Emily Post’s Guide to Being a Perfect Traveler

I’ve been browsing through Emily Post’s 1922 classic book on etiquette, which is a fantastic blend of information that’s totally outdated and some that is still entirely applicable in the modern world.

The penultimate chapter – 37 of 38 – is dedicated to traveling, at home and abroad.

Under a relic of its time, I consign Post’s thoughts on the proper way for a lady to travel. A lady must not travel alone, but if she is unavoidably alone, she must never be drawn into conversation with a man. “If a stranger happens to offer to open a window for her, or get her a chair on the observation platform, it does not give him the right to more than a civil “thank you”. “ A lady traveling solo mustn’t accept rides from strangers, nor take a taxi on the street. “The safest thing to do is to walk.” And a lady would never sign her name on a hotel register without “Miss or Mrs.”.

She also goes off on a few rants, which I would totally do if I were writing my own book of etiquette. Often there’s a kernel of good advice in the rant, for instance,

On a railroad train, you should be careful not to assail the nostrils of fellow passengers with strong odors of any kind. An odor that may seem to you refreshing may cause others who dislike it…really great distress.

But then she keeps going:

There is a combination of banana and the leather smell of a valise that is to many people an immediate emetic. The smell of banana or an orange, in fact, to all bad travelers [by which she means, people prone to motion sickness] the last straw.

One fruit enthusiast can make his traveling companions more utterly wretched than perhaps he can imagine.

However, we’d do well to revisit some of her other thoughts on travel etiquette, especially her summary on “The Perfect Traveler”, which I hereby endorse in its entirety:

One might say the perfect traveler is one whose digestion is perfect, whose disposition is cheerful, who can be enthusiastic under the most discouraging circumstances, to whom discomfort is of no moment, and who possesses at least a sense of the ridiculous, if not a real sense of humor!

The perfect traveler furthermore is one who possesses the virtue of punctuality; one who has not forgotten something at the last minute, and whose bags are all packed and down at the hour for the start. Those who fuss and flurry about being ready, or whose disposition is easily upset or who are inclined to be gloomy, should not travel—unless they go alone. Nothing can spoil a journey more than someone who is easily put out of temper, and who always wants to do something the others do not.

Whether traveling with your family or comparative strangers, you must realize that your personal likes and dislikes have at least on occasion to be subordinated to the likes and dislikes of others; nor can you always be comfortable, or have good weather, or make perfect connections, or find everything to your personal satisfaction; and you only add to your own discomfort and chagrin, as well as to the discomfort of everyone else, by refusing to be philosophical.

Those who are bad sailors should not go on yachting parties; they are always abjectly wretched, and are of no use to themselves or anyone else. Those who hate walking should not start out on a tramp that is much too far for them and expect others to turn back when they get tired. They need not “start” to begin with, but having started, they must see it through.There is no greater test of a man’s (or a woman’s) “wearing” qualities than traveling with him. He who is always keen and ready for anything, delighted with every amusing incident, willing to overlook shortcomings, and apparently oblivious of discomfort, is, needless to say, the one first included on the next trip.

About The Author