Illustration by Henry Rivers

A look back at how luxury travel has evolved over the past century.


The Rise of the Road Trip

Wealthy Americans ditched filthy industrial cities for the scenic countryside by car, which cost upward of $1,300 while average salaries often didn’t surpass $500 a year. Weekend road trips allowed the affluent to emulate idealized aspects of the transient gypsy lifestyle, like picnicking on the side of the road.


Ocean-Faring Opulence

Crossing the ocean on a luxury liner was the next jet set status symbol. Those who could afford it traversed the Atlantic aboard steamships (think Titanic, but with more success) in upper-class accommodations akin to the finest on-land hotels and restaurants.


Luxury on the Rails

Train travel’s heyday began in the 1920s and lasted well into the 1940s, when fine dining debuted on the rails. The well-to-do noshed on leg of lamb with mint sauce while watching scenic views roll by aboard the so-called Train of the Stars that ran between Chicago and Los Angeles.


Taking to the Skies

Affordable to only the rich and famous, luxury air travel took off in the thirties. The rudimentary technology of the time allowed for 12,000-mile flights at a cost of $20,000 when adjusted for inflation. Planes held only a few dozen passengers, and accommodations were epicurean.


Jetting Around the World

The thirties also saw the introduction of the private jet, making personal air travel available for the first time. Wealthy families began buying up jets to the tune of $1 million so as not to have to mingle with the masses.


The Golden Age of Air Travel

It wasn’t until the fifties that commercial air travel really came into its own. At the time, Pan Am featured fare from Maxim’s of Paris, stewardesses donned provocative uniforms designed to delight their mostly male passengers, and cigarette smoke filled the air.


An Era of Conspicuous Consumption

Opulence was the name of the game in the eighties and nineties. Luxury cruises and ornate private yachts, like the 241-foot Corsair II that J.P. Morgan once owned, dominated the scene. Exclusive clubs cemented the connection between yachting and wealth, and expensive cruises allowed for island hopping. 

2000s and Beyond 

(Private) Island Time

As other forms of travel continue to become more accessible, 1 percenters have taken to purchasing their own islands for private escapes populated only by friends, family and staff. Trend poster boy Sir Richard Branson was ahead of the curve, purchasing his Necker Island for just $180,000 back in 1978.

Read this article as it appears in the magazine.