Fashion, food and music all take their cues from the past, so why not travel with a vintage twist? Here is a down-the-years guide to yesterdays holidays, with suggestions for how you can get a little taste of more – or less – glamorous eras.
As the twentieth century began, travel overseas was the preserve of the wealthy
and was starting to assume some of the grandeur we associate with this era. It
was all possible thanks to boiling water, which became the steam that turned
the turbines on steam trains and ships. This was the start of the ocean liner
era – passenger-carrying airships were decades away – with companies competing
for speed, size and luxury. The Cunard ship Mauretania, launched in 1907, held the speed record for
crossing the Atlantic for twenty years.
How to do this today: Cruises are more popular than ever before,
but only Cunard’s
crossings between Southampton and
New York preserve the spirit of travelling to get somewhere rather than
boarding to eat and drink vast amounts. The Queen
Mary II (diesel driven) is the
only vessel sailing a transatlantic schedule each year. Fares start at £699
including a flight home from your destination.
Fast forward past the First World War into the decadent 1920s. Whatever people
did, it involved jazz playing in the background and an elegantly poised
cigarette holder in their hand. The spirit of the age took people to the French
Riviera -- maybe Nice, Cannes or St Tropez -- to the house of someone rich and
famous, with plenty of gin and tonics, dips in the deep blue Mediterranean and
few thoughts for the penniless rabble about to get blindsided by the
How to do this today: The south of France remains a magnet for
glam travel – it is just much cheaper to visit than it used to be. For
starters, Nice is something of a budget air hub, serving destinations across
Europe, and is also an excellent base for exploring the region. A stroll along
the city’s Promenade des
evocative of another age, no matter where you are staying.
The giant Zeppelin airship is the iconic image of this decade, and it was these
mammoth beasts that carried long-distance airborne traffic throughout the
1930s. The most famous of these, the ill-fated Hindenburg, carried between 50 and 72 passengers. It was
243m long – over three times as long as an Airbus A380, the largest commercial
plane in service. It also took 68 hours to reach Recife, Brazil from Germany.
How to do this today: California is one of the few places where you
will find airships today. Airship Ventures offer tours of the San Francisco Bay Area and other parts of
California, with flights starting at $375 for 45 minutes.
Tourism in many places ground to a halt in the 1940s, but American trains
enjoyed a boom years before the post-war rise of the automobile. Comfortable,
sleekly-liveried services operated high-speed, long-distance services with
evocative names like the Pioneer Zephyr and 20th
Century Limited. Think shiny cutlery serving fine fare inside equally shiny trains.
How to do this today: Some great American rail services still
operate. The Empire Builder leaves Chicago’s iconic Union Station each
day, bound for Seattle or Portland. The 2,200-mile journey takes 46 hours and
features cheese and wine tasting along the route.
While for some, the ‘50s were about the development of a political ideology from
the back of a bike in South America or road trips across America, (think Jack
Kerouac’s classic On the Road), for others they were as glamorous as the
days of pre-war hedonism. The Jet Age, ushered in by entry into service of the
Brit-built De Havilland Comet in 1952 means travel becomes sleek, fast and
How to do this today: Cocktails in Cuba recall the
pre-revolutionary island vividly portrayed in The Godfather, Part II. El Floridita in Havana may be a popular spot for a
tourist tipple, but you know you are following in some famous footsteps.
The ‘60s were the decade that travel changed forever. The advent of mass
tourism introduced a generation of northern Europeans to just how quickly the
Spanish sun could turn you lobster pink, and forever transformed sleepy fishing
villages into brash, in-your-face holiday resorts. Even today, the straw donkey
remains an iconic souvenir of this time -- one redolent of stellar tackiness.
How to do this today: The digital age ushered in choice and
flexibility to a sunshine holiday. Now you can come and sizzle on the costa of your choice via traditional package or
budget flight and self-catering apartment. And going is still the only way of
securing a straw donkey, which astonishingly, cannot be purchased online.
While Mum and Dad were schlepping to the Costa del Sol (or other fashionable
costa), rebellious teenagers dropped out and headed for Kathmandu. Overland.
The Hippy Trail was at its zenith in the 1970s, bringing to various parts of
the Middle East and Central Asia gaggles of long-haired kaftan-wearing
westerners and impromptu yoga sessions.
How to do this today: Crossing Iran and Pakistan takes a little
more planning than it did 40 years ago, and Kabul is not the crossroads it once
was. But anyone heading from Istanbul to Nepal will find there is still a Freak Street in Kathmandu, complete with chocolate cake,
dreadlocks and all the tie-dye you can handle.
The ‘80s brought wider horizons for millions of younger travellers as an
adventurous few months on the road gained popularity. The European rail pass –
or Eurail – was at the peak of popularity. This
excellent value way to cross the continent did not just link big cities and
idyllic rural branch lines, it also brought together penniless travellers from
around the world for a month-long series of rolling parties. Not that anyone
even vaguely attractive wanted to talk to you, as you had not had a wash since
Belgrade a fortnight ago.
How to do this today: InterRail is still around, and still a great
way to explore Europe. In fact, you can combine it with budget flights to avoid
backtracking. The true connoisseur will take the time-honoured option of
sleeping on the free ferry from Italy to Greece, under the Adriatic stars.
In the early 1990s the world opened up to travellers, with previously
hard-to-reach places emerging from decades of isolation. From the Soviet Union
to Central America, this was a decade of blazing new trails. And as the decade
ended, improved transport and communication links meant more places were
accessible as well as safer, and you could reliably phone home to brag about
How to do this today: The old world continues to meet the new in
Hong Kong, which began the 1990s as part of the British Empire and finished it
as a Special Autonomous Region of China. The cream teas and Rolls Royces at the
Peninsula Hotel are still here but they have been joined by
fast rail links to the rest of China and ranks of new skyscrapers jostling for
space on the city’s famous skyline.
How dull flying must have been when we had our bags taken from us with little
fuss then receive an assigned seat and a complimentary meal, before arriving at
a convenient rather than remote airport for our destination! And yet, before
low-cost carriers swept the globe, this was what came as standard when flying.
By the time the decade was out, flag carriers were in retreat for all but
long-haul flying and a 60km journey to central Oslo had become part of the fun.
How to do this today: Take a weekend break to an obscure
destination in eastern Europe. Bydgoszcz, Poland or Plovdiv, Bulgaria both fit
The article 'Retro travel' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.