The case for slow travel: revisiting the travels of the past
With the ongoing hoopla and ballyhoo, it seems summer holidays may be curtailed a little longer yet and yearning for distant horizons remain something of a dream this summer of 2021.
And so let us sit in reverie revisiting the travels of the past. Most particularly the essentials a gentleman of bygone days might require as he traversed the wide world in search of certain adventure.
I speak of the trusty dressing case. This wondrous item has its origins in the 14th century French valise, used by nobility and royalty to transport the essentials of personal grooming whilst travelling. Fast forward (I say, steady on!) through centuries of riotous history to the 19th century. In this quite extraordinary era of high risk global discovery the British were amongst the world’s most prolific explorers, exemplified by indomitable gentlemen such as Sir Richard Francis Burton and Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton. Among the vast array of luggage and campaign furniture, conveyed by bearers, railway porters or a retinue of servants, the Victorian and Edwardian adventurer would always be well groomed, thanks to his valiant valise. This comprised a veritable treasure chest of what were deemed to be necessary requisites, enabling him to look smart, remain clean and maintain the hard-won reputation of ‘Keeping A Stiff Upper Lip Regardless’.
These cases were lavishly stocked with an assortment of fascinating implements and tools, often monogrammed and made of ivory, ebony, mother-of-pearl or tortoiseshell, with silver topped cut glass jars to transport colognes pomade and lotions. The most extravagant chests were made by eminent luxury goods manufacturers such as Drew & Sons, Jenner & Knewstub, Mappin & Webb, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Asprey and Swaine & Adeney. They were often constructed of exotic woods such as coromandel, rosewood or walnut, and lined with satin, crushed velvet or Moroccan leather.
A dressing case would typically contain: bristle hair brushes, stiff and soft clothes brushes, badger hair shaving brushes, hand crafted cutthroat razors, luxurious shaving soap, a leather shaving strop, toothbrushes and toothpaste holder, glove stretchers, buttonhooks, shoehorns, moustache curling tongs and a spirit burner for heating up said tongs.
Later, the introduction of plastics, coupled with the advent of air travel, resulted in the development of smaller, more easily portable items, often housed in leather cases, leading directly to the simple wash bag containing only the bare essentials we use today.
Naturally, with the speed of modern travel and wide availability of familiar items across the globe, the modern gentleman is likely to carry less than his historical counterpart. However, I do wonder we may indeed be rediscovering the charm of wandering the world at a rather slower pace.
There is much joy in a more deliberate mode of travel, in which the destination matters less than the serendipitous wonders of the journey itself. Perchance the days are returning wherein the contemporary traveller takes only carefully considered luxuries, beautifully hand-crafted, demonstrating the best of a more reflective, low waste approach to life.
Gentlemen, in the end, what each of us carries is the material of our very own story. And the recounting of travellers’ tales is itself an awfully big part of the adventure.
Onwards…the world awaits.