There was a time, about a decade ago, where although I was based from home, I’d be travelling pretty much every week for work. I was abroad once a month at least.

These days, perhaps with the pandemic as a catalyst, I’m slightly more wary of travelling. It’s probably also a function of age and awareness of how routines affect my body. As an historian, though, I’ve always been amazed by those people who journeyed long distances.

This post by an academic historian of medicine and the body outlines some of the dangers such travellers faced. Pretty amazing, when you think about it.

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.

First was the risk of accident or death on the journey. In the seventeenth century even relatively short distances on horseback or in a carriage carried dangers. Falls from horses were common, causing injury or even death.


Travel by sea, even around local coasts, carried its own obvious risks of storm and wreck. So common and widely acknowledged were the vagaries of sea travel that a common reason for making a will in the early modern period was just before embarking on a voyage.


Once abroad, too travellers were at the mercy of a bevy of dangers, from unfamiliar territories and extreme landscapes to harsh weather and climate, their safety contingent on the quality of their transport and the reliability of their guides.


Even ‘foreign’ food and drink could be risky. Thomas Tryon’s Miscellania (1696) noted the dangers of ‘intemperance’ and of misjudging the effects of climate upon the body in regard to drinking alchohol [sic]

Source: The Health Risks of Travel in Early-Modern Britain | Dr Alun Withey