This past summer, I took a trip that I’ve been dreaming about since I could remember. I had just graduated and didn’t have any solid plan yet. I didn’t know what my next step in life would be, but I knew that this was the perfect time to take a break and travel before I would be thrown into adulthood. Being an adult could wait, but fulfilling a lifelong dream and my #1 bucket list item could not.
My dream was to drop everything, pack my bags, and travel through Europe. I wanted to see those beautiful landmarks that I’d only ever seen in photos. I wanted to make lifelong friends that I otherwise wouldn’t have met. I wanted to eat and drink all of the delicious foods from other parts of the world that I can’t go buy at my local grocery store. But most importantly, I wanted to discover things that I never knew and expand my mind beyond my own country.
I had been out of the country a handful of times before, but I wanted to do something bigger. I wanted to be away longer and tour with a group of people I had never met. Traveling was just as important as pushing me outside of my comfort zone. I actually wanted to be a little bit uncomfortable the whole time I was away. I believe with all certainty that stepping out of my own little world and what feels safe and familiar is the best way to grow. The truth is that great things don’t come out of our comfort zones. They come when we do something that is a little bit risky and a little bit scary, but completely worth it.
This past June, right after I walked across the stage to receive my diploma, I went on a month long trip abroad that I booked through EF Ultimate Break. This trip was going to be a tour of all of the major cities in Europe. It started in Rome, Italy and ended in Barcelona, Spain. 8 counties, 11 cities, and over 30 complete strangers traveling together.
Day two of the tour, I was standing right next to the Roman Colosseum listening to the best tour guide I’d ever had. (Side Note: If this woman would have taught my AP European History class back in high school, I’m sure I would have done a lot better.) Every bit of this tour was fascinating, but the part that caught my attention the most was when she started telling us about an old tradition known as “The Grand Tour.” There I was standing right next to the Colosseum and hearing about the concept of The Grand Tour for the first time. I had no idea that there was a name for it, or that this trip was so popular throughout history. All I knew was that I had to take this trip before I “kicked the bucket.”
What is The Grand Tour?
The Grand Tour, for anyone who isn’t familiar with the concept, is a cultural tour that used to be taken by young, upper-class men at the end of their education. At the time, it was viewed as a right of passage. Women and lower-class people could also have taken this tour if they found a generous sponsor, but it was not very common. This tour would loop throughout Europe and could last anywhere from a few months to even years. It was believed that by traveling and being exposed to different languages, cultures, music, and artwork that these men would return cultured, sophisticated, and well-rounded. And they didn’t just walk around museums and admire other cultures. There was a lot of studying done too. Throughout this tour, the men would study languages, art, and politics with the help of their teachers and guides (and also chaperones) known as a “cicerone.” Sometimes they would also bring family, teachers, or friends along for the tour.
On top of an already exciting trip, these young men would have an unlimited supply of money seeing as they came from Europe’s richest families. They would return home with crates full of books, fine clothes, artwork, sculptures, scientific instruments, and other artifacts. Could you imagine traveling Europe for 3 years with an unlimited supply of money as a right of passage? That’s the dream!
Not surprisingly, this trip involved a lot of shopping, mischief, and overall shenanigans. Drinking, sex, and gambling were also strong themes during this journey. They did not spend all of their time studying! It was a very interesting tradition indeed. A time meant for young people to learn, explore the world, and make mistakes. How lovely.
This tradition mostly happened in the 17th and 18th century, but actually stopped once traveling became easier and more affordable to us peasants. What a shame!
Years and years later, The Grand Tour tradition has died off. But I wish so badly that the concept would come back. I’ve found many different tour companies online offering affordable trips throughout Europe that are meant be act as The Grand Tour, just like the one that I had been one. It’s marketed as a way for young people to celebrate being done with their education, have a wonderful experience traveling the world, and expand their minds further before settling down into a profession. And that’s exactly what I did, but unfortunately, it’s nothing like it used to be. It was a rather short trip compared to what used to be taken, and there were no chaperons that traveled along with me to teach me different languages, or to teach me about art and culture. Maybe that should change.
Why is The Grand Tour so important?
I think the world could benefit so greatly if young people were encouraged to travel by their parents and teachers. Encouraging young people to visit different cultures to actually study them and giving the freedom to roam and to meet people everywhere could lead to world peace and acceptance. Especially if this tour didn’t just visit Europe, but other continents and countries too. Traveling is what makes people realize how small their own reality is. It opens them up to new people, new possibilities, and new ways of life beyond what they’re familiar with at home. It reminds people that they’re actually not the center of the universe!
It’s a shame that this concept of The Grand Tour ended the moment it became accessible to women and lower-classes because everyone could benefit from an experience like this. I encourage anyone who wants to travel do it! It’s the best investment you will ever make. And I encourage parents and teachers to inspire young people to take time off and travel, for a few months or even a few years. College students spend up to $100,000 on their education now (at least that’s what mine costed). But why don’t we encourage young minds to put that money elsewhere and invest it in the greatest classroom of all?… the world. There’s so much more we can learn by hopping on a plane and going across the world then we will ever learn from a textbook, four walls, and a professor one year away from retirement who clearly does not want to be there. Am I right or am I right?
Lastly, I want to leave you with this.. One of my favorite quotes by Anthony Bourdain that perfectly embodies my feelings towards travel and it’s importance…
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s OK. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
What are your thoughts on the concept of The Grand Tour? Do you think it’s important for young scholars to take an extended tour abroad? Have you gone on a trip like this or encouraged someone else to? Comment below!