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John K. Walton

In British English the word "vacation" normally has a restricted and rather technical sense, applying to the periods when the universities are closed or the law courts out of session. The word "holiday" occupies the space that "vacation" occupies in North America, although it does not necessarily involve geographical mobility in search of health, recreation, or sheer enjoyment: the same word is used for a work-free day or days spent at home as for a period of rest, recuperation, or fun in a different environment. The notion of taking a holiday overlaps with that of tourism, although this latter word, more respectable administratively and academically—television programs advertise or evaluate holidays while local governments provide tourist offices and universities offer degrees in Tourism Studies but never Holiday Studies—tends now to have more up-market connotations involving longer, more ambitious journeys and a less sedentary holiday experience. It was not always thus, however, and in some circles (especially up-market literary ones) the nineteenth-century contempt for the mere "tourist," led by the nose by mentors and guidebooks and incapable of independent cultural judgment, remains as a contrast to the more adventurous, culturally aware "traveller," willing to "rough it" off the "beaten track" and eager to sample other cultures on their own terms.

By the 1840s complaints were proliferating in England about the contamination, expedited by the new railways and steamers, of the chosen destinations of elite travelers by the presence of inferior tourists. This social distinction justified itself in cultural and even moral terms. In John Urry's terminology, the "romantic gaze," which emphasized solitary individuals in direct, sensitized, and informed exchanges with landscape and culture, was being threatened by the "collective gaze," which derived satisfaction from experiencing sites and sensations in company according to shared values that were communicated by mass media and were therefore inferior in the eyes of romantics. Worst of all from this elevated perspective is the "package tourist," perceived as incapable of escaping from the values and practices imposed by the provider of holiday services and as preferring to be insulated from all troubling contact with the host culture—wanting, in fact, all the reassuring cultural landmarks of home in a setting that guarantees sunshine, bathing amenities, and cheap drink. From the 1960s on, working-class holidaymakers in Mediterranean resorts have inherited all the opprobrium that was heaped on Thomas Cook's original package tourists of a century earlier. Those who fancied themselves cultured travelers decried the interruption of their solitary contemplation of cathedrals or Roman amphitheaters by bands of lower-middle-class Cook's Tourists, Baedeker in hand and shepherded by guides.

Elsewhere in Europe similar problems of terminology crop up. The word in Spanish is vacaciones; but an older variant, the verb veranear (to pass the summer), conjures up a more leisured style of holidaymaking in which aristocratic or bourgeois families would spend two or three months at a spa or seaside resort. Turismo is also in use there, with a similar shade of meaning to "tourism" in English. In French, holidays are vacances, but congé overlaps with this concept, meaning "leave from work" and extending to the idea of a holiday away from home; in practice the words are used almost interchangeably. The kind of holiday taken by an estivant (summer visitor), is similar to that of a Spanish veraneante. There are also hivernants, passing the winter in favored climatic locations, above all the Riviera. The slipperiness of the terminology is obvious, as is the sense that the differing shades of meaning can also carry connotations of status and claims to cultural capital.

The notion of a holiday in the sense implied by "vacations" entails an extended trip, more than just an excursion to a local beauty spot or even a day's outing involving a journey of several hours. The holidaymaker makes more of an investment of time and money than the "excursionist" or "day-tripper," those particular bogeys of self-consciously respectable middle-class families looking for sedate pleasures. The emergent discipline of Tourism Studies has prompted extensive but sterile discussion over how long a stay away from home is necessary for the perpetrator to qualify as a tourist; but these efforts notwithstanding, the statistical computations that a standard definition is intended to facilitate remain visibly flawed and approximate and become less plausible the farther back in time inquiry goes. The statistics of holidaymaking are notoriously "soft," and for present purposes it matters little if a vacation is said to be anything from a long weekend to an extended stay of several months.

Here, however, a problem arises in that the notion of holiday depends on an "other," the idea of necessary work. Those privileged people whose life entailed a circuit of high-class resorts in their fashionable seasons were members (or hangers-on) of a leisure class for whom the concept of a vacation was scarcely relevant. Indeed, the observance of the dictates of international fashion was at the core of their construction and presentation of self, and thus resort life might almost be regarded as work rather than leisure, the remuneration being psychic and coming as the reward for suitably directed expenditure of time, money, and expertise, but no less important for that. Crucial to the idea of a vacation, anyway, is that it involves physical displacement, whether to a single destination or to several: change of scene, if not of culture, in pursuit of pleasure and (in some sense) relaxation. Recreational travel can also be in the mind, of course, and travel books have long provided for the armchair tourist. Across Europe in the nineteenth century, shows and spectacles represented the exotic through giant pictures, transparencies, models, and magic lanterns at fairgrounds and theaters before the cinema, television, and then the computer made their own contributions in the twentieth. But over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the desirability of a physical break from quotidian routine became broadly generalized across industrial societies in Europe, though at differing rates in different countries and regions, and with varying and changing destinations and degrees of commercialization. What are the roots of this important set of developments?


It is tempting to regard medieval pilgrims as the first European tourists, though we might find a more directly commercialized ancestry for the phenomenon in ancient Rome, at Baiae (especially, and for several centuries), Ostia, and around Naples, as extensive tracts of shoreline were thickly sown with the villas of the wealthy. Pilgrims ostensibly traveled for spiritual reasons, rather than pursuing pleasure and reinvigoration through change of scene and break from routine in the style of a modern vacationer; but they followed recognized routes with commercial infrastructures of guides and services, whether their goal was Canterbury, Compostela, or Rome. Geoffrey Chaucer in the fourteenth century shows us that individual participants' concerns might be decidedly worldly, even hedonistic. But the roots of the modern vacation can be more securely traced to two other phenomena: the rise of the Grand Tour and of the European spa system from the later sixteenth century.

In its mid-sixteenth-century origins, the Grand Tour was a device for encouraging young aristocrats to experience life and culture at courts and in cities throughout Europe, broadening its horizons in the late eighteenth century under the spur of romantic fashion to include mountain scenery and natural curiosities such as glaciers. The practice came into wider vogue during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, extending its social range through the gentry to the middle ranks of professionals and merchants (who might take the Tour later in life) and including growing numbers of Americans in the nineteenth century, before new time pressures and means of transport made the old leisurely patterns obsolete. The goal of the Tour was the cultural centers of northern and central Italy, with their classical remains and treasures of art and architecture. The seventeenth-century tendency to pass through various German states in a roundabout journey had given way by the early nineteenth century to a more single-minded direct route through Paris, Dijon, and Switzerland. Perhaps 15,000 to 20,000 people at a time followed the Tour in any year of the later eighteenth century, and, as befitted this small (but not numerically insignificant) elite, the tourist infrastructure was limited and exclusive, featuring special road transport arrangements, lodgings, guides, vendors of works of art (and manufacturers of fakes), and a growing volume of travel advice literature. What these pioneer tourists sought can be summed up, in the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu's telling phrase, as cultural capital: in this case, an ability to claim firsthand knowledge of places, cultures, scenes, languages, and classical allusions that was supposed to mark out the cultivated gentleman and set him and his circle apart from those who did not share his experiences. Individuals might follow their own bent, in pursuit of anything from diplomatic and political expertise to sexual adventures; but above all the Grand Tour gave a valued distinction to participants, setting them apart from social inferiors. This is a recurring theme in the history of tourism and vacations.

The other precursor of modern tourism was the spa resort, which came to offer something more closely resembling a modern vacation. Across Europe the rise of the spa followed a similar trajectory to that of the Grand Tour; but the ostensible motive for spending time taking the waters was, in the first instance, health, as the doctors took over the holy wells and elaborate medical discourses crystallized around the ascribed curative qualities of chalybeate, ferruginous, or sulfurous springs. Spa itself, in Belgium, was one of the first such resorts to attract an international clientele, including a visit from Tsar Peter the Great, while Bath and Wiesbaden were among the substantial towns that grew up around mineral springs. Sociable attractions and fashionable amenities developed in the larger spas to entertain the invalids and their relatives, and to attract the hale and hearty to what were often attractive little upland settlements. The band, the assembly rooms, the public walks, and in some cases the brothel and the roulette wheel provided a range of diversions for those who could afford them, while in many cases inferior accommodation catered to a regional clientele and to paupers sent in hopes of revitalization. The elite social institutions of the spa were easily policed, by subscriptions and dress codes, although masters of ceremonies intervened to preserve politeness in the exchanges between the nobility and the marginal middle ranks. This polite holiday regime, with its daily routines and rituals, reached its heyday in the early nineteenth century over much of Europe. In England the larger spa towns evolved from vacation destinations into retirement and commuter centers, mainly in the second half of the nineteenth century. In Germany and eastern Europe, and over much of Spain and Italy, the spa sustained its popularity through the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries, although individual resorts generally remained small and their social amenities exclusive.


