Nat King Cole sang about those “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer,” and so these “dog days” seem like a good time to remember what travel was like before the invention or use of travel tools we take for granted today.
A half-dozen years before my first trip overseas, I flew with my parents and brother from California to the East Coast. We visited Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New York City and Boston, touring the historic sites of our nation and those pulsating cities.
My father worked for TWA, and this was our first trip on the new commercial jetliners. This was something dramatically different as many of us recall – not only were these jets markedly faster and quieter, but because of the very nature of the location of engine noise, the First Class and Coach cabins were reversed. Do you remember the First Class lounges in the quieter rear of the older propeller-driven aircraft? Well, true, most of us never got to those lounges in the expensive days of air travel before deregulation! A round-trip, coast-to-coast, coach-class flight cost $1,743 in today’s dollars!
Aside from a stay with our California neighbor’s family in bustling Brooklyn (this suburban boy had never heard or felt the rattle of the inter-borough subway beneath a high-rise apartment), we stayed at hotels and motels elsewhere. Simple enough today – just pick up the phone and make a toll-free call to the hotel chain’s reservation office, right? And ditto for the car-rental! But “back in the day” it took a typed letter to the individual hotel requesting a room … and waiting for their written response, confirming the reservation.
Now, if you wanted to prepare for your visit, you could simply write a letter to the local visitors’ bureau, tourist information office or chamber of commerce… and, yes, wait for the bulging packet of travel brochures and maps to arrive. I know … I’m only writing about domestic travel. Remember planning for an international trip? If you were older and financially settled, you could rely on a professional travel agent who, with telephone and telegraph, could make things much easier for you.
If you were younger and/or a more independent traveler, you waited patiently for the summer edition of the Thomas Cook European railway schedule which, while certain to change by the time you were actually at the train terminal, could still be a great tool in planning your summer vacation. Remember to renew your Youth Hostel Association membership, discover exactly where they had decided to locate the hostel in Paris this year, write for a B&B reservation and contact the embassy or consulate for brochures!
Jump ahead two decades to the mid-1980s and business travel to Kenya still required a pricey, weekly phone call from my contacts in New York to Nairobi and a subsequent radio communication with project reps near Lake Turkana. And, of course, the same process in reverse to get an answer, confirming a seat on the small private plane flight, planned weeks in advance. There might have been faster ways: if you could afford an international phone call and if the communication went through smoothly, you could send a letter on the new Quip facsimile machine at the incredible speed of one page in only six minutes!
And today? We are so programmed by our tech expectations, we grouse when the website for the municipal bus schedule in Sardinia does not seem to have been updated from last month (this happened to me this spring!) or the Uffizi museum ticket link does not allow one to avoid a questionable fee!
When I can go to Google Earth, as I did in July, and locate the actual crossroads where the Malaysian Airlines’ jet debris landed in the fields of eastern Ukraine, or gaze at a street-level view of the Basque restaurant in Barcelona where my TCC friends treated us to tapas and Txakoli, or Skype across time zones (even with occasionally ragged pixels), I can marvel like Miranda in Shakespeare’s The Tempest when she revels at the amazing creatures (read creations) now revealed to her, “Oh brave new world that has such people in’t.”
So I trust that these devices we never dreamed of have helped to make your summer travel planning easier and more complete. And for a good laugh, read this column a decade from now and remember how simple and primitive things were “back in the day.”