The Art of Travel

Sir Francis Galton (1822–1911)

Sir Francis Galton was a cousin of  Charles Darwin. His The Art of Travel  (1872) is aimed at the Victorian adventurer in foreign lands, and contains advice on such topics as organizing an expedition, climbing and mountaineering, and rafts and boats. I read the chapter on bivouacking, or sleeping out-of-doors without a tent.  Galton begins on a romantic note: “Men who sleep habitually in the open, breathe fresher air and are far more imbued with the spirit of wild life, than those who pass the night within the stuffy enclosure of a tent. It is an endless pleasure to lie half awake watching the stars above… When the fire is low… and there is no sound but of the wind and an occasional plaintive cry of wild animals, the traveller finds himself in that close communion with nature which is the true charm of wild travel.”

Man shelted by a wall.

“Study the form of a hare!”

Galton admits, however, that “bivouacking is miserable work in a wet or unhealthy climate.” Most of his chapter is taken up with how to survive adversities. In a wind storm, he advises “study the form of a hare!”  A man, as he lies upon his mother earth is an object so small and low that a screen of eighteen inches high will guard him securely from the strength of a storm.”  Galton then goes on to say that the traveler can “live through a bitter night, on a perfectly dry sandy plain without any clothes besides what he has on, if he buries his body pretty deeply in the sand, keeping only his head above ground.”  Galton quotes a Mr. Moffat, who recorded “with grateful surprise how he passed a night, of which he had gloomy forebodings, in real comfort, even luxury by attempting this method.”


I chose Galton’s chapter on sleeping out-of-doors to read since it evoked for me memories of my many childhood camping trips and of the one single night I can remember that our family actually bivouacked, that is slept outside our tent.  It was somewhere in dry desert country, maybe New Mexico.  We arrived at our camping place late, after dark.  The night sky was filled with shooting stars, so instead of pitching our tent, we just laid it flat on the ground, put the sleeping bags on top and spent the night watching the magnificent light show above us.  I never forgot that night.


You might like these true tales of “roughing it.” Journal of Lewis and Clark,  Rough Notes–Across the Pampas and Among the Andes, The Journey of Coronado,