“The people of Paris are much fonder of strangers that have money, than of those that have wit.”
The lamentation above is from a letter by a British tourist who was travelling on his Grand Tour in 1777, however, it could as well have been an Instagram post by a 21st century traveler tired of being a mass tourist. The Grand Tour was an intrinsic part of the formation of a British gentleman, particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries. Even though the main purpose of the grand tour was education, also more touristic elements were included; young men of wealthy families learnt about European culture, art and manners. Furthermore, they got an opportunity to network with the right people of their own class on the Continent. In the pre-railroad era, travelling was slow and the means of transportation included sea travel and travel by horse carriages. The typical length of a Grand Tour was two years and the most popular destinations included France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Holland and Flanders. Initially, grand tourers were mainly men, but a few women spent time in Europe as well, the most famous of them being author Mary Shelley who wrote the famous gothic novel Frankenstein during her Grand Tour stay by Lake Geneva.
Against the slow and individualistic Grand Tour of the old times, contemporary travel appears faster and more massive in volume. One trip a year lasting one or two weeks seems to be enough for many travelers, especially when the mode of transportation is flying. Car, bus or train tours as well as cruises lasting a bit longer are popular as well. However, the busier life rhythm, more demanding work life and blurred line between work and leisure have changed the holiday and travel behavior of people. Longer holidays have transformed into two or more short breaks, shorter stays in holiday homes and quick pop-ins to family members and friends.
Yet, it is possible to recognize some changes in travel and leisure behavior toward a slower direction, or perhaps we should rather talk about weak signals seen as the first signs of change. Drivers of this change include the current discussion on climate change, responsible tourism, slow tourism, nostalgia and desire for quotidian experiences. Some visible changes include e.g. flight shame that has been discussed especially in Sweden and Finland. Notably, the number of flights has decreased in Sweden, while the popularity of train travel has increased. Some Central European national railroad companies have bought new sleeping cars and increased the number of previously closed night routes. The number of purchased Interrail tickets is higher than in previous years. To save time, interrailers do not necessarily start their trip from their home country, but fly to more centrally located cities to start their train trip from there.
Historical letters and journal by Grand Tour travelers indicate a wish to get away from fellow travelers as well as a search for sublime beauty. Similarly, visitors today may be looking for quotidian experiences in order to get an idea of local lifestyle together with an individualistic travel experience. Travelers might prefer to stay in apartments close to the local population. Supermarkets are popular places to visit to get an idea of the life of locals. Longer travel times, living in local residential areas and visiting supermarkets could reflect the original aims of Grand Tours: to know and learn about local culture and people.
Ultimately, the Grand Tour was about the personal growth of an individual. Likewise, many young travelers of today are looking for personal development during tailor-made tours longer in duration. Alternatively, many have the option of studying or doing an internship abroad, whereas others travel within the gap formed by change of job.
Apparently, the Grand Tour has returned in a contemporary form. Moreover, some things remain the same throughout the ages, such as Florence described in a historical letter by author Henry James: “Everything in Florence seems to be coloured with a mild violet, like diluted wine.”
Source for letter quotations:
The Telegraph, 28.11.2018, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/comment/grand-tour-quotes/, accessed 14.9.2019