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Gap year travel - a journey through the ages

Date added: Wednesday 2nd November 2016

Travelling as part of an experiential education is no new adventure. In fact, the concept of taking time out to learn from foreign cultures had its heyday some two centuries ago with the rise of the Grand Tour – an exploration of Europe, designed to offer a cultural, historical and artistic education that could last as long as three years.

But, according MBNA’s research into the cost of a grand tour, travellers back then were a little different to the modern gap year explorer…

The travel budget

According to estimates from fairfx.com(i. 2015) and the Huffington Post ii. 2012), gap years today can cost between £5000 and £7000. With volunteer and working gap year programs available, travellers don’t have to break the bank to get away and can even make money during their travels.

In the seventeenth century, however, budgets were anything but modest. Travellers such as German noble, Ferdinand von Fürstenberg, blew more than 900 Dutch rijksdaalders (iii) a month while touring Paris. That’s £32,850 in today’s money.

The backpack

Forget fitting the bare essentials into a backpack, moneyed travellers of the eighteenth century made their passage through Europe with every possible luxury in tow. Fine clothing, furniture and even servants joined the privileged few on their lavish trips abroad.

Travelling light wasn’t a virtue and according to some accounts, a ‘dozen oxen and as many men’(iv)were needed to free carriages from potholes when venturing through the Italian countryside.

Tough times on the trail

Personal safety should always be given some thought and a gap year traveller might run into a few obstacles on their trip, whether that’s acclimatising to elevations while hiking along the Inca trail or train surfing along India’s rail network. Records from travellers of the eighteenth century, however, showed that their transport issues occurred a little closer to home.

In 1772, Dr Charles Burney, an English music historian, was delayed nine days while waiting for safe weather to cross the channel – a journey which, back then, took five hours or more in good weather.

And complaints about travel circumstances were no rarity a century later. German highways were notoriously testing, and with only 500 miles of paved roads (v.) across Prussia, travellers taking the route required ‘a good constitution and Christian patience.’ (vi)

Travellers today

Thankfully today, there is ample opportunity to travel further and on a smaller budget than our ancestors, due to the speed and convenience of modern transportation. You can also access good advice about what is happening on the ground.

But, while the means and method behind a traveller’s voyage transformed over time, the motivation to travel remained the same. Broadening the mind with the first-hand experience of another culture is a centuries-old tradition; one that’s still going strong today.



The Grand Tour in the Eighteenth Century, William Edward Mead, 1914, pg 47.

https://archive.org/details/grandtourineight00mead