Travel Then and Now Through Photos

Posted Mar 1st 2011 12:08 AMUpdated Mar 1st 2011 10:21 AM


Travel Then and Now / Getty

In the early days of world travel, we felt lucky to be going anywhere, and our system reflected it. It was an era when getting there truly was half the fun, and even the common traveler could experience the ease and the expectation of comfort that we now forget even existed.

An AOL Travel survey found that Americans are decidedly disenchanted with the state of travel today. Fully 59% of respondents said that travel is more frustrating that it's even been before, and 57% said it's a lot less fun. That's a landslide, and the dissatisfaction stings even more when you learn that more than half the people who answered have at least two decades of traveling experience under their belts.

Just what happened to travel in America?

Hors d'oeuvres on an airplane trip? Wicker airline seats? Sure, in some ways, our luxuries have improved, but there's something about the novelty of early long-distance journeys that makes us realize just how jaded we've gotten about them today. Sometimes, a picture tells the whole story. Here's the way we went:

In-Flight Meals

In-flight Food Service Then and Now / Alamy

Sure, this old shot was staged by Pan Am in 1958 to make its new 707 look luxurious and to sell airplane tickets – remember, they had to convince people that they weren't going to fall out of the sky – but, as the pearls and bowties attest, in those days, we really did dress up to travel. We also got more interesting food (served hostess-style), and apparently, seat belts were optional as long as you didn't spill your sherry. One sartorial choice hasn't changed: Flight attendants are still forced to put on ridiculous uniforms.

In-Flight Entertainment

In-flight Entertainment Then and Now

E. Bacon/ Getty Images / Mike Clarke, AFP/ Getty Images

In aviation's early days, some long-haul flights used an actual film projector to entertain passengers. Given the grim decor, it's hard to believe these guys (on a German airline in 1925) aren't being flown to a prison somewhere, but the lightweight seats and overhead netting reminds us that before jets came in and propeller planes were the standard, we had an obsession with airborne weight restrictions straight from the military origins of the air industry. Today, the better airlines have individual seatback screens with live satellite TV signals for our amusement, but the worn-out foam cushions under our behinds can be just as penal.

In-Flight Comfort

In-flight Comforts Then and Now / Alamy

Rail passengers could abandon their seats and enjoy the dignified retreat of the dining car, but space and economics meant that social graces didn't fly for long on aircraft. These passengers from 1935 (left) are on Pan Am's Martin M130 China Clipper, which pioneered the transpacific route from San Francisco to Manila and Hong Kong. Now we're hemmed like livestock into our ever-shrinking personal space, staring at the back of another seat instead of into the eyes of a charming dinner companion. No more "Pass the sugar." Now, your only exchange with your seatmates is likely to be an announcement of your bodily functions as you struggle to wriggle out for the lavatory.

Airport Security

Airport Security Then and Now

MPI/ Getty Images / David McNew/ Getty Images

There was a time that even an evildoer would be terrified to risk boarding a newfangled airplane, so passengers just lined up to board this American Airlines Curtiss Condor in the 1920s they same way they did on oceangoing ships. We all know how that turned out. On the bright side, the invention of the jetway means we're much less likely to get rained on.


Camping Then and Now

Getty Images / Winnebago

Although old-fashioned canvas tents still exist as an option for the intrepid, a growing number of Americans chose to leave home by essentially taking everything at home with them (here, in a Winnebago, which produced its first motor home in 1966). The recreational vehicle industry boomed along with the Interstate road network and the proliferation of cheap gas. Ever-rising fuel prices, though, are making that tent look better every year.

Cruise Ship Activities

Cruise Ship Entertainment Then and Now

Reg Speller, Fox Photos/ Getty Images / Royal Caribbean

In olden days, when oceangoing was synonymous with romance between B-level 1950s stars and Charo was a household name, deckside shuffleboard was the first amusement most of us thought of when we considered taking a cruise. In 2008, Royal Caribbean installed the first ice rink at sea, and now, most guests spend so much time at the on-board shopping mall and Johnny Rockets that many don't even realize they've been at sea until they get back home. Among the shipboard pursuits today: water coasters (Disney Dream), rappelling (Norwegian Epic), zip-lining (Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas), FlowRider (above right, on the Freedom of the Seas), body boarding and rock climbing walls (Royal Caribbean ships), and planetariums (Queen Mary 2).