From the late eighteenth century, however, new destinations came to the fore. The vogue for the seaside was the most enduringly important across Europe, mutating over time with the growing popularity of the Mediterranean and of sunbathing, but, except where transport problems and limited disposable incomes sustained the dominance of spas with local clienteles, coming to hold sway as the dominant holiday form. The seaside holiday was boosted by two eighteenth-century developments. First, the medical fashion for sea bathing in cold, boisterous northern waters helped turn something dangerous, forbidding, and frightening into a healthy activity. The medical vogue for sea bathing is an example of cultural preferences rising through the social strata rather than trickling down through emulation, for the doctors who began to prescribe cold bathing and (in some cases) seawater drinking regimes, in England in the first half of the eighteenth century and then across western Europe, were giving a "scientific" veneer to already popular practices. Right across western Europe, from northwest England through the Netherlands, France, and the Iberian Peninsula to Corsica, there is evidence of popular sea-bathing rituals that celebrate the health-giving properties of the sea at certain times of year. The medical profession recast and formalized these beliefs, imposing its own medical rituals that prescribed the number and duration of baths to be taken for specific ailments and the precautions that had to be adopted. This in turn necessitated a prolonged stay at the seaside to fulfill the requirements of the "cure," just as in the case of the spas. Thus the health seekers and their friends created a critical mass of demand that encouraged speculation in accommodation, entertainment, and amenities, promoting the rise of that distinctive but versatile kind of town, the seaside resort.

The second development was the new aesthetic of the maritime landscape and of the sea itself. The romantic revaluation of the later eighteenth century brought the untamed sea and the untidy shoreline within the canons of the picturesque and the sublime, rendering maritime landscapes fit subjects for the painter and enabling wind, tempest, storm-surge, and wreck to be appreciated and enjoyed as noble spectacles and with a suitable frisson of horror. The sea was fecund and full of reminders of creation and its vestiges. Those who braved its perils were also ennobled and romanticized, and they and their boats gradually became fitting additions to the composition of marine paintings. All this made the seaside an attractive destination and encouraged the building of houses for visitors facing the waves, in contrast with seafaring settlements that tried to shelter from their fury. A similar cultural reassessment of mountain scenery made upland areas from the English Lake District to the Alps into tourist destinations in their own right, with evangelical dimensions of proximity to God and romantic anthropologies of the stalwart and unassuming virtues of mountain peasantries (though these might coexist with fears of brigands, just as brave fishermen might otherwise be presented as lazy, untrustworthy, and of doubtful morals).

On these twin foundations the seaside holiday based itself, beginning in England in the 1730s, spreading to France, the Low Countries, and north Germany toward the end of the century, and gravitating outward to (for example) Sweden by the early nineteenth century and Spain by the 1820s. The resorts soon attracted pleasure seekers who required the amenities of polite society, just as at the spas; and such visitors soon turned the vocabularies of the picturesque and sublime into lazy cliché in ways that caught the satirical ear of Jane Austen. In Britain especially the seaside competed effectively with the spa to become the dominant vacation destination by the early nineteenth century. In northern Spain the two kinds of resort were often complementary, with wealthy health seekers taking a cure in an upland spa and following up with a stint of sea bathing, while in Germany most of the North Sea and Baltic resorts were distant from population centers, enduringly hard to reach, and less dynamic in their growth. But everywhere the seaside, like the spa, became a bourgeois as well as an aristocratic destination. It was, however, open to a wider range of people, as it was more difficult to regulate access to and use of the beach, which lent itself to a wider range of activities than the pump room and assembly rooms; it also provided a much more child-friendly environment, thus ensuring the growing popularity of the family holiday, complete with buckets and spades, in the early nineteenth century.


The special status of the seaside, especially in England, was confirmed in the railway age. For a century from the 1840s the railway journey became an almost inevitable introduction and conclusion to a vacation, as well as linking the different stages of a tour and making possible day excursions from the holiday base. Railway companies might also provide steamboats, piers, and hotel services. The railways built on existing patterns of holidaymaking, extending them to new social groups and broadening their geographical range rather than starting something entirely new, in England at least. Brighton had attained an off-season population of 40,000 using road transport before the railway arrived from London in September 1841, and Margate's visiting season had prospered in the eighteenth century using sailing vessels to carry Londoners down the Thames estuary. By the same token railways to the French Riviera and in parts of the Swiss Alps augmented established tourist flows rather than initiating them, while San Sebastian, which became Spain's premier seaside resort in the later nineteenth century, was already attracting visitors by road from Madrid (despite the strenuous nature of the two-day journey) before it began to benefit from its strategic position on the Madrid-Paris rail route after 1864. But the journey was emphatically part of even the most sedentary holiday, as the process of packing and booking tickets conjured up anticipations of the pleasures that awaited at the other end, and a whole literature of travel nostalgia emerged later to celebrate first the stagecoach and the diligence, then the steam railway itself.

The economies in time and money that the railways and steamers brought, and their greater convenience and (eventually) safety, opened vacations out to a widening public in the second half of the nineteenth century, especially in England; and demand was channeled disproportionately into the seaside. New resorts blossomed on hitherto neglected shores, although the railways that fed them had almost always been constructed for other purposes, and larger resorts spread and subdivided, developing distinctive areas for different social groups as the working classes began to join their social betters at the beach. On the European mainland this came much later than in England, where brief but conspicuous working-class seaside holidays within London's orbit or wherever industrial areas had easy access to the coast were older than railways. A full-scale working-class holiday season emerged in the northwest in the 1870s, fueled by the rising family incomes of (especially) the cotton factory workers and the attractions of Blackpool, the first working-class seaside resort. The petty bourgeoisie might have their week at the seaside, traveling from Madrid to San Sebastian by special cheap trains and economizing on everything except the basics of a presentable turnout; small farmers from the Castilian plains might travel to Santander by the mixed train to follow a medically prescribed bathing regime, sleeping in fifth-rate fondas and gawking obtrusively at sea, ships, and city sights. Parisian shopkeepers and small traders might find their way to Normandy outside the fashionable season; but there as in Germany the working class proper was excluded. The scale of French middle-class outrage when the Popular Front government introduced paid holidays in 1936, promising a wage earners' exodus to coast and country, indicated the limited nature of what had gone before; and even then, most beneficiaries of the new legislation stayed at home and relaxed rather than invading the holiday preserves of their betters.

It was not just a matter of resources; people had to want vacations away from home, and to be prepared to save for them rather than spending spare cash locally on daily or weekly pleasures, or insisting on accumulating savings as a hedge against disaster or a route to property ownership or a small business. Seekers after health, tranquillity, scenic beauty, spiritual uplift (associated especially with mountains), status and cultural capital, in varying mixtures and combinations, were joined in growing numbers by those who wanted commercial pleasures in a setting that offered relief from the constraints of everyday life. The seaside came to cater to this preference very effectively, alongside the others. The abundance of coastal sites ensured that all tastes could be satisfied, from those who wanted exclusive quiet in ruggedly romantic surroundings to those who preferred formal classical architecture and fashionable promenades, to those in turn who wanted cheap amusements, from Punch and Judy to the music hall, and someone else to cook and clean up. The seaside resorts of the railway age offered a distinctive range of entertainments for those who wanted them. The pleasure pier was an English innovation (seldom exported) that linked land and sea, provided access to steamer excursions, and offered promenades and bands above the waves in surroundings enlivened by wrought-iron Gothic and Oriental architecture. It was also one of the homes of the minstrel show (which involved putting on blackface and singing "plantation" songs to the banjo) and the Pierrots (comedians and songsters with whitened faces). These entertainers also accompanied the Punch-and-Judy puppet show on the beach, alongside, in the more popular English resorts, a variety of stallholders who might use a knife to remove corns, sell medical recipes or horoscopes, or read character from the bumps on the head, a popular version of phrenology that long outlasted its pretensions to medical science. Fringe and officially discredited beliefs flourished alongside donkey rides and later fairground amusements, which offered strange sensations and threatened dignity and seemliness by exposing hidden parts of the body in unpredictable ways.

From the 1870s the larger English resorts also acquired Winter Gardens, which provided indoor promenades and decorous music but soon moved down-market wherever working-class demand pressed strongly. As the seaside vacation market became visibly lucrative and attracted investors in syndicates and limited companies, a range of other entertainment complexes were built that offered dancing, shows, exhibitions, and even zoos and circuses. As in the United States, the popular resorts (and more pretentious ones such as Southport and even Spain's San Sebastian) found room for large-scale fairgrounds on dedicated sites, and these introduced their customers to an exciting range of up-to-the-minute technologies, stirring the senses in novel ways. Resorts on the western European mainland experienced fewer pressures to go down-market, and the casino (whether privately or municipally owned) tended to be the main entertainment center, sometimes offering roulette, chemin de fer and the full gambling menu, but more usually—and more noticeably—presenting innocuous fare of concerts, dancing, and special events for children. At the French resorts in Biarritz and Deauville, and in Monte Carlo and San Sebastian, casino nightlife carried an atmosphere of the demimonde, and resort entertainment for the elite was distinctively daring.

These distinctive forms of seaside entertainment augmented the peculiar attractions of the beach itself, where children played in the sand and all ages bathed according to regulations that were strict on paper but often loosely interpreted in practice. This was especially the case in England, where into the twentieth century the lumbering, wooden bathing machine, which provided changing space and protection for modesty, and was backed into the water by a horse, demanded substantial sums from would-be bathers, segregating the sexes and imposing body-concealing costumes. The regulations were often flouted by those who preferred the freedom of recreational nude bathing, or, more respectably, wanted to bathe in costume en famille. In the new century disrobing in public on the beach became more widely tolerated; the practice was controversial, however, because it offended the prudish and those with vested interests in controls. Elsewhere in Europe customs varied: the French beaches were carefully monitored for safety but permitted mixed bathing and revealing costumes that shocked some English visitors; the Spanish used bathing machines and policed morality in almost English style; the northern Europeans were much more relaxed by the early twentieth century.

