The starry-eyed woman beside me was gazing at the museum display of a grand 19th century horse-drawn carriage.
“Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to have lived a couple of centuries ago?”
No, my dear, it wouldn’t. Think about it.
Unless you were born into money – and lots of it – life then was hard, nasty and dirty. The owner of that grand carriage had servants, but the vast majority of people lived with the endless drudgery of survival sans central heating, running water and electrical appliances. Travel, if you could ever afford it, involved whole new levels of discomfort and inconvenience.
Airplanes didn’t exist, so the masses traveled by rail or water – and neither was pleasant. Trains belched nasty great clouds of soot and steerage class on ships – the common method of trans-Atlantic passage for the lower classes – was unspeakably miserable.
Traveling today? Life is good. Yes, there are long lines to get through security and no, there isn’t much overhead baggage space in planes, but on the whole, travel by train, bus, airplane and ship is clean, fast, efficient and safe.
(I know…there are occasional plane crashes and terror attacks but those represent a tiny, tragic, percentage of the travel total. The vast majority of planes, trains and ships do their business safely and without incident.)
As I write this, I’m sitting in a sleekly modern train, gliding through the French countryside between Cannes and Marseilles. My comfortable seat is equipped with a foldout desk for my laptop and a plug so I won’t run out of juice before I finish writing this editorial. Through the large windows, I catch glimpses of sun on sea, rows of grapes in the vineyards, and the leafy green countryside. I’m hearing….nothing. The car is blissfully quiet, filled with sophisticated French passengers who have no interest in talking to me or anyone else. It’s lovely.
I flew to France earlier this week and while I wouldn’t have minded a bit more room in my seat, I did cross an entire ocean – from Toronto to Paris and then on to Nice, in a matter of hours. Apart from getting through airport security, I did absolutely nothing and still managed to travel halfway around the globe.
In a few days, after another train trip – this time to Basel, Switzerland – I’ll board a river cruise ship to sail to Amsterdam. My stateroom will offer not only all the comforts of my house, including a well-appointed bathroom and free wifi, but also the services of a room steward who’ll materialize with water, fresh towels and treats each evening and tidy my room each morning. The chef will cook delicious meals and charming servers will spoil us rotten in the glitzy dining room.
And I’m not a member of the aristocracy – just a lucky peasant.
Admittedly, river cruise travel is expensive and not something the average person does without serious investment, but train, bus and even plane travel is within reach for many of us.
Recently, I heard a very funny comic who talked about sitting beside a guy who was ranting about the slow wifi on their flight. The comic said, “Slow wifi?! We’re drinking coffee in a big silver tube that’s rocketing us around the world in a few hours – and you’re griping about wifi?! Get a life!”
I’m with him. Travel technology today makes it possible for us to be at home for breakfast and in a different corner of the world for dinner, completely unruffled. Forget romantic views of the past, fellow wanderers – we’re lucky to be alive today.