Travel has become such a quintessential American experience, probably borrowing from the “grand tour” custom that began in Great Britain as early as 1660, but spread to other countries as well. The grand tour was a rite of passage for many young noblemen and gentry after graduating from university studies. They would then embark on an odyssey, often led by a knowledgeable cicerone, that would touch on as many key historical, cultural, and religious sites across Europe as possible. This experience would then presumably synthesize all the worldly learning from their university studies, turning them into finely polished young men. It would also be one last fling to celebrate their completion of studies before they settled down to a respectable life of work, marriage, and family. Travel certainly had an impact on Great Britain, with famous travelers such as Inigo Jones bringing back to their home country much of the style of the countries they visited. Jones was a Surveyor-General under James I, who, upon visiting Italy, was enthralled by the graceful lines of Roman classical architecture that he encountered. His enthusiasm for the style sparked the Georgian architectural era, bringing back to Britain classical designs as translated through the mind of Andreas Palladio of Italy. You can certainly see the impact in the many buildings in London that follow classical design. But the love of travel influenced other parts of British culture, as well, sparking an interest in travel literature with many non-fiction accounts of odysseys such as those written by Samuel Johnson and Laurence Sterne or even fictionalized accounts such as Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels.
These various accounts of travel and the tradition of the grand tour probably trace their lineage to Marco Polo's tales of his journey to China, the tales of returning crusaders, and the older tradition of the pilgrimage. The pilgrimage began in the middle ages as a journey of the faithful to various important Christian sites. Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales , written toward the end of the 14th century, is based on such a pilgrimage of travelers to Canterbury, the site of the shrine to Thomas Becket who was murdered by followers of Henry II following a dispute with the king over the rights and privileges of the church. The frame of the story is a requirement for each of the travelers to tell a story to keep them all entertained during the long, arduous journey. So it seems that travel has long been in our blood in the western world. It has become part of our psyche, perhaps contributing to a constant sense of wanderlust that keeps us traveling about our home countries and to other countries around the world, and dreaming constantly of such travels.
The adventure that can be had in just a matter of hours is certainly the stuff of dreams, and probably the reason why we continue to spend so many of our hard-earned dollars on travel. I came by the travel bug through my father. He would plan a big trip every summer that took us to all corners of the contiguous states. So I began to dream of travels while I was a boy and eventually taking many of those dreamed-of travels when I became a man. I started my life of adventure by enlisting in the Army in 1979. The only stipulation I gave to my recruiter was that I wanted to go to Germany for my first tour. I had listened to my father’s stories of his Army tour in Germany during the 50’s, and I was instantly hooked, wanting to someday visit that wonderful country, which I ultimately did, going on to spend eight years of my life on German soil during three Army tours.
More on this tomorrow.