gifts from my Dad as the source of my intense desire to travel to places “where they don’t speak English and don’t even want to.” As a result, I have been to Italy, France, Japan, The United Kingdom, Austria, yes, and the United States, and I still hunger for more.

Thanks Dad.     DS_logo

P.S. Yes, There Was Another Gift
On my tenth birthday, my father gave me a telescope and a  3’ x 4’ poster to hang on my wall. It was a color drawing of the Solar System, showing nine planets, their distances from the Sun, and labels with all kinds of facts about each planet. Where this gift will lead has not yet been determined— but I suspect that will be for my grandchildren to decide.

10 Responses “Why Do I Love to Travel? — Three Gifts From My Father”

  1. Bunny says:

    Dan, how fortunate you are to have had so many interesting lessons and gifts from our Dad. I don’t remember even one from him to me. Your experience of him 17 years after I was born was more meaningful. It looks like he really enjoyed having a son! My poignant memory is that the only gift (the only card!) I received straight from him and not through Mom was a birthday card which said “To my sweetheart in the service” and it showed a picture of a man in uniform. Obviously he had not read the card past the “To my sweetheart” but I was touched by the gesture.

  2. Andrea says:

    You write beautifully. A very touching story. I read your sister’s comment with interest. She notes something I just figured out very recently…that, as the oldest child, I had a completely different experience growing up than my five siblings, especially the youngest. I envy the lessons of your father and the time he spent teaching them.

  3. Joe III says:

    I learned from your dad (my grandfather) that I should travel in a bit more indirect way. About the time we got to high school and your dad was about the age we are now (he was my age, two years younger than you are now, when you graduated high school), he would frequently say “Youth is wasted on the young” whenever we expressed disinterest in doing something adventurous that he wished he had the energy and health to do. There were so many things that he wished he could do and could now afford to do (both time and money) but could no longer physically manage.

    So I determined some where around that time or in college to try not to put anything off “until retirement” that could be done earlier. And I generalized that to making sure that I was enjoying life along the way and not doing unpleasant or painful things only because of the benefit that was supposed to happen at some long-future time.

    At his funeral, this was the main point of my comments and I concluded with the following poem that I had recently encountered and that says it so well.

    (NOTE: A bit of a reminder of the “history” told in the Iliad and Odyssey — Ithaka was the island home of Ulysses. He was away from it for 20 years, traveling to Troy to take part in the 10-year-long Trojan wars, and then 10 years trying to get back, having all of the adventures in the Odyssey along the way. But when he finally got back to Ithaka, probably in his mid-40s, it was not the “home” he had remembered and thought he was fighting to get back to…..)


    by Constantine P. Cavafy
    1911 (at the age of 48)

    As you set out for Ithaka
    hope your road is a long one,
    full of adventure, full of discovery.
    Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
    angry Poseidon-don’t be afraid of them:
    you’ll never find the things like that on your way
    as long as you keep thoughts raised high,
    as long as a rare excitement
    stirs your spirit and your body.
    Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
    wild Poseidon-you won’t encounter them
    unless you bring them along inside your soul,
    unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

    Hope your road is a long one.
    May there be many summer mornings when,
    with what pleasure, what joy,
    you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
    may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
    to buy fine things,
    mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony.
    sensual perfume of every kind-
    as many sensual perfumes as you can;
    and may you visit many Egyptian cities
    to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

    Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
    Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
    But don’t hurry the journey at all.
    Better if it lasts for years,
    so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
    wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
    not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

    Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
    Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
    She has nothing left to give you now.

    And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
    Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
    you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean

  4. Papa Dan says:

    Andrea, Yes, my sister and I had very different experiences. Our parents had two “only” children seventeen years apart; so they were different people by the time I came along. I realize that I had advantages, growing up in the 50s/60s that my sister did not have growing up in the 30s/40s. But, we both bought Frank Sinatra records when we were in high school.

  5. Joe III says:

    Besides the different decades growing up was another big difference. Grandpa was a steel worker when Bunny was growing up but became an independent insurance agent about the time Dan was born. So Bunny grew up with a blue-collar father and Dan grew up with a white-collar father. In the latter case, it was quite literally because by that time Grandpa wore a white shirt and tie all day every day, even when he was on a picnic, or vacationing in Disneyland, or working in the yard gardening, on his hands and knees pulling weeds or planting new plants, with his tie almost dragging on the ground! I always figured this was because as an insurance agent, he never knew when he’d meet a potential customer and he was always dressed as the kind of guy you’d want to depend on to help you after an accident or fire or whatever.

