The Old Oxford: Dreaming of the Golden Era of Travel


No matter what the season, whenever there’s a changeover from colder to warmer months (or vice versa), I start thinking of getting the heck out of town. My philosophy is a little James Murphy and Rosecrans Baldwin: New York I love you but you start to stink towards the middle or end of every season, and I need to get away.

I get out of New York as much as possible, and while I don’t think I can truly ever leave the city that I love, I constantly find myself daydreaming of places to go whether it be a few hours past the state lines into New England, or some spot that is an eight hour airplane ride away,  I’m in love with the idea of traveling. But just like so many other things, I think people used to travel better than we do today. Just getting to a destination was more of an event in the first 60 years of the 20th century, and the companies that provide the service of getting us to and from used to knew that then, but today it seems to be a thing of the past.

This is never more obvious than when you ride a train.



The 20th Century Limited, known for a time as “The most famous train in the world,” is a perfect example. It was once the epitome of first class service, from the red carpet entrance to the food, that ran until 1967. Today’s Amtrak trains with their spotty wi-fi, crappy food selection, uncomfortable gray seats, and tiny sleeper cabins don’t even come close to the type of experience you used to have riding trains. (New York Social Diary has a treasure trove of 20th Century Limited photos worth looking at.)

And while train and airplane travel has lost its sense of style and romance, travel literature has suffered a fate almost as bad, as many magazines and guides just aim to get you to the tourist destinations, and don’t really tell any great stories about the places you’re going to or want to visit. This was never more evident to me as I read the piece on Holiday magazine in the latest issue of Vanity Fair.


Just looking at old covers of Holiday makes me feel nostalgic for a period that I wasn’t even alive for, and makes me wonder why getting out of town can’t be a full experience like it used to be. But reading the Vanity Fair article, that starts out talking about E.B. White’s famous “Here Is New York” piece that the magazine published, also leaves me wondering why more great authors aren’t called upon to write travel pieces today:

And, oh, the stories they told. “What amazed me about it, other than how beautifully designed it was, [were] the huge names that wrote for Holiday: Cheever, Hemingway, O’Hara,” says Josh Lieberman, a Brooklyn archivist who in 2011 looked back on Holiday in an impassioned online appreciation for the Paris Review Daily. “For a lot of them, these articles don’t exist anywhere else. So there is this trove of literature that has rarely been read by modern readers.”

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