Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Future of Travel – Nine Innovations I’d love to see

It's easy to see that the world of traveling changes constantly. Innovations have influenced not only the way we travel, but the way we approach and think about travel. And how quickly our moms can now track us down no matter where we are (it's your choice to friend your parents on Facebook...or not).

Traveling from London to New York City a century ago would have taken weeks or months while costing what most could not afford. Now routes like that can be traveled in less than 12 hours. Travel can be all about time and money, and innovations such as planes, trains and automobiles open up travel to those who a) might not have been able to afford it, or b) didn't have three weeks to lounge around on a boat crossing bodies of water like the Atlantic. 

Even the experience of travel and staying connected to home has changed. Not that long ago, communicating with loved ones used to require a pen, paper, postage and patience as your postcard or letter could take weeks to reach them. Often, you'd arrive home before your correspondence would! Now with texting and social media sites, communication is immediate and visual in ways we never could have imagined before.

Technology in particular has influenced and in most ways improved the way we move from place to place. In addition to what technology is going to do for us in the future, I think there are some changes we could make to not only enhance the traveling experience, but to integrate travel more into our lives, which at least for me, is the continual goal. 

Here are nine ideas of travel innovations and recommendations - some realistic, some not - that I'd love to see come into play during my lifetime:

1. European Model of Work/Holidays

More holiday time = more coordination of bathing
suits to beach chairs.

In North America, our system of holidays, in a word (which I don’t think is in the Oxford Dictionary), sucks. Yes, S-U-C-K-S sucks. A system where you get zero holidays your first year, then two weeks in your second year, then three weeks after 5 years worked should not be the norm. In my mind this is absolutely insane and borders on unhealthy! Rested people are happier people. And as any travel enthusiast knows, people who place a big emphasis on travel tend to be really happy and down to earth people. They’re more balanced. And patient. And tolerant. Plus they’re most likely to have excessively large collections of hotel sized shampoos and conditioners, ready for guests at a moment’s notice. All good.

I believe that our system is one more based on punishment than rewards. This is why over on this side of the pond, we need to study really intelligent and forward thinking countries where it isn’t uncommon to have 6, 8 or 10 weeks of holiday. Discussed in the this study, the point is made that working more days and longer hours doesn’t necessarily make us more productive. And if people had more time off, they’d be happier, likely travel more, which is also great for our economy.

2. Mandatory Student Exchanges

Get ‘em young – isn’t that what McDonalds does? Well, why not take children (say ages 14 to 18) out of the classroom and put them in the real world through school program learning exchanges. Not only will they have an appreciation of another culture and/or language, they might also finally understand just how good they have it at home (to the thunderous applause and ‘woo hoo’s’ of parents everywhere).

It’s not until you travel apart from the comfort of your family that you start paying attention to your surroundings and achieve that ultimate thrill of being able to get around by yourself while interacting with people from other countries and cultures.

3. Teleporting

Scotty (from Star Trek) never knew the brilliance that he brought to the future. Sure he was only acting his part in a science fiction show that often worked in futuristic devices, but even back in the 60’s when Star Trek was first created for television, people were already drooling over the concept of being able to travel from one part of the world to another in a matter of seconds. Was it for convenience and to save time? Sure. Was it to avoid having to sit by some oversized snoring, drooling dude next to you on an overseas flight? Absolutely. When I’m in that situation, I like to imagine we’re both in a Star Trek episode, they’re wearing a red away shirt and Captain Kirk is itching to explore a new planet…

A great way to see what your buddy ate for lunch.

Teleporting, a technology that’s actually in development could revolutionize the travel world. But before anyone gets excited about having the ability to decide to go to Paris for dinner rather than the local pizza joint, two things are likely to happen if this technology comes to life:

It will likely be regulated and the experience would be run like a typical airport with ‘trip costs’ depending on where you’re going, government taxes, long check in counters, passport and security checks as well as stupidly overpriced bottles of water. You'd just be avoiding flight safety demos and those little bags of peanuts. Maybe this is all to ensure somebody makes money off of the technology, but it would be useful to help keep idiots from doing harm to people in other places and getting away quickly. It would also to ensure that when you teleport to Cannes, France, you don’t arrive smack in the middle of a busy road or end up sharing the space that’s being occupied by a beach umbrella - that’s an ouch that won’t soon go away.

Also important to remember: dinnertime where you are isn’t necessarily dinnertime everywhere else. Any Swiss restaurants likely will have an issue with you teleporting into their establishment at 3 am local time. Then again, so would any Swiss bank with a nicely stocked vault.

4. Time Travel

The more serious you are, the further you can travel back in time.

So it’s not necessarily where you travel to, but when you travel to. How cool would it be to go back to Rome in the days of Cesar Augustus? Or why not travel to Mauritius, east of Madagascar, to see a real live Dodo bird? Or maybe you want to see Elvis playing at a small bar before he became a big sensation (if you do go, maybe tell him to go a little lighter on the buffets in Vegas…).

