The Grand Tour (1600’s-1850’s) was a necessary rite of passage, following the final level of schooling, for affluent young European—often British—gents. During this tour, they travelled for extended periods to ‘revisit the Continent on a larger and more liberal plan’ where they learned about other European cultures as educated flâneurs. It provided an opportunity for intellectual self-improvement and allowed those, who could afford it, the opportunity to buy things otherwise unavailable at home, increasing the participants' prestige. The Grand Tour was neither a scholar's pilgrimage nor a religious one, it was simply based on the customary idea that foreign travel completes ones education. In John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), it was argued that knowledge comes entirely from the external senses, that what one knows comes from the physical stimuli to which one has been exposed. Thus, one could ‘use up’ the environment, taking all it offers: a change of place, in order to expand the mind. After the arrival of steam-powered transportation, around 1825, the tradition of The Grand Tour continued with qualitative differences: it was cheaper, safer and easier to travel. The idea never really died though, and similar concepts developed later on such as 1960’s ‘hippy trail’, the more common ‘study abroad’ and the Aussie ‘leap year’.
The idea behind the Grand Tour remains of contemporary interest. It is perhaps paradoxical that traveling for the sake of curiosity and learning still seems to make sense today, despite the unprecedented access to information that populates our digital existence. Steve Jobs—having gone to India for his own ‘Grand Tour’—said this when launching the iPad: “technology alone is not enough. It's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing”.
Richard Lassels, an expatriate Roman Catholic priest, wrote the book The Voyage of Italy—a popular Grand Tour destination—which was published posthumously in Paris in 1670. In it he listed four areas where ‘an accomplished, consummate Traveller’ could progress: the intellectual, the social, the ethical (by the opportunity of drawing moral instruction from all the traveller saw), and the political. All of which still merit the same amount attention in the present, and in the future, as they did in the past.
With additional references from Wikipedia (under “grand tour”)