It all started with the ancient Romans, the earliest people to travel for the sole purpose of leisure. The first requirement for the invention of the vacation was a time of peace, which the Romans achieved — after conquering all the neighboring lands, that is. But this also contributed to the formation of the vacation. As the Roman empire grew, the amenities of Roman life were spread to other parts of the world. This meant that you could travel a long distance without ever being in a “foreign land,” away from the luxuries of home.
The Romans also encouraged recreational travel by building one of the largest networks of roads ever conceived. At the height of the Roman empire, roads spread from Portugal to Turkey, covering almost 75,000 miles in total. The earliest vacations might be better equated to the modern sabbatical since people were often away for years at a time. Of course, only the very rich and elite of society could afford to do this.
During the Dark Ages, new wars began and it was no longer safe to travel long distances. The vacation disappeared, for the most part, leaving behind the pilgrimage in its place. But these journeys were taken for spiritual fulfillment, not recreation. Travel for leisure returned during the Tudor period but was again reserved only for the rich and elite. Royal families and their courts would take a long journey, called a “royal progress,” for the purpose of diplomacy and relaxation. The average commoner stayed home and rarely ventured further than the next town over.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, vacations morphed into what the Europeans called a “grand tour.” These trips, primarily taken by young, affluent men, were aimed at increasing worldly knowledge and inspiring maturity. It was seen as a rite of passage and a time for education, not necessarily a trip of leisure.