As I start to make some progress on my new research project on travel, health and risk I am turning my attention to the sorts of things that early modern travellers were fearful of. As a bit of a nervous traveller myself, it’s quite comforting to know that there is actually a long history of travel-related anxiety.
From the early modern period, domestic and international travel were beginning to increase due to many factors including commercial expansion and the Atlantic economy, religion and mission work, military and diplomacy, as well as technological developments and the growth of travel infrastructure. For the first time in history, large numbers of travellers were beginning to explore both their own countries and wider world, encountering new countries, environments, and peoples.
Unlike today, when it’s entirely possible to have breakfast in London, lunch in Milan and be back at home in time for supper, travel in the early modern period was no easy undertaking. More than this, it was widely acknowledged to be inherently dangerous. What, then, were the perceived risks? Even a brief survey tells us a lot about how travel was regarded in health terms.