Looking Back: Tips for thrifty traveling in the 1930s

Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published January 29, 2019

BIRMINGHAM — What’s the best vacation you’ve ever gone on? In the Birmingham Museum collections are scrapbooks and postcards from lots of vacations, but nothing as extensive as the photos and documents from the adventures of Marjorie Unger, a resident of 327 Ferndale Ave. in Birmingham, who traveled with two friends to Europe.

Her 1931 passport reports her occupation as a teacher, and it contains stamps for France, Spain, Switzerland and Italy.

In addition to her passport are letters, postcards and photographs she took from her 1931 European adventure and a later trip across the United States and Mexico. Travel in the 1930s was not that common and was a rather lengthy process in slow-moving buses, boats and trains, so it is understandable that travel scrapbooks and postcard updates would be kept and cherished.

In a letter sent to her Aunt Millie and family from Paris dated July 6, 1931, Unger recounts the cleanliness of the subway system in Paris, how women in Paris always seem to be knitting, and the experience of taking three elevators to the top of the Eiffel Tower. At that time, the Eiffel Tower had just been surpassed as the tallest building in the world by the Chrysler Building in New York City.

Unger also included tips on how she and her friends, Muriel and Adelaide, navigated their trip cheaply. In one case, the three women had attempted to buy a family train ticket for their journey through Spain, but the cashier refused them because they all had different last names. Instead, Marjorie and Muriel were able to save $30 each on their tickets — a sizable sum back then — by traveling as Adelaide’s domestic servants.  

These documents found their way to the Birmingham Museum after a resident of Cole Street discovered them in her attic.

— Caitlin Donnelly, museum assistant at the Birmingham Museum