History of the Holiday



What’s the first memory that springs to mind when you reminisce about your holidays? Long car journeys? Bunk beds? The Maccas pit stop? Staying up late? Night after night barbequing? Sugar overdoses? BIG Bananas, Rams and Pineapples? Backyard cricket? Salty hair and skin? Making friends? Mosquitoes? Sunburn? Most of us will have a least one of these things cemented in our holiday memories.

What about your first trip overseas (if you’ve been fortunate enough to travel that far). Do you remember how exhilarating it was to board that plane knowing that you were leaving Australian soil to discover a new culture, meet new people and see things you’ve only ever dreamt of seeing.

Holidays form the basis of our best stories and we’ll remember the good ones until the day we die. But where did the notion of taking a holiday come from? Was it a moment of genius, or a case of an individual who was just desperate to be anywhere else but here. To find this out we need to step back in time and head further afield to ask the likes of the Romans and Tudors before steaming into the 18th century when holidaying became part of the Australian way of life.

Roaming around the ancient world *


The Romans were the first civilization to indulge in holiday. But, rather than the few weeks we manage to get away for, wealthy Romans would look to get away for a staggering two years!

Tony Perrottet - author, historian and traveller - explained that the Romans were the first nation to travel because foreign holidays required a period of peace and prosperity. The Roman Empire was the first civilization to enjoy such a period and put the infrastructure in place to allow for holidays to happen.

The work of the army and navy in securing borders and transport against banditry, along with the ever expanding borders of the empire, gave citizens freedom to travel without ever technically leaving Rome’s jurisdiction. This freedom led to the establishment of inns, restaurants and tour guides, everything a budding traveller would need to enjoy their trips.

The Romans even had guidebooks, with Pausanias' Description of Greece setting the standard for what a travel guide could look like. It’s a classic of its kind, providing insights on everything from the geography of Greece through to religious art and architecture via a detour into the details of an ancient ritual.

But, it came in 10 parts and without Kindles, it was more of a shelf filler than a Lonely Planet Pocket Guide

Into Darkness

With the Fall of Rome and the ascent of the Dark Ages, the holiday as we know it took a break of its own. Travel throughout the dark ages and for much of the medieval period happened for one of two reasons – finding new land to call your own or raiding the lands of your enemies.

The exception, (and there’s always an exception) was people who felt a religious calling to embark on a pilgrimage. Such travellers were brilliantly satirised by Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales, but in reality there were highly structured foundations allowing the medieval pilgrim to tread ancient paths.

If you were one of these lucky few, then medieval travel would open your eyes to a whole new world. If not, your journeys were probably limited to the occasional trip down the road to celebrate a Saint’s day or the wedding of a family member.

Tudors on tour

During the Tudor period, leisure travel was reserved for royalty and the court. Holidays taken by monarchs were called “royal progress”, and usually involved the King or Queen travelling to different towns where they would stay, sometimes for as long as a month.

Although some royal progress was taken purely for leisure, monarchs mainly travelled to other towns for publicity. Progress usually happened twice every year, once in summer and once in winter, with them taking, sometimes, up to 2000 people per trip.

Renaissance Travel

During the early Renaissance period, travel was mainly used for trade and battle. Means of travel was limited; roads were uneven and treacherous, with robbers lurking and setting traps. Only the rich could afford to travel safely, with groups of soldiers protecting them. Sea travel was also dangerous, with pirates patrolling the seas and storms frequently wiping out whole ships.

Inns provided shelter and were popular amongst travellers. However, they were expensive, dirty and uncomfortable, with guests often sharing single beds. These inns were commonly used by merchants, not by holidaymakers. Those people lucky enough to be on holiday would usually be found staying with friends or relatives, where they could receive the comfort they’d expect to find at home.

The renaissance era saw a rise in the popularity of exploring. Advances in shipbuilding saw galleons replace rowing boats, which encouraged more men to take to the sea in their curiosity for the undiscovered world and to experience sights and sounds that none of their peers ever had.

This thirst for adventure was high risk, but brought great rewards – for them and for us. Can you imagine life today without the potato? Or without chocolate? Both are products that we take for granted, but which we have explorers to thank for.

