‘Holy days’ or ‘holidays’ as we now call them have been with us since at least the Middle Ages.
Of course, as the name suggests, the original holidays were days of religious celebration. Saints days and the like…
Or as I suspect, maybe the people back then just enjoyed a good excuse for a party as much as you and I do?
But the modern concept of a holiday was born much later, in the 1800s.
A man named Thomas Cook popularised the idea of the ‘package’ holiday.
An all-inclusive, affordable, one payment vacation.
And it marked the start of a huge change in how we live, even today…
The birth of the holiday
Thomas Cook was born into a world where most working-class people worked long 6-day weeks and never travelled more than 20 miles from their home towns.
Thomas began his career as the world first travel agent almost by accident.
In 1841 he organised a trip for 500 people involved in the Temperance movement — a sort of Victorian era anti-alcohol and clean-living group Cook was part of.
He would regularly arrange for a special train to take over 500 people from Leicester to Loughborough to attend a temperance meeting.
For 1 shilling, passengers got a round-trip train travel with band entertainment, afternoon tea and food. Not a bad deal!
But in 1845 he started to expand the concept…
He started arranging trips to Scotland, a Victorian era tradition which is one of the reasons the British Royal Family vacation at the highlands of Balmoral every year.
Over time, both the number of people and the number of destinations increased.
By 1899, almost one million Brits were crossing the English Channel to holiday in Europe every year.
It was clear, travel agencies and organised holidays were here to stay.
The concept of the modern gap year actually comes from the original Grand Tour of Europe that Cook popularised.
But Cook would be shocked by the kind of sunny, boozy package holidays that are the norm in the party islands of Ibiza and Corfu these days.
In the age of the Enlightenment, Cook thought that the personal experience of travel was about developing yourself as a person.
To experience life and grow as a person.
‘To travel is to feed the mind, humanize the soul, and rub off the rust of circumstance…who would not travel at a penny a mile?’
By the time he died in 1892 the company had offices around the world and had sold over 3 million tickets.
The company still exists today…
Technology at the heart of it
In a strange way, technology was at the heart of the holiday trend.
The age of steam had created a boom in railways and shipping.
Suddenly fast, affordable travel was open to all.
And as the industrial revolution created jobs for the working classes, a steady rise in incomes and unionised working conditions gradually allowed more and more people to have time off.
Today, technology is still changing what it means to take a holiday.
Even in your lifetime holidays have changed significantly…
Airbnb has disrupted the concept of hotels.
The internet, smartphones and Trip Advisor have brought a world of information to the wondering backpacker.
The day of lugging around volumes of Lonely Planet guides is ending. And that only started in the 1970s…
You now have the concept of working holidays too.
These people are known as digital nomads. All they need is an internet connection and a coffee machine.
I know several people doing this right now.
But if we stick to the idea of purely recreational holidays, technology could have an even bigger impact over the next 10 years.
Hotels on the moon?
Budget space flights?
These are all live projects right now.
Even deciding where to holiday might change.
If the idea of virtual reality destination testing takes off, you’ll simply pop on an Oculus Rift headset and go for a stroll.
Building work in the pool?
Then go somewhere else or sort out the problem before you go…
Or if virtual reality gets very, very good, maybe it will be like in the film Total Recall where you don’t even leave the room!
However it ends up, there’s no question that technology has a huge effect on the very concept of holidays.
Though I hope there’ll always be a place for cocktail hour down by the pool with a good book…
Contributing Editor, Tech Insider
PS: If all this talk of holidays, has got you in the mood for a much-needed break, this story might interest you. Exoticca — an online travel agency that sells ‘affordable luxury’ — just scored a US$4.1 million Series A investment. You can read about it here.