To some extent, it all started back in the 18th century. But at this time, only the wealthy traveled for pleasure. And they loved it! In a letter to a friend, one lord complained that there were too many princes and princesses staying at the Baltic Sea resort that he was visiting.
While the aristocracy enjoyed the seaside, the rest of us could hardly imagine it. That sentiment continued for a long time.
Well into the 19th century, travel in America was slow and difficult. Most of the time people walked. Even when the stagecoach lines made travel faster and less expensive, it was still a long and cumbersome journey. Maybe you’ve come across old journals in which your relatives described the difficult journey.
Then came the railroad, steamboat, and the building of canals. Railroads were especially intriguing as they were twice as fast as anything Americans had previously experienced.
In the last half of the 19th century, the cost of railroad travel went down steeply. An inventive Englishman (Thomas Cook) capitalized on this trend and developed package tourism. Using railroads, Cook sent hoards of tourist off on adventures. Some of us might even have memorabilia handed down from ancestors who took those early tours.
Little noted at the time, the refinement of the bicycle triggered the next leap in transportation. Bicycles were affordable. Moreover, bicycle mechanics were clever. In 1893, bicycle mechanics built the first gasoline-powered “motor wagon”.
Exciting though it was, the car was not an overnight success. It was commonly referred to as a “stink chariot” and perceived by most as a rich man’s toy. Many people at the time traveled around using a horse and buggy.
In 1908, Henry Ford changed all that with the introduction of his low-priced, highly efficient Model T. In 1915 there were 2 million cars in the United States. By 1927, there were 14 million Model Ts alone. This is where I connect: my grandmother’s first car was a Model T. (I’m willing to bet that a number of you have pictures of your relatives posed in their Model Ts.)
The widespread popularity of the car put pressure on the federal government to get directly involved in road development. Route 66, which ran from Chicago, Illinois to California is a prime example of this road construction. Maybe some of your adventurous relatives traveled along Route 66 in its heyday.
Anticipating a huge boost in travel, one enterprising man (Arthur Heineman) built America’s first overnight motel, the Milestone Mo-tel in San Luis Obispo, California. It opened on December 12, 1925. His plan to build a chain of Mo-tels spaced approximately one day’s drive apart was derailed by the Great Depression.
After WW2, car prices decreased even more. To accommodate the cars and the demand for easy travel, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act that began construction of the 42,800-mile Interstate System across the country. (I didn’t realize until writing this blog that I was born just at the cusp of all of this. But I do remember riding up to Vermont with my family along Route 22 for years and then switching to the interstate when it opened up. In retrospect, I missed some of the character that Route 22 offered, and, nowadays many people make a point to travel along the old routes for scenery and local history.)
In the 1970s, passenger planes became mass transportation. Rising incomes and low travel costs made international travel possible for many.
While many still travel to far flung tourist destinations (Australia is on my bucket list), things have changed over the last decade. Largely due to the economy, many families are now choosing “staycations” or just day trips to a nearby beach, mountain range, or park. For those of us who take these shorter trips, the focus of vacation travel places equal priority on both “getting there” and “being there”.
Growing up, Jen Baldwin’s family took turns picking the destination. Jen’s favorite destination activity was riding on an old steam engine railroad. She fondly remembers the drive there with her four siblings stuffed into the minivan, the excitement of city lights, and the magical warm embrace of a relative.
When it comes to car travel, I fondly remember my grandmother’s 1954 Ford. While it lacked a back seat and featured vacuum-pressured windshield wipers that would stop when going uphill, this car was one of the few that started during the cold winters in upstate New York. Traveling in that car was always adventure; in part because I was never sure that I would actually make it to my destination.
- No matter where you go, take the time to record some of your vacation stories.
- Tune into the reactions of your children. If you notice your child staring in amazement at the long string of car lights, talk about this marvel and record that conversation.
- Take a few pictures to document what your child is witnessing. The Saving Memories Forever system is flexible. It can be used both to document your child’s growing up and as a tool for recording times gone by.
- Resolve to go through those boxes of vacation photos and start grouping them. Pick your favorites and write down a few points you remember. Then call your brother or sister and patch together a family vacation memory.
- This holiday season, ask your relatives about favorite holiday trips they’ve taken. Record their stories. Pay close attention to the details of how they actually got there.
Just as modes and routes of transportation have drastically changed over my lifetime, who knows what changes are in store for us in the future. Maybe we’ll all be saying “Beam me up, Scotty!”