A Brief History of Vacations
A Brief History of Vacations
Kate K.

vacation-girls at the castle wdw

The idea of going on Family vacations, weekend getaways, camping trips, and road trips has become ingrained into the American psyche. Over 60% of Americans report having gone on a vacation in 2017 and even more, can report having gone on one in the last 3 years. Films have been made about vacationing, and the idea of a going on at least one epic road trip in your life is almost seen as a foregone conclusion rather than a distant dream. But Americans didn’t really start ‘vacationing’ until after the Civil war. So today we here at the homes4uu blog would like to present a brief history of the modern vacation.

The first vacationsroman-

The vacation, or traveling to another place for a time of enjoyment and relaxation, is not a new trend. The ancient Romans were the first known vacationers in the most modern sense (though I’m sure the ruling classes from most ancient civilizations took time to get away now and then). These travelers took the time to make the most of the foreign lands and shores their empire had conquered. They were traveling for pleasure rather than commerce like true tourists. They had well-marked roads, vacation homes, inns, and even travel guides to tell them the best places to stay and go. (Like the first travel blogs…but about 10 volumes long). These vacations were made possible by the peace and prosperity of the empire. The average Roman citizen felt safe enough to travel and to leave their home behind for a time.

Pilgrimages and Royal Tourspyramids-

Of course, the dark ages came along and put a kink in everyone’s travel plans, for well over 1000 years. Most travels during this time were for business, official or commercial, or it was to make a religious pilgrimage that the times were so famous for. In fact, most of the inns and travel stop that operated before the 1800s were found along the famous pilgrimage routes. But these trips were usually once in a lifetime opportunities and often the difficulties of the journey were a part of the process. So as scenic, and historic, as these journeys were, they weren’t really what you’d call a vacation. (Though I suppose you could argue that some of today’s trips are still pilgrimages of the non-religious kind).

And It probably doesn’t surprise anyone the bulk of the non-pilgrimage style ‘vacationers’ of the middle ages were either royalty or members of the royal court. They were the only ones who could really afford to be away from the plow and grindstone long enough to actually take a trip. But those trips were mostly restricted to their own lands or the land of their nation and trips to neighboring lands were mostly negotiations or public appearances.

But slowly and surely, leisure travel began to come back into style as the upper classes started sending their children abroad and vacation towns started opening up around Europe. And then in the 1830s, the Trains started running and that’s when America started to get on board the vacation trend.

The Dawn of the American Vacationsteam-train-

Americans were late bloomers when it came to vacations. Most people had to work all year round. And even though schools got out for summer ‘vacation’ it was typically so that kids could help out during the growing season not so that families could pack up the buggy and head for the hills for a week.

One of the biggest reasons for this was that Americans viewed anything that wasn’t a city as a place to potentially build a city. Let’s face it those early pioneers weren’t trekking across the country to find the best camping grounds. And travel was so slow that once you got to your destination you didn’t really consider heading back. If you wanted to get somewhere you had to take a horse and buggy, so traveling 50 miles would take you an entire day of non-stop travel at best. So a trip from New York City to California would take about 4 months with a horse and buggy. So vacations weren’t really a sound option if you had a job or a family.

And then in 1969, the transcontinental railroad was completed and the trip across the country no longer took 4 months, it took about 4 weeks. Which is still a bit too far to travel for leisure. But at least you could go back and visit family for a few months and still be back home before the year was out. That’s progress for you.

By Land and Air and Sea

Speaking of Progress, it was not long after America got its first taste of transcontinental travel that new innovations started cropping up. The steamship could get you from London to New York in 9 days. The automobile started to be a travel mainstay and by the 1920s air travel was already starting to go from dream to reality.

The wealthy started migrating from the cities during the summer months and setting up vacation homes in less crowded places. They had a lot of cash to spend and wanted new ways to spend it. Exclusive hotels, luxury train cars, and luxury steamships were the way to go. And Zeppelins were all the rage.airship-

And employers were starting to realize that giving their employees a little bit of paid time off, or even a sponsored vacation, helped with productivity and morale. Cabins and campgrounds started to pop up, and vacation towns weren’t just for the wealthy anymore. Boardwalks started cropping up on beaches like Atlantic City and suddenly going ‘sea bathing’ wasn’t about your health anymore…now it was fun.