Road Trips

Highways Then and Now

FSA/ LOC / Alamy

The first transcontinental road on the planet, the Lincoln Highway, opened in 1923. By 1930, one in five Americans owned a car, and these pleasant meandering highways grew fast, adding the Dixie Highway, the William Penn, and others. One of the country's spines was Route 66 (left, near El Reno, Oklahoma in the 1930s), which exposed generations of vacationing Americans to new cultures, topographies, and roadside amusements. In 1947, California had only 19 miles of freeways. But by the 1950s, Dwight Eisenhower set bulldozers of the modern Interstate Highway system in motion, impatiently plowing through neighborhoods and giving roadside America the homogenized blandness we blearily traverse today. On the right, cars plod along I-75 in Atlanta. They're still sitting there now.


Hotel Lobby Then and Now

Francis Benjamin Johnston/ LOC / Marriott

Back in the day, hotel lobbies were social centers. They had to be, since travel took much longer and guests stayed longer, making hotels true homes away from home. The one in the New Willard Hotel in Washington, DC, (seen here in 1901), was so active that favor-seekers regularly petitioned the government's power players there, which some historians claim gave rise to the modern term lobbyist. Hotel lobbies were furnished with deep leather chairs suitable for lounging and cigar-puffing, and many installed features that became city landmarks, such as the San Francisco's St. Francis, which was famous for its central clock. To the right is the Marriott Marquis in San Francisco today, where the only thing power players petition for is room upgrades.

Hotel Rooms

Hotel Rooms Then and Now

Theodor Horydczak Collection/ LOC / Alamy

Although the room at the left (from Hot Springs National Park's Arlington Hotel circa 1920) would barely measure up to one in a spinster-run B&B today, consider that at the time, American life was much less elaborate, labor was more intense, and back at home not everyone had running water or electricity. A room like this, with its expensive and hard-to-clean white linens and soft carpeting, would have been considered luxurious and romantic (even if its chaste single-bed sleeping arrangements, by our standards, are less so). The corporate room on the right could be any room anywhere, and that comforting effect is just the way the chain hotels like it. Headboards have been jettisoned (they get damaged, or they damage guests) and the risk of in-room fireplaces is an anathema. This room is an industrial design triumph of viewpoint-free furnishings and beige and olive colors, since industrial hoteliers now strive simply to be as non-offensive and durable as possible.

Long-Distance Train Travel

Train Travel Then and Now

Detroit Publishing Company/ LOC / Amtrak

This is a standard Pullman car on an overland train in 1914. The standards were decidedly 19th-century. In fact, at the time of this photograph, Robert Todd Lincoln (Abe's son) was its CEO – and believe it or not, this carriage was considered deluxe. Today, the most deluxe a standard American train gets is the Acela Express service linking Boston and Washington, DC, via New York and Philadelphia. It has free Wi-Fi and you can plug your laptop in beside your seat. Although America unwisely dismantled its comprehensive rail network in the mid 1900s, forcing us to go back and re-create what already existed in order to reverse gridlock on the roads, at least the on-board service has improved.

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I enjoyed looking at the then and now pictures. I think I would like the simple life back then and it seems like it would have been appreciated more when you took a vacation. Wish I lived back in the Mayberry RFD days or leave it to beaver era.

April 07 2011 at 6:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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April 07 2011 at 2:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jeb Ladouceur

I have two interesting methods for getting away from it all, and visiting new places.
One is by hopping in my 1929 Model-A Ford pickup (who needs a heater, directionals, or radio?...and the hand-operated windshield wiper is plenty dependable)The other is by sitting down and writing novels (seven books so far) set in places I've never been to, except through Google or Mapquest.
Both means of travel are quite exciting! -- 631-724-3717

