The past is always glamorous.
Mention the Golden Age of Travel, and images of grand Cunard ocean liners, Pan Am Clippers, and the Orient Express likely come to mind. It’s easy – and enjoyable – to picture yourself dressed as Laurence of Arabia with the Sphinx as your backdrop. Perhaps you’re dressed to the nines in the dining car as the Taj Mahal rolls past the window. It all seems so enchanting, so luxurious, so…glamorous.
For the affluent, of course, it was. With no internet or smartphones to share Instagrams taken from steerage, we have precious few images of life for the masses. We can be forgiven for assuming that all mid-century travel was done with panache and elegance, and wondering why that isn’t the case today.
While it doesn’t seem nearly so glamorous, travel today is far easier and far more available than ever before. If defined by accessibility, it could be argued that this is the Golden Age. The industry is flourishing and tourism is a major economic force. Travel is no longer exclusively for the privileged. Almost by definition, that means travel is also no longer glamorous. Through democratization, it has become routine; the very antithesis of glamor. In so many ways, today’s routine experience is vastly superior to the romanticized travel of the past, yet every one of us in coach is likely longing for a little old school glamor.
The reality of travel past, however, includes long lines and few conveniences, even for the affluent. During the first year of Pan Am service to Europe, 40% of the flights were cancelled and many more were delayed, sometimes for several days. For the most part, the art of travel itself was anything but glamorous and destinations were not “tourist friendly.” While there was the thrill of really discovering a native society, the traveler could not always depend on transportation and accommodations, luxurious or otherwise.
All things considered, I am just not sure I’d be willing to trade in Starbucks at the gate, wi-fi in the air and a 12 hour flight to paradise (at about the same price I would have paid for it 20 years ago). Personally, I would absolutely love to board a Pan Am Clipper, sail on the Queen Mary or ride the rails on the Orient Express of old, but I’d want to do it with the luxuries of today. Now that would be glamorous.
Images in the Public Domain from Wikimedia Commons.