Travel by motorcar

Today Eleanor and Emma return home.   For me, this is spectacular news, since they’ve been gone 11 days and I’ve missed them.   Of course, it would have been even better if they had returned yesterday, when they were scheduled to fly back.   But airlines and airports and thunderstorms in Newark collaborated in that way they do, so that instead of flying back, they spent four hours in the Burlington, VT airport idling.   After several changes of departure time because of traffic control delays in Newark, the final straw came when it was announced that the Dehavilland Dash-8 turboprop had a flat tire.

As Dad always says, “Time to spare, go by air!”   Jet travel is convenient, but there are times when I’d rather hitchhike across the USA than go to the airport.   Fortunately, I have an Airstream, and that’s waaaaay better than hitchhiking.

For us, travel by Airstream has been a relatively recent discovery.   We only started in 2003 (and I was so inspired by it that five months later I quit my job and started Airstream Life magazine).   The joy of slower travel in our own rolling home was a revelation, which literally changed our lives. But the principles underlying why it is so much better are nothing new.   Travelers have roamed Europe for hundreds of years in rolling caravans, of which the horse-drawn gypsy vardo is but one example.

Within a short time after the arrival of motorcars, people discovered that they also provided a great travel experience.   What was more logical than to take a motorcar and a vardo, and put the two together?   Everyone who travels by RV (whether motorhome, travel trailer, or pop-up) is participating in a great tradition that goes back hundreds of years.   And believe it or not, the excitement you feel and the convenience you enjoy in your modern RV today have been identically enjoyed by many generations before you.

Want proof?   Check these quotes from the book “Motoring Abroad,” by Frank Presbrey, published in 1908.   (Google books excerpt here.

“There is a great advantage in traveling by motor car abroad.   One is not a slave to exacting time tables.   There is no dyspepsia-breeding nervousness over this or that annoyance of travel by railway;   there are no hurried meals, no hustling porters.   The car-window views which you have of the country when riding in a train are exchanged for a wide view on all sides.

“One of the particular delights of touring in an automobile is that one may indulge to the fullest extent in what might be termed haphazard decisions.   Sudden whims to change the route or to visit this place or that may be indulged without the annoyance of exchanging or redeeming railway tickets.   If you happen to be passing through some little village that strikes your fancy, or chance to come across an inn which looks particularly inviting, you do not have to ask the conductor for a stop-over check, nor hurry to the luggage van to get your luggage out.   You may stop at will and start at will.

“If there is anything which robs a trip of much of its pleasure it is a slavery to an itinerary and a time table.   To go and come at one’s own sweet will is productive of far more pleasure, rest and enjoyment than to follow some one’s else [sic] itinerary, whether it is the ‘man from Cook’s,’ the man who makes the railway time tables, or the man who drives a stage coach.

“We made our entire trip, from start to finish, without definite plans for more than a day or two in advance, and even these we frequently changed on the impulse of the moment.”

Well, that sounds just like most of my reports from the old Tour of America blog. We spent three years looking out the window and traveling with very few definite plans.   I think Mr. Presbrey would like traveling by RV if he were around today.

Of course, he might have different expectations in some departments.   On p. 276-6, he makes this observation:

“Unless the owner intends to drive the car himself it is best to take over with him his own chauffeur.   He can be sent over in the second cabin on the same steamer with the car.”

OK, so perhaps the experience today isn’t exactly the same …


  1. says

    There is nothing worse than a tight vacation schedule crammed with a big fat “to do” list that barely fits the time parameters of the trip. Although it is generally accepted in the states as the way to take a vacation. It seems most folks return home more wiped out than when they left. If Americans could learn to take their time a bit more they would benefit enormously as maybe there would be a trickle down effect in to other aspects of their daily lives, slower food, more consideration for the planet and other people, less distracted by consumerism.

    I propose 6 weeks of vacation per year for everyone! And a fully stocked AS that’s ready to roll would be nice too. Heck… I would even sign on to be an official chauffeur!