March 16 2011 at 5:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think that travel especially air travel has come a very long way. I feel that with all the great changes that have been made, there is still room for improvement. My partner and I are celebrating our 25 anniversary by flying to Hawaii and then taking a 7 day cruise around the islands, for which I am super excited about even to the point I have made a countdown calander, now 63 days till take off. We are flying with Delta Airlines and the airlines have made it so difficult that it has made the stress levels very high. Let me start by telling you the story about a precious flight with Delta Airlines. We went on a cruise to western caribbean, we flew US Airways down to Miami which was a great flight. On the return flight we flew Delta. They stated that my electric wheelchair had to be taken apart because of the batteries, even though the manuel showed a picture of batteries and stated that they were FAA approved to take on plane. Well the puddle jumper we had to take was very small plane, one of those 27 seaters. well guess what, I can walk with asststance of a brace and quad cane and you might know they seated me in row 27. There was another gentleman who was a double amputee on the same flight. He can not walk at all, so totally dependent on his electric wheelchair. Well they took my chair and his apart and when we landed at home airport, they had us on plane for over an hour because they were trying to get the chairs put back together, his seat on my chair and vise versa. I made it to the front of the plane, almost falling twice. Ask flight attendant why I was seated in last row her comment and I quote "I didn't even see you board the plane. Now that truly scares me to think people get on planes and airline staff don't pay attention, so I told her how much I was upset and was told by the pilot not to yell at attendant and said fine then I'll yell at you since you are the one in charge. Well now it's 2011 and have to fly Delta to Hawaii and let the airlines know that I am very allergic to onions and asked if they could make sure my meal doesn't contain any. They said that couldn't be done, so I proceeded to talk to supervisor to supervisor and getting the same answer, gee well they could have special meals for diabetics, Muslumes, sorry for the spelling, and many other meals but not for onion. I can't tell you how upset I was and how it stressed me out and makes the excitement of cruise less and less. Delta was sued for mistreatment of the handicapped in 2008 and 9. Do you think they should wake up. Dana

March 16 2011 at 1:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Ahh come on. I love to travel! You get to see new things, meet new people. I love airports! They are so much fun if you let them be. Make your plans with extra time. Relax and see everything as an adventure. I've been all over the world and some times things just go wrong.....but with the right attitude it works out. Any of you that have trips they don't want to take; send those tickets my way. :)

March 16 2011 at 12:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Allan Vache

It's not surprising that the recent survey was overwhelmingly against the current system for air travel. Increased security, charges for meals and checked baggage, constant delays, flight cancelations and schedule changes without notice. What's more, if you are a smoker, you are some kind of monster that must be stopped at all costs!
I uderstand the reasoning for not being allowed to smoke on planes anymore, although I think, on flights over 5 hours, some area should be provided. However, if you have a lay over, airports should at least supply some section, in the secured area, where a smoker can go to have a cigarette without having to go back through security again. Some airports do this, but many do not.
Travel by air is nothing but a big hassel these days. It may of been pretty bad in the 20's and 30's but it was a hell of a lot easier tin the 70's and 80's than it is now.
The problem is everybody is now scared of their own shadow, and the fuel costs make ii impossible for airlines to operate the way the used too.
Airline deregulation was the main cause of all of this. Maybe it's time to bring back the regualations.

March 16 2011 at 12:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Allan Vache's comment
Junaid Alam

Airline travel in the early 1960s was still fairly carefree: If you had a ticket, you could board a plane. The escalation of hijackings in the 1970s made routine passenger screenings the new norm, evolving into today's time-consuming luggage and body scans. The early industry focused on passenger comfort; today passenger safety and flight security are the priorities

November 16 2011 at 2:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John J Dillon

Travel has become more of a problem in the past 20 years than ever before. Roads are bad, ait travel is a pain in the ass, travel by ship is a hassell and hotels are all bad service and no parking, with dumb ass employees.
the hole idea of leaving the house is tied up with so mansy regulations, who needs it!

March 16 2011 at 10:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

AHHH! the good old days. The difference is the way people treated each other and dressed for the occasion. Nowadays people(or a lot of them) don't care what they dress like or what they smell like, there are a lot of slugs out there.

March 16 2011 at 10:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


March 16 2011 at 10:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Lonni: You sound like someone from my "era" - yes, some things WERE alot better in those days but not everything - especially for women, who were in many cases unpaid servants. People think things like deaths from cancer weren't so prevalent; however, that was mostly because it was not able to be diagnosed. With advances in most areas of everyday life come the down sides as well. Life did not have so much stress and uncertainty in those days as we do now but in 50 years people will be saying the same about today.

March 16 2011 at 9:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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