The growing popularity of sunbathing, alongside the continuing transition from the medicinal and regulated to the recreational and liberated use of the sea, brought conflicts over the morality of bodily exposure further to the fore. The myth that the fashion designer Coco Chanel invented sunbathing, making a tanned skin chic and enabling the French Riviera to develop a summer season in the mid-1920s, survives tenaciously. In fact the fashion for what was now seen as a healthy brown skin was well established before World War I in places as far apart as San Sebastian and the Baltic, although the prevailing nudity that amazed and delighted the British trade unionist Harry Pollitt at Libau in 1921 was confined to northern European beaches. As with sea bathing earlier, the vogue for sunshine and fresh air as prescriptions for good health was promoted by a rising tide of medical opinion. Likewise, fashionable cures for tuberculosis had called for mountain air and beginning in the 1860s had helped to boost the Swiss Alps as a destination. This trend coincided with a fashion for the freedom of the open air and the abandonment of restrictive clothing conventions. The Mediterranean, hitherto shunned as enervating and malarial, was now seen as a potential destination for beach holidays, although the international popularity of its shores, the French and Italian Rivieras apart, was a phenomenon of the 1950s onward. In Spain a backlash was beginning on the eve of the civil war in the mid-1930s, as Catholic campaigners against bodily exposure and sexual temptation claimed a connection (at that point speculative) between sunburn and skin cancer; but this was swimming against a very powerful tide.

By the interwar years the seaside holiday was well established as an annual institution across Europe, from the Irish Sea to the Black Sea (in Romania and the Crimea) and from Norway to Andalucía in Spain. The English working class most especially adopted the practice, helped by cheap transport and the development of specialized, popular resort districts on accessible coastlines. Its social range (and the number and variety of bathing resorts) decreased as an observer moved from west to east, but a spell at the seaside, from a weekend to a full summer, was the dominant mode of vacationing.


The interwar years also saw the proliferation of new types of holidays, whether developed for profit or by voluntary organizations. Some of them intended to provide cheaper, healthier, less pretentious alternatives to the commercialized formality of the urban seaside resort. As part of the interwar trend toward relaxation and informality, the holiday camp made headway. In reaction against the restrictions of boardinghouses and lodgings, with their curfews and regulations, the holiday camp offered cheap accommodation in tents or chalets, with self-made entertainment on site (in contrast with the urban commercial theaters and music halls of established resorts), and celebrated freedom and the outdoor life. It had ancestors in turn-of-the-century England, both in the clusters of shacks and converted tramcars that colonized cheap seaside land and offered bohemian escape from convention for people of limited means, creating an alternative aesthetic scandalizing to the planners of the 1940s, and in the tented encampments that provided cheap, morally regulated, alcohol-free seaside accommodation for young men. The camps of the 1930s, and especially those of the more commercialized 1950s, gained a reputation for sexual adventure but also (increasingly) for a new kind of mass-market regimentation. Their French counterparts remained less commercial in their organization, usually run by voluntary bodies aiming to make unpretentious, natural holidays accessible to workers who were entitled to them as citizens; but Club Méditerranée, which started life in 1950, attracted a more up-market clientele and a reputation for sensual pleasures in simple surroundings whose essential artificiality was carefully masked. Hitler's enormous holiday barracks on the Baltic Coast in the late 1930s offered a very different vision of the purpose of vacations, precisely targeted at industrial efficiency and the physical development of the "master race."

Another strong interwar trend across western Europe was the outdoor holiday in a mountain or forest setting, which emphasized the virtues of walking and climbing in groups in terms of health, fitness, and closeness to nature and sometimes God. Again, this type of holiday built on earlier developments like England's Holiday Fellowship, which sought to divert working people from the fleshpots of the popular resorts, where holiday savings were said to be dissipated in a debilitating round of commercial pleasures, and to encourage them to improve body, mind, and spirit in healthy and uplifting communal endeavor. Such initiatives were undertaken by socialists and religious enthusiasts alike, with overlapping agendas. In Germany the antagonisms between young Nazis and socialists were fought out in youth hostels and through hiking songs. As was indicated by the controversy over paid holidays in France, it is an error to imagine that vacations are necessarily detached from politics.

Building on developments from the later nineteenth century, growth areas in interwar vacationing included visits to historic and literary landscapes; these entailed pretensions to deploying and enhancing cultural capital and might be regarded as a legacy of the Grand Tour, extending its range to hitherto neglected areas such as southern Spain. The motor tour took advantage of the flexibility of a new mode of transport and diversified demand away from existing "honeypots" while necessitating interaction with host cultures, if only in seeking directions, refueling, and repairs. The cruise offered an insulated, on-board social life while providing brief, controlled contact with prescribed sights and experiences at ports of call. Other enjoyments included the winter sports holiday, especially in Switzerland. The great city as tourist destination, as exemplified especially by Paris with its shops, museums, and nightlife, combined three major holiday priorities in varying proportions according to individual preference and amply allowed for the ubiquitous anthropological tourism of people-watching. At the other end of the spectrum was the rustic holiday, with a tent or farmhouse for accommodations and its celebration of the simple life. In this last, especially, the traveler-tourist distinction came into play, and in the 1930s, even more so than a century earlier, there was a lively market for travelers' tales describing voyages on foot and by local transport to places off the beaten track in Europe as well as farther afield. Contempt for mere tourists was often explicit in this literature.

Such contempt, as has been noted, had a long history and did not abate as travel agencies proliferated and incomes and aspirations rose from the second half of the nineteenth century. In the 1950s and 1960s it reached a sustained peak of vitriol with the rise of a new kind of airborne package holiday industry, which increasingly took working-class people from northern Europe to the sunny beaches of the Mediterranean. The package tour put together by a travel company that contracted to provide transport, hotels, food, and guidance was well-established before World War II. By the 1930s many British firms were producing thick books (no mere brochures these) describing tours down the Rhine or single-destination holidays at the Belgian seaside, priced in guineas. Many postwar offerings followed this pattern, with travel by coach (tour bus) initially more common than by air.

Then international tour operators began booking acres of bed space in new purpose-built hotels on Mediterranean coastlines, offering lowest-common-denominator catering (but with much better facilities than prevailed in the popular British resorts), and focusing on beaches, sunshine, and relaxation while striving to insulate holidaymakers from the shock of parachuting straight into novel cultures. This seemed to some observers to add up to a new form of "mass tourism" that exploited its customers, creating a narrow range of holiday experiences that met existing expectations without broadening horizons. This was a patronizing view, denying the agency of holidaymakers, who were reduced to mere ciphers and whose preferences, as expressed in spectacular growth in demand, were discounted. It rested on more than a century of prejudice, which embraced (for example) the ways in which working-class holidaymakers in England's Blackpool created their own vacation culture by shaping the supply of entertainment to their preferences. What it increasingly ignored was the proliferation of niche markets within the complex world of the travel trade, the variety of uses to which the package holiday might be put, and the access it gave to new commodities and cultural practices. Meanwhile, the state as entrepreneur was setting up resorts of a similar kind in eastern Europe, especially on Romania's Black Sea coast, which attracted East German visitors in growing numbers, and also in France at Languedoc, where Gaullist technocrats promoted futuristic complexes aimed at diverting demand from the Riviera. Moreover, the advent of mass car ownership across Europe opened up the prospect of increasing flexibility through touring holidays while disrupting the routines of older resorts accustomed to captive, sedentary families using amenities clustered around railway stations, and generating all the new problems of parking and traffic management. The older form of mass tourism, the railborne seaside holiday in one's home country with children, fell into decline but not yet terminal collapse, except in the case of ill-endowed provincial resorts that had grown only for want of accessible alternatives.

Overall, the explosion of vacations in Europe after World War II, though prepared by developments between the wars, was a major social phenomenon. The time set aside for vacations increased dramatically, rising to five to six weeks in places like Germany. Class differences remained. Many working-class people did not in fact travel during vacations. The wealthier middle classes sought steadily more exotic destinations. But the importance of the vacation took on unprecedented contours, and also differentiated Western Europe from other advanced industrial societies such as the United States and Japan, where vacation time remained more limited.

The historiography of these phenomena has developed in interesting ways. As the content of this essay suggests, historians have focused more on destinations, technologies, and processes in the tourist industry than on vacations themselves. Serious narratives of the vacation experience, grounding theories in evidence, are in short supply, although Alain Corbin's work on changing ideas about desirable environments to visit has been helpful as an approach to eighteenth-century developments, particularly in France. As the inventor of the seaside holiday and of many aspects of tourism in the modern world, England has been the focus of the most developed historiography. Pimlott's The Englishman's Holiday, a remarkable book by a civil servant first published in 1946, eventually helped to encourage studies of seaside resorts from an urban history perspective, comparing and contrasting towns and coastlines as holiday destinations. The other dominant genre in Britain has been the study of elite tourism in relation to perceptions of landscape and literature, with a strong bias toward the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. France is the other European country with a developed historiography, with more emphasis on the social and political values surrounding the development of vacations and the perceptions and expectations of holidaymakers, themes that are not neglected in the excellent regional studies of holiday destinations by Gabriel Désert and Michel Chadefaud.

