14 Lost Travel Traditions I Wish They’d Bring Back

A number of travel traditions have been forgotten or discarded over the years, and while we won’t be wishing for a return to the days of covered wagons or smoking sections on airplanes, there are a handful of lost travel traditions I’d love to see rescued from obscurity.

Read on for the 14 lost travel traditions that I’d love to make a comeback:

1) The Handwritten Letter

Handwritten letters are thoughtful and sentimental and make nostalgic scrapbook keepsakes. A collection of lovingly written letters is also a heck of a lot more romantic than a stack of printed emails or a memory chip of text messages.

Without a backspace bar, writing a letter by hand forces you to think before you write. Photo by penwren.

2) The Postcard

The “Wish You Were Here!” postcard used to be the only method we had of announcing to friends and colleagues that we were on vacation while simultaneously rubbing it in that they weren’t.

Though we now have Facebook status updates to do that, it’s not the same. Postcards made it more personal. They also made for pretty travel keepsakes.

Now we have to find something else to decorate our fridge’s with. Postcards, like snail mail, are fast becoming a dying art form. Photo by frugalista.

3) Cross-Atlantic Voyages

Today, a successful cross-Atlantic voyage is one where your flight isn’t delayed and your seatmate doesn’t hog the armrests.

Before air travel, however, a successful cross-Atlantic voyage was one where you didn’t get scurvy and arrived with the same number of family members with which you departed.

Though ship travel was certainly dangerous, it was exciting and daring in a way that air travel—with its cranky crew and cockamamie travel restrictions—can’t begin to compare.

Ship journeys across the Atlantic typically take six days and are far more exciting than any airplane ride. Photo by Marxchivist.

4) Dining Cars on Trains

There’s something tantalizing and almost illicit about eating dinner while the world zooms by outside, like running with scissors or having ice cream for breakfast.

Though dining cars are still in existence today, they’re uncommon and mostly limited to tourist trains.

Dining with strangers in a train dining car is another lost travel art form. Photo by Train Chartering &….

5) Film Cameras

Thanks to the digital camera, we now have the ability to take a near limitless amount of photos and then instantly post them on the Internet for all to see. And while this has been convenient, it’s also turned us all into snap-happy hussies.

This wasn’t the case 15 years ago, when we couldn’t afford to waste precious film on 23 near-identical photos of our cat, Tootles. When we were limited to just a single roll of a film, we had to be selective, to be picky and to ask ourselves: How many pictures of the Eiffel tower do I really need?

Film cameras make you think about the photo before snapping the picture. Photo by Jon Delorey.

6) Hitch-hiking

From the 1930s through the 1970s, hopping into the back of a stranger’s pick-up truck or squeezing into the bench seat of a family’s station wagon (Oooh, remember bench seats?) was a common way to travel on the cheap.

Hitch-hiking became a popular means of travel in the United States during the Great Depression, when few were wealthy enough to afford a car or public transportation.

Though it’s declined since then, we like the community trust and social interaction fostered by hitchhiking. Thus, we give it a big thumbs up.

This photo was taken in 1979, back when hitch-hiking wasn’t perceived as being quite as dangerous as it is now. Photo by profkaren.

7) Road Trips

Books-on-tape, wrinkled maps, cups of over-sweetened coffee at early morning pit stops and watching the towns and billboards slide by to the thumping soundtrack of your road-trip mix tape …what’s not to love?

Unfortunately, due to the high price of gas and the prevalence of budget airlines, the long-haul road trip has come to a dead end of sorts.

The radio, the road and a VW camper van is the perfect recipe for a road trip adventure. Photo by spieri_sf.

8) Getting Dressed Up for Flights

Once upon a time, when flying was rare enough to still be considered a special occasion, people dressed up for flights. Today, by contrast, people barely get dressed at all; preferring a track suit over a business suit and pajama bottoms over a pencil skirt.

While enforcing a mandatory airline dress code would never, well, fly with today’s comfort-seeking airline passengers, would it be too much to ask people to refrain from wandering the cabin barefoot?

Back when bonnets were cool, wearing your “Sunday Best” when flying was standard protocol. Photo by State Library and Archives. Photo by State Library and Archives….

9) Pen-Pals

While having a pen pal is not completely dead (it’s still a common practice among prison inmates), the novelty of it certainly is.

At one time, communicating with a stranger on the other side of the globe was considered exhilarating, now it’s just considered Twitter.

Getting a letter from your pen pal on the other side of the world was always exciting. Photo by Toujia Elementary School.

10) Suitcase Trunks

Durable, long lasting and able to withstand even the most careless of airline baggage handlers, suitcase trunks are the Incredible Hulks of the luggage world.

While they once enjoyed rides aboard sea-soaked cargo ships and rooftop Jeep luggage racks, they now mostly sit unsold in antique stores.

The hard surface of a suitcase trunk made for an excellent place to show off travel stickers. Photo by itomi.

11) Used Bookstores

When bookstores eventually go extinct in favor of digital downloads, the satisfaction of rifling through a hostel’s collection of Lonely Planets, Paulo Coelho novels and 12 battered copies of The Beach until you find that perfect hammock-worthy book, will be lost.

Books bring strangers together, they facilitate “Hey, whatcha reading?” conversations and as any bookworm will tell you, there’s something intoxicating about the musty smell of ink and paper.

Used bookstores still exist…but not for long. Photo by Haruko16.

12) Easy Going Airport Check-ins

Remember when you used to be able to arrive at the airport 10 minutes before your plane was due to depart and still make it on board in time.

