In 1954, a guidebook for family travel published by the Shell Oil Company included a budget. Here's what a typical family could expect to pay:
• Accommodations were the largest expense, estimated at $7 a day, for double occupancy ($4 for one person). Hotel rates varied from $5 to $30 a day, plus tips of 10 percent. Rates for children were less, but the children-stay-free idea had not yet come along.
To reduce expenses, travelers could choose to camp for about $1 a night or stay in a tourist court. Motels had not yet developed nationwide franchise networks, so the cheaper alternative to a hotel was a tourist court, or motel, as it came to be known.
• Food was a variable expense, figured to be about $3.50 per day per person. Food costs could be kept lower by taking along some food to eat.
• Fuel costs were projected to be 2.1 cents per mile, or about 28 cents a gallon for gas. For a two-week vacation of 1,500 miles, auto maintenance costs (fuel and tolls) were estimated to be about $50.
• Travelers were advised to plan about $2.60 a day per person for entertainment and tips. But they were also advised to consider entrance fees to parks, fishing license fees, rental of sports equipment and laundry expenses.
• Travelers should also plan for miscellaneous expenses "for those minor items you meant to bring from home but forgot."
• Above all, families were advised to "keep an eye on expenses so they would not run out of money, or so they could afford to 'splurge' at the end of the trip." These were, after all, the days before credit cards.
The average income in 1954 was $3,960. A new car might cost $1,900.
What to pack
Vacations required a special wardrobe, according to the 1954 Shell guide.
Women should think of taking four "costumes" for a two-week vacation, outfits that were versatile and would fit into a 26-inch suitcase.
First on the list was a travel suit of skirt, jacket and blouse. The jacket could be removed in warmer weather, and it should have a cut that allowed ease of movement.
Straight skirts were to be avoided because they rode up while sitting or driving, so full or gored skirts were recommended. Fabrics should be lightweight wool or a synthetic blend in "medium tones of gray, beige, black, navy and brown."
For evening, the guide recommended a two-piece dress that could be worn informally or dressed up. The blouse should have a neckline "that can be worn prim or plunging" and the fabric should be a dressier synthetic, silk or jersey.
Rounding out the wardrobe was a "spectator sports ensemble" of a skirt, colorful strapless or halter top, and a bolero jacket in matching color.
Finally, a woman on the road would need a "rugged-life costume" of sports blouse and shorts (or the flattering pedal pushers). Because "slacks are frowned upon" in many resorts, especially in the East, women were advised to wear pants only when engaged in active sports.
Women were also advised to take along accessories: low-heeled shoes, one "roomy purse" and an evening clutch, two scarves, two sets of jewelry and two belts. A stole might be added for evening.
Men were advised to take a "gray suit and a blue suit, a tan sport coat and brown slacks for a total of nine outfits."
The guide cautioned against wearing "the wildest and brightest clothing they can find" because "garish clothing would stand out and reduce the versatility of the wardrobe."
Source: "Are We There Yet? The Golden Age of American Family Vacations," by Susan Sessions Rugh