A brief history of travel
By Dan Frith on May 17, 2020 in Travel Miscellany
You don’t know what you have until it’s gone! A cliché, of course, but most clichés have more than a grain of truth. In this case, the thing we miss the most is the trip. Who would have guessed that snaking around our beautiful blue dot would be off the menu? It was inconceivable that it was a pleasure that was withdrawn. Before the outbreak of World War III, I do not think that many people would have foreseen our present situation. I think most of us took it for granted that traveling abroad would be a luxury to enjoy every year. It made me think about travel and what we love so much and why it seems like a right for those lucky enough to be able to afford the diversion.
A brief history of travel
Our distant ancestors, who were very close to humans, were hunter-gatherers for 5.5 million years until about 11,000 BC. when the agricultural revolution started to change the way of life. Homo Sapiens dates from around 200,000 BC. and spent 189,000 years of that time as hunter-gatherers. A typical band of nomads would explore a vast territory in search of food, water and shelter. Never staying in one place for too long, they were constantly on the move. This way of life required that goods be reduced to the bare minimum. Things changed when humans were linked in one place with their crops and animals once the agricultural revolution became the dominant way of life. It’s a pretty big change. It’s a huge adaptation that has made up for its own drawbacks, but it has become the new standard for the vast majority of humanity.
I’m not saying that strolling for the basics to stay alive was a vacation, but it was a lifestyle that offered variety and change. For millions of years, it has not been possible to stay in one place. The essentials for staying alive would soon be exhausted if a few square kilometers of land were constantly harvested. You could speculate that a change of scenery and a nomadic yen are closely linked to our DNA.
It was not until the age of exploration and empire building that the world opened up to the possibility of discovering foreign lands. Captain Cook, Ferdinand Magellan, Christopher Columbus and other great sailors led the way. The industrial revolution inaugurated steam locomotion, ships and the combustion engine. The era of tourism was born.
At first, it was a privileged few and the aristocracy who were able to take advantage of the possibilities, but it did not take long for travel to become cheap enough for the middle and working classes to follow. The English seaside flourished while mobility became accessible to all.
It was the jet engine that really opened up the world. The late 1950s and early 1960s saw an explosion of relatively inexpensive package holidays. Suddenly, the age of mass travel was near. Most people who want to travel have taken full advantage of it.
Long-haul destinations were close at hand, it was a revolution. It seemed like we were closing the loop. The desire to roam was obviously a world away from the motivation of hunter-gatherers, but the desire to do so was not that different. New flavors, new experiences, new perspectives appeal to humans, no matter in which millennia they exist.
Danny Frith is director of SkiBoutique. SkiBoutique is a luxury ski chalet agency based in Switzerland.