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The second half of the nineteenth century also saw huge advances in transport, notably the development and expansion of railway networks - not only in Europe and the US but also worldwide. The introduction of steel rails and bridges, and improvements in tunneling techniques, made it possible for lines to traverse water and carry rail traffic directly into city centres. The first intensive railway building was in Great Britain where, by 1870, over 13,000 miles of track had been laid. In the US, in the twelve months of 1882, an incredible 11,500 miles of track were built. The building of steamships also accelerated, and made investment in ocean canals worthwhile. The Mediterranean and Red seas were linked by the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, and the Panama Canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans opened in 1914.

The development of motorized road vehicles was also underway. Carl Benz believed that the internal combustion engine would replace the horse as the primary source of power for personal transport, and ran his first three-wheeler car in Germany in 1885. Others followed in France, Italy, Denmark and the US, and by the turn of the century the basic layout of the modern car had begun to emerge. An extensive network of roads soon began to emerge to accommodate this revolutionary and very convenient form of transport.

The combination of these developments had far-reaching consequences. Journeys that were previously unthinkable without mounting an expedition, or which took months to complete, were rapidly becoming quicker and more practicable. During the seventeenth century wealthy families had sent their sons on extended trips around Europe to acquire or improve language and equestrian skills and study music, drawing and other arts. Holland, France, Germany and Italy were commonly included in an itinerary that became known as the Grand Tour. Such trips were complicated, expensive and difficult to arrange, but in the early eighteenth century the studious travellers were joined by an increasing number of “new money” sightseers taking advantage of the better transport links. These people were mostly successful traders who wanted to demonstrate refinement, and so sought to familiarize themselves with the artistic treasures of the classical world.

By Adrian Pingstone (Arpingstone at English Wikipedia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Improvements in transportation, and in particular the expansion of the railways, gave Thomas Cook the opportunity to devise the first excursion tickets and travel-and-accommodation packages to the seaside. By 1870 he was offering what he called a “Grand Tour” of Scotland, significantly claiming that the route incorporated “all the great outlines of Scottish scenery”. His “Cook’s Tours” were the first organized package trips, and began the transformation of travel into a cultural technology.

By the beginning of the twentieth century the wealthiest middle-class families were embarking on limited foreign travel, but the outbreak of world war led to global turmoil that changed every aspect of life. Servicemen and women were sent to the far corners of the globe, minds were broadened, appetites were whetted and ambitions kindled. Social barriers also tumbled and technical advances such as television eventually brought travel programmes in glorious colour directly into homes. The whole world awaited the adventurous and, armed with their cameras and rolls of film, they took every opportunity to explore.

The Second World War also saw huge improvements made in the design and performance of aircraft. The jet engine made possible airliners that could deliver passengers to far-off locations in just a few hours. The Boeing 707, carried 150 passengers across the Atlantic Ocean in seven or eight hours, and opened the world to a new generation of ordinary working folk with longer holidays and paid leave. People from temperate regions began looking for holidays with guaranteed sunshine, and large hotel complexes were built in sun-drenched locations to accommodate them. Computers revolutionized booking systems and air-traffic control, and made reservations for flights on the far side of the world possible at the touch of a button. The arrival in the late 1960’s of the 400-seat Boeing 747 wide-bodied jet airliner was perhaps the final piece of the jigsaw. Economies of scale brought ever-lower ticket prices, and the age of long-haul travel and relatively cheap package deals had arrived.

Now, in a new millennium, passenger airliners carry as many cameras as passengers to every conceivable destination. It seems that every landscape, building, work of art or animal has been photographed to death. We are no longer surprised by photographs of far-off places – indeed we expect to see events taking place around the world in real time. So what is left for the modern travel photographer? Well, perhaps surprisingly, almost everything! While we cannot claim the first images of Venice or Florence, we can bring home our own interpretation of events, and of the people and places we visit. However many excellent images of Tibet's Potala Palace may be found in magazines or the picture libraries of the world, none can ever match those that we create ourselves. They have attached to them the priceless assets of personal memory and shared experience, and that stays with us for the rest of our lives


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