DESTINATIONS, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

Travel Research at the Library and by Snail Mail

The apple didn't fall far from the tree. Note the tabs I created for this guide.
The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Note the tabs I created for this guide.


My love affair with travel brochures began with my mom.  Last week I mentioned her love for newspapers, magazines and the Mobil Travel Guides, but that was just her starting point.  Inspired by travel articles and armed with her Mobil Travel Guide Mom’s next stop was the library.  There she’d find books about the places she was considering, but she’d also spend a lot of time in the reference department.

You Couldn’t Google That

We are so spoiled.  It’s not my job to figure out whether Al Gore invented the internet or not, but back in 1994 I was still in love with DOS.  I remember well the evening my new husband sat me down at a computer and forced me to use a mouse.  He owned a computer company, after all, but I wasn’t happy about the whole Windows/Mouse thing.  I had all my shortcuts at work memorized, so it seemed unwieldy to click through all those windows to get where I wanted to go.  Eventually, I got an AOL email address, but while I’d been using computers since way back in the 70’s, I just didn’t see them fitting into my personal life.

Now I google everything, but that was not an option back in those early days of my marriage and when my mom was planning our family vacations, it wasn’t even a pipe dream.  We had two sets of encyclopedia, we took both papers and Walter Cronkite gave us our evening update.  For everything else you went to the library.  Anyone remember the Dewey Decimal System?  Back in those days you could understand a lot about a book just by knowing it’s Dewey Decimal Number.

Good Old Reference Books

Pretty much everything we search on the internet today, we once had to find in the reference section of the local library.  From cold calling to travel planning, the library was your friend.  Things like business directories, atlases and census data were in huge volumes and it might take browsing several different sources to get the simplest of information.  If the data was five years old, it was good enough.  If you needed newer data or something more specific, you might have to go to the Central Library.  You might even have to talk to the librarian!

Mom would go to the library with her Mobil Guide and a yellow legal pad.  There she’d drag out volume after volume to find the addresses she wanted.  I’ve seen her list page after page of addresses on those legal pads.  Then she’d take the addresses home and  begin a letter-writing campaign begging for more information.

Let the Correspondence Begin

Dear Sir: Our family is planning to be in your area in June of next year.  We are interested in visiting ________ and _____________.  Please send us any information you have on these attractions and other places of interest in your area, as well as any events that may be occurring during our visit.  Enclosed please find a stamped, self-addressed envelope for your convenience.  Sincerely, Ruth Cave

Sometimes in response, Mom would get a personal letter from the destination providing answers to her specific questions and outlining other information she might be interested in.  At other times she might get a form letter and a couple of brochures.  Here’s the hysterical part.  From time to time, she’d get back a letter stating that if she’d like more information she should send a 9X11 manilla envelope, with X amount of postage and a check or money order for X, then they would send her what she wanted.  Can you even believe that?

Now you’re wondering why she didn’t just call these places and skip all this back and forth stuff.  Do you have any idea how much long distance calls used to cost and how cheap postage was?  She could send a lot of letters and stamped self-addressed envelopes for the price of one short long distance phone call!

Then Came the Brochures

Do I have to tell you how exciting it was to get those envelopes of travel information?  I can just hear myself saying, “Mom, we got a letter from the National Park Service!”  We didn’t dare open those envelopes without Mom.  Some brochures would be mimeographed.  Do you even know what a mimeograph machine was?  On occasion, you got a fancy four-color brochure on slick paper – or even a booklet.  We couldn’t have been more excited if they’d have sent us gold nuggets.

All these treasures would go into Mom’s travel tote, where she gathered up her information.  She’d circle words, put stars next to other things and put dollar signs next to the prices.  It seemed to me all of these activities were magic incantations which Mom turned into great vacations.

Come back next week and we’ll make some hotel reservations.

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