The Post WWII Eraairplane-

The depression hit and American leisure life stalled for all but the wealthiest of Americans. And it wasn’t until after WWII that Americans rediscovered their love of getting away from it all.

There were a lot of factors coming together all at once. The men coming back from the war were getting educations through the GI bill. They had houses provided for them and their families. And the industrial boom that got us through the war carried over with plenty of jobs. Unions meant that anyone with a job was likely to be earning a living wage. And after the Depression, there were fewer families who owned farms. And fewer children who needed to work them in the summer.suberb housing plan

Suburbs popped up, the interstate system was flourishing, cars were becoming more and more affordable and people had money they could spend on things other than food clothing and shelter. So they started to travel again.

Vacation Destinationsdisney-Castle Daytimeworld-3412474_1920

The idea of tourist towns and vacation destinations wasn’t a new idea. But suddenly Americans had money to spend, so the places where they could spend them started growing. The Vegas strip started growing in 1931. And in 1955 Walt Disney transformed the idea of the family vacation. And of course, in 1971 the birth of Walt Disney World turned Orlando into the 5th most visited city in America. (Behind Disneyland’s Anaheim, Atlanta Georgia, Chicago, and New York City).

Walt’s parks consistently rank among the most visited tourist destinations in the world. And let’s face it if it weren’t for Walt’s innovating place it in, you wouldn’t be reading this article. (And I wouldn’t be writing it). Walt also had a part in bringing the love of our nations national parks to the masses as well through his documentaries and specials. So along with peace and prosperity, America also rode the tourism boost that came from good old Television.

So why in the summer?beach-

Summer vacations became the trend for purely logistical purposes. Schools typically let out during the hot summer months so students could help out in the largely agricultural society. In fact, it wasn’t students who went on the first summer vacations, but the teachers.

Teaching retreats started in the 1800s as a way for Teachers to gather, compare notes and relax. Most teachers in that era moved away to teach, or even commuted between schools. They were often boarded in a house provided by the community. Some stayed with volunteer families during the school year as well. But when classes were not in session they had the choice of traveling back to where their family. Or they could find a place to stay in the summer.

These early ‘summer vacations’ were one part conference and once part retreat, kind of like summer camp for grown-ups.

Then after the depression and WWII, America was no longer a mostly farming society. So when schools still let out for the summer, there wasn’t nearly as much for children to do. And with the advent of child labor laws, most kids couldn’t get jobs until they were 16. So it was easier to get the family together and on the road during the summer months. 

VW Camper

Modern Vacations

Statistically speaking about 70% of Americans have gone on at least one vacation in the past 5 years. We no longer need to stick to a certain time of the year. (Though you usually need a reason to pull the kids from school). And there are more ways to have a fantastically luxurious vacation on a surprisingly tight budget than ever before. You have options and infinite combinations that can take you almost anywhere on the planet. The tourism industry is a billion dollar money maker. It even accounts for a percentage of America’s Gross Domestic Product every year! beach-family on the

It used to be that when you thought of a vacation, you thought of an airline or road trip with a hotel at the end. That meant shared pools, cramped rooms, and tourist traps. Now you can choose anything from a private bungalow to a full mansion for you and your family to use for a week. Suddenly vacations are about more than just getting away, they’re about going to another lifestyle, another adventure, another dream. Its a new era of vacations, and the sky’s the limit as to where we’ll go next. After all, there’s even talk about putting a hotel in space. Talk about the ultimate getaway. View of Pool Trees - Maui - 9 Bedroom Themed Orlando Vacation Home - Homes4uu


Kate K.

Kate K. is a freelance writer, artist, designer, and programmer. She has been working with Homes4uu as our primary blogger, graphic designer, webmaster, and social media manager since 2014. You can also find Kate on her homesite www.k8ilyeverafter.com and her blog k8ilyeverafterpresents.com.

Read More About Kate K. here

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