Catching a flight used to be like catching a bus. Park, run to the gate, hand someone your ticket and you were off. They barely asked for ID.

In the 1960’s the biggest security concern was protecting the people from the airplanes. Now, it’s the planes that need protecting from the people. Photo by synx508.

13) True Travel Breaks

Prior to the invention of email, social media and international cell phones, kissing loved ones goodbye at the departure gate (how nostalgic?) often meant that you didn’t see or even speak to them until you returned home.

While this made leaving for an extended trip abroad hard, it provided a true break from the routine and a chance to really immerse yourself into a foreign culture.

Saying goodbye at the gate. Photo by iwona_kellie.

14) Slow Travel

It was hard to be in a rush to get somewhere when your only means of transportation was a horse and buggy. Early travelers recognized the importance of appreciating the journey as well as the destination.

Let’s reintroduce the concept of slow travel and living in the moment.

Traveling by horse and buggy from New York to California used to take around six months. Photo by Marion Doss.

Which lost travel traditions would you like to see make a comeback? Let me know in the comments below.

If you liked this article, you might also like: Hippies, Hashish and Banana Pancakes: The History of Backpacking.

Main photo: Vintage postcard c.1910 by postaletrice.

19 thoughts on “14 Lost Travel Traditions I Wish They’d Bring Back”

  1. Reannon,

    Love this! I find every single one is indeed a thing to love.

    Now. How to find the equivalents today, there’s the rub!

    I’m working on it.

    Happy travels, anyway..

  2. @ Roger

    Thanks! I noticed you’re trying to start a thank you-revolution with your website. That looks like a good place to start… ; )

  3. We used to have train stops in every little town in the US. Train and bus travel used to get you anywhere. Also, people used to be able to accompany their family members right until boarding the plane. I miss this. The Sunday afternoon family drive. My grandfather used to drive us around Eastern PA in his 1929 DeSoto. Back then, people didn’t have a lot of money, but this was one luxury we enjoyed.

  4. I am so thankful that I took the time to travel on the railroad just before they closed the luxury dining cars. Air travel with its plastic trays cannot compare to the old trains with real damask tablecloths, china, crystal, real menus and waiters wearing white gloves. My son was only 6 years old at this time; I’m so glad that he has these memories.

  5. On railroad restaurant cars – Yes, they are brilliant. But only in the right places. They’re never going to be fun on the Midland Mainline in the UK but slurping borscht whilst sipping champagne from the Caucasus on the trans-mongolian was a real treat. I miss things like that and I really hope that the few left in the world can carry on to fly the flag.

  6. While I must say, I do not miss dressing up to fly, especially when it takes forever to reach my destination, I do regret not being able to ride in the Pullman car with my bear sleeping in the little hammock at the window, eating in There used to be juice stands shaped like oranges along side the highways. They served real orange juice, not juice drink. Remember the water bags on the fronts of your cars for crossing the desert. Newer is not always better!

  7. I think those things related to letter writing – handwritten letters, postcards, pen pals – are only lost because people let them become lost. I still do all those things and my life is richer because of it. In fact, I write a letter writing blog about keeping the handwritten letter alive. It’s definitely a personal choice to lose those things.

  8. This is a great list. It’s really amazing how much travel has changed in the last 50, and even the last 25 and 10 years. Personally I still love road trips, and going to used book stores. I can’t bring myself to buy an ebook reader yet. I think in our busy world the last two points are what we really need the most.

  9. I miss pen pals too, I’m still in touch with some of my pen pals after more than ten years we started writing letters, funny how our writing relationship adapted to the changing of times, now we communicate via facebook!

  10. Oh wow I love this. I still do a few of these so don’t feel bad. I always send postcards home… I love them, I still take road trips when I am home (love me some Texas road trips), I travel slow, but wish I could travel slower, I have hitchhiked only once in El Salvador and it was fun, should do it more often.

    It’s crazy though to see how much travel has changed in the last few years. A part of me wishes I could have flown during the era of dressing up to fly… I mean really that would have been amazing. Oh & I wish I could disconnect form the interner more while I travel but sadly just can’t. Im addicted.

  11. Considering I get wicked seasick, Im super glad I can take a flight to reach far flung places. Train travel though, I can’t get enough of; my next trip has three train rides!

  12. @ Linda – Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my digital camera (just bought a new one), but I miss developed photos. No one ever takes the time or energy to do that anymore (remember photo albums?).

    And I think there’s something lost when we can take 100 photos of ourselves and then pick out only the best one to show our friends…I’d love to see polaroid cameras come back in style.

  13. Reading your post made me nostalgic about postcards/letters and dining cars on the train (have you seen the movie Before Sunrise, by the way?). I still do road trips and, thankfully, come across many used bookstores. I hope they don’t go away…

    If you’re interested, here’s my take on the tradition of sending and receiving postcards: http://bit.ly/fTXvqi.

  14. I completely agree with getting dressed up for flights. Or at least not dressing down. I’m sick of seeing people on international flights who look like they’ve come straight from painting their house. Put one some nice clothes people! You’re about to be welcomed into a new country!

  15. This is a great list and something I hadn’t really thought about before. When I was younger and went on holiday with my parents, we always made a big thing out of sending postcards home for the grandparents… something which (at the time) felt like a chore, I guess. When I started travelling without my family, I no longer sent postcards because I thought I was now ‘free’ of having to do this. However, reading this post has given me a small niggling-regretful feeling about this.. I may not have enjoyed sending them, but my grandparents really enjoyed receiving them! Who knows, I might start sending them again!

    Also – I have just accquired a film camera which I am very excited about using on my travels in the future ;)

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