If you’re looking for a last-minute gift for the wanderlustian and reader in your life, someone with a quirky sense of humor, you probably won’t go wrong with How to Make Friends and Oppress People: Classic Travel Advice for the Gentleman Adventurer, by Vic Darkwood.
A good friend sent a copy to me recently, and I sniggered long past my bedtime at the deadpan humor and well-chosen excerpts from classic travel books. In these days of strict airline luggage allowances and travelers who pride themselves on roughing it in hostels, Darkwood’s references to practical travel advice from the late 1800s and early 1900s often come across as absurd.
From Hardships in Travel Made Easy (1864) to The Happy Traveller (1923), from The Art of Travel (1872) to The Art and Pastime of Cycling (1880), and many more on various subjects, set in various countries, the discerning reader learns about the best fabric for sturdiness in handkerchiefs subject to the wear of travel, how to adapt to the rigors of too-soft beds in German inns, and how to treat eczema by living for a week on nothing but milk and oranges.
This is the sort of book anyone can read from beginning to end without growing bored, or can dip into on occasion without getting lost. And you learn so much! How to secure a prisoner in the chapter on “Hostilities and Personal Safety,” the dangers of bathing in ice-cold water in “Health and Hygiene” (“it is death with intemperance,” said Dr. Mosely in 1855), and how to pull a horse out of a hole with cord in “Expeditionary Skills.” Not to mention the invaluable packing list for ladies traveling to India from 1859, which includes such items as “6 Corded Petticoats, 6 Mosquito Trowsers for Sleeping, and 12 Kid or Silk Gloves.”
Be honest: You never go anywhere without your mosquito trowsers, do you? I know I don’t.
How to Make Friends and Oppress People is a lot of fun, and Darkwood’s research whets an appetite to read some of these older travel books. Their advice might seem archaic, but they also serve to remind what travelers of yesteryear were up against, both with regards to the rigors of travel, and pesky social mores.