History of Holidays

In the northern hemisphere, today marks the winter solstice or the shortest day.  From now on we can look forward to longer days and thoughts of holidays keep us going through the rest of the cold winter.

But why do we have holidays?

The word holiday comes from the Olde English Holy Day. It was a day when ordinary activities and work were suspended.

The American term, Vacation, was coined around 100 years ago. Wealthy Bostonian’s and New Yorker’s, fled the city in the heat of the summer to seek the cool waters of the sea and lakes. This vacating of the city’s led to the term vacation.

History of Holidays


Pilgrimages or travel for religious reasons, was of significant importance in the history of holiday.

By the end of the Middle Ages,  large numbers of pilgrims, traveled to the main shrines in Europe and The Holy Land – there was, however, no pleasure in this type of travel.

Pilgrims traveled either on foot or horseback, as time passed, the wealthy pilgrims traveled by either boat or horse-drawn carriages. Roadside inns along popular routes provided accommodation and were the forerunners to hotels.

The wealthy pilgrim’s religious nature of travel, eventually gave way to education, sight seeing and learning. People began to appreciate the science, culture and art of a place and the history of holidays progressed.

The Grand Tour

The grand tour was the 17th and 18th century custom of taking an extended break to Europe. It was undertaken by Gentleman to finish off their education and so were the preserve of the wealthy or aristocracy.

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The tour generally lasted for several years, with six months travelling and 2-3 years living abroad to absorb the culture and improve language skills.

Samuel Johnson said

“A man who has not been to Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority, from his not having seen what it is expected a man should see.”

Victorian Seaside Holiday

In the 19th century, the life of the average Briton, was transformed by the Industrial Revolution. The standard of living became higher for the ordinary British public.

Britain became much richer as a result of it.

Many villages and small town, rapidly grew into industrial cities. New towns emerged on the coastline of Britain – The Seaside Town. At the end of the 18th century, a seaside trip became fashionable with the rich, but were out of the reach of the working class.

by the mid 19th century, the train network across the country made the seaside town accessible to the poor.

Factories in the north of England added a weeks holiday to the Whit Sunday feast at the end of May. This holiday became known at Whitsuntide. Factory’s closed for the week, and although it wouldn’t be law to provide paid holidays to workers until 1938, many went to the seaside for a day trip on chartered trains. Blackpool, Scarborough and Whitby were the main day trip destinations.

The Original Package Tour

In 1841, a one day excursions was organised by a Baptist preacher. A train was chartered from Leicester to a temperance meeting in Loughborough. The cost per person was 1 shilling, which included, a cricket match, tea and sandwiches.

The name of the Baptist preacher was Thomas Cook.

So successfully were these temperance trips, that in 1850 he was asked to bring Yorkshire workers down to London, by train, to work on the Great Exhibition. The following year 1851, the Great Exhibition opened, Thomas Cook promoted his train trips and by the end of the season, he had transported 150,000 visitors from across the UK to London. By 1885 he was taking his first passengers to Europe. 5 years later he hired 2 steamers to take passengers up the Nile.

Thomas Cook died in 1892, his 2 sons took over the business. For the first half of the 20th Century, Thomas Cook and Sons dominated the world travel scene.

Holiday Camps

Billy Butlin was born in South Africa in 1899, he moved to England with his mother after the breakdown of his parents marriage.

His mothers family had a traveling fair and after a brief stay in Canada with his mother, he returned to England and became a successful stall holder in the family business.

In 1927 Billy Butlin opened a static fairground in Skegness. The fairground was successful, but Billy wanted to attract more people to it.

He came up with the idea of opening some basic cheap accommodation to bring the British holidaymakers to Skegness. His main problem was trying to stop holidaymakers leaving the accommodation and therefore not spending money in his fairground.

He had a solution.

He provided three meals a day and entertainment from morning to night thus solving his problem and creating the first Butlin’s Holiday Camp.

The holiday camp was so successful, that Butlin’s Holiday Camps were rolled out in seaside towns across the country.

Sun, Sea and Sangria

Following the second world war, traveling abroad involved either all or a combination of rail, sea and coach travel. It was expensive and time consuming.

The first charter flights dramatically cut travel time, but were expensive and unreliable.

A significant change occurred in the 1960’s, especially for Spain.

  • Hotel construction developed rapidly in the Mediterranean.
  • General Franco saw tourism as the key to enriching his “backward nation” (sic)
  • At the same time, larger and faster aircraft were being developed.
  • Travel to Spain reduced from 48 hours by sea and coach, to 4 then eventually 2 hours by plane.

How many of us had a raffia donkey as a souvenir from a relatives early Spanish holiday.

Wish you were here!

We all sat through travel programs in the winter months, watching Julia Chalmers and Cliff Mitchelmore  travel the world and tell us how magnificent it was.We could in those days only dream of such destinations and watch presenters who were paid to travel to these exciting looking countries.

Now it is not just the world that is our oyster.

The Future of Travel

Space travel, looks like it may eventually be a reality for the more adventurous traveler. 700 tickets have already been sold for trips into space with Virgin Galactic. The high price of tickets, means they are only available to the rich and famous. Leonardo DiCaprio, Angelina Jolie and Lady Gaga, are all rumored to have already bought tickets, priced at £150,000. However, it is estimated the price will reduce over the next 20 years making it a more affordable £7,000 a ticket.

Sub-aquatic hotels already exist, for those wanting the underwater experience. They range from two story accommodation in Zanzibar, where the bedroom is under the water, to the Conrad Hotel, Maldives, whose restaurant 16 feet under the water on the sea bed. It only has 7 tables so booking well in advance is essential.

As you can see, the change in the past 50 years has been huge. The only thing restricting our holiday decisions are not just finances, but also our imagination.

Where in the world do you want to go next?

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