The History Behind Vacations

By Isabella-Marie Selden

Everyone looks forward to vacations: workers, students, teachers… The list goes on and on. However, how did vacations originate, and why are we allowed time off from school and work?

Vacations date back to Ancient Romans. Romans are known for enjoying themselves, whether that be watching countless gladiator fights or indulging in feasts. The Romans were also the first people to pioneer the idea of taking a vacation and traveling to take a break from their busy lives. The main difference between Roman vacations and modern vacations is the amount of time taken off. When Spring or Winter Break rolls around the corner, we get about two weeks off, but the Romans would take around two years off.

Romans were the first people to travel because those vacations needed a period of prosperity and peace. The infrastructure of the Roman Empire allowed for this to happen. The continuously expanding empire borders allowed citizens to travel without truly leaving Rome’s jurisdiction. This allowed early establishment of restaurants, tour guides, inns, and anything else that a traveler would find necessary in order to enjoy their trips.

With the ascent of the Dark Ages, led by the Fall of Rome, vacations started to slow. Medieval period and Dark Ages travel only happened for two reasons: either claiming new land or raiding enemies’ lands. The threat of battle and the unsafe travelling roads meant that the furthest one would be willing to travel would be to a close by village for a holiday or a wedding. However, some people, who wanted a life of pilgrimage, traveled further if they felt religiously inclined to embark on a journey. Inspiration for this type of traveling came from the Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories of traveling pilgrims.

If one did not want a pilgrim’s life, but was still eager to travel, they would most commonly join a merchant’s convoy. Marco Polo, for example, is one of the most common travelers who did this, and become famous for his twenty four year journey to Asia. The main different from those travels and modern day is the transportation. There was nothing further sophisticated than a horse or a boat to travel with, so foreign travel took a long time.

During the Renaissance period, battle and trade were the only uses of travel. Robbers frequently set traps, roads were uneven and dangerous, so the rich were the only people who could travel safely with soldier groups protecting them. Traveling by sea was also risky due to pirates roaming the waves and storms with the potential to wipe out whole ships. Inns were helpful for people to rest, but they were expensive and dirty. Guests from different parties usually shared single beds together. The inns were used more by merchants rather than vacationers, and the lucky people would find a family friend to stay with and avoid the inns. This era explored more since rowboats were replaced by galleons and more men wanted to discover new places that were not heard of. When traveling, explorers found that salt was used as a common currency in a span of countries, which is how the word ‘salary’ originated. Adventure was risky, but rewarded well with food, spices, animals, and handmade goods brought home from trips. Insight was gained into different cultures, and the stories that came home to the traveler’s families continued to spark other’s interests and inspired them to start traveling.

In the eighteenth century, artists and aristocrats resurrected the Roman tradition of touring through Europe. On one of the tours, Mary Shelley wrote the novel Frankenstein, inspired from her journeys to Germany and Switzerland. Although travel was much more advanced, it become more difficult. The old Roman roads faded across Europe which increased the danger of navigation. Luckily, this did not last too long because, thanks to the industrial revolution, the steam train became a popular way of travel. The train allowed people to travel quickly to new locations. The steam train was most frequently used to visit the beach, and warm places like California and Florida become crowded with vacationers. Piers popped up throughout coastlines, and ice cream vendors started to enjoy a roaring trade. Not only did the wealthy enjoy these trips, but by 1915, an increasing number of Americans were able to afford vacations with a duration of a few days. However, mass tourism was still not fully possible.

In the early 1920s, entrepreneurial employers rose and provided higher income which allowed leisurely travel. Also, automobiles could be purchased by those other than the rich thanks to mass production. The automobile became the favorite type of transportation for vacationers since it was not expensive and provided more locations and freedom than steam trains. In terms of mass travel, boats and trains were still most widely used, especially for exotic nations. Suntans became greater known, and bronzed skin became a sign of status as well as being envied. At the end of the 1920s, air travel advanced quickly. Aeroplanes were used for mail delivery, but people started imaging the ease of air travel for vacations. In 1928, a German airship completed the first commercial flight, and it continued to gain popularity from there. Meanwhile, wealthy New Yorkers vacated the city during the summertime, and these excursions are where the actual word ‘vacation’ comes from.

Vacations become widely used and recognized in the 20th century. Beaches became known for the attractions created on piers, and Florida became known for entertainment such as the underwater theater in Weeki Wachee Springs. Camping also become popular, as well as mountain retreats. Our thirst for exploring new experiences does not show signs of slowing as new generations continue to want to travel. Whether traveling means taking part in yoga in North India, or admiring the wildlife in the lush jungle, our search for adventure and travel continues.