Travel Joys and Miseries Millennials Will Never Know
Travel has changed radically in the decades since Frommer's started publishing. Sure, millennials can still take vacation photos with an old-fashioned film camera (like this tourist is doing on Maui in 1974), but that's no longer the default. In fact, if you can't Instagram a trip now, did it really happen at all? Here's a look back at all the things that used to be commonplace—and the things your forebears put up with as they pioneered the way to parts now known—that have been relegated to the memory chest of travels past. A moment of silence, please, for what we lost to progress.
Eastern, Western, Northwest, Pacific Alaska, Northeast, West Coast . . . Back in the day, many airlines were named like rail companies to denote the regions they mostly served. When Jimmy Carter signed the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, carriers no longer had to seek federal approval to serve routes, which spread many of them beyond their original geographic confines—while many more were gobbled up in mergers.
When your tickets arrived from the travel agent ("What's that, Mommy?"), they proclaimed both your wisdom as a consumer and the promise of a journey to be undertaken in dignified hands—hands that might even be wearing gloves onboard the plane! Today, that promise doesn't exist, which says it all.
Hand-written tickets in triplicate
This was what those envelopes held: airline tickets that looked like this. We can't remember which copy the gate agent took and which one we kept. Anyhow, they weren't always hand-written. Sometimes they came out of a newfangled, cutting-edge dot-matrix printer. You had to be really careful with the document because the tissue-like carbon paper ("What's that, Mommy?") was sandwiched in and too many creases made the copies illegible. Need a mobile version? This was the mobile version.
Color-coded paper baggage tags
Up until the 1990s, this is all that got your baggage to its destination: a paper tag. A paper tag! With a serial number that matched your claim check. No wonder so much luggage got lost. But the system did have a certain arcane beauty: When you pulled up to the curbside porters ("What's that, Mommy?"), they'd select your city from a big board of cubbyholes filled with airport tags, each assigned its own color by city. Yes, this tedious method was dreamed up by the same people who invented the miraculous complexity of flying metal tubes.
On road trips, when parents would check into a motel, the first thing the kids would do is run and see whether the beds had Magic Fingers. Available only in the finest establishments beside the interstate, these devices had coin-operated boxes that would jiggle the mattress for a few minutes if you fed them a quarter. Today, it's up to us to jiggle our own mattresses. You call this progress?
When's the last time you actually mailed one? There was a time when every tourist would send out dozens apiece—preferably as soon as they arrived at their destination so that the cards would reach the folks back home while the sender was still on vacation. It was like bragging in slow motion. Postcards have since been murdered. The chief suspects: email and Facebook. Which let you brag at a faster rate, sure, but you can't nostalgically thumb through status updates 10 years later. (Okay, Facebook has that on-this-date feature, but you know it's not the same.)
Who needs to mail letters, either, when our various social media platforms keep everyone updated in meticulous and jealous-making detail? Plus, most of us don't stay in hotels as long as our ancestors did because traveling itself has gotten much quicker. A hotel that goes through the expense of printing its own stationery nowadays is pretty much just showing off.
Freedom from outlets
You can tell how old a hotel room is by its outlets. If they're by the bed, inviting you to plug in and stream movies, it's from our time. If there's only one and it's across the room and already full of lamp plugs, this hotel is from yesteryear. All of us—millennial, baby boomer, Gen Xer, what have you—go on vacation with a heap of devices that need frequent recharging, and the travel world is still figuring out how to catch up to that reality. That's what compels some hotels to install kitchen-sink outlet panels like this one. The days are gone when a pack of AA batteries from a drugstore was all you needed to keep moving.
Metal inflight cutlery
It's just a little thing, but it's symbolic of a great loss. After 9/11, airlines replaced even their weak, paddle-like butter knives with plastic imposters. Around the same time, menus were changed to remove things that might need slicing. Instead of dining on steaks in the sky, we're spooning casseroles and shoveling pudding. You have never heard a sound more pathetic than the faraway sigh a Gen Xer makes upon discovering an antique airline knife in a junk shop. A few carriers now use plastic knives that have been painted to look like metal. We appreciate the effort. We still hate the casseroles.
