Whether you're hitching a ride in a pound-saving Uber across the neighbourhoods of downtown London or snapping a selfie to post on your Insta account, the chance that you've used at least one piece of tech on your travels in the last year is close to 100%.
In a world that was the province of daring adventurers like Columbus and Marco Polo only some centuries ago, it might seem a little strange that it's now possible to broadcast images of your hot-dog legs on a Thai beach to millions with just the addition of a hashtag, or learn all about the best teahouses in the high Himalayas by simply searching on Google.
But what's actually stranger – if we're to believe the stats – is the prospect of traveling without being connected. Yep: A whopping 92% of all millennial globetrotters (that's people born roughly between the early 1980s and start of the 2000s) wouldn't even consider heading for the airport without their smartphone in tow. That would just be weird, right?
The upshot is that we're all just going to have to accept the fact that tech and travel is a union that's here to stay. Like it or not, being connected is changing the way we move around the globe. What's more, moving around the globe is changing the way we choose to stay connected. That might sound silly but who would've thought of ever going to Instagram to find the next gastronomic hotspot in Bangkok or the most enticing Mayan ruins in Mexico, even just 10 years back?
Here, we'll take a look at some obvious and some less obvious ways in which gizmos, gadgets, tech and the internet are changing the way we experience the world around us. Check them out…
Seamless Integration Of Travel Shopping And Travel Experiences
Hassle. It's the reason loads of people prefer to stay at home, put their feet up and dream about the palm-shaded sands of the Far East or the turtle-spotted bays of Central America instead of actually going there. It's an easy impulse to understand – no one ever said that travel was going to be easy, only fun, life-changing, awesome, unforgettable – the list goes on.
But that could all be about to change thanks to tech. Huge firms like Google (ever heard of them?) are planning to try and make it easier for would-be globetrotters to go from the inspiration stage – you know, checking out dreamy photos of the Balinese surf on the LBW Instagram – to the purchasing stage – you know, when you finally press the "book now" button on our Blissful Bali itinerary (great choice, by the way).
This whole idea is being called "seamless travel". That makes sense because if it comes to fruition you could be looking at a single interface or app that lets you decide where you want to go, book a trip to get there, plan your