Next spring Skyhorse will be publishing a Victorian etiquette book I've compiled from antique sources. With summer currently on us and many people traveling, I thought some of you would enjoy a sneak peak into a portion of the section on traveling etiquette. Happy reading! -S.C.
By Elizabeth Bisland
Originally appearing in The Woman's Book Volume I. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 1894. pages 371-400.
This passage will be reprinted as a chapter in a Victorian etiquette guide appearing from Skyhorse Publishing next Spring - stay tuned!
There is a right way and a wrong way of doing everything, and the difference between the right way and the wrong way in travel is the whole space which lies between pleasure and disappointment. The proper method of travel is an art which may be learned perhaps only by personal experience, and some one else's person experience is, on the whole, the cheaper sort. One personal experience can be summed up in a pair of phrases, which, rightly used, have the value of those magic amulets benignant witches present to young heroes when starting out to see the world, and which, applied to all difficulties, at once solved or removed them.
The first of these potential phrases is, "When in doubt use common-sense." The second grows naturally out of it: "Do in Rome as do the Romans." In these two sayings lies the whole art of agreeable travelling...
So much of the pleasure of travel depends upon the physical condition of the traveller that such a paper as this had best begin with a few suggestions under the head of "Preparations." It is a difficult prescription to follow, but a good one, that one should begin a journey fresh and unfatigued. Packing should be well in hand twenty-four hours previous to setting out, and, under ordinary circumstances, a little forethought will obviate that furious hurry and scurry at the last moment which leaves the nerves tingling with excitement.
The question of luggage is to be governed, of course, by such considerations as length of absence, the season, and one's destination. My own opinion and experience is that a woman can travel comfortably to any distance, and to any climate, with one trunk, a dressing-bag, and a shawl-strap. Very recently a great advance has been made in the manner of trunks, and already one begins to look back on one's contentment with the bungling old boxes full of trays as a piece of phenomenal ignorance. This new box has a hinged top, which, being lifted, exposes a series of drawers both large and small, so that instead of struggling with the refractory trays and breaking one's back in search of some object that has, in a spirit of wantonness, descended into the depths at the instant when most needed, one whips out the shallow drawers and in a twinkling can pounce upon the most elusive and wily of one's possessions. The newest dressing-bag also is a great improvement over any previous efforts in this line; the fittings being wrought of weightless celluloid, made in an excellent imitation of tortoise-shell or amber, replacing the heavy glass and silver which made a dressing-case a burden to be avoided at any cost. Now that the objection of weight is removed, the dressing-bag, with its compact toilet appliances, is quite indispensible to comfort in travel. These dressing-cases are somewhat more costly than the ordinary bag, but they are usually of good material and therefore wear well, and the saving in time, and the comfort of knowing one's belongings are tidy and ready to hand, is worth the extra cost ten times over. Heretofore, because of being obliged to carry all one's own hand-baggage in this country, the dressing-case has not been popular with us; but this difficulty of weight removed, no wise or skilled traveller will be without so great an addition to her convenience.
A medium-sized bag, convenient for a woman's handling, will have space as well for a night-dress, a pair of soft, heelless dressing-slippers, and a light dressing-gown - China silk in summer time, or soft wool for winter. A gray Chudda shawl of large size can be cut into such a dressing-gown, and is so soft and compressible that it occupies but little space.
The shawl-strap should contain an ulster, travelling-rug, overshoes, and umbrella. Another matter to be considered in preparing for comfort in travel is the possession of a definite place for everything, so that everything may be found in its place the instant it is wanted. Therefore cases for handkerchiefs, gloves and veils, bags for shoes and for soiled linen, should all be provided, and every article being carefully laid away in its proper receptacle after using, not only insures against losses that cannot be repaired at critical moments, and frantic searches for strayed belongings, but keeps one's boxes and clothes dainty and fresh.
By natural sequence the next point to be considered is that of toilets. There is no need, in addressing American women, to inveigh against frowsy unkemptness in travelling - their tendency as a rule is toward "over-smartness;" but where a question of the quantity and weight of luggage is to be dealt with, it may be worth while to plan how an immaculate appearance and comfort are to be maintained out of trunks of small compass...
The many women who wear silk or wool tricot undergarments find them easily carried in small compass. Those who do not like this form of dress will discover that for long journeys there is nothing so satisfactory for underwear as silk. The original cost is rather large, but it proves an economy in the end, as clothes of the soft India (not China) silk are so easily laundered - requiring no starch - shed, instead of gathering, dust; do not conduct changes of temperature; and, keeping the body at an even temperature, are the greatest safeguards against colds. Nothing can be a greater luxury, in sea-sickness, or after a hot day in the cars, than to slip for the night into a silky garment which neither heats nor chills the skin, nor retains the dust and wrinkles of a previous wearing, as would cambric or linen.