As for twentieth-century topics, retrospective glances by sociologists, anthropologists, geographers, and planners have been more influential than the scant work by historians, with conspicuous exceptions like Ellen Furlough on France and Nigel Morgan on England. The vacation as a historical theme in its own right would benefit by borrowing and testing insights from the work of John Urry, Jean-Didier Urbain, Rob Shields, and others in sociology, cultural studies, and related disciplines. A social and cultural history of the vacation and its meanings for the vacationers themselves must take due account of race, class, gender, and the sense of self. Vacation genres, such as the honeymoon, cry out for historical analysis, as work on Niagara Falls has shown in the United States, and the themes of liminality and carnival need further exploration in relation to vacations, particularly for eastern and southern Europe. John Pemble's The Mediterranean Passion has shown how subtly and accessibly they might be pursued even within a conventional historical methodology. A strong platform has been built for the vacation as a theme of social history.

See also other articles in this section.


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Morgan, Nigel J., and Annette Pritchard. Power and Politics at the Seaside. Exeter, U.K., 1999.

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Walton, John K. The British Seaside: Holidays and Resorts in the Twentieth Century. Manchester, U.K., and New York, 2000.

Walton, John K. The English Seaside Resort: A Social History, 1750–1914. Leicester, U.K., and New York, 1983.

Walvin, James. Beside the Seaside: A Social History of the Popular Seaside Holiday. London, 1978.

Ward, Colin, and Dennis Hardy. Goodnight Campers!: The History of the BritishHoliday Camp. London and New York, 1986.

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Travel is an integral part of most modern vacations. However, the word travel was originally identical with travail, both deriving from the Middle English travailen and Old French travaillier, which mean to labor or toil. Travailen and travailler (and trabajo in Spanish) in their turn may be traced back to the Latin tripalium, a three-pronged instrument of torture.

Before the modern age, travel was a pain. The enjoyment of leisure had to be reconciled with the trouble of travel before vacations as we know them were possible. However, the difficulties of travel were not significantly relieved until the 1850s in the United States. Few good roads, and fewer accommodations, were available from the colonial period through the first part of the nineteenth century to ease travel. For enjoyment and recreation, most people stayed close to home.

The coming of the railroads to the United States was a key to the success and expansion of American vacations. Early on, railroads, and then travel resorts, actively promoted travel during extended personal holidays, influencing modern leisure distribution patterns favoring the purchase of goods and services, beginning a continuing process of the modern commodification of leisure.

Before the Civil War, a variety of Americans—"invalids, members of the northern elite, southern planters and their families" (Aron, 1999, p. 32)—began to leave their regular places of residence and occupation for extended periods of time, usually during the summer months, traveling to escape the diseases, heat, smells, and humdrum of city life, in search of health, social contacts, amusement, or spiritual refreshment, engaging in behaviors that we recognize today as vacationing.

Unlike Europeans, however, Americans resisted using the word vacation> to describe what they were doing. Before the mid-nineteenth century, only students and teachers had "vacations"; others described their activities in specific rather than generic ways: "going to the shore," "taking the waters," "attending revivals."

It was not until the 1850s that "vacation" came to be widely used in the United States as a categorical term, applied to a variety of activities, pursued for a variety of purposes. The resistance to accepting an existing general term for an increasingly familiar activity is important as an indication of the ambivalence, even resistance, Americans showed to the advent of this form of concentrated leisure.

"Vacation" as a general, nonspecific activity was defined primarily as an extended break from ordinary occupations. As such, "vacations" troubled a nation emerging from a Puritan past, still adhering to a work ethic with powerful religious sanctions. Just as the physical difficulties of travel had to be relieved before modern vacations were possible, the cultural difficulties of reconciling recreation, play, and pleasure with the nation's prevailing work ethic had to be smoothed. Moreover, the fact that only those at the top of the social ladder were initially able to vacation disturbed American egalitarian sensibilities.

Vacations for the Well-to-Do

Purposes other than escaping work dominated the discourse surrounding extended personal holidays before the 1850s. Mineral springs spas such as Saratoga Springs in New York, Stafford Springs in Connecticut, Berkeley Springs and White Sulfur Springs in Virginia—all of which made extravagant claims about the power of their waters to cure everything from "constipation to sterility, from scrofula to gout, as well as female diseases, sleeplessness, chronic diarrhea, bilious complaints, and hair loss" (Aron, "Vacations and Resorts")—catered to a gentry who justified their abundant leisure as a quest for health or as an escape from disease. Seaside and mountain resorts made similar claims about their environs. Examples include Cape May in southern New Jersey, Nahant in Massachusetts, Newport in Rhode Island, and Catskill Mountain House in New York.

Nevertheless, as more people traveled to these resorts, accompanying the sick or following what had become something of a fad by mid-century, the free time that defined resort presented new challenges: to fill the daily time vacuum, and then to justify activities they were discovering that were hardly health-promoting.

Elites at America's first vacation resorts began an American struggle with a question that had occupied Europeans for millennia, dating back to the classical ages: "What is there to do that is worthwhile in and for itself?" Like the aristocracy in Europe before them, they began experimenting with life beyond the constraints of work and the press of necessity.

At their inception, vacations challenged existing social norms and established cultural values. Whereas the leisure of extended personal holidays provided new opportunities, resorts offered places set apart from normal life to test cultural limits and experiment with alternate forms of social engagement.

Gradually, socializing, amusements, parties and balls, concerts, cotillions, recreation, and sports began filling the leisure vacuum. Vacationers appeared to be enjoying themselves. Social contacts between the sexes, impossible in normal circumstances, opened. Clothing styles and manners altered. Even the mixing of social classes occurred as middle-class Americans gained access to some of the elites' resorts.

Above all, extended personal holidays tested work's cultural hegemony by offering the attractive possibility of life lived beyond work and the press of daily life, of alternative ways to construct human community, transient though it might be, based in freedom and a fuller range of choices. Vacations, like other forms of expanding leisure, were a yeasting time, ripe with potential for social change and cultural experimentation.

Predictably, criticism ensued. Pundits and ministers were alarmed by the gambling, courting, and flirting going on, by the scant bathing costumes worn by swimmers, and by the obvious enjoyment people were having. More importantly, vacationers, the vacation industry, and their apologists felt it necessary to justify vacations to a nation still busy with the problems of making a living and building a nation.

Middle-Class Vacations

The problem of justification intensified as an expanding middle class began to vacation. After the Civil War, the American middle classes continued to grow along with new corporations and professions, and government bureaucracies added white-collar and salaried workers to the list of vacationers with time for extended personal holidays and money to travel.

Going beyond the original justifications—health and escape from disease—vacationers turned increasingly to explaining their vacations in terms of dominant work values. Rest and recuperation during extended personal holidays were deemed important because they improved job performance, at least for the new middle classes and professionals. After vacationing, people retuned to their ordinary lives and occupations with renewed vigor and energized commitments, or so it was claimed. Vacations were less a threat to work when they were justified as a way to improve jobs and strengthen the work ethic.

However, vacations were not completely tamed as the handmaidens of the job. Vacationers and those who provided resorts and administered camps also explained the importance of vacations in terms other than work values, arguing that vacations offered a new way to reinforce and express alternate values Americans held dear.

Vacation apologists began to recommend extended personal holidays as new opportunities for spiritual growth, education, cultural and artistic expression, communitybuilding, healthy contact with the natural world, and creativity. Expressions of such values were important in and for themselves. They did not necessarily have to be subordinated to work to be promoted and developed. Values in their own right, they offered viable alternatives to a nation on the verge of being obsessed by work.

For example, among the dominant American values challenging work's hegemony, concern for the sacred was salient. America's strong support of work as one of life's central concerns stemmed from strong religious beliefs that dated back to the founding of the nation. But such beliefs also sanctioned alternate forms of religious expression and activities—the job had never exhausted the spiritual energy of the majority of believers, nor completely filled daily or weekly schedules.

Vacations for Spiritual Refreshment

Rising to the challenge to fill vacations' time vacuum in meaningful ways, American churchmen and -women developed their own brand of resorts: an infrastructure of camps designed to promote religion, spiritual exercise, healthful sports, moral recreations, and religion-based (primarily Christian) communities.

Early in the nineteenth century Methodist churches held massive revival meetings, attracting hundreds of faithful to extended stays in camps away from their work and homes. Their original success prompted organizers to offer revivals at the same place year after year. Such revival meetings as those held at Wesleyan Grove on Martha's Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts, Ocean Grove on the northern New Jersey shore, and Rehoboth on the Delaware shore grew into yearly resorts by the end of the nineteenth century, complete with hotels, auditoriums, boardinghouses and cottages, and recreation facilities. By the turn of the twentieth century, such camps were annually attracting thousands—35,000 in the case of Rehoboth.

Other religious groups followed suit, establishing camps and resort facilities in places exceptional for their beauty, such as the YMCA camp at Silver Bay, on the shores of Lake George in New York's Adirondacks. Searching for meaningful vacation experiences, religious camps and resorts began to offer adult-education opportunities, community-building, and cultural and artistic activities. Foremost among such experiments was the Chautauqua.