    In the early 70s he finally wore shirts in a few pastel colors. And some of the ties were clip-on — one night at dinner I complimented him on his tie and he unclipped it and gave it to me on the spot!

  6. Nou says:

    There are so many reasons why I love to travel, adventure, danger, and as quoted in Monty Python’s Flying Circus, “And now for something completely different!”

    Part of it may have been all of the books I read growing up; some of it was from watching too much TV. Most of it may be getting outside of the norm and wanting to see more than what San Jose had to offer. I grew up hearing things, like, “In Laos this dish is made from freshly harvested bamboo and it’s so much better” or “In Laos you can climb up into a mango tree and pick and eat the mango yourself.” Food is a huge part of our culture and our family so tasting different kinds of foods from their countries of origin is part of what sparked my interest.
    We didn’t do much traveling growing up; we went on road trips to exotic destinations like… Fresno and Sacramento. Once we went to exciting Portland where it rained everyday, all day long on fourth of July. All the trips were fun but not particularly adventurous; I needed more. Since I was the oldest girl I was also tasked with being the most responsible and prudent. I was also told that I shouldn’t do things because I was a girl and it was not appropriate or “not nice,” so a sense of adventure (or defiance depending on who you are) was born. The more you told me I couldn’t do something the more I wanted to do it. I wanted to challenge these limitations in the recreational activities I participated and also the places I wanted to visit. Why just hike the Na Pali coast or see it by helicopter when you can kayak the whole coast? Roll down a giant hill in Zorb in New Zealand! Where do I sign up? Kayak to Whitsunday Island in Australia and camp for 4 days? Done! Run around on a glacier in Switzerland? Yes, please… may I have some more? Zip-lining in a completely dark cave in New Zealand… FUN! Zip-lining in a cloud forest in Costa Rica, a green blur of total fun! The list goes on and I can’t seem to get enough and my addiction has only grown with my age and my pay check.

    Adventure aside, I think traveling also helped me appreciate my life and the life I’ve built for myself much more. I get to experience different cultures; see how things are done differently and some times more efficiently. In Europe I saw how forward they were by making bio-diesel (blue diesel) available at every gas station. In Thailand I saw that you can fit a family of five, yes five, on a small motor scooter. I came close to death in a tuk tuk and learned the phrase, “Same same but different.” I also got to experience how people can have so much less than what I have and are still happy. Traveling has taught me humility and a greater appreciation for the little things in life like, modern plumbing and electricity. It’s a real eye opener when you see how we as humans can survive on very little and still be content.

    Going back to food though, there’s nothing like gelato from Italy, nothing like gelato from Buenos Aires (so good the Argentineans say it’s better than what you find in Italy, gasp!), street cart food from a street festival in Phuket that was meant for locals only. Delicious! Finally understanding when my parents said things about how much better the food tastes from the homeland. A gastronomic trip is just as important as an adventurous one and when combined, I think I may be in heaven.

    Five continents down, and two to go and countless other destinations in my ever growing list. The catalog of the sites and scenes I’ve seen and experienced has been amazing and it only fuels the desire to see and do more.

  7. Papa Dan says:

    I appreciated the quote from the play “Oliver!”: “May I have some more?” However, this notion that (“gasp”) the gelato from Argentina is “better than what you find in Italy” is . . . well, an assertion that will have to be proven with solid experimental data. Looking forward to the experiment — which will have to be conducted in Italy.

  8. Papa Dan says:

    Follow-up to Nou’s “Why Do I Love to Travel’ comment: After reading her observations on Travel, I complimented Nou on her used of the famous quote from Oliver Twist (“Please, sir, I want some more.”). She replied with the following that I thought was worth sharing (with her permission).

    “Oliver Twist is one of my all-time favorite stories and I do use that quote, almost always with a bad English accent, quite often. It makes me think of not just the physical hunger that Oliver has; but it can be translated into our hunger for so much more — a hunger for knowledge, adventure, excitement, happiness and of course, food, wine and friendships.”

  9. Joe III says:

    I remember the book about Stamp Collecting! Here’s a link to it on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Stamp-Collecting-Profit-Fred-MELVILLE/dp/B000NXELPE
    And I remember enjoying your ViewMaster reels too! But I remember doing stamp collecting with my dad (who had his own collection from his childhood that we could look through) on Beverly St, so 1960 or earlier.
    Joe III

  10. Daniel says:

    Yes, Joe, I also remember your Dad’s stamp collection. I suppose he was the real, ongoing inspiration for that hobby.