The ideal travelling gown is undoubtedly a very plain tailor skirt and coat of some neutral-tinted serge or tweed, with a silk bodice, as it can stand the stress of weather, of sea-damps, and railway dust, is easy of fit, and can be adapted to the tropics by removing the coat, or adjusted to the arctic zone by the addition of furs. A simple and satisfactory adjunct is a black silk dress with two bodices - one adapted for evening...
Most of the travelling done within our borders is, of necessity, on the railway, and despite our persistent self-glorification in this very matter, we have - in many things - much to learn from Europe. The Continental wagonslits, and the English sleeping-cars are in several respects improvements upon our own. For one thing they avoid that promiscuity which so greatly shocks the foreigner travelling in America. In Germany one may secure a first-class carriage for one's self at an expense no greater than that of a whole section in a sleeping-car, and attached to this is a private dressing-room with all conveniences. Here one is secluded as in one's own bedroom, and instead of futile wrestlings in the curtained pigeon-hole provided in American cars, one dresses and undresses at one's ease, with plenty of space and no possibility of intrusion. All the through-trains leaving Paris for Constantinople, Vienna, Berlin, Rome, and Nice are provided with wagon-lits, cars which have a narrow passage-way upon one side, upon which opens a series of small bedrooms, securing privacy for many that American cars only offer to the one party rich enough or lucky enough to secure the single "state-room" at the end of the sleeper.
While few of the Continental trains have a dining-car attached, those without one are provided with a small kitchen at the end of the wagon-lit, where the guard concocts pleasant little meals, largely of fruit, salads, cheese, and good crusty loaves, and serves them in each room upon movable tables.
The trains de luxe between Calais and Paris, between London and Edinburgh, have beautiful dining arrangements, and the saloon carriages are spacious and luxurious beyond any comparison with the best we have to offer. Another point deserving mention in the European trains is the studied simplicity of the decorations. Smooth, handsome blue broadcloth takes the place of stuffy plush, and the tempest of gilded ornamentations is conspicuous by its delightful absence.
In making long trips in England or on the Continent it is well that the woman travelling alone should go to the expense of taking first-class tickets to secure the advantages of the added luxury and privacy; but for all journeys of moderate length - and very few are as long as twelve hours - second class is quite good enough and a great deal cheaper. For journeys of an hour or two many English people go third class, since the carriages in this class are perfectly clean and fairly comfortable, and one is not likely to suffer any inconvenience from the manners of one's fellow travellers, which are almost without exception quiet and decent. On the Continent a woman unaccompanied had better content herself with the economy of second class, as her experiences might not be agreeable in the third.
Wherever one may be fated to spend any length of time in land travel it is best to follow certain rules. One of these is to be sure of plenty of fresh air. In our own country this is sometimes made difficult by the over-heating of cars, the double windows, and the lack of proper ventilation; while in Europe the loosely fitting sashes and lack of artificial warmth gives one at times too much even of that good thing. An excellent practice is to get out wherever a stop of more than a few minutes is made and walk briskly, filling the lungs and stirring the blood. In almost all cases where a traveller finds herself unable to sleep in the cars the difficulty may be corrected by a supply of fresh air.
A good plan is to undress entirely, as at home, slipping over the night-gown the loose silk or wool dressing-gown, thus protecting oneself against danger of colds, and being prepared in case of accident...
It cannot be too much urged upon the traveller by land or by water, in temperate or tropic zone, that there should be no chance for exercise neglected. The change of air induces, as a rule, a more vigorous appetite, and the enforced sluggishness of long days on board vessel and car makes it difficult for the digestion to cope with its added task, the result being disorders which are apt to rob one of all pleasure and predispose one to colds and infection.
These suggestions apply to the case of the woman journeying under the escort of what is known as her natural protector, and treat principally of her physical comfort and well-being; but for the woman who sets forth into the world alone there are many matters still to be considered.
To the indolent, the timid, and the inexperienced among women there is something extremely terrifying in the thought of lonely wanderings, unaccompanied by some man to save trouble and bear the blame of mishaps; but there is, in reality, nothing to prevent a woman from seeing every civilized, and even semi-civilized, country in the world without other protection than her own modesty and good sense. There is a vast amount of chivalry and tenderness distributed in the hearts of men, and while the woman who goes guarded may be quite unaware of it, because nothing in her case calls it forth, the chivalry is there, and ready for almost unlimited draughts upon its patience, devotion, and sympathy. In all accidents by land or water the first thought of those in authority is the safety of the women, and while all yet goes smoothly the very defencelessness of a lonely woman appears to put every man upon his honor, and make him feel, in a certain sense, responsible for her comfort and enjoyment. That women travelling alone have at times painful experiences cannot be denied, but I boldly assert that in nine cases out of ten it is due wholly and solely to their own fault. A few have been so warned against the wiles of a wicked world that they are unable to discriminate between an honest desire to be of use and mere vulgar effrontery, and reward courteous attentions with suspicious rudeness. A still greater number look upon their own needs and discomforts as matters of cosmical importance, before which the affairs of the universe - notably the masculine half- should give way; and their petulance, peevishness, and aggressive assumptions drive even the meekest of their fellow-travellers into open revolt. Still another cause of difficulty is an embarassed timidity in cases where instant repression is needed; and a lack of courageous dignity in the face of insolence.