In 1874, John Vincent, a Methodist minister, established a new kind of vacation opportunity in Chautauqua in western New York. Building on the camp meeting model, Vincent and his followers expanded leisure opportunities available for vacationers. Beginning by offering spiritual refreshment and instruction (Vincent's original purpose was to train volunteer Sunday school teachers), Chautauqua expanded its educational mission to include lectures, music and art instruction, and classes in a variety of subjects. A fledgling democratic culture emerged as vacationers began using their leisure to actively engage in drama, the arts and crafts, and nature study rather than depend on "professionals" to do these things for them while they sat and watched. Promoting "physical education," health, fresh air, and vigorous exercise, Chautauqua also began to explore ways the human body could be developed and enjoyed rather than covered and ignored. By 1900, the movement boasted over 200 chapters nationwide.

Historians have tended to dismiss these efforts at personal growth and self-improvement as so much bourgeois moral uplift, as attempts to control the behavior of those not held firmly enough in line by the coils of work. In short, historians have understood nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century vacations as simple extensions of the work ethic: since idle hands were the devil's workshop, vacationers had to be kept busy and distracted from doing what came naturally. The title of Cindy Aron's standard history of American vacations is revealing: Working at Play.

An alternate reading of early American vacations, however, may be that vacationers were deliberately exploring freedom's potential. By their own accounts, they were testing possibilities outside working and producing, exploring leisure as a unique opportunity for community and for progress in free expression of the things of the mind, the body, and spirit. America's first vacations may also be understood as challenging work's ascendancy, offering things impossible for people to realize fully at work or in economic and market terms.

Outdoor Vacations

Besides religious camps and elite health resorts, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century vacationers discovered the outdoors. Camping on their own in the woods, hiking, hunting, boating, birding, fishing, and exploring, Americans found an economical alternative to expensive resorts. They also discovered a more private alternative to religious camps' full schedules, moralizing, and community activities.

Interest in camping began during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Magazines, newspapers, and medical experts, responding to widespread concerns about overwork and neurasthenia, began to recommend extended holidays in the outdoors. However, since there were not many ways to get to the small number of existing resources, few were able to take such advice.

With the coming of the Model T and better roads, governments began to adapt existing public lands for recreation, responding to the building demand for outdoor facilities and services. Through most of the nineteenth century, the federal government's first priority was to transfer its vast tracts of public lands to private hands—homesteaders, ranchers, and the railroads were among the primary beneficiaries.

However, in the last quarter of the century, a movement began to retain in the public sector at least some of the nation's natural heritage. Abstract, idealistic goals dominated the movement at first. Some saw the need to preserve remnants of the rapidly closing frontier as reminders of the wellsprings of America's primary virtues, such as self-reliance, individualism, and the democratic spirit. Other wanted to preserve particularly beautiful parts of the country, such as the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, from the blight of "development." Still others, conservationists, wanted to manage public land to prevent the depletion of natural resources and the degradation of the environment.

However, "use" of public lands remained a basic political reality. Setting aside millions of acres of public lands from private economic purposes just for their beauty or abstract historical significance, even for conservation, was a political nonstarter.

Consequently, outdoor recreation and vacationing were all-important political engines driving preservation of public lands and conservation of natural resources through the twentieth century. Recreation allowed Americans to use public lands in a way that did not, necessarily, deplete nature or transfer ownership to private hands. Preservationists and conservationists joined forces, championing the recreational use of public lands.

During the first two decades of the twentieth century, America witnessed a fateful confluence of public interest in outdoor vacations and recreation, and the political will to preserve and conserve the nation's natural heritage.

The national forests were among the first and most important vacation resources. In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt created the U.S. Forest Service, adding 99 million acres to the system in 1907, and renaming the nation's forest reserves the "National Forests." Opening more of the National Forests to recreational use after 1910, the Forest Service saw the number of visitors increase dramatically, from around 500,000 in 1914 to over 15 million in 1925 to nearly 32 million by 1930.

In 1916, Congress created the National Parks Service to oversee the network of National Parks in existence, particularly their recreational use. Congress created the nation's first park, Yellowstone in the Wyoming and Montana territories, in 1872 as "a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people" (Report of the President's Research Committee on Social Trends, p. 920). The Park Service's original charter was to preserve the nation's natural heritage. But from the beginning, recreation, "the enjoyment of the people," was a primary directive.

With better roads, the expanding use of the automobile, and more facilities, attendance at parks also grew rapidly. In 1910, the federal government counted only around 200,000 visitors to its National Parks. In 1920, the newly formed Parks Service counted nearly 2 million visitors, and over 3 million by 1931.

Individual states responded as well. By 1928, the states had set aside 4.5 million acres of forests and parks for public use, with states in the Northeast leading the way; New York State accounted for over half of the total.

Outdoor vacations are one of the best illustrations of the ways that leisure has offered alternatives to work's hegemony. The American love of the nation's parks and forests, the popularity of hunting, fishing, and camping vacations, and the national will to preserve nature are emblematic of a historical resistance to the overexpansion of marketplace into the free realms of time and space.

Workers, Shorter Weekly Hours, and Vacations

The majority of Americans, however, were slow to take vacations of any kind. It was not until 1940, when most workers had jobs that provided them with paid vacations, that the phenomenon of mass vacationing was born.

The most common explanation for workers coming so late to vacations is that they were not able to afford them—middle classes vacationed as soon as they had the money. Why, then, did workers begin vacationing when the nation was experiencing its worst of economic hard times? Moreover, workers and labor fought successfully, on their own, for shorter hours for over a century, cutting work hours virtually in half. If they were thus able to shorten their work hours, why did they neglect vacations?

Before World War II, workers were concerned mainly with reducing daily and weekly work hours, having little interest in vacations. Unions stressed the importance of shorter weekly work hours as a way to combat unemployment and improve wages (reducing the supply of labor increased the price—vacations having little impact). Organized labor was committed to shorter hours as an open-ended, continuous process; as a way to win back more and more of workers' lives from the job and marketplace.

Workers were mainly interested in the kind of leisure distribution that shorter days and weeks provided. Shorter daily hours introduced free time into existing worker culture, strengthening local communities and families and promoting expression and creation of local culture.

For example, during the Depression, Kellogg workers found that working a thirty-hour week allowed more time for daily family activities (reading to the children, taking walks, preparing meals, participating in hobbies and games at home), community engagement and service (drinking at bars and taverns, conversing on the front porch, visiting, doing church work, joining clubs, volunteering), and cultural exchange (indigenous activities such as bowling, softball, table tennis, fishing, hunting, music groups). Such locally integrated leisure activities also tended to be "time-intensive," requiring little spending of money in proportion to time spent doing the activity.

Before the 1930s, what little interest in worker vacations existed came mostly from outside the labor movement and worker communities. A few reformers after the turn of the twentieth century tried to encourage worker vacations for health and "hygiene" reasons, offering camps and other facilities and organizing "fresh air funds" for urban children and working-class women. A few business managers provided employees with paid vacations during the 1920s, reasoning that a vacation's rest and recuperation made for more loyal and productive workers the rest of the year.

However, it was only after 1935 that American companies began to offer vacation to their employees in significant numbers. By 1940, over half the workforce had paid vacations, 70 percent of which began between 1930 and 1937—40 percent in 1937 alone. Paid vacations for workers tripled in the period from 1935 to 1937. Despite the worsening of the Depression in 1937 and 1938, few vacation benefits were rescinded.

By contrast, during the Depression, unions concentrated their efforts on work-sharing to relieve unemployment, promoting the Black-Connery Bill to reduce the workweek to thirty hours by federal legislation. Vacations were notably absent in the union agenda simply because they counted little in the primary battle against unemployment. An indication of union disinterest is the fact that in 1940, when most workers had vacation coverage, only 25 percent of unionized workers had paid vacations.

Workers Turn to Vacations

Unions became interested in vacations only during World War II when the federal government froze wages and prices—when their wage demands were stymied. Trying to find a way around federal wage-stabilization policies, unions convinced the War Labor Board to permit fringe benefits to increase, with the result that by the end of 1944, vacations were one of the most frequently discussed subjects in collective bargaining negotiations. By the end of 1944, 85 percent of organized workers had vacation benefits and had caught up with national averages. Accepting fringe benefits (the most important being vacations) in lieu of wage increases remained an important union strategy throughout Harry Truman's postwar attempts to control inflation.

Moreover, before the war, workers, agreeing that the main fight was to create jobs by job-sharing, were content to continue their century-long struggle for continuous work reduction. Fortune magazine conducted a nationwide poll in 1935, asking, "If people could have more leisure, which would be better, a shorter working day or a longer vacation?" Over two-thirds of respondents preferred shorter hours, less than 28 percent vacations. Fortune concluded: "It was the prosperous who favored longer vacations, 44.2 percent. But this opinion dwindles steadily as the scale descends, and by occupation, 75 percent of both factory and salaried workers favored the shorter day."

The facts that vacations came after the century-long movement to reduce working hours (vacations became common for workers only after the stabilization of the workweek at forty hours), that they spread most rapidly during a period of economic distress, and that they were promoted by employers to employees who had little interest in this form of leisure raise additional historical questions.

Employers generally opposed the shorter hours process. The century of work's reduction was a distinctive working-class movement. Why, then, did managers and owners suddenly offer vacations during the 1930s to workers who were largely disinterested and still fighting the battle for shorter workweeks?