Holidaying by camel


During the early 18th Century the first settlers didn’t find much time for holidays but once enough land had been secured the privileged few started visiting neighbouring settlements for some R&R, travelling by horse and buggy. As time went on camels were introduced as the horses weren’t accustomed to the harsh Aussie sun.

The first Australian industrial rail line opened in 1854, and ran from Melbourne to Port Melbourne, with passenger services following quickly. During this time Sydney’s beaches started to become popular holiday destinations for locals, with Bondi Beach being a firm favourite.

Bathing in the sea was seen to be so controversial that the activity was outlawed in daylight hours. William Gocher was among those who decided to protest against this law in 1902, by taking to the beach and bathing in daylight. Police were reluctant to arrest those who were modestly dressed, and the ban was lifted. Sea bathing became so popular that the first ever lifesaving club was formed at Bondi Beach.

Going Global

For the wealthy, steamboats allowed travellers to visit different continents and explore new lands, however thanks to the warm climate and beautiful beaches, most Australians in the 1800s were more than happy to stay in Australia for their holidays.

Just getting abroad was a mission in its own right. There was no passport control and crossing borders was notoriously difficult. Travellers and their luggage were frequently searched, and countries placed high taxes on the import of luxury items such as tobacco. Smuggling became a popular way to sneak luxury goods into countries, and many travellers took to bribing customs officers.

The Industrial revolution did open up new means of travel – the Orient Express ferried people across Eurasia, while the steamboat opened up sea travel to the masses. Of course, these journeys still took a lifetime compared to the plane rides we enjoy today – steamboats took days on end to reach foreign countries.

But, such journeys were iconic and the launch of a new ship would be front page news. We remember the Titanic today as a disaster, but the initial launch was greeted with a wave of optimism. Such travel was an example of all that was great about human progress.

In 1903, the Wright brothers’ pioneering work on the concept of the aeroplane would pave the way for a breakthrough that would change the way the world experienced travel, forever.

The early 1920s also saw the advent of the automobile. The first Australian-designed mass-production car was manufactured by Holden in 1948 and by the 1970s, Australia was 10th in the world for car manufacturing. The automobile became the favourite mode of transport for holidaymakers, because it was cheap and provided more freedom than steam trains. On weekends and public holidays, families would load up their automobiles and drive to the coast to enjoy the coast regions.

For mass travel, trains and boats were still the most widely used mode of transport, with more and more people beginning to explore foreign nations.

Towards the end of the 1920s, air travel was advancing at a great pace. Although aeroplanes were at this point used mainly for mail delivery, people were beginning to imagine the ease and speed of holiday travel by air.

In 1928, a German airship named Graf Zeppelin carried 20 passengers and 43 crew members in the first ever commercial flight. In September the following year, Graf Zeppelin landed its first round-the-world flight.


Winging it


Holidays truly came into their own in the 20th century. Beaches were attractive to crowds not for the surf or sea air, but mainly for the man-made attractions on piers. The early 20th century saw the lift of the sea bathing ban, and later in the century women’s bathing attire – which had previously covered women from the neck to the knee and was still frowned upon – became more widely accepted. This saw the rise of modern Australian beach culture and the love of the surf.

Surfing was first introduced to Australia by Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku in 1915, at Freshwater beach in Sydney.

By the 1950s car ownership was on the increase and camping had started to grow in popularity. Though up until the 1960s car ownership was viewed as a luxury so even camping was a considered a real treat for the privileged. During holiday season, campers took over the east coast, pitching up their tents close to the beach.

Where trains made travel within land masses easy, the aeroplane put foreign holidays and short interstate trips within the reach of those that could afford it. Thought even for them a trip to Europe was a once in a lifetime occurrence.

During the 70’s and 80’s women in the workforce was on the increase and with dual incomes families could start to afford more expensive holidays. Though most families were still limited to one big trip a year during the summer holidays, though the majority of these were within Australia.