An alternative way to travel - the Hot Tube Time Traveler.
Speedos not included.

Whatever your fancy, you could dial in a specific date, get all dressed up, and head off to witness history live in real time 3D. With this kind of travel possible, I’d imagine that this whole mess around the assassination of President Kennedy might finally be solved, which does bring to mind the implications of messing with our past. A good book of fiction that demonstrates this best is 11/22/63 by Stephen King. But this is just a list of ideal travel innovations, so at this time we’ll just choose to ignore the negative effects and hope it all gets ironed out by the time it could/might happen.

5. Virtual Reality Excursions

This is already starting to happen with the efforts of Google to map out historic landmarks, museums and natural areas. From the comfort of your home computer (and whatever superhero underwear you’re lounging in), you can begin to tour parts of the world without the usual expense and time. No line-ups, no rainy days or massive time changes, and no admission charges – yet. Why not create virtual tours not only of historic or notable places, but of whole cities or countries? Want to see the Stones in Prague? Maybe visit hosted city sites before ‘walking’ into a sold out stadium, followed up by a virtual beer at a local pub afterwards? Or why not take a guided Sunday afternoon ‘walk’ through the Louvre?

If lycra is the material of choice in the future,
we're all in big trouble.

The better the technology gets, the more you’ll feel like your there, and that’s what will be marketable in the years to come as virtual reality devices get better and better. In my mind this will never replace the thrill of actually visiting another city or country, but for many people who have circumstances, financial or other, that limit where they can go and for how long, this may be the ticket to seeing the world.

6. Ensuring Authentic Experience

So people are talking about Google Glasses and what they can offer you. Walk down the street and you can see what restaurants there are, what their ratings are and if their chef has ever served time in prison (that’s an extra feature I hear). Or they can find the nearest Starbucks for you or the nearest park for a quiet picnic.

I know what I like to find while exploring a city, and I also know what I don’t want to find. I dislike arriving in a foreign city and being bombarded by chain restaurants or stores we have back in Canada or in the US. This is not why I travel and I don’t want to be walking in downtown Sydney, Australia and be reminded of walking in downtown Minneapolis, USA.

I know it’s only going to get worse as our ‘world becomes smaller’, so I’d like to see someone develop a pair of glasses that filters out all this crap. When I travel, I want new experiences and I don’t mind leaving the ‘comforts of home’ at home. I don’t want The Gap or Burger King to photo bomb my snapshots of my friends or family on the Champs-Élysées. There’s something to be said for keeping the experience authentic and experiences what makes a place unique.

7. Virtual Travel Companions

If you’ve ever traveled alone, you know that even in a piazza filled with 5,000 people, one can easily get that lonely feeling that even an Italian espresso won't make go away. Traveling with someone else can make visiting another country even that much richer. And having common interests can lead to a great trip when you’re both interested in seeing the same things, going to the same kinds of restaurants, and when you’re both comfortable staying in that luxury resort rather than the $20 hostel (really, who isn’t though?).

Hey, a guy can dream, can't he?

How cool would it be to pull into the Berlin train station, walk up to a vending machine and select a virtual traveling companion for the day? Real, hologram or robot, it really doesn’t matter. And if you don’t get along or if it’s the end of the day, just press a button and poof! - they vanish into thin air.

Depending on where you are, avatars could be customized. How cool would it be to spend an afternoon in Rome with a twenty-something year old Audrey Hepburn? Or how about wandering through New York with the likes of Yoda (Take the road less traveled you must!)? The possibilities (and fun) are absolutely endless.

8. Configurable Hotels

Fitting guests into a hotel for staff must at times be a nightmare. What about those families of 5 or 6 who all want to share a room, where do you fit them all? My needs always vary, depending on what kind of trip I’m taking – business trips, family trips, trips as a couple, or guys trips to Vegas.

How fun would it be to have rooms that could be set up and customized to a guest’s needs in just a few minutes? With moveable walls and beds and tables and chairs, space can be maximized and kept as flexible as possible to cater to specific needs. Or even let the guests do their own arranging.

9. Out of This World

The older I get, the more realistic it seems that my dream of flying to or near the moon is not likely to happen. A big ‘boo’ to this and I’d just like to say how disappointed I am in those scientists who back in the 1970s said that by the year 2000 we’d regularly be making trips to the moon. Bad form guys, bad form. Just a side note, they also claimed there’d be really cool flying cars by now, and unless they have them in Dubai and they’re just not telling us, that’s also created a huge measure of disappointment in my life.

I like to believe though that interplanetary travel is a reality for the near future. With Virgin Galactic’s plans to bring (high-paying) customers to the outer reaches of our planet, you know bigger things will come next

What's Next?

Whatever innovations come our way, I believe the best approach to the future of travel would be this: "expect the unexpected". And then add on a fuel surcharge. Then you're all set.