From 1970s to now: how family travel has changed

From 1970s to now: how family travel has changed

As a child of the 1970s, my holiday checklist would have looked very strange to the youth of today. My Walkman, stack of paperbacks and address book for postcards – these practically obsolete items would have topped the list. Not so these days. They’ve mostly been replaced by an iPhone powerpack, Bluetooth speakers and kid-friendly tablets. Ok, I still insist on packing a paperback or two, but I know most people would rather carry a Kindle. Travel has changed, and it’s not just the gizmos and gadgets that make it different. Here are just a few signs of the new travel times.

‘No selfie’ signs are on the rise

The first sign is, quite literally, a sign. If you went back in a time machine to 1979, it would be very difficult to explain these. Mobile phones didn’t go on sale until 1980, and there were no camera phones until 2000. Selfies were simply not a ‘thing’ until very recently.

But now you can’t walk in a straight line down any of London’s popular streets without risking ploughing into the steely rods tourists use to take the perfect shot of themselves – in front of Big Ben, or perched next to an awkward-looking Queen’s Guard. And selfies can be lethal. Since 2014, more than 127 people have died taking photos of themselves, with casualties increasing by almost 50% from 2015 to 2016. They’ve toppled off cliffs, fallen out of trains and gone crashing into raging rivers. In Banff, Canada, people have even been known to get up close to grizzly bears, just to take a selfie.

To stem the rising tide of risky  behaviour, ‘no selfie’ signs, like the one above, snapped in Japan by Alexander Klink, are popping up in places where tourists gather. Look out for them – if you haven’t yet seen one, no doubt you soon will.

You need to bulk-buy snacks before boarding the plane


Flying used to be a luxury experience, with a hot towel offered at take-off, and sweeties given to suck on landing. Now, practically every European airline operates a no-frills service. You have to pay for each and every peanut and mint that you consume. Even some long-haul flight operators charge for snacks – and every person who’s travelled anywhere with young children, knows that snacks are often the best, and only way to see a journey through. Those harried-looking men and women, queuing to buy jumbo bags of haribo and raisins in the airport newsagents? They’re parents, arming themselves with what would, thirty years ago, have come as standard on all flights: bottomless snacks, to keep the critters happy.

‘Wish you were here’ comes via Instagram, not postcard


When I went Inter-railing across Europe, aged 19, I sent postcards from every place I visited. Friends and family back home received cards from Berlin, Munich, Venice, Leipzig….I even wrote some letters on that wafer-thin, crinkly paper reserved especially for airmail. Now, paper missives are few and far between. We do still occasionally get postcards through the letterbox. My eight year-old son recently had one from a classmate. But they’re an exciting, novelty occurrence, not something you take for granted. Postcards – showing faded scenes of crowded beaches, or comedy donkeys in brightly coloured hats – have been replaced by Instagram.

People fall into one of two camps. They either sit, contorted with fury at the alacrity of the Instabrag. Somehow, the fact that their friends are there enjoying themselves right now makes it even more galling – unlike the ten-day time delay you used to get on postcards. The other type of person loves to pore over the beautiful, sun-drenched photos of their friends lolling on beaches, and fantasize about going there themselves one day – however unrealistic that may be. I have to admit, I fall into this latter camp. #sorrynotsorry.

Your children will steal your iphone


Selfies aren’t just for grown-ups and teens. No: these days, children as young as four insist on snaffling their parents’ gadgets, and documenting their holidays in their own way. I used to think I was leading the pack when I whipped out my new Polaroid on my childhood trips to France. But on our recent trip to Puglia, my daughter and her friend all but set up their own Youtube channel, to broadcast the delights of the white town of Cisternino. It was very cute – but we had such a job wrestling back our phones…..

How has travel changed for you over the years? You can read more about the innovations in communication, photography and entertainment by using this fun tool, covering the last 100 years.

This is a collaborative post. All views are my own.

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  1. April 17, 2018 / 9:44 am

    Haha I still haven’t succumbed to a selfie stick and still insist on paperbacks. Maybe my idea of travel is stuck in the past 😉

    • Nell
      April 23, 2018 / 8:30 pm

      I am EXACTLY the same! No selfie stick here yet 🙂

  2. April 18, 2018 / 11:50 am

    Airmail paper! Wow, that brings back memories! And how often do you get a postcard these days???

