Today it is possible to travel safely to anywhere in the world within say 36 hours and for modest cost thanks to budget airlines and the global network of airports and air traffic regulators. Safely and quickly but not necessarily comfortably.
If this is your travel life, for cost-effective business travel for instance or rapid relocation to meet friends or family overseas, then you are a tourist. Almost everyone does this now.
Two hundred years ago, people did the same thing, but in a dramatically different way.
Firstly the travellers were few. The travellers were wealthy, the travel agenda was about the trip and not the destination, and the cost was prohibitive. Only the wealthy could do it, and usually with a team of support staff.
The travel I am talking about was the equivalent for the times of someone graduating from university today and before taking up their new career did the obligatory trip to the UK and the Continent, or the USA or SE Asia.
These travellers from long ago followed the same route, from England usually to one of the northern parts of Europe and then on to Italy via France, Germany, Switzerland, over the Alps, before returning home probably never to do it again.
The trip might take a year or so. The route was designated the Grand Tour and these travellers are what might be called Grand Tourists.
The experience was their talking point for life and often the subject of a book, like The European Grand Tour written by Moore in 1818; a journal held in the Michigan University library. It recounts the experiences of two wealthy British travellers as they journeyed through France, Switzerland, and Italy detailed the pair's itinerary and gave an extensive account of sightseeing, paying particular attention to the churches and cathedrals of France and to Italian art collections; his companion, Richard, often attended social functions and was introduced at court in Paris.
Moore occasionally mentions events from the recent Napoleonic wars, particularly during a visit to a French battlefield. In Switzerland, the travellers took an interest in schooling and clothing. After reaching Italy, they focused on fine art, with notes on Da Vinci's The Last Supper in Milan and to the "Mona Elisa" in the "Nicoli Palace." It contains charts showing the value of German and French money for 1819, as well as several listings of German tariffs.
The custom — which flourished from about 1660 until the advent of large-scale rail transport in the 1840s and was associated with a standard itinerary — served as an educational rite of passage. The idea of travelling for the sake of curiosity and learning was a developing idea in the 17th century. it was the far more extensive tour through Italy as far as Naples undertook by the 'Collector' Earl of Arundel, with his wife and children in 1613–14 that established the most significant precedent.
The most common itinerary usually began in Dover and crossed the Channel to Ostend in Belgium or to Calais or Le Havre in France. From there the Grand Tourist, could rent or acquire a coach (which could be resold in any city before crossing the Alps), or he could opt to make the trip by riverboat as far as the Alps, either travelling up the Seine to Paris, or up the Rhine to Basel.
In Paris, the traveller might undertake lessons in French, dancing, fencing, and riding. The appeal of Paris lay in the sophisticated language and manners of French high society, including courtly behaviour and fashion, good preparation for a leadership position at home, often in government or diplomacy.
From Paris, he would typically sojourn in Geneva (the cradle of the Protestant Reformation) or Lausanne for snow sports. From there the traveller would endure a difficult crossing over the Alps (such as at the Great St Bernard Pass), which required dismantling the carriage and larger luggage.
Once in Italy, the Grand Tourist would visit Turin or Milan, then might spend a few months in Florence, accessible to the monuments of High Renaissance paintings and Roman sculpture, with side trips to Pisa, then move on to Padua, Bologna, and Venice, their epitome of romanticised Italy.
From Venice, the traveller went to Rome to study the ancient ruins and the masterpieces of painting, sculpture, and architecture of Rome's Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque periods. Some travellers also visited Naples to study music, and (after the mid-18th century) to appreciate the recently discovered archaeological sites of Herculaneum and Pompeii and perhaps (for the adventurous) an ascent of Mount Vesuvius. Later in the period, the more adventurous, especially if provided with a yacht, might attempt Sicily (the site of Greek ruins), Malta or even Greece itself. But Naples – or later Paestum further south – was the usual terminus.
From here the traveller traversed the Alps heading north through to the German-speaking parts of Europe. The traveller might stop first in Innsbruck before visiting Vienna, Dresden, Berlin and Potsdam, with perhaps a period of study at the universities in Munich or Heidelberg. From there, travellers visited Holland and Flanders (with more gallery-going and art appreciation) before returning across the Channel to England.
With today’s limited tourist visas, and the Grand Tourists’ advantage of being hosted by their network of nobility across Europe, aspects of the Grand Tour are unimaginable by modern travellers. Nevertheless, there are examples of modern Grand Tours. For example, the 21st century Grand Tour of European Art that takes in a thrilling “gap year for the graduate, doing all the standards like the Louvre or the Prado, but uniquely perhaps visit hidden art treasures in Lyon, Dresden or Trieste.
Ask your travel agent to prepare a personalised itinerary based on your preferences and interests. You will find it does not break the bank and will give you enough material for your travel journal.