If you’re over 50 you’ve said these words to yourself.
“Travel was so much better/nicer/fun back then.”
Back then before low-cost airlines scrunched us on one another’s laps or the online world revealed every destination’s secrets before we arrived.
You know, back then when the No Smoking section was smaller than a folded handkerchief (all right, not fun) and your on-board gourmet meal was free.
Was travel really better then? Or is it just my imagination?
It’s not. I know because I asked a few seasoned travel writers and specialists and they all remember past travels with a dose of tenderness.
Imagine the 1940s. Imagine Frank Sinatra giving you a compliment. Imagine a full-course meal on every flight. Space to move. Courtesy.
That’s exactly the kind of life Violet (Sweeney) Ward experienced as an air hostess in the late 1940s. Her niece, Catherine Sweeney of Traveling With Sweeney, retraces her Aunt Vi’s footsteps.
“At the time Aunt Vi was applying to TWA, the official job qualifications for air hostess included a nursing degree, a college degree, or four years practical business experience… She also recalls that one had to be at least 5’2; fall within an approved weight range; have good grammar and diction; and be poised and self-confident. Most importantly, an air hostess had to SMILE! “
Aunt Vi isn’t the only ‘stewardess’ who remembers it this way.
“I had the privilege (and it was a privilege) of being a Pan Am ‘stewardess’ in the early 1970s – the dawn of 747 jumbo jets, and the quintessential ‘kinder, gentler, age of travel,” says Michelle da Silva Richmond of The Restless Voyager, who flew a few decades later.
“In those days, being a flight attendant was a glamorous profession and we at Pan Am wore our uniforms proudly as we glided throughout airline terminals all over the world.”
“Flying was an ‘event,’ rather than the ‘herd’ experience it is today and there was a certain camaraderie among travelers, which is lacking nowadays,” recalls Michelle. “Passengers dressed well and they didn’t act like – nor were they treated – as if they were boarding an overcrowded bus. Pan Am lived up to its motto of: ‘Making the Going Great.'”
“Meals were served on every leg – even in economy – no matter how short the flight. We weren’t subjected to the absurd security measures we see today, although we often had air marshals onboard our flights because of the occasional threat of hijacking. That was the extent of our global terrorism.”
The only improvement today, she says, is that smoking is no longer allowed.
In addition to the glamor there did seem to be a slower pace to travel back then. As late as the 1980s travel seems to ebb and flow more casually, rhythmically.
Suzanne Fluhr of Boomeresque remembers her prenuptial honeymoon in Peru and how she and her husband-to-be took it all in stride, airline bankruptcies, war disruptions and all.
“For me, the big dividing line for travel then and now is the advent of the internet,” says Suzanne, “with easy to use search engines and travel websites where one can read about and pre-book one’s own travel, including transportation, accommodations, activities, restaurants…”
“However, one of the downsides is that the internet has made travel accessible to more people so that some places that were formerly not mobbed with tourists are now overrun to the point they are actually becoming physically degraded by the multitudes.”
Those Were the Days
Whenever we think of a time gone past we tend to remember the good. Human nature has a way of stamping out minor negatives and leaving us wishing fondly for a return to a simpler time.
Or, as for Jo Castro of Lifestyle Fifty, adventure and excitement.
“It was a privilege and exciting, something not to be taken for granted. These days because of our so-called global village it’s become more of a necessity, like an unwelcome bus trip. With good reason security checks have become invasive whereas in my twenties you could rock-up to the airport just two hours before your flight without any worry. I could pack the entire contents of my make up and skin care regime in my hand carry if I chose just in case I wanted to glam up before disembarking For me, air travel has lost its romanticism. It’s just something to get through.”
It’s sad to think that travel may have become something to bear between two points of pleasure.
It’s not just flying. Road trips don’t seem to have weathered time well either.
I remember being squeezed into our car as a child, trying to direct my driving father from behind and reading out every single sign. We drove more slowly then and there was plenty to read. Each tree counted, each lampost was a minute gained towards our destination. My childish eyes took in all the wonder – the plains giving way to the mountains until, finally, the seashore, an entire world all from my back seat.
“Today my grandkids ride in a big SUV, strapped into seats and entertained by movies on the internal player,” says Carole Terwilliger Meyers of Travels with Carole.
“I think it was more fun (though, of course, not as safe) back in the day when we rolled around freely in the back seat. The thing I loved most was when my mom would gift me with a handmade outfit for my beloved Toni doll (named for a popular permanent brand at the time). From our home in L.A. to our destination in San Diego to see relatives, we would drive along Highway 1 through Laguna Beach and the official town greeter would wave at us and we would get excited. Ah, those were the days.”
Billie Frank of Santa Fe Travelers also believes those were the days.
“I miss the days when highways were blue and went through the countryside, when Burma Shave signs dotted the horizon, when staying on the road meant a night at a funky motor court with those wonderful 50s metal chairs on the front porch. You can still get a bit of it on Old Route 66 through the southwest, but mostly it’s gone.”
It’s also about the ‘there’
Not only journeys but places too have changed, sometimes for real, and sometimes in the way they play upon our memories.
In her poetic Goodbye to Fire Island, Alison Abbot of Green with Renvy looks at a specific place through not only its own life cycle but through her own.
“It is a rare moment that I don’t look back on travel experiences with fond memories. This recent trip took me through the gamut of nostalgic thoughts, as it was probably the last time I would visit this lovely spot that has been a part of my life for almost 60 years,” Alison says.
A Few Words from the Wise
It’s not enough to remember – sometimes we have to share not only the memories but the wisdom that goes with them.
“With some 30+ years of bouncing ’round the globe under my dodderin’ wanderlust belt (and still going, and going, and going…) some of us (neanderthal nomads) can well remember the challenges of traveling back in the dark ages,” says Dyanne Kruger of TravelnLass, in Travel Tips from the Ancients.
“We’re talkin’ the late ’70s and 80′s here – the good ol’ (or bad ol’, depending on your perspective) days of traveling without a smartphone, a laptop, a Kindle, a camcorder, Skype, Twitter, Facebook… Indeed, in retrospect, it’s a wonder we managed to skip ’round the world at all.”
Donna Janke of Destinations Detours Dreams misses the fun road games, the getting together for an evening with friends after a trip to share photo albums and travel memories.
“Remember postcards and travelers checks and no Internet access? It’s possible we’ve lost some of the mystique of travel, but it is difficult to imagine going back and giving up the changes,” she says in Travel Then and Now.
I appreciate what invention has brought my way. I don’t know how I’d manage without email and the Internet and my iPhone. but I also suffer from travel nostalgia. Often.
All it takes is for the passenger next to me to grab the armrest once too often and I am jolted back to the days of elbow room and folded napkins and thick paper tickets.
There’s plenty about travel that was better a few decades ago – but it was far from perfect.
Safety was a bigger concern – faulty Comets and DC-10s, poor visibility, and the threat of hijacks to Cuba or Algeria.
We used up more time, precious time. As a child the trip from Rome to Montreal would entail stops in Lisbon, Madrid, Santa Maria in the Azores, Gander (Newfoundland) and finally Montreal. That Santa Maria stop was a thrill – usually covered in dense fog, without enough fuel to make it the rest of the way should we be unable to land.
More people do travel today and the flip side of massive travel and pressure on destinations is democratization. The more people travel, the more they open up to the world, its people, its cultures. And after all, isn’t that we’re seeking too?
What do you think? Was travel better then? Or do today’s advances allow us to enjoy the world as never before?