    • Nell
      April 23, 2018 / 8:31 pm

      I know! My Mum still sends them, though 🙂

  3. April 18, 2018 / 8:56 pm

    Yikes, that’s a scary statistic about death by selfie! I’m proud to not yet own one. Although given my FB profile photo is about 10 years old I probably do need to move with the times a bit…

    • Nell
      April 23, 2018 / 8:33 pm

      I don’t own a selfie stick either, but I feel as though I really should embrace change and move over to the dark side….

  4. April 19, 2018 / 5:33 pm

    And along with that wafer-thin airmail paper, do you remember those pre-made airmail letter/envelope combos where you wrote on the page, then folded it to become its own envelope? Now those are sold as vintage stationery!

    • Nell
      April 23, 2018 / 8:35 pm

      Oh wow, I’d forgotten about those! But I used a fair few to write home on, during my travels. Thanks for the reminder!

  5. Family travel really has changed a lot over the last few decades. I’d add that it’s safer too – we now have to wear seatbelts in a car (I remember travelling in the boot of an estate car in the 80s I kid you not) and there’s no smoking on planes. I can’t even imagine that now!

    • Nell
      May 1, 2018 / 6:21 pm

      I know – I was telling my two the other day about how people used to smoke on planes. It seems totally outrageous now.

  6. May 2, 2018 / 11:01 am

    I still haven’t succumbed to a selfie stick but I’m nodding away to the rest – I am packing paperbacks for my daughter these days, and I’ve had to get her her own mini camera so she can make videos, otherwise I’d never see my phone again 😉

  7. May 3, 2018 / 8:15 pm

    Gosh so many memories, airmail paper, postcard writing, having to have directions meticulously planned!

    • Nell
      May 9, 2018 / 8:28 pm

      I know! How times have changed…..

  8. May 3, 2018 / 10:20 pm

    we have a selfie stick! But I have never got it out of the box

    • Nell
      May 9, 2018 / 8:29 pm

      You’re better than me. I don’t even own one!

  9. May 4, 2018 / 7:51 am

    Loved reading this. Times have changed … at lightening speed too with the onset of the Internet. x

    • Nell
      May 9, 2018 / 8:29 pm

      Yes indeed!

  10. May 4, 2018 / 7:27 pm

    What a fab post!!! I still haven’t purchased a selfie stick and still send the odd postcard from the kids from time to time (am I the only one!?) although my handbag does have an iPad kids tablet and phone! Travel certainly has changed !

    • Nell
      May 14, 2018 / 12:48 pm

      You definitely aren’t the only one that sends postcards, judging by the response to this post!

  11. May 4, 2018 / 7:42 pm

    This made me smile – I remember the days of sending postcards and I miss that! It always made me annoyed that they arrived after we got home!!

    • Nell
      May 14, 2018 / 12:48 pm

      Yes. Predictably tardy!

  12. May 5, 2018 / 12:11 pm

    This is so insightful! I remember writing pages with a pen and paper to my friends back home in the UK when I travelled Kenya aged 18. I don’t even write them an email now – I expect them to follow the blog if they want to know what’s happening. Doesn’t that sound awful?!….. that’s really made me think. Going to try and at least find some postcards on this current trip!

    • Nell
      May 14, 2018 / 12:49 pm

      I know what you mean. A lot has improved since we were young, but I think the personal touch has been lost in a lot of our communications.

  13. May 5, 2018 / 8:50 pm

    What a fab post! I’m a child of the 80’s rather than the 70’s but I can identify with everything you’ve said. Nowadays yes, we stock up on snacks and have pretty much a whole hand luggage bag dedicated to chargers and electronics but I ALWAYS pack ‘proper’ books (none of this Kindle nonsense) and if we go somewhere we’ve never been before we always send postcards to the grandparents. I’m all for progress and changes that make lives easier but I really do think some travel traditions need to be continued and passed down to younger generations for sure!

    • Nell
      May 14, 2018 / 12:50 pm

      I admire you for hanging on to the good stuff!

  14. May 7, 2018 / 8:03 pm

    It has changed so much, and I am not sure all of it is for the better really! 😀 I remember the first time I went on a plane, it was all so exciting, we didn’t need anything to entertain us really, but my mum had colouring books just in case! 😀

    • Nell
      May 14, 2018 / 12:54 pm

      Good old colouring books. We still use those now!

  15. May 8, 2018 / 8:19 pm

    Travel has really changed hasn’t it, I hadn’t really thought about how gadgets and social media had changed things until I read this post

    • Nell
      May 14, 2018 / 12:58 pm

      It snuck up on us, didn’t it?

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