Parent Category: 18th Century History Articles
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Throughout history, the way people have talked, thought, and lived has varied dramatically depending on the time and the place. One thing that has always been a constant, though, is the fact that every human needs a chance to check out from time to time. Whether it’s a Roman citizen heading to the Circus Maximus, a medieval knight riding off on a hunting excursion, or a 21st-century office worker driving to an Airbnb they booked a few towns over, humanity has always looked for ways to take a break from their daily routines.

While the need to get away has remained the same, the mode, goals, and execution of a modern vacation are quite a bit different than their historical equivalents, even when compared to a mere three centuries ago.


When a modern teenager goes to a concert, they casually enjoy the show, sing along, and pick up the band’s latest album on the way out. Three hundred years ago, though, someone going to an opera or concert had a completely different mindset. Unless they were very well off, they probably had never heard that particular music performed before and would likely never hear it again. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that they would value and treasure in a completely different way.


Vacations, historically speaking, can be seen in a similar light. Some basic factors, such as rest and relaxation, have and always will remain potent forces behind the experience regardless of the time. But the actual reasons behind an 18th-century vacation were often very different from a modern one.


Take, for instance, making a trip to visit family. In our modern-day and age, we stop interacting via social media, texts, video chats, and phone calls in order to get some good face-to-face time with our friends and family via a vacation. Three centuries ago, none of those previously mentioned forms of communication existed. Apart from the occasional letter, families who didn’t live within close proximity of each other often used vacations as a chance to genuinely visit and “catch up” with one another.


Additionally, health and wellness, while driving sabbatical motivations both then and now, tended to have distinctly different intentions then. Modern folks often look at health benefits like happiness, boosting creativity, and improving mental health when they travel. Historically, though, the reasons to take time off and go abroad were often a bit more physiological. Serious illnesses aside, the simple act of getting out of an over-crowded metropolis was often a key factor. Things like smells, filth, bug infestations, and even heat itself were enough to drive 18th-century urban dwellers to literally head for the hills in search of a break.


One of the most obvious differences between modern and historical vacations is the plethora of travel options that the modern world has to offer. The modern traveler can choose to meander by road, chug along by train, cruise by mega-ship, or fly speedily through the air. While 18th-century vacationers lacked the diversity of options, they certainly did have choices.


First and foremost, there was the option to walk. Perambulating through the countryside is a mode of transportation as old as time itself. In addition, there were classics like riding on horseback or taking a carriage if the roads were good enough. Of course, if any of the trip could be made by water, traveling down rivers or across larger bodies of water via boat was very common as well. As the century progressed and the 19th century began, cutting-edge options like trains and even hot air balloons also began to enter the picture.


One major difference between these choices as the modern alternatives was time. Travel in the 18th-century had to be incorporated into the trip itself, as it could take days, weeks, and even months to get to and from locations. A journey from Boston to England, for example, took one to two months for the initial crossing and triple that time to return due to the Gulf Stream current.


The modern traveler can literally spin a globe, plop down their finger, and as long and as long as they’ve secured the vacation money, can be in a popular tourist resort in that location a day or two later. In the 18th-century, vacation destinations were a bit more limited in scope and accessibility.


In England, seaside vacations were (and continued to remain for centuries) a staple vacation option. Towns like Brighton, Worthing, Margate, Blackpool, and Bognor Regis remained hot spots as tourists flocked to them looking for a break in order to breath in some ocean air.


Spas and natural springs were often central attractions as well. George Washington, for instance, made annual trips to a warm spring near his family home in Virginia that had been reported for centuries to have a natural medicinal nature. In Europe, Switzerland was famous for its spa-like hot springs and gorgeous natural landscapes, too.


Mediterranean staples like Greece and Italy were also classic places for the wealthy to spend time off or for the sick to take a wellness trip. Areas like Malaga, Spain, and the French Riviera became extremely popular tourist hot spots over the following century, as well. While the motivations for travel may be different, many of these naturally gorgeous locations remain top-notch vacation destinations in the modern era as well.

Making Memories

The modern vacation habit of taking pictures and then creating photo displays of past adventures throughout our homes was obviously not available to an 18th-century vacationer. However, things like drawings, paintings, and tourist trinkets have, for a long time, been options for those who could afford them. In addition, guidebooks began to increase in availability and popularity by the 19th-century.


Things like air travel, modern resorts, and Kodak moments may have been out of the question for those seeking a break from everyday life a few centuries ago. Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that 18th-century folks enjoyed their fair share of vacations. Natural spring-based spas, primitive cruises, and tourist towns were all available and generally accessible — as long as they could get the time off of work, of course.