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Author Topic: How was travel back in the good old days?  (Read 3207 times)

ce929wax

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How was travel back in the good old days?
« on: February 06, 2019, 05:30:53 PM »

I'm curious to know how travel was in the good old days?  How were breakdowns and other mishaps handled before we had cell phones?  How were the roads and signs different than they are now?  I'm also interested in general road trip stories from yesteryear.
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Max Rockatansky

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Re: How was travel back in the good old days?
« Reply #1 on: February 06, 2019, 05:47:51 PM »

It was a pain in the ass finding a hotel that had vacancies.  Being able to look up hotels and reserve stuff on online is a huge help, especially on longer trips to places like National Parks.  It wasn’t too uncommon just to park overnight on an off-ramp, rest area or gas station for me until the 2000s. 

GaryV

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Re: How was travel back in the good old days?
« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2019, 06:15:50 PM »

It took 6 months or more to get to Oregon and California - that's if you didn't get stranded in the mountains and had to eat your fellow travelers.  And if something big broke down, you salvaged all the stuff you could and hoped you could put it in someone else's wagon.

Oh, you didn't mean that old of good old days?

I agree making reservations was hit and miss.  When I was 5 our family went to Florida.  (Pre- Disney, and Busch Gardens had some penguins and one elephant, no rides, just the brewery tour.)  One night we ended up only 5 miles from where we had started the day, as my dad couldn't find anything available.  Turns out there was a race in Sebring.  And you couldn't go any farther south to find accommodations because then you were in the Everglades.  In my little 5 year old brain, I could have sworn I fell asleep in a room with different color curtains than when we woke up.

Travel took longer too.  We spent at least 3 nights on the road each way from MI to FL - although part of that was because we stopped to see things and people.

When we first got married, you had to rely on AAA books to find places, and then call them up (dialing, paying for long distance) on a telephone to see if they had any rooms.
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oscar

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Re: How was travel back in the good old days?
« Reply #3 on: February 06, 2019, 07:02:35 PM »

When we first got married, you had to rely on AAA books to find places, and then call them up (dialing, paying for long distance) on a telephone to see if they had any rooms.

Aside from the AAA TourBooks, there were also the paper directories put out by individual hotel/motel chains. I think Motel 6 is still putting them out, or if it gave them up it's probably the last company to do so. Until a few years ago, I had several chain directories in my cars' map pockets. Now, my current favorite chains so often open new locations and close/replace old ones, they don't bother with paper directories that quickly go out of date.

Also, pay at the pump at gas stations is an improvement over having to go inside to pay at a cashier (or pay an attendant, at full-serve stations). This improvement is more pronounced for U.S. travelers in Canada, now that U.S.-issued credit cards more often have chips in them. It used to be U.S. travelers often couldn't pay at the pump in Canada, because the pump asked for a six-character postal code and your five-digit ZIP code didn't work.

Heck, self-serve used to be much less prevalent than nowadays. Gas station attendants used to wash your windshield, check your oil and tire pressures (a more necessary task back then, with cars leaking/burning more oil, and without automatic tire pressure monitoring), and sometimes hand out free maps. And gas stations advertised their clean restrooms (I have a 1959 Rand McNally/Texaco road atlas featuring such advertising), as compared to nowadays where having any restrooms at all can be hit-or-miss.

I've been doing road trips since 1986, and am scratching my head about other things that were different about 20th century travel.

As for air travel, Southwest was a positive development, TSA not so much.
« Last Edit: February 06, 2019, 08:03:01 PM by oscar »
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Rothman

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Re: How was travel back in the good old days?
« Reply #4 on: February 06, 2019, 10:51:49 PM »

When my parents moved from UT to IN in 1975, pulling a trailer with a Plymouth Duster (if memory serves), they made reservations at a couple of places.  Because they overloaded the trailer, they had problems getting through the Rockies and missed every reservation they made.  Oh, and my mother was pregnant with me.

So, because of that experience, my parents never made reservations anywhere.  Typically, we spent a decent amount of time on our road trips not just finding a hotel, but a hotel with a price my parents were willing to pay (they also looked for the AAA signs).  Three experiences stick out in my mind:

1)  One summer weekend we were in Reno.  My parents assumed there was an abundance of hotel rooms, but the place was sold out.  Spent the night sleeping in the minivan in an RV park between Reno and Carson City.