The woman who is cool-headed, courteous, and self-reliant, can travel around the world in every direction and find no word or look to daunt or distress her. Indeed if her manners be sweetly gracious and dignified she will find all lands full of brave cavaliers who will spring to gratify her smallest request, who will see and meet her needs before they are put into words, and who cheerfully will imperil and even yield up their lives in her defense and to insure her safety...
A cool and nimble wit is generally the best defence against vulgar aggression, and achieves its end more neatly than would angry protest.
A very young girl was once making a long railway journey alone, and to amuse her solitude dabbled a little in an attempt at literature. She was aware that a man in the opposite section of the sleeping-car was endeavoring to attract her attention, but she kept her head bent over her manuscript and gave no sign of being aware of his existence. Finally, all his efforts failing, he crossed the aisle between them and laid his visiting card on the adjustable table before her.
"That's my name, miss," he said, and added, with insinuating familiarity, "I guess we're two of a kind."
The girl regarded the card distantly, and raising her eyes to his face, coolly contemplated it during several minutes of silence.
"Really!" she replied at last, "you flatter me. In what respect may I hope to resemble you?"
"Oh," stammered the small cad, getting red and embarrassed beneath her calm gaze, "you seem to be a writer, and I am one myself; I'm a reporter. Guess we're a pair of Bohemians, aint we?"
"You mean that?" she answered politely, glancing at the thirty or forty pages of manuscript she had covered. "I fear it has misled you. That is a letter to my husband. Good morning!" And she quietly dotted an i, and went on with her work. The car heard her and understood, and the car smiled satirically at the unmatched Bohemian, who sneaked away to the smoker and was seen no more by daylight in his seat.
Impertinence is not the only matter with which the solitary woman must deal; she must be alert, accurate, and quick-witted, and while she is sure to find assistance she must act as if she did not count upon it, and take all possible precautions for herself...
There is much diversity of opinion and experience in the matter of guides and couriers, but a good rule seems to be that in countries where one understands the language they are unnecessary, while in localities where the language is absolutely unknown, one is apt to miss many pleasures for lack of an interpreter. In England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, the routes are so well known and so constantly travelled, that an energetic, enterprising traveller can see all that is to be seen without aid; but in Norway and Sweden, Russia, Holland, and Turkey, in Egypt, and in Japan, where the languages are so difficult that even the few phrases needed by the traveller are more troublesome to acquire than the result is worth, a guide and interpreter are quite necessary. In India English is so generally spoken that an American woman does not find herself at a disadvantage.
It is the gentleman who sits at the receipt of custom who fills with vague alarm many a gentle female soul, but experience usually robs him of all terrors. Strangely enough, England, which is supposed to be entirely free from any protective measures, is a most troublesome port to enter. Brandy, cologne, silver plate, tobacco and the Tauchnitz novels are not permitted to enter the tight little island, and it is generally some well-behaved, eminently conventional matron who is most sharply questioned as to the presence of tobacco and brandy in her trunks, and has her stockings, underlinen, and bonnets tossed madly about in the search for contraband means of distribution. On the Continent more discrimination is shown, and for the most part the officers of the douane discern at a glance whether one is likely to have diamonds concealed in one's boot-heels, or owes the rich contours of one's figure to tightly rolled consignments of lace. The slightest reluctance to have one's belongings searched, however, at once arouses suspicion, and only the cheerful and prompt handing over of keys achieves the much-to-be-desired mere lifting and closing of the lid. My own experience leads me to believe that the most courteous and kindly of customs officials are those in the Port of New York - and that even under the McKinley tariff regulations; but memory preserves in the amber of gratitude one gentle-hearted Gaul, who, looking into the weary eyes of a lonely woman newly arrived in Paris at eight o'clock in the evening, was moved to real compassion and chalked with his mystic sign four large boxes without word or question...
All directions and suggestions to travellers must of necessity be vague and general; each voyage, like each life, is individual and unique; but common sense and good temper alike each are the two safest guides and most agreeable traveling companions.
 A cheap, roughly-woven item used as a blanket.
 Imported lace was taxed highly in the late nineteenth-century, and therefore a popular item for smuggling. One popular method among women smugglers was to wrap many yards of lace around their legs underneath their skirts. Some of the earliest women customs officials in New York were matrons employed to take suspected woman smugglers aside and check under their skirts for contraband.