I can hear you scoffing at the question, “Is this the Golden Age of Travel?” You might be about to face the joys of a 21st century airport departure, with its lengthy queues, invasive security checks, draconian baggage limits and garish shopping malls. You’re herded onto a packed plane, squashed into a narrow seat next to a screaming child and served plastic food on a plastic tray with a plastic bottle of wine poured into a plastic cup. On arrival, there may well be stringent visa and passport controls and the hassle of getting the right transport to your destination.
Maybe you’ll be ‘letting the train take the strain’ as you travel through the UK, across north America or down to the Mediterranean, sitting in some soulless waiting room, squashed into a lumpy seat, or worse still, standing in a luggage filled aisle, eating an uninspiring sandwich with a can of luke warm lager, whilst a family squabble at the table behind you. An unintelligible voice announces heaven knows what as you whizz through grimy towns and dull countryside.
Perhaps you are getting a ferry to France at the start of the summer holidays, along with thousands of other travellers keen to escape headlong to pastures new and warmer in the same crowded ship. You sit in an over-stuffed car, getting over-heated as you wait for your passports to be scrutinised by an unsmiling official. On board, if you are lucky, you’ll find a seat and pray for a smooth crossing with nobody throwing up.
But was it so great in the past? Well, yes, airport travel was less stressful, with smaller airports, shorter queues and faster boarding times. We’ve all seen pictures of smartly attired BOAC air hostesses with charming smiles and glasses of champagne tending passengers with great solicitude. A friendly pilot wanders through the cabin chatting to all and sundry whilst some lucky child or aviation enthusiast gets to sit in the cockpit as the plane lands. (Anyone seen the wonderful spoof movie Airplane!?)
Black and white films show ticker-tape arrivals and departures of movie stars draped in expensive furs and sporting caps at jaunty angles aboard luxury cruise liners. We admire beautiful lounges decorated with priceless works of art and restaurants serving haute cuisine and watch elegant passengers dressed in linen playing deck quoits or relaxing in steamer chairs in the afternoon sunshine.
Railway enthusiasts extol the glories of the ‘Age of Steam’ embodied in the idyllic scene described in the poem ‘Adlestrop’ where a steam train stops briefly at an English station on sunny June day. We may remember travelling on one of these mighty machines with their smooth wooden interiors and cheerful ticket inspectors, enjoying the steam and yes, even the smuts in the eye. That wonderful classic movie ‘Brief Encounter’ sums up the romance of a more innocent time long gone. Who hasn’t dreamt of travelling in comfort and ultimate luxury, though possibly without the drama of a ‘Murder on the Orient Express’!
As with everything, there are pros and cons to travel today compared with yesteryear, as you can see in this excellent article by Expedia on the Golden Age of Travel. I have been fortunate enough to fly in a WW2 Dakota – great fun if rather noisy and bumpy – and enjoyed a glass of bubbly as I zoomed across Switzerland on the Glacier Express. I’ve experienced timeless luxury on a Cunard cruise (and yes, there was a croquet lawn on board) but I’ve also been stuck on nightmare cheap flights, stayed in lousy hotels, had people throw up on me during a nightmare ferry journey and had to sit on a train carriage floor from London to Birmingham. However, for all the drawbacks of modern travel, it’s safer, faster, cheaper and available to a lot more people. I’d say that though today may not be the ultimate Golden Age of Travel, it is at the very least silver-gilt, or maybe even gold-plated … What do you think?
This article was inspired by Expedia’s ‘Golden Age of Travel’ post (see link above).