2)  My father was tired of trying to find a place in Maine once.  He just picked a place that ended up being cheap...and disgusting.  In the morning, the guy behind the desk revealed that most customers of his paid by the hour.

3)  Car broke down at some interstate's interchange with U.S. 30 when I was quite young (I remember the BGS saying "Lincoln Hwy" under the shield). I remember one of my parents walking down the exit ramp to go find a phone or garage.  That experience led me to be an AAA plus member.

So, yeah, things took time back then and it was harder to get a tow than in the era of cell phones.
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Max Rockatansky

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Re: How was travel back in the good old days?
« Reply #5 on: February 06, 2019, 11:46:11 PM »

It took 6 months or more to get to Oregon and California - that's if you didn't get stranded in the mountains and had to eat your fellow travelers.  And if something big broke down, you salvaged all the stuff you could and hoped you could put it in someone else's wagon.

Or worse you listen to a guy named Hastings about his new "shorter" cut-off route that makes you miss getting over Donner Pass for the winter.  The follow up would be taking a guide through inhabited desert several years later trying to avoid the route of the Donner Party only to accidentally discover Death Valley.

dlsterner

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Re: How was travel back in the good old days?
« Reply #6 on: February 07, 2019, 12:04:52 AM »

Some memories of car travel from the late 1960's and early 70's ...

My father was a AAA member.  Since the nearest AAA office was (back then) about 50 miles away we had to order the maps and TourBooks and have them mailed to us.  We also stayed at Holiday Inns exclusively.  Being one of the few chains in existence, we could make advance reservations for the whole trip, and since most of them were very similar, we knew what we were getting.  Oh, and back then virtually all motels had exterior doors, whereas today most of the places I favor have interior doors.  Of course, if you had a ground floor room back then, you could literally park with your car trunk three feet from your door.  We could also count on the motel having a restaurant open for dinner and breakfast, as well as a pool for us kids for blowing off steam.

We also exclusively used Gulf gas stations.  Back then, Holiday Inn had an agreement with Gulf to accept their credit card for lodging.  We would watch billboards looking for upcoming Gulf stations.  It was always full-service back then, with an attendant pumping gas and cleaning our windshield while we all went to pee.  Fast food back then was mostly concentrated in the towns, there was very little out by the interstates.  We ended up eating at Stuckey's a lot; it was one of the few restaurants visible from the interstate.

And speaking of the interstates, there were plenty of gaps in the system back then.  It was common to occasionally hop off the interstate to the parallel US route and travel that until the interstate resumed.  In fact, much of the excitement of getting the new maps was discovering that a new segment of one of the interstates had opened.

This is kind of fun, re-living these memories ...
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Henry

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Re: How was travel back in the good old days?
« Reply #7 on: February 07, 2019, 10:05:25 AM »

Chicago was the northern/eastern terminus for Route 66, so it was only fair that my parents use it as a starting point for road trips out west. We avoided the interstates where we could, and stayed at the fabulous motels along the way. This was when virtually all businesses had neon signs advertising them, and it was far better than the generic versions that are there now. And I found the rotating signs (usually found at gas stations) to be very cool as well. Not to mention that we never left home without our Rand McNally atlases, and that our cars of choice were Oldsmobiles (a Cutlass convertible for my dad, and a new Calais, which was a high school graduation gift, for me when I retraced the routing of my childhood during my first solo roadtrip to Los Angeles).
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Re: How was travel back in the good old days?
« Reply #8 on: February 07, 2019, 10:16:01 AM »

You used paper maps, studied where you were going to go, and prepared your route beforehand.

Blue signs and billboard on the highways helped you find gas and places to eat.  But you couldn't determine if the next exit had cheaper gas or not without apps.

My dad mentioned the story a few times of them going on a trip and their car breaking down.  They got it to a local repair shop.  The owner just lent his car out to them to continue the trip.
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kphoger

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Re: How was travel back in the good old days?
« Reply #9 on: February 07, 2019, 11:54:50 AM »

1.  Rand McNally was king of the road before Google Maps.  This meant several things.  First of all, if two highways only appeared to intersect in a given town, but instead another connecting road was required, then you wouldn't know that ahead of time.  Secondly, calculating drive time involved actual math:  miles ÷ speed limit = hours, and then you would tack on additional time based on how much you expected city traffic to slow you down.  Thirdly, I tended to plan pit stops in bigger towns (where I could reasonably expect to find decent gas stations and fast-food restaurants) back then, whereas now I have the ability to search for decent pit stops in small towns or even middle-of-nowhere stretches of highway instead.  Back then, billboards and blue services signs were how we decided where to eat.