Screened in-flight movies
We don't care if you've seen Born Free three times already. That's what we're watching. If you wanted to be entertained on an airplane in the old days, everybody had to drop what they were doing and watch the film at the same time. If you were sitting in the back, you just had to squint. After the credits came the inevitable rush to the bathroom, which was a problem, but at least when fellow passengers laughed out loud back then, you knew what they were laughing at—unlike today, when you wonder if a mental health emergency is brewing. In the 1960s, in-flight movies were actually projected from film by specially designed compact projectors, but airlines later moved to videotape. Film selection was always mild and inoffensive. (Pictured: A modern-day re-creation of the fly-in movie at the Pan Am Experience in Southern California.)
Those two round holes below the recline button in this airline armrest were for the movie's sound. It wasn't transmitted by wires to your headphones. That would be too pleasant. It was pumped through air, as washed-out and faraway-sounding as the sound of the ocean in a seashell, into uncomfortable ear funnels attached to a frame that hung under the chin like a doctor's stethoscope. No one ever stole airline headphones back then. We don't miss this at all—we're just saying you have another reason to be glad you're alive now instead of back then.
Smoking on flights
That little rectangle at the end of the armrest is a hatch for your cigarette ash. At first, the whole airplane puffed away, but eventually, the airlines invented "smoking sections," one of their earliest and most ridiculous deceptions. It was a complete farce, of course, because everyone, addict or not, was sealed in the same pressurized tube, but back then, our lungs were tired all the time and so we tolerated it. Inflight smoking began to get stubbed out in 1988. If you try to light up these days, the plane will make an honest-to-goodness emergency landing.
You have never known the joys of having to go through several steps to call anyone. One, find someone selling SIM phone cards. Two, buy one. Three, walk for miles around an unfamiliar city to find a pay phone—the original "roaming." Four, search again, because that one's broken and that one's taken. Five, make your call and pray they answer. Six, leave the country before you have come remotely close to using all your credits. It was terrible but then again, millennials, you have also never known the joys of being unreachable.
Airport gate farewells
Remember when Ellen DeGeneres came out on network television by running to meet her crush (Laura Dern) at an airport gate? Of course you don't. It was 1997. But back then, you could go all the way to a gate without a ticket just to tell someone goodbye or to get on the cover of Time magazine. It was beautiful. It changed soon after that, and even by the time Love Actually came out (2003), Liam Neeson's little boy could definitely have been shot for sprinting past security to kiss his crush at the gate. Today, all airport farewells take place hastily inside the car while curbside security tells you to keep it moving. Romantic comedies have never been the same.
Awful vacation photos
Photos taken on film are like children: You get no do-overs and it takes a long time to find out if you created a dud. During the years when you had only 24 or 36 exposures per roll of film, mistakes were permanent. In fact, it took days or weeks in between pressing the shutter and finding out if you succeeded in taking a decent photo, because you had to get your rolls developed—and you paid for every photo even if it was awful. Your ancestors were not any more awkward, blink-prone, or unphotogenic than you are. They just didn't have the option, introduced with digital cameras and made the norm with cell phones, to delete immediately and try again. They would have loved to have taken 600 photos of their trips to Daytona Beach. But they could only afford 24. Which is why so many vacation memories from the past consist of only a few awful shots.
When the moon was young, spring was everlasting, and Warren Beatty's beauty made him so vain he probably thinks this blurb is about him, airport corridors were lined with posters of all the wondrous places where the airlines could take you. Descended from a similar marketing ploy by railways and steamships, the ads were both art and inspiration, and like so many things that made life more romantic, they died out. They were a frivolous expense the airlines decided to drop in order to pay for smaller seats that bang up your knees. And travel agents, decimated by self-booking sites online, weren't able to fill the fantasy gap.
When you don't know exactly where you're heading, you discover what you never planned to find. Few people use paper maps like these anymore, although we still bind them into many Frommer's guides in a small effort to free you from the insularity of your smartphone. To tell you the truth, we miss looking like tourists. We met some great people that way.
Living outside your bubble
Nowadays, people travel with all attention on their phones. They seal themselves in their own sound bubbles, blocking out influence with playlists of their own choosing. Editing out the world you supposedly came to visit is one of the saddest consequences of modernized travel.
millennials, millennial, history, generation x, gen x, travel history, luggage tag, wi-fi, card phone