In the 1600s, most Europeans were afraid to travel abroad for fear harm would come to their souls. Protestants were warned against traveling in lands where they might be snared by Jesuits; Catholics were dissuaded from entering the heretical countries that refused to recognize the Church of Rome. With no travelers on the move, there were few hotels and fewer guides in the Europe of Louis XIV.
When the Wars of Religion ended around 1700, however, the great merchants of London and Stockholm decided it was safe for their progency to travel to the continent, to see a few sights and acquired the refinements conducive to a properly distinguished life at home. Their children needed little prodding to set off for the dens of iniquity known as Paris and Rome. The modern European travel industry was born.
The first thing preoccupying the young traveler was how to get away from the tutor who had accompanied him from home. One young man had a speical governor to see that the tips of his hair were cut on the second of every new moon.
A Rome merchant made a fortune by advising the young tourists on the purchase of beautiful but phony antiques. According to the Cambridge historian J. H. Plumb, the merchant's success was based on his highly developed dramatic powers: "He wept at parting with an object on which he was making several 1,000 percent profit." The merchant also used the finest nicotine staining to give his sculptures "an age worthy of the price that he charged."
Advice was also available in travel guides. One of the first ones, "The Gentleman's Pocket Companion for Traveling into Foreign Parts," was printed at this time. It had tables for currency conversions and sample dialogues in Italian, French and Spanish.
The "Gentleman's Companion" had no listing of airports, but it did give careful attention to "chair-ports." The most popular route into Italy, over Mount Cenis, involved taking a coach to pieces and carrying the intrepid traveler in a chair over the mountain's most forlorn and icy slopes.
The passes were in the condition Hannibal had left them after struggling over them with his elephants centuries before. On one crossing, Professor Plumb writes, Horace Walpole had his favorite lap dog seized from under his nose by a wolf.
This danger was preferable to the problems faced on the water route into Italy, however. The Rhone was known for its boat-splintering rapids. Any ship the lucky traveler might board for Genoa had a good chance of being seized by Barbary pirates who raided the Mediterranean. Rich Christians fetched a good ransom, Professor Plumb remarks.
Among the most important "refinements" of travel, according to Professor Plumb, were love and sex. Worldly, wise parents expected their young to lose their hearts in Italy.
Samuel Johnson wrote: "If a young man is wild, and must run after women and bad company, it is better this should be done abroad, as, on his return, he can break off such connections and begin at home a new man."
Such glamor proved irresistable to relatives and neighbors at home. Although the middle class could not afford the four years and huge sums spent on some of the grander trips, they were bent on making the journey all the same. Extensive advertising for Nice, San Remo and Riviera established what later became Europe's must popular playgrounds.
Those who could not afford even these resorts discovered still another way to go. The poet William Wordsworth seems to have been the first to try it out in 1790. Wordsworth, then an undergraduate, went to Europe on foot with his belongings strapped to a pack on his back.