2.  Pay-at-the-pump was not a thing.  oscar said it's more convenient nowadays because of pay-at-the-pump, but that's only true if you pay for gas on a credit card.  With cash, it was more convenient back then, because you only had to go inside once.  Nowadays you go inside, put your money down, pump your gas, then go back inside again for your change.

3.  Brand loyalty was more of a thing, especially when it came to lodging.  Nowadays, you can look up user reviews and prices for individual hotels.  Back then, you simply trusted what hotel chain had been good for you in other cities in the past.  Sometimes that worked out OK, but other times you ended up somewhere junky just because it had the right sign outside.

4.  I only remember my parents' car breaking down twice back before ubiquitous cell phones.  Once was a flat tire in Michigan, so my dad just changed that himself on the side of the road.  The other was a bad alternator on K-383 northeast of Norton (KS) on our way to Chicago.  My dad hitched a ride back into town to find a mechanic, while the rest of us waited with the car on the side of the road.  That's actually not been any different than the times I've broken down on road trips during the age of cell phones.  Of the two times I've had a major mechanical failure while on the road in the last ten years, once was in Mexico and we enlisted the help of two hitchhikers to find a local mechanic somewhere down the road, and the other was in a cell phone dead zone in western Colorado and we got help from some truckers.

5.  Watching movies in the car wasn't a thing yet.  Kids had travel-size games, word search books, and stuff to keep them entertained.

6.  I don't recall anyone ever making a reservation for a campsite.  Maybe that didn't exist by phone back then, or maybe people just didn't know about it.  So finding an open campsite at a state park was hit or miss.  In unfamiliar territory, you also had to just assume that a state park would be decent, which isn't necessarily the case.
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abefroman329

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Re: How was travel back in the good old days?
« Reply #10 on: February 07, 2019, 12:24:16 PM »

How were breakdowns and other mishaps handled before we had cell phones?
Your choices were:
(1) raise the hood of your car, hope a cop drove past and saw you
(2) walk to the nearest service station
(3) [starting in the 1980s or so] walk to the nearest motorist assistance call box, if there was one
(4) repair the car yourself

We had an experience similar to kphoger's on a road trip in the early 90s, where we got a flat tire on our Plymouth Voyager on the Outer Belt of the Capital Beltway somewhere between I-270 and I-95 in Virginia, and my dad had to change it himself.

Preparing for road trips meant checking out the most recent edition of the relevant Mobil Travel Guide from the library and calling motels at our destination/along the way.  Planning the trip and stops along the way was done with a road atlas and a ruler, although, by the late 80s or early 90s, you could call Allstate Motor Club, give them your origin and destination, and they'd send you a printout of the fastest route (basically what I would do on MapQuest and, later, Google Maps between the early 2000s and when I got my first iPhone and started using the Google Maps app).
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kphoger

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Re: How was travel back in the good old days?
« Reply #11 on: February 07, 2019, 12:45:30 PM »

I should mention that, even though my cell phone was no use to me on the two occasions I was stranded along the side of a highway, it still came in handy later on as part of the solution.

In Mexico, once we had found a mechanic the old-fashioned way (by asking locals at every village we came to), the mechanic had us drive to Saltillo to pick up the new part for him (we had been traveling with two vehicles, and only one broke down).  On our way into town, I used my cell phone to dial the 01-800 number and unlock our debit card for international charges; otherwise, it likely would have been declined at AutoZone.

In Colorado, we were able to limp into Grand Junction after the truckers had helped us out, where finding a decent motel was smart-phone-assisted.  Then, once checked into a motel, finding a decent mechanic was similarly smart-phone-assisted—as was figuring out the local bus network, which allowed us to visit a museum while our car was in the shop for a couple of days.
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PAHighways

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Re: How was travel back in the good old days?
« Reply #12 on: February 07, 2019, 04:50:54 PM »

You had to make sure you had extra money on you if you were traveling a toll road.  If it utilized a ticket system like Pennsylvania's, you made sure not to lose it or else you were paying the toll to the farthest interchange.

There were no logo service sign boards, just general "FOOD - GAS - LODGING."

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kphoger

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Re: How was travel back in the good old days?
« Reply #13 on: February 07, 2019, 04:55:18 PM »

You had to make sure you had extra money on you if you were traveling a toll road.

This is still true today.
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Max Rockatansky

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Re: How was travel back in the good old days?
« Reply #14 on: February 07, 2019, 04:57:22 PM »

How were breakdowns and other mishaps handled before we had cell phones?
Your choices were:
(1) raise the hood of your car, hope a cop drove past and saw you
(2) walk to the nearest service station
(3) [starting in the 1980s or so] walk to the nearest motorist assistance call box, if there was one
(4) repair the car yourself

Hell a good chunk of the roadways I travel on you won't find any help aside from what you have in your trunk.  That kind of thing was typical on pretty much every roadway until probably the early 2000s when cell phones became common.  I still rather carry a set of jumper cables and full size spare than have to rely on calling someone for help.

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Re: How was travel back in the good old days?
« Reply #15 on: February 07, 2019, 04:59:55 PM »

You had to make sure you had extra money on you if you were traveling a toll road.

This is still true today.
Besides ETC, there is now toll-by-plate and some roads that accept credit cards.

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Max Rockatansky

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Re: How was travel back in the good old days?
« Reply #16 on: February 07, 2019, 05:03:20 PM »

You had to make sure you had extra money on you if you were traveling a toll road.

This is still true today.

A good chunk of toll roads are all electronic toll-by-plate these days.  I found that to be the case just this past month in the Tampa Area.  The rental car agencies just off toll-by-plate as part of the rental agreement nowadays. 

What has changed since the old days was having to carry a fist full of quarters and coins for exact change booths.  Those quarters have migrated to usually several dollars at minimum, especially on the East Coast.  Back in 2014 I pretty shocked by how high the tolls on I-95 in Maryland had gotten since the early 1990s. 

kphoger

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Re: How was travel back in the good old days?
« Reply #17 on: February 07, 2019, 05:05:03 PM »



You had to make sure you had extra money on you if you were traveling a toll road.

This is still true today.

Besides ETC, there is now toll-by-plate and some roads that accept credit cards.

I know that.  But most people on a road trip without a toll transponder still carry extra cash with them for tolls.  Heck, if they don't about interoperability, I bet a lot of them with toll transponders do as well.

What has changed since the old days was having to carry a fist full of quarters and coins for exact change booths.  Those quarters have migrated to usually several dollars at minimum, especially on the East Coast.  Back in 2014 I pretty shocked by how high the tolls on I-95 in Maryland had gotten since the early 1990s. 

Drive the turnpikes in Oklahoma, and those quarters still come in handy for the exact-change baskets.
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Re: How was travel back in the good old days?
« Reply #18 on: February 07, 2019, 05:07:05 PM »

Drive the turnpikes in Oklahoma, and those quarters still come in handy for the exact-change baskets.

Yeah, it feels like Illinois...in the 1990s.
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Re: How was travel back in the good old days?
« Reply #19 on: February 07, 2019, 05:51:37 PM »

The tollway and Pace bus....  how I got rid of pennies and nickels back in the 2000s.
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Max Rockatansky

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Re: How was travel back in the good old days?
« Reply #20 on: February 07, 2019, 06:32:15 PM »



You had to make sure you had extra money on you if you were traveling a toll road.

This is still true today.

What has changed since the old days was having to carry a fist full of quarters and coins for exact change booths.  Those quarters have migrated to usually several dollars at minimum, especially on the East Coast.  Back in 2014 I pretty shocked by how high the tolls on I-95 in Maryland had gotten since the early 1990s. 

Drive the turnpikes in Oklahoma, and those quarters still come in handy for the exact-change baskets.

Hell it made me appreciate how relatively cheap the tolls in Florida were when I lived there by comparison. 

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Re: How was travel back in the good old days?
« Reply #21 on: February 07, 2019, 11:10:46 PM »

You had to make sure you had extra money on you if you were traveling a toll road.

That wasn’t too terribly long ago... I recall from my earliest days of driving (early 2000s, before I signed up for E-ZPass) the sinking feeling of having entered the Turnpike only to realize that I didn’t have any cash on me. I remember at least once needing to go far out of my way to the nearest service plaza so I could stop at an ATM and get cash.

But in addition to needing cash for tolls, let’s consider what interstate traveling was like prior to the proliferation of major credit cards and ATMs—long before my time. If you were headed out on a long-distance road trip, you’d possibly be withdrawing several hundred dollars or more in cash to cover hotels, meals, fuel, and incidental expenses over the entire duration of the journey. Banks were much more local/regional in nature than they are today, so the idea of making a withdrawal from your own bank several states away was almost unheard of. You might buy traveler’s cheques to protect the bulk of the total, but it’s my understanding that even in the heyday of traveler’s checks, they were far from universally accepted. So you’d possibly try to break a few cheques at your hotel or another business that catered to travelers, leaving plenty of cash on hand for other expenses along the way.

Having a BankAmericard (Visa), Master Charge (MasterCard), Diners Club, or American Express card was something of a status symbol up through the early ’80s. If you were a member of the masses, you likely had an oil company credit card, however, and you might seek out whatever gasoline brand was on your credit card to conserve your precious supply of cash. Since most oil companies had limited territories, their credit cards sometimes had reciprocity with other brands—but only certain brands in certain areas. Some also had agreements with individual hotel chains, too (like Gulf with Holiday Inn). But if you didn’t plan your stops carefully, you might need to dig into your limited cash reserves.

I have to imagine that there were some nervous moments with people a thousand miles from home realizing that they were running low on cash...perhaps searching frantically on an empty tank for a Gulf station or driving all night to reach the next Holiday Inn because it was the only accommodation their credit card could buy.
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Re: How was travel back in the good old days?
« Reply #22 on: February 07, 2019, 11:27:09 PM »

My personal experiences in travel are from the late 1990s until now.  I remember taking a trip to Cincinnati around 1991 or so, but the only things I specifically remember from that trip are that we drove my brothers tan Colt Vista van and my brother asking to stop at McDonalds and my Mom telling him that she didn't have any cash.  When we traveled later on, my parents (Mom and Step-Dad) always had some kind of cell phone and some kind of debit/credit card.  I have personally never traveled with any cash, except for loose or petty cash.  The only mishap I have ever had was a flat tire in Kentucky, but that was in 2012 and I was able to get help fairly quickly, although I had a mishap with my bank. 
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Re: How was travel back in the good old days?
« Reply #23 on: February 07, 2019, 11:31:51 PM »

I saw lots of car accidents back in the days before Interstate highways.  On a trip from Chicago to Florida, I saw at least 10 accidents.  These were accidents that had already happened, with major property damage, but not sure if any of them had injuries.
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Re: How was travel back in the good old days?
« Reply #24 on: February 08, 2019, 02:16:24 AM »

Even before the web became the predominant way to pre-book lodging, getting a long cross-country trip set up in advance over the phone (usually with toll-free numbers) was a quantum leap from my first experience with my parents back in the summer of '60 (when I was 10 -- but still the default "navigator" for such a trip -- armed with my trusty Gousha atlas!).  That was a "on the fly" experience when it came time to locate overnight rooms (L.A. to St. Louis and return; completely different routes each way due to relative-visiting on the return leg).  Some motels were fine; others -- in a word, sucked (pretty much any out on the Great Plains); this was prior to the domination of the field by consistent-quality chains.  Interesting trip -- very sporadic stretches of Interstate (70 near Abilene, KS and into St. Louis; a few miles of 44 near Springfield, MO, and a bit of 40 west of Santa Rosa, NM), with most of the trip on 2-lane highways, with some "conventional" divided 4-lane (US 287 in the Panhandle of TX and US 66 across the Continental Divide are etched in memory).  One of the more memorable moments:  a "stampede" of tarantulas across US 70 west of Waurika, OK (my mom's reaction: "....Eww -- they're gonna get squished all over the tires.  Bleah!").  Don't remember much about the food on the trip; at age 10 if you provided me with a decent hamburger or a chili dog (having grown up with Tommy's chiliburgers and chili dogs as a L.A. kid) I was just fine!  I'm a bit pickier these days (for better or worse).   
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