Business Encourages Vacations

Employers' motives were complex. Explicitly they maintained that vacations rested workers, who returned to their jobs with more energy and better attitudes. In short, vacations increased production and improved work.

More importantly, however, employers introduced vacations as a way to control workers' leisure-taking. By making vacations a job benefit, employees effectively linked leisure to the stable and steady holding of a "full-time" job, newly defined during the Depression as forty or more hours a week. Uniformly, managers granted paid vacations as a reward for "steady and loyal service," keying them to a sliding scale based on the number of years of service to the company. "Part-time" employment did not qualify.

Vacations, as a full-time-job "benefit," effectively shifted control of leisure-taking from workers to management, who made vacations contingent on a variety of conditions, prominent among them "steady employment."

Moreover, it was no accident that employers made serious efforts to provide paid vacations only when the threat of legislated thirty hours was imminent. During the two years before business' major vacation push—1935 to 1937—the American press and pundits confidently predicted that the thirty-hour week would soon become law and the next giant step would be taken in labor's campaign for the continuous reduction of labor hours. Much of Roosevelt's New Deal may be understood in terms of his administration and his business supporters delaying and offering alternatives to thirty-hours legislation.

Vacations for workers was a sort of backfire, deliberately set by employers to combat the peril of spreading leisure, a century-long conflagration that was threatening the centrality of work and the marketplace in American life.

Commodifying Vacations

Moreover, business recognized that leisure in the form of vacations was much more easily commodified. Franklin D. Roosevelt joined forces with the business vacation initiative, promoting vacations and the vacation industry as ways to get the economy moving and growing and create more full-time jobs. Responding to the threat of work-sharing, Roosevelt mounted a campaign to create new work by new federal programs and policies. Recognizing that tourism provided more jobs than such vital industries as clothing (11 percent more jobs), printing and publishing (45 percent), and banking (185 percent), Roosevelt actively supported the industry. For example, after the creation of the short-lived U.S. Travel Bureau, formed explicitly to "publicize, promote, and stimulate" travel and tourism, he proclaimed 1940 "Travel America Year."

During the 1920s and 1930s, businessmen and economists concluded that one of the best ways to stabilize work was to commodify leisure. To paraphrase Henry Ford: "If people can be persuaded to spend more during their free time, they will have to work more to pay for it."

Vacations became a primary way to implement this theory. Compared with the forms of weekly leisure that workers traditionally preferred, which were integrated into daily life and tended alarmingly toward the "time-intensive" variety, vacations promised to be much more expensive. Indeed, all such leisure "bunches" (weekends, holidays) have proved to be more conducive to "goods-intensive" kinds of leisure experiences, a mixture requiring more spending in proportion to the time available.

American business discovered that vacations offered a marketing bonanza. Representing the emerging business view, Henry Ford concluded that "leisure is a cold business fact. Where people work less they buy more. [B]usiness is the exchange of goods. Goods are bought only as they meet needs. Needs are filled only as they are felt. They make themselves felt largely in the leisure hours" (Ford, pp. 613–614).

The growth of the tourist industry during the twentieth century steadily encroached upon the cultural openings leisure first offered for free experimentation, nonpecuniary activities, and civic engagement. Vacations, requiring expensive travel and lodging from their beginnings, were increasingly commodified.

The industry was founded on transportation, food services, and accommodations. These three still account for most vacation spending. What has changed is the centrality of these basics. Not only have they become ever more expensive, they have occupied ever more of the vacationers' time, energy, and attention, often excluding opportunities for other activities. "Pleasure driving," motoring for its own sake, became widespread during the 1920s. "Pleasure travel" now accounts for nearly 57 percent of all household trips.

Since World War II, successful entrepreneurs have lured vacationers from the relatively cheap amusements of the early resorts and camps to activities that require spending more money. Clothes and recreational-equipment manufacturers vigorously promoted their wares to vacationers. The entertainment industry followed vacationers to resort areas, famously to the borscht belt in the New York Catskills. Roadside advertising and "attractions" began littering highways, catering to vacationers as they traveled. Coney Island established a precedent for amusement parks that proliferated in the twentieth century, providing passive, mass, and impersonal experiences instead of active and civilly engaged opportunities.

Since World War II, tourism has emerged as one of the most important sectors of the American economy. Paid vacations are the most common job benefit in the United States; 96 percent of workers have them. Now, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, nearly half of all Americans take vacations each year, spending about 7 percent of their incomes during the period of the survey, almost as much as they spend on food at home. Shopping has become one of the most frequent vacation activities.

In 2004, states actively promoted the industry, vying with one another for the vacationers' dollars, developing state vacation sites, and attempting to attract tourist-based businesses. Tax revenues from tourism became a major source of income for states and local governments across the nation.

Researchers now conclude, "Tourism has become the world's largest business enterprise, overtaking defense, manufacturing, oil, and agriculture [accounting for] about 6 percent of the world's gross national product" (Lundberg, Krishnamoorthy, and Stavenga, pp. ix, 14). The economic importance of tourism as a source of employment and government revenue is shown in Table 1.

Vacations after World War II

After World War II, vacations stabilized in the United States at about two weeks a year, unlike in Europe, where vacations grew steadily.

The United States has passed no laws mandating paid vacations. By contrast, the European Union (EU) now requires European employers to offer at least four weeks of paid vacation to employees. France has legislation requiring twenty-five days, Germany twenty days, the Netherlands twenty days, and the United Kingdom (coming into compliance with the EU's "Working Time Directive" in 1996) twenty days. However, the average number of vacation days in Europe is significantly higher than the legislated minimums.

Other than legislation, several reasons for this disparity are most often given: the relative weakness of American labor, American labor's abandonment of shorter hours in favor or wages, and the stronger European vacation tradition.

However, other reasons may be suggested. One of the most important is the extent to which American vacations have been commodified. Being more expensive, vacations are less in demand. Moreover, the American vacation may simply be more unattractive. Unlike European companies that tend to hire additional workers, often students and interns, to take up the slack, American firms generally "work around" those on vacation, leaving work piled on desks for the vacationer's return—a major disincentive for employees.

Becoming more homogeneous and commercial, the American vacation may also be less attractive than the European's more varied and active experiences. Another reason for Americans' short vacations may be the "long arm of the job." New technologies, cell phones, the Internet, and fax machines obscure the boundary between work and leisure, and many are now tethered to their jobs regardless of how far they travel.

Tourism spending in the United States
(In billions of current dollars)
(domestic trips of more than 25 miles plus foreign visitor spending)
SOURCE: Need to look at source document
Total tourism spending in the U.S.5796719731407
Total taxes generated6879114165
Federal taxe generated36426087
State taxes generated23273956
Local taxes generated9101521

Finally, work's cultural centrality discourages all forms of additional leisure-taking. People in the industrial nations, led by the United States, have come to answer traditional religious questions (Who am I? Where am I going? What should I do today?) more and more by reference to their work/job/profession/career instead of traditional religions. The new work ethic is no longer Protestant; there is little or no God-talk associated with it. It is a distinctively modern and secular work ethic/religion growing to fill the void left by the retreat of the traditional faiths. It has become, as Max Weber noted, the very "Spirit of Capitalism."

Work has evolved as an ultimate measure of progress and human betterment. The more of it, the better. What is work for in the final analysis? What is work's ultimate justification—its supreme purpose? The modern answer: more work.

With such a cultural focus on the job, little attention is paid to creating interests and enthusiasm for active and engaged leisure pursuits. Leisure and vacations then become a freedom too far, a cultural vacuum that Americans have lost the will to try to fill with meaningful activities. Leisure's autotelic question goes largely unanswered as people escape back to their jobs.

As a result, American vacations now may be contracting. Nearly half of all full-time employees, failing to use all their vacation days, lose them each year.

See also: Beaches, Disneyland, National Parks, Recreational Vehicles, State Parks, Theme and Amusement Parks, Tourism, Walt Disney World, Working-Class Leisure and Recreation


Allen, Donna. Fringe Benefits: Wages or Social Obligation? An Analysis with Historical Perspectives from Paid Vacations. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1964.

"American Vacation." Fortune Magazine 14 (July 1936): 158–161.

Aron, Cindy S. "Vacations and Resorts." The Reader's Companion to American History. Available from

——. Working at Play: A History of Vacations in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

EBRI Databook on Employee Benefits. 4th ed. Washington, D.C.: Employee Benefit Research Institute, 1997.

Ford, Henry. "Why I Favor Five Days' Work with Six Days' Pay." Worlds Work 52 (October 1926): 613–614.

Ford, Henry, and S. Crowther. "The Fear of Overproduction." Saturday Evening Post 203 (12 July 1930): 3.

Forest History Society. "National Forests vs. National Parks." Available from

Hunnicutt, Benjamin. Work without End. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989.

——. Kellogg's Six-Hour Day. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.

Leopold, Aldo. 1949. A Sand County Almanac: With Essays on Conservation from Round River. Reprint, New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Lundberg, Donald, M. Krishnamoorthy, and M. Stavenga. Tourism Economics. New York: Wiley, 1995.

"Recreation Industry." Survey Graphic 27 (March 1938): 184.