Our thirst for discovery and unique experiences shows no signs of being quenched as new generations get the travel bug. Each year a fresh batch of gap-year students set off post-exam results to backpack round the world, joining the late twenty-somethings taking sabbaticals from their careers, the honeymooners who are having one more adventure before settling down to have kids and the empty nesters, finding yoga and spending three months in an ashram in North India. Our search for the ultimate adventure, whatever our age or circumstance, continues.

The 1970s saw the growth of non-bank foreign exchange providers, which gave consumers an easy way of getting hold of foreign currency when going abroad. Going from the city centres to the seaports and ferries and then finally into airports themselves, by the mid-80s the bureau de change was a staple part of the holiday industry and a fast and easy way for travellers to get their hands on local currency. We’ve come a long way from going to the local silver or goldsmith!

In 1976, the first Travelex store was opened in Southampton Row, London by entrepreneur Lloyd Dorfman. The first Travelex store to open in Australia was in 1990 at Brisbane’s Domestic Terminal. As we celebrate our 40th birthday this year, Travelex has grown from that one store to over 1,400 stores across 26 countries.

Tomorrow’s holiday


Why do holidays capture our imagination, and why are we so obsessed with creating new experiences for ourselves? The answer is that it’s in our nature. Our history is one of pioneering, of uncovering new frontiers and asking ourselves what’s next. It’s why in 2016, we’re sat asking ourselves what future holidays will look like.

What’s next is what drove us to explore new horizons, to see what was on the far side of the ridge and to venture beyond the confines of our planet. We don’t ask that because we’re dissatisfied with what we can do today. We ask because it’s human nature to be constantly exploring and asking what comes next. And for travel, the obvious next is space.

Space travel has always captured our imagination. We dream of visiting the moon and beyond. But, for the first time in human history we’re now seeing serious effort being put in to creating actual colonies in space. That effort is coming from Elon Musk and his Space X project. Musk has a stated goal of helping humanity create a sustainable living environment on Mars, but sadly, he doubts he’ll be alive to see it.

However, for our grandchildren and their children, the prospect of holidaying on Mars is a very real possibility.

The deep seas will also become open to us as a travel location.

For people who can’t wait that long, what do holidays of the next 10-15 years hold? We’re likely to see improvements in the form of technology, with a report by Skyscanner suggesting that in 2024 we’ll no longer interact with humans when we arrive at a hotel. Instead our hotel rooms will be fully digital, where even our pillows will contain electronic features to wake us up in the morning.

The deep seas will also become open to us as a travel location. There’s so much to see and experience down there, some will question why we’d ever want to go to space? Why go and see blackness, when you can see the wonders of the deep seas.

It’s impossible to consider how we’ll holiday in the future without considering the impact of consumer friendly virtual reality devices.

Who wouldn’t want to check out their Chiang Mai resort, Bondi Beach house or Caribbean cruise liner before handing over the deposit?

And, by integrating the latest reviews into the virtual experience you can peruse each element of, say, a cruise ship and get not only a visual sense of the magnificent dining room but a factual sense as to whether the service is worth forking out the cash for.

Marriott hotels are already offering virtual reality services to their clients and we’ll see more and more chains offer the same in the future. Tools like the Oculus Rift make virtual reality something all of us can enjoy, rather than a hobby for the techy few.

We may never be able to travel back in time, but through our future trips we’ll capture the spirit of exploration that drove our ancestors to travel.

Whether we’re plumbing new depths or ice-skating on Mars, the holiday will continue to capture our imaginations. We’ll continue to push the boundaries of our own experiences, striving to achieve those perfect moments we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.

What era should you holiday in?

When would be the dream time period for you to holiday in? Take our quiz and find out where a time machine should take you.

Start quiz

In a perfect world, how long would you spend on a single holiday?

A couple of years - time to really relax

2-3 weeks - enough time to switch off, but I can't just leave forever

A few days at most

Where is your dream destination?

A city break - taking in the cultural aspects of my surroundings

Something adventurous - take me skiing or on a trek somewhere man doesn't normally go

The beach – find me a sunbed, good waves and a barbie and I’m happy

What do you enjoy eating when you're away?

Mediterranean cuisine all the way

A large bowl of pho - preferably cooked in front of me

A BBQ all the way

Share your results: