Ten 19th century top tips for female travellers

To mark International Women's Day, we share travelling tips from Lillias Campbell Davidson's groundbreaking 1889 publication, 'Hints to Lady Travellers'. How much (or little) has changed since...?

6 mins

1. Accidents

A woman with a first aid kit (Shutterstock)
A woman with a first aid kit (Shutterstock)

It seems somewhat ominous to begin a book of hints on travel with so disastrous a subject, but we must bear in mind the proverbial philosophy which tells us that ‘accidents will happen’, together with the more consolatory truth that ‘forewarned is forearmed’.

There are perhaps, in proportion, no more risks in travelling than in any other situation of daily life, and it is undoubtedly true that modern invention and skill have greatly lessened all such risks to a minimum. It is well to be prepared for every contingency in life, and a few practical hints may not be amiss to the intending lady traveller.

First of all, it may be laid down as a universal rule that coolness and self-possession in the time of danger are not only the greatest safeguards against impeding accident, but the best life-preservers when that accident has become an established fact.

Fortunately, courage and calmness in the hour of peril are no longer rare feminine virtues in the present day. As a broad general principle, a woman’s place in the moment of danger is to keep still and be ready for action.

Never anticipate accidents, though you prepare against them. I mean, don’t feel convinced, every journey that you set out upon, that peril lurks in ambush in your path. Don’t see collision in every jolt of the train, and scent shipwreck in each lurch of the steamer. Travelling under such circumstances will become neither an enjoyment nor a benefit, and you had better remain at home all your days with a fire-escape tied to your window and a burglar-alarm ready to your hand.

Banish all sense of danger and all anticipation of accidents, if you want really to derive joy and advantage from your travels!

2. Cycling tours

A female cyclist in the mountains (Shutterstock)
A female cyclist in the mountains (Shutterstock)

No style of touring is at once so enjoyable and so health giving, and as more women experience the pleasures of the wheel, and the ease with which the possession of a three-wheeled machine will enable them to cover miles of ground in a most conveniently short space of time, there is little doubt that the cycling tourists of our own sex will soon equal those of the other.

It is a mistake to plan beforehand too long daily distances. The first day or two should be taken very moderately, and there should not be the least false shame about stopping to rest as often as one is tired, or at calling a halt altogether earlier than was first intended.

Cycling for women only has two real perils – that of over-fatigue or of catching a chill when over-heated; and these dangers may be reduced to a fraction by reasonable prudence and common-sense.

The first day of the tour the unaccustomed rider will probably feel somewhat tired and stiff. A hot bath and good night’s rest will generally set matters right, and she will be surprised to find how the fatigue is lessened the following day, and so on, till the first ten or twelve miles which exhausted her are exchanged for the thirty or forty which only serve to raise her spirits and exhilarate her pulses.

It is a mistake ever to start on a tour on a machine to which one is not thoroughly well used, and a tricycle of one’s own is fifty times better than a hired machine.

Nevertheless, have your machine thoroughly over-hauled by a good mechanic before you start touring. Nuts should be tightened, spokes tested, and a thorough cleaning should ensure easy running and unsoiled gowns.

So many ladies tour, either singly or in companies of two and three, now-a-days, that they no longer excite the attention and surprise which, not so very long ao, were their lot. It is seldom or never that they find themselves subjected to either rudeness or annoyance, even in the remoter country districts. Nevertheless, it is as well to bear in mind certain simple rules – to ride by day only, as far as may be possible, and to avoid lonely and unfrequented roads at untimely hours.

3. Etiquette of travelling

A woman on a train in Sri Lanka (Shutterstock)
A woman on a train in Sri Lanka (Shutterstock)

There are certain unwritten laws in travelling which are as carefully observed by well-bred people as though they were the ordinary code of good society.

For instance, with regard to that fertile source of discomfort in railway travelling, open or closed windows, tradition has settled that it is the right of the individual seated nearest the window, notable one who face the engine, to decide the position of the pane of glass.

If a draught freezes, or close air threatens to suffocate the other passengers, they may politely beg the favour of an alteration, but they cannot insist; the matter is altogether in the hands of the corner seat person, and by his or her decision the others must abide.

So, also, with a seat whose owner has temporarily left it at a station, or which is engaged before the train starts. An umbrella, a bag – in fact, any article of the proprietor left there – secures it from appropriation by any other passenger, no matter how full the compartment may become.

Persons who have been much abroad, and seen different men and manners, insensibly lose a great deal of this stiff unpleasantness of behaviour, and are ready at least to exchange the ordinary civilities of every day life with those into whose society they are thrown.

There is certainly something very agreeable in the Continental habit of exchanging bows with every stranger who enters or leaves one’s railway carriage, or hotel-coffee-room, and it grates a good deal on one’s sense of human kindliness to return to the cold repellant stare, or the attempted unconsciousness, which replaces this habit of courtesy, in our own country.

4. Excursions

A woman on a bus tour (Shutterstock)
A woman on a bus tour (Shutterstock)

The excursion is hardly a mode of travel to be recommended to the lady traveller, especially to the lady travelling alone. There is apt to be a great crowd, limited accommodation and often much unpleasantness from a rough element. Nevertheless, it may often happen that the reduced fares of such an expedition tempt her to join, in which case she should be early at the point of departure, since the golden rule of the excursion system is, ‘first come, first served’.

Luggage is never allowed on day excursions, except such as may be carried in the hand, which, among the regular patrons of cheap excursions, consists mainly of plentiful provision for the way.

In the south of England, and in the agricultural districts, excursionists are often of a mild and inoffensive type; but in the north, and more particularly in the vicinity of the large manufacturing towns, they are sometimes extremely objectionable in manners and conversation, and so rough that a gentlewoman will feel singularly out of place among them.

However, if she joins excursions, she must not take exception to her fellow ‘trippers’, and as an English crowd is almost always good-natured, even in its roughness, she will probably experience nothing worse than rough language and flashes of wit of a kind with which she is not upon terms of intimate acquaintance-ship, and good-humoured toleration on her party will be decidedly the wisest policy.

5. Fellow travellers

Coping with other travellers (Mazur Travel/Shutterstock)
Coping with other travellers (Mazur Travel/Shutterstock)

If boarding-house life brings out people’s characteristics to a marked extent, the same may be said of travel of all kinds. Of all qualities which have a tendency to display themselves in people who travel, selfishness or the opposite virtue come out in perhaps the boldest relief.

It is really extraordinary to see the way in which people, well bred in all the other affairs of life, will fight for the best places, disregard each other’s comfort, and evince a firm determination to consult no one’s wishes but their own. Travel is certainly the true touchstone of character.

Much has been said about the danger to women, especially young women, travelling alone, of annoyance from impertinent obtrusive attentions from travellers of the other sex. I can only say, that in any such case which has ever come within my personal knowledge or observation, the woman has had only herself to blame. I am quite sure that no man, however audacious, will, at all events if he be sober, venture to treat with undue familiarity or rudeness a woman, however young, who distinctly shows him by her dignity of manner and conduct that any such liberty will be an insult.

As a rule, women travelling alone receive far more consideration and kindness from men of all classes than under an other circumstances whatever, and the greater independence of women, which permits even young girls, in these days, to travel about entirely alone, unattended even by a maid, has very rarely inconvenient consequences.

Real annoyance from fellow-travellers should never be endured. I mean such uncalled-for breaches of politeness as smoking in a carriage not dedicated to that pastime, where there are ladies, the use of bad language, quarrelling, or small indulgences of the sort. A remonstrance will very often have a good effect; but if that fails, the guard should be informed of the annoyance, and requested to settle matters.

In cases of real difficulty or danger, such as one of which I lately heard, when a lady found herself alone in a railway carriage with a lunatic suffering from violent homicidal mania, if the train is not likely to call a halt speedily, it is possible to stop it by means of either the cord of communication outside, or the newer arrangements, which can be reached from within.

6. Money

Be money-wise (Shutterstock)
Be money-wise (Shutterstock)

There is always a good deal of anxiety connected with money and travelling. Ladies, as a rule, are not so conveniently supplied with the means of carrying this necessary but troublesome commodity as are the members of the other sex; and a purse is a thing which is easily lost, mislaid, or stolen.

It is unwise to carry large sums of money about with one, and it is safer only to put in one’s purse such an amount as will be required during the day’s journey, with a margin over the unforeseen occurrences, possible loss of ticket, etc., etc.

Surplus gold and notes should be sewn into the bodies of one’s dress, or in some such secure place of refuge. Many ladies put theirs in the drawer of their dressing-case, or some such ordinary receptacle; but as a dressing-case is always supposed to contain valuables it is much more likely to be carried off bodily, spare cash and all, than any other party of one’s belongings, Neither is it safe to put much money in one’s boxes, where it is exposed to perils of various sorts.

Perhaps as good a plan as any is to convert five or ten pounds into postal orders, made out to oneself. If they are then signed with one’s name, they are pretty safe, and the name of the post-office can always be filled in as occasion requires. These postal orders have the portability of bank-notes, and are safer; besides being readily changed in districts where there are no banks to visit.

A very excellent system is that of the Post Office Savings Bank. With a deposit place there before one leaves home, and with one’s bankbook in one’s possession, one can withdraw any sum of money in any part of the kingdom at a couple of day’ notice. More than thirty pounds cannot, however, be deposited during the year, and the whole sum to a depositor’s credit is now allowed to exceed £150. It is therefore only useful in case of requiring small sums.

7. Summer travelling

Travelling in summer (Shutterstock)
Travelling in summer (Shutterstock)

In some ways summer is by far the most enjoyable season of the year for the pleasures of travelling, and possesses fewer drawbacks than other times of the year. Nothing in this world, however, is quite perfect, and there are certain drawbacks which are peculiar to travel at this ‘sunny time of year’.

First of all comes the hear, which is, to many people, a far more trying affliction than the most Arctic cold. In some summer journeys it is impossible to escape this trial, though coach or steamboat travelling is a sufficiently cool exercise for a sultry day in July, even if the crowded space of a railway carriage presents less hope of alleviation. Still, even there, the rapid motion through the air imparts a certain breeziness which one might be unable to discover seated under the shadiest of trees in a leafy garden.

Flying particles of dust are very liable to get into one’s eyes and down one’s throat, causing great irritation and annoyance. The best remedy for a grain of dust in the eye is to plunge the face bodily into a basin of tepid water, and open the eyelids wide for a second or two.

Thirst is another accompaniment to summer travel. As a general rule, it is better to bear it with what philosophy one can, since an endeavour to quench it often results in making it considerably worse. The milk which is now sold in most large stations at the various windows of the train is very refreshing, and generally of al excellent quality. Soda and milk form a very cool and pleasant beverage.

8. Walking tours

A woman hiking with a water bottle (Shutterstock)
A woman hiking with a water bottle (Shutterstock)

To anyone who is fond of walking, strong and healthy, and a lover of nature, a pedestrian tour offers tremendous attractions. Every year ladies appear to take up this special form of amusement with more energy, and the more its advantages of easy management, in-expensiveness and enjoyment become known, the more popular it will probably be.

Begin by walking short distances daily, and stopping to rest when you are fatigued. You will soon be able to increase your daily allowance, and at last achieve with ease what would at first have been an absolute impossibility.

Ten miles a day is a respectable allowance for a lady pedestrian, carrying a certain amount of her own luggage; and a great deal of ground can be covered in a merely a ten days’ tour of the sort.

On no account, should you set out on a walking tour in new shoes, or in ones which have not become perfectly easy and comfortable by use. It is positive torture to walk in shoes which are uncomfortable, and from the friction and fatigue to the feet produced by a walking tour there is special reason to guard against this source of inconvenience.

Luggage must consist mainly of what can be carried in the knapsack on one’s back, and must be reduced, therefore, to the least possibly proportions.

A stick is a great comfort on a walking tour, and helps you over the last few miles of the day in a really wonderful way.

A good road map is needful; and it is as well also to obtain detailed information about the day’s route before you start on your journey each morning. It is not safe to trust to wayside information on the subject; and it is a very poor amusement to wander three or four miles out of one’s way.

For a walking tour, it is best to choose a part of the country where the roads are good, and the scenery of a varied and pleasing character. Long monotonous stretches of a level highway have a tendency to damp one’s ardour, and to make one cast a regretful thought to swifter modes of locomotion than that provided for us by nature.

9. Continental travel

An independent traveller in Athens, Greece (Shutterstock)
An independent traveller in Athens, Greece (Shutterstock)

From the first moment when the traveller sets foot upon foreign soil, and sees the strange surroundings, the quaint dresses, and curious habits of the natives, enhanced by the clear air and brilliant sunshine, so different from the softened atmosphere at home, she experiences all the effect of having entered into a new life.

The altered conditions of the simplest everyday acts of life – food, sleep, and such ordinary habit - must be rendered beneficial by adopting ways suited to the change climate and country; the interests of travel must be allowed to have full sway.

The language is a certain stumbling block to many people’s enjoyment of foreign travel; and it certainly adds enormously to one’s pleasure in sojourning in a strange land to be able to understand and to converse in the alien tongue of the inhabitants. But a really very scanty stock of French and German will suffice to carry you over the whole of the Continent in safety; while, if you confine yourself to the beaten track, and to hotels frequented by English and American travellers, your own language will be enough to trust to.

The train service is often very imperfect, and unless one travels first or second class, one can seldom find place on the quick trains, but has to jolt along from station to station at a rate which greatly increases the fatigue of the journey.

In changing money one always seems to be the loser. Of course, a certain commission is deducted, but besides that, the coinage of most countries but our own being decimal, it is exceedingly difficult to give an exact equivalent to the value of our £s, and we are not the gainers in consequence.

Hotels abroad are, of course, of all kinds, and of every description. If you can afford to pay high prices ,you may have the accommodation of a prince, while, where your charges are less, you accommodation, of course, keeps pace with the reduction.

English and American travellers are always supposed, abroad, to be rolling in money, and both able and willing to pay any price which may be asked them for any article whatever. Upon this supposition they are subject to the most outrageous demands; and, unless they are old and experienced travellers, are generally cheated on all sides.

The difference in food is one which at first is apt to strike the stranger with a feeling of dislike, and the many courses of small dishes appear unsatisfying and meager to an appetite used to joints and plain puddings. It is, however, a far more suitable method for the requirements of the climate, and the obdurate Briton who insists on retaining her native bill of fare under conditions so different from those at home, will probably regret before long having done so.

10. Sea voyages

A woman travelling by boat in Thailand (Shutterstock)
A woman travelling by boat in Thailand (Shutterstock)

From the short passage across the Channel to the voyages of our mail steamers to India and Australia, the whole subject is one which must come under the practical experience of the lady traveller who leaves her own shore; and to anyone who has never made a journey by sea the idea is often fraught with difficulties which will be found only to exist in the imagination.

The vast steamers which convey their passengers as in a king of floating hotel, are calculated to inspire confidence in the heart of even the most timid, and once one has fairly started upon one’s voyage, the ship seems so entirely a little world of one’s own, that one loses the sense of its being a mere frail fragment at the mercy of mountainous billows and ferocious gales.

Time on board is counted by bells, not clocks; and it is somewhat confusing, at first, till one learns that these bells are but eight, and stand as well for the half as the whole hours; and that when they have rung their full number, they begin and repeat their performance over again from the first, and so on through the day and night.

One of the great peculiarities of life on board is the sharing of one’s cabin with total strangers. It is a curious experience at first to find oneself in the company of a number of women one has never seen before, and thrown into close contact of association with them for a longer or shorter period of time.

The subject of sea-sickness, that bane of the traveller by sea, has been dealt with elsewhere. These must, however, vary much with different constitutions; and the real remedy for this trouble has never yet been discovered. Perhaps keeping one’s berth, and remaining perfectly still and quiet, is about the best way of keeping the enemy at bay, but even this will by no means always suffice to achieve it. Food on board ship should be taken often, and sparing at a time. Meals will be brought you on deck by a steward in reasonable weather, if you wish it; and to remain as much as possible in the fresh air is one of the wisest possible means of preventing an attack of the dreaded affliction.

A doctor is carried on all ships making long voyages, and his services are at the disposal of passengers, should need arise for them, though it is unfair to expect that he will be able to do much towards removing the commonest form of suffering at sea.

In conclusion

A woman on her travels (Shutterstock)
A woman on her travels (Shutterstock)

Nowadays, when the increased facilities of communication, and the greater freedom of transit, have placed distant lands within easy reach of our own, and made travelling everywhere an infinitely simpler and more pleasant thing than it once was, lady travellers have vastly multiplied in number.

Even in the most remote parts of the world, where, a generation ago, they would not have ventured, ladies now travel in perfect security and with every advantage.

Continental travel has been so thrown open to women, that it is the most ordinary of experience now to find abroad ladies travelling alone, or in parties of twos and threes, and the sight is too common even to excite remark.

It is said that experience is the best teacher: it might justly have been remarked, more emphatically, that it is the only teacher whose lessons are worth anything. It is, however, not only one’s own personal experience which is to be trusted.

Much can be learned from the experience of others, and in a way which possesses a peculiar satisfaction, since the price we pay for it is far less costly.

It is, as I have said before, in the hopes of helping those members of my own sex to whom the world of travel is still a wide and unexplored region, and before whom its perils and its discomforts loom with a totally unnecessary dread, that this little book has been written.

My one desire has been to offer hints and suggestions which may smooth some of those difficulties which appal the novice in travelling from her path.

If, by my endeavours, I have in any way assisted my sisters in their wanderings, or encouraged a single woman to join the path of travellers by land or sea, I shall feel that I have achieved the object of my labours, and that my task has, indeed, not been in vain.

Hints to Lady Travellers at Home and AbroadLillias Campbell Davidson and The Royal Geographical Society (from £79.30, Elliot & Thompson). Check prices on Amazon

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