Report of the President's Research Committee on Social Trends. Recent Social Trends. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1933.

"Travel Bureau Issues Bulletin." The Regional Review 1, no. 5 (November 1938).

U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employee Benefits in Medium and Large Private Establishments 1995. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1997.

——. "The Evolution of Compensation in a Changing Economy." Available from

——. "Issues in Labor Statistics." Summary 99-8. August 1999. Available from

Benjamin Kline Hunnicutt


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The vacation, understood either as time free from work and other obligations like school and family care, or as time away from home in leisure pursuits, was rare for almost all children until the twentieth century. And yet in the last half of the twentieth century vacations increasingly became associated with the child in affluent societies.

Vacations, in contrast to times of seasonal or trade unemployment or migration away from home for work, were and are largely unknown in agrarian and preindustrial urban societies. Not only were children necessary for daily farming and craft routines, but the idea that the young needed or deserved extended times free from work did not exist in these societies. The childhood vacation was a by-product of changes in work time requirements of households, increased affluence, and new attitudes about children's needs and rights to play and experience.

School Vacations

The expansion of children's access to schooling in the nineteenth century and the creation of annual break periods did not create the modern childhood vacation of rest and nonacademic explorations. Rather, these "vacation" periods were times when child labor, bad weather, or budgetary restraints prevented school from being open. School breaks varied greatly in the nineteenth century: in the United States urban schools had as little as one month's closure, while rural districts could have breaks of up to nine months in total. Often schools were closed not to give children rest, but because roads were poor in winter or because children were needed for spring planting and autumn harvests. Vacation periods depended on the local economy. Wheat farming required little child labor, but corn, tobacco, sugar beets, and cotton placed heavy seasonal demands on children's time. Schools, especially in urban areas, were often open in summer as well as winter. In the 1840s, schools were open in New York City up to 242 days of the year. Gradually, beginning with the common school movement of Horace Mann in the 1840s, reformers won an increase in the days schools were in session in rural areas. On average, the American school year increased from 132 in 1870 to 162 days by 1920. At the same time, urban areas saw the elimination of summer classes because of poor attendance, inefficient learning on hot days, and parental pressure, especially in the middle classes, to make children available for family vacations. State laws gradually produced the "standard" of the ten week to three month summer vacation in the twentieth century (with 180 days of schooling per year) as differences between rural and urban school terms diminished. To compensate for longer school terms, Mann and subsequent reformers advocated regular holiday periods to provide children with outdoor experience and rest from school routine.

In Europe and elsewhere, the length of children's summer vacations similarly varied by the demands of work and budget in the nineteenth century. By the 2000s, these holiday periods were generally shorter than in the United States, though intermediate vacations (in spring and mid-winter) were often longer. While Japan remains at the extreme end of the spectrum in the 2000s, with a school year of 243 days and a short August vacation, European school children attended classes across a range from 216 to the American standard of 180. Despite the efforts of school reformers in the 1920s and after to extend school time in the United States through July or begin school before Labor Day, parents resisted, claiming a shortened break would interfere with family vacations and other worthy activities like summer camps and sports.

Childless Vacations

The contemporary tendency to identify the child with the vacation is relatively recent. The modern vacation has its roots in the late seventeenth century in the aristocratic pursuit of social and health advantages at wells and mineral springs in places like Tumbridge Wells and Bath in England where the elderly and sickly rich drank or bathed in healing waters. Even the seaside resorts that became popular in the early nineteenth century at Brighton, Torquay, and Scarborough in England were not places for child's play in the surf and sands, but rather sites for quiet strolls for health-giving air or drinking salt water. At assembly halls, masters of ceremonies organized formal balls to allow the fashionable to "see and be seen." Colonial and early-nineteenth-century American resorts like Newport, Saratoga Springs, and White Sulphur Springs offered quiet relaxation, status socializing, access to a marriage market, and, in some cases opportunities for gambling at race tracks and card tables. Notably absent were children's activities. Aristocratic youth, but not children, traveled from Britain on the "Grand Tour" of European ruins and cities for edification from as early as 1670 and Northern European youth trekked to Italy in search of adventure and edification in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

This pattern gradually changed as the middle class began to enjoy vacations and travel away from home. From the first decade of the nineteenth century, middle-class sensibilities turned against the adult fashion and social season of the aristocracy and cultivated family leisure. This was expressed both in the creation of family-oriented suburbs and in the family excursion. In the 1840s tour organizers like Thomas Cook in Britain deliberately appealed to family groups, offering them reduced fares that made taking the children, at least, a possibility. Fathers were infrequent participants in this culture. Instead married women with children arranged summer holidays to meet childhood friends at mineral springs or even to share country homes. By the end of the nineteenth century, the bungalow, a small informal, usually one and a half story house with wraparound porch, imported by the British from India, began to dot the southern coast of England as summer homes for families with growing children. In the 1870s, resort town governments attempted to attract this middle-class family vacationer by regulating gypsy beach vendors, encouraging cheap family rail tickets, and building family-oriented entertainment centers like the pleasure piers and Pleasure Gardens of Blackpool in Britain or the Boardwalk of Atlantic City, New Jersey, in the United States. This process was slow in trickling down to the children of wage earners. For most working-class families, couples stopped taking holidays when the children arrived. Through World War II, outside of the middle classes, vacations for children were largely confined to the rare day's excursion to the amusement park, lake, or seashore.

Expansion of the Democratic Family Holiday

Children's vacations depended on their parents' paid leave from work. Paid vacations came first to privileged employees of the courts and gradually spread out to other white collar personnel and foremen during the nineteenth century in the United States and Europe. While annual plant shutdowns (for machine refurbishing) or trade slowdowns brought weeks or months of unemployment to many factory worker parents, few could afford to take themselves or their children on a vacation. In the late nineteenth century, vacation savings clubs emerged in northern England and in some parts of Europe to rectify this problem. In the United States, only ten percent of wage-earners enjoyed a paid vacation as late as 1930, while 85 percent of white collar workers and their children benefited from it. Paid vacation plans emerged in the 1930s and 1940s as part of the explosion of union membership (reaching 93 percent of union contracts by 1949), allowing many union members to at least take their kids to the seashore. Because paid vacations in the United States are tied to employment contracts, instead of being a legal entitlement, there was little expansion of vacation time in the United States with the decline of unions after the 1960s.

In Europe, paid vacations for wage earners appeared first in central Europe in the 1920s and expanded into France and Britain in the 1930s. Even conservatives accepted it as a way of instilling worker loyalty and as a means of strengthening family bonds by uniting children and their parents in leisure

to compensate for their separation during work and school. In France, for example, a legal right to a two week paid vacation was won in 1936 and expanded to three weeks in 1956, to four in 1962, and to five in 1982 and six weeks by the 2000s. While holiday leaves varied greatly, European paid vacations remain considerably longer than in the United States.

As children's access to vacation time increased, so did efforts of reformers to shape that time with productive recreation. As early as the 1870s, through the Fresh Air Fund, members of small-town churches opened their homes to slum-dwelling children from New York City. By the end of the nineteenth century, philanthropic groups from large American cities sponsored excursions and weeks at seashore resorts for the children of the poor both to provide healthful fresh air and exercise and to inculcate loyalty to authority. The summer youth camp became a peculiarly American institution where, by 1929, a million children yearly encountered nature in the sheltered moral environment of about 7,000 camps. From the 1880s, British reformers organized summer camps for poor children and their families while French businesses created youth summer camps and recreational programs for young workers and the children of employees in the hopes of easing class tensions.

Groups like the Playground Association (1907) in the United States promoted the construction and staffing of neighborhood playgrounds suitable for supervised children's play and crafts during the summer vacation. Young adult hiking and camping activities were extended to youth and children in the 1930s through groups like the British Youth Hostel Association. At the same time, the Holiday Fellowship, and other labor or local holiday camps in Britain promoted low cost family vacations. A wide range of organizations in France did the same through founding sea or mountain resorts or subsidizing family tourism in the 1930s. Similarly, fascist states and the Soviet Union organized summer vacation tours and youth summer camps to foster political loyalties.

Vacation Designed Around Children

While adults attempted to shape the values and loyalties of children on vacations, a more profound change was occurring. Children's right to time free from the routines of work and school and parents' right to interact with their children in play was becoming a central part of the vacation's meaning. Romantic ideas about childrenespecially identifying the young with discovery of the delights of nature and associating childhood with nostalgic recollections of carefree timeswere well-established in literature and popular images on prints and trading cards by the 1870s. Early manifestations of this sentiment were expressed in seaside rituals like donkey rides, punch and Judy shows, and the building of sand castles. Mechanical amusement rides like the carousel were beginning to pass from adults to children by the end of the nineteenth century. The teddy bear fad, started at the seaside resorts of New Jersey in the summer of 1906, and the creation of kiddie rides at amusement parks in the 1920s reveal a trend toward the "infantilization" of the vacation site and experience. Instead of the vacation as primarily an opportunity for adults to socialize, gain new experiences, and rest often away from children, it gradually became a "gift" to the child and a chance for adults to relive childhood through their offspring's play.

Older views, however, persisted. In 1888, the famous American child psychologist G. Stanley Hall praised the father who provided his young sons with a pile of sand for a summer of creative play by themselves. In the 1900s, popular magazines insisted that middle-class parents find "diversions" for their children when they took them on seaside or country vacations. Others sent them on extended absences to summer camp.

