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The History of  Travel

If there’s one thing that has followed humanity through our existence, it’s our need to move around and see new places. From early humans migrating away from their African homeland to gap year students leaving behind their hometowns in search of adventure, one thing is clear: we have always loved to travel.

Recreational and educational travel can be traced back to the classical world, and in some cases even further. During the pharaonic times, wealthy Egyptians traveled to to visit monuments and relics, whilst the ancient Greeks also traveled for leisure, visiting musical and sporting competitions or visiting Delphi in order to question the Oracle. For classical Romans, the development of infrastructure and increasing social wealth meant that far away destinations were no longer unreachable and unaffordable. Thus came the birth of the touristic economy, and with it the rise of seaside resorts and spa retreats built to delight those belonging to the wealthy social stratas.

Flickr | ireneThe medieval ages saw a rise of commercial travel, driven by the desire to find trade routes between cities. Driven by religious convictions, pilgrims and missionaries traveled extensively in a bid to evangelise communities. At the same time, scholars increasingly engaged in educational travel as a means of spreading ideas and learning from others. The concept of travel morphed from pleasurable excursions or business trips into a more individual, personal journey of self-realisation. Documents dating back to the 16th century show that it was common for trainee craftsmen to embark on obligatory travel as part of their traineeship in order to reach maturity and gain life experience.

The 16th to 18th centuries saw the birth of extensive, long-term travel amongst the European aristocracies. Such “grand tours” saw young nobles embark on immaculately detailed journeys to European cultural hubs and sites such as Paris and Rome. For a period of one to three years, the wealthy individuals traveled with full entourage: including servants, tutors and mentors, seeking a well-rounded education and social etiquette. Whilst travel was driven mostly by a thirst for cultural and social superiority and therefore limited to only the highest social stratas, the age of Enlightenment spread this form of educational travel to the intellectual middle classes.

Flickr | Hamza ButtThe creation of the first major central European transport system, namely the development of railways, majorly changed the game. The increased mobility that railways provided gave middle and lower classes the chance to go on short trips - particularly during the time of industrialisation and urbanisation, it became increasingly popular to leave the city for a few days: the 19th century version of a city break had been born. Now that travel had been spread to most social classes, the phenomenon of mass tourism truly came alive, with entrepreneurs like Thomas Cook organising large-scale, all-inclusive trips that were popular amongst both the upper and middle classes. Furthermore, the age of Romanticism re-ignited the human affinity for nature, seeing a rise of nature retreats and the popularisation of mountaineering associations.

Finally, the period after the Second World War initiated a new travel phase that was to further revolutionise exploration: air travel. Whilst at first this form of transport was available only to the wealthy, it rapidly became more accessible and affordable as it grew in popularity. Thus, the commencement of international mass tourism and of course the phenomenon of globalisation brought about great social changes. Nowadays, we can see modern-day versions of historic travel trends reflected in current society. We still strive to broaden our horizons and cultural knowledge through exploration - travel is still considered an individualistic journey that can greatly contribute to one’s quality of life. While “grand tours” are no longer an aristocratic undertaking, the gap year trend reflects a similar desire to embark on a more individualistic journey through different parts of the world. Travel has shaped society, culture, politics and economics - and in further years this trend is bound to grow.

By Laura Hallensleben - Online Journalism Intern

Frontier runs conservationdevelopmentteaching and adventure travel projects in over 50 countries worldwide - so join us and explore the world!

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