From time immemorial, mankind has had to find ways to move around. Using his ingenuity and inventiveness, early man was able to overcome the two major dangers of the hostile environment he lived in - predators and inclement climate conditions. One way humanity accomplished that feat was by migrating from place to place.
They did it because they needed to search for food, find places with a more favorable climate, or explore and claim new territories.
Back then, the main beasts of burden were camels, donkeys, and horses which carried riders and transported belongings. To this day, the said animals are used in many parts of the world, though in a relatively limited manner.
Over the past centuries, significant changes have occurred in two areas - the modes of transport and reasons for travel.
On land, newer, faster and more advanced vehicles have been created. To make water-based travel possible, man has developed not only ships but also submarines. But the most fascinating mode of transportation was, is and will undoubtedly be air travel.
Before the 20th century, humans made countless efforts to conquer the sky but the list of their accomplishments was often marred by failure. That’s not to say it all ended without the ultimate goal having been achieved. As we know, the most significant breakthroughs in aviation occurred in the early 20th century.
However, the watershed event occurred on December 17, 1903, when the Wright brothers (Orville and Wilbur) successfully flew their newly invented powered airplane four times.
Since then, remarkable progress has been achieved. Man has not only conquered the sky using all sorts of advanced aircraft but also set his sights on the stars. This has created a fourth frontier - space travel and exploration.
Before the 21st century, virtually all attempts at space travel were made by national governments. This was largely due to the enormous costs involved. Today, private companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin,
Virgin Galactic and a host of others are doing their best to make commercial space travel or interplanetary habitation a reality. Thus far, the results have been more than impressive, especially if one considers the fact that many of such commercial entities were non-existent in the early 2000s (about 2 decades ago).
But what was traveling like in the 19th century? What means of transport were available and widely used back then?
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Two centuries ago, the way people traveled was far less convenient than today. Back then, they had no airplanes, high-speed trains, or other advanced vehicles.
Long distance journeys were exhausting and costly both in terms of time and money. This meant people couldn’t afford to travel over long distances as frequently as modern travelers do.
Today, a trip like this would take several days at most and cost no more than a few thousand dollars. A 19th-century traveler would require weeks if not months to accomplish something like that.
Since there was no commercial air transport at the time, only land and water vehicles were used. Geographically, our focus here will be on the Western world (America and Western Europe).
Traveling by Land
In the early years of the 19th century, traveling by land was mostly done by means of mount animals, especially horses. Horse-drawn carriages provided passengers with more space and relative comfort. But the biggest challenge was lack of transport infrastructure.
Poor roads (often made impassable by heavy rains and snowfalls) caused journeys to take longer than initially expected. The risk of accidents was very high, too. The poor road conditions caused carriages to develop faults such as broken wheels.
These issues led to people rarely traveling more than 14 miles from their residences. Walking was a common way of covering short distances. Roads in many cities were often dry and dusty in non-winter months.
Lack of efficient highway patrols made traveling at night a risky undertaking. There were no lamps to light the highways at night, either. People traveling at night were also subject to highway robbery.
However, great improvements were made after the commercial adoption of steam-powered locomotives, gas lights and other inventions that unleashed the Industrial Revolution.
Accordingly, land transport in the second half of the 1800s got much faster and safer. With the construction of macadam surfaces, bad roads were quickly becoming a thing of the past.
By the end of the century, steam engines were replaced with internal combustion engines. There was an extensive network of railways in the United States, which meant that travellers could move across the country in just a few days.
Traveling by Sea
Traveling by sea used to be the most popular mode of transport between continents. Large ships were used both for carrying goods and transporting people.
Even before the 19th century, sea travel was popular among explorers who sought to discover new lands and thus give a boost to the development of agriculture.
Although fraught with great risks, the enormous riches that could be had from a successful voyage made it an attractive investment vehicle for many wealthy people and royal families who financed such explorations.
The most transformative aspect of traveling by sea in the 1800s was the emergence of the steam engine. It led to the development of steam-powered ships which were more powerful than sailing ones.
This meant larger and faster ships could be built carrying more people across continents in a matter of a few weeks. Ships were built from metal and not wood, thus making them a lot stronger and more durable.
This vortex of advancements in sea travel unleashed a great wave of migration between Europe and America. Unfortunately, it also brought with it the despicable trade in human slaves, who were transported in larger numbers across the Atlantic Ocean.