By the 1930s, new American child-rearing magazines insisted that family vacations should focus on the child's education. After World War II, the emphasis shifted to the adult's pleasure in the child's delight at seeing for the first time the sea or farm animals. The 1950s saw the widespread use of the station wagon for inexpensive and informal tours of national parks and heritage sites. The increasingly roomy family car was to provide family togetherness on long automobile trips to the Grand Canyon or Old Faithful. The Civil War battlefield of Gettysburg, formerly a place for serious contemplation and memory of war became an obligatory destination for families. From the car, Mom, Dad, and the kids read plaques and later heard taped guided tours about the glorious past after which they drove into the parking lots of motels to swim in the pool and later visit child-oriented amusement parks nearby. Not all embraced this romantic call for the child-oriented vacation. The 1962 movie, Mr. Hobbes Takes a Vacation, in which James Stewart played the frustrated family man stuck in a beat-up summer cottage with a son who wanted to do nothing but watch westerns on TV and a teenage daughter unable to get a date, summed up the frustration of many attempting to recreate the wonder of the children's vacation. Still, the holiday increasingly was meant for the family, for bonding, for renewal and celebrations of children's desire.

Today, the classic site for this child-focused celebration is the amusement park, but this was not true in the beginning of these pleasure sites. The first amusement parks were really modern adaptations of the traditional festival where adults were allowed to loosen restraint and enjoy unaccustomed freedoms. The revolutionary amusement parks opened on Coney Island between 1897 and 1904 were certainly more childlike than the surrounding dance/music halls, race tracks, and saloons, but their fare of mechanical rides, freak shows, and spectacles were designed to challenge the male entertainment zone of drink, sex, and gambling with an environment conducive to "respectable" women rather than children. And, the childlike amusements allowed mostly adults to regress, rather than to encourage children to be delighted. As late as the 1920s, even progressive amusement parks like Playland on Long Island still offered playgrounds where parents could drop off their children while the adults rode roller coasters and bumper cars.

Walt Disney's Disneyland, opened in 1955, became the template of the child-focused holiday site. Through such architectural features as "Main Street, USA," recalling small town America of 1900, adults were called to share with children memories of their own childhoods (or, at least, the fantasy of an ideal childhood). Disney's buildings, notably constructed at five-eighths the size of "real buildings" make Disneyland child friendly, and the rides provide frequent cues for adults to share with their children in Disney fantasies. The whole of Disneyland could be said to be an evocation to childlike wonder, with or without kids. Disney's achievement was to package, combine, and intensify a half century of movie images that many Americans and families around the world identified with the delights of childhood. He and his company filled a cultural need that the traditional amusement parks, national parks, and museums failed to fill. Disney was so effective at meeting this need that for many American families (as well as Europeans and Pacific Rim Asians at Disney parks in Paris and Tokyo) made a vacation pilgrimage to Disneyland as an essential part of childhood and then, later, the reliving of that childhood.

See also: Playground Movement; Theme Parks; Zoos.


Cross, Gary. 1993. Time and Money. London: Routledge.

Dulles, Rhea Foster. 1940. America Learns to Play: A History of Popular Recreation. 16071940. New York: Appleton-Century.

Huyvaert, Sarah. 1998. Time Is of the Essence: Learning in Schools. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Pimlott, J. A. R. 1976. The Englishman's Holiday. Brighton, UK: Harvester.

Starobinski, Jean. 1966. "The Idea of Nostalgia." Diogenes 54 (summer): 81103.

Walvin, James. 1978. Beside the Seaside: A Social History of the Popular Seaside Holiday. London: Allen Lane.

Wasko, Janet. 2001. Understanding Disney: The Manufacture of Fantasy. Cambridge: Polity.

Gary Cross


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The term vacation describes a moment of rest and recreation during sacred and secular holidays or a period of leisure time away from routine domestic responsibilities, school, or work, as allowed by present-day laws and labor regulations. The modern idea of vacationing is often linked to making a pleasure journey away from home, ranging from a simple daytrip nearby to a voyage around the world. In many countries, the notion is used interchangeably with the concept of holidays. As suggested in the volume edited by Graham Dann The Tourist As a Metaphor of the Social World (2002), understanding contemporary vacationing practices provides insight in the value systems of the modern world.

The notion of having a vacation is not universal. Even in industrialized societies, it did not exist until the 1850s, when the concept arose in response to time-regulated forms of labor. The clear bounding of work time was the product of victories by workers pressing for shorter workdays and scattered vacation days. The English entrepreneur Thomas Cook was the first to commercialize inexpensive package tours, designed for the short vacation time of the working class. From the 1930s, and accelerating in the postwar period, paid vacations in most European countries had been politically secured and came to be understood as a right of citizenship and part of a new social contract. In the United States modern vacations developed as a privilege accorded to workers as part of their employment package. During the 1970s and 1980s disposable incomes and annual days of vacation rose in developed countries, while the cost of travelremained more or less constant in real terms. This consequently led to a phenomenal rise in international tourism.

Legislation granting yearly vacation periods with pay and collective agreements providing for such holidays is increasingly common worldwide. Moreover, as standards of living improve, there is a marked tendency for the minimum annual vacation to be increased. The actual length of time is dependent on the length of service and provisions of the collective agreement. It can range from only a couple of days to more than six weeks. The rise in the number of international tourists from Asiamainly the newly industrialized countriesillustrates the exportability of the vacation model to those countries where certain minimum requirements are met in terms of the availability and distribution of disposable income.

What people do during their vacation has changed over time, just as it has varied from country to country. Although vacationing has been democratized, vacations are still separate functions of differentials in income, social class, race, occupation, gender, and education. As Pierre Bourdieu described in great detail in his Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste (1984), there are substantial disparities in leisure consumption between people from different socioeconomic backgrounds. While working-class people often choose cheaply packaged mass tourism activities, the higher-class elites try to distinguish themselves by opting for expensive, individually tailored tours. Even if there is a clear global convergence in certain kinds of vacation consumerism, great local differences remain.

Vacationing is often thought of as a temporary reversal of everyday activities. It is a no-work, no-care, no-thrift situation. However, in itself it is believed to be devoid of deeper meaning: It is a vacation; that is, vacant time. In a way, time is suspended (or put in parentheses) and many people believe to live a kind of absolute break of their habitual time. Conspicuous vacation is meant to be non-productive consumption of time, an indication of distance from environmental and productive needs, and thus a sign of wealth. The growing frequency of vacation travel in the developed world has ensured that vacation time is increasingly recognized as one of the experiences that people value in terms of quality of life.

The annual vacation trip in industrialized countries is a repetitive, predictable, timed break that allows people recreation and marks the progress of cyclical time. Therefore, vacations can also be characterized as a kind of ritual process that reflect a societys deeply held values about health, freedom, nature, and self-improvement. In this view, vacations can be interpreted as the modern equivalent for secular societies of the annual and lifelong sequences of festivals and pilgrimages in more traditional, religious societies. Fundamental is the contrast between the ordinary/compulsory work state spent at home and the non-ordinary/voluntary (sacred) state away from home.

According to Orvar Löfgren in On Holiday: A History of Vacationing (1999), vacationing frequently involves temporal tensions and relations between past, present, and future. Traveling across space is frequently experienced as a movement across time to relive mythical periods of history, or former ways of life, or past stages from our life. Thus, it is not surprising that getting back to nature, to a more simple life, or to childhoodin other words freezing timeare common utopias of vacationers. Löfgren sees the world of vacationing as a place where tourists are able to use the important cultural skills of daydreaming and mindtraveling [in] an arena in which fantasy [is] an important social practice (p. 7). The perceptions of vacationers are thus closely related to fictional worlds and, for the same reasons, to the world of dreams. The colloquial expression dream vacation did not appear without precedent.

Members of industrialized societies define their lives not only through their work but also increasingly through their consumption of vacations. The latter serve as a form of escape from the stresses, pressures, and demands of everyday life. People believe that the promise of personal freedom, one of the most expansive modern myths, can be fulfilled much more on vacation than in everyday life. Vacations become the ideal moment of self-realization in which people construct their own world according to their individual preferences. However, throughout the relatively short history of leisure travel, people have quickly learned how to be vacationers and to move, often according to social dictate, through different types of artificially created vacation worlds like theme parks and beach resorts. In many countries, a system of social sanctions is in place that variously codifies vacationing as normal or even expected behavior.

SEE ALSO Leisure; Travel and Travel Writing


Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Trans. R. Nice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Dann, Graham M. S., ed. 2002. The Tourist As a Metaphor of the Social World. New York: CABI Publishing.

Löfgren, Orvar. 1999. On Holiday: A History of Vacationing. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Noel B. Salazar


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va·ca·tion / vāˈkāshən; və-/ • n. 1. an extended period of recreation, esp. one spent away from home or in traveling: he took a vacation in the south of France people come here on vacation | [as adj.] a vacation home. ∎  a fixed holiday period between terms in schools and law courts. 2. the action of leaving something one previously occupied: his marriage was the reason for the vacation of his fellowship.• v. [intr.] take a vacation: I was vacationing in Europe with my family.DERIVATIVES: va·ca·tion·er·ca·tion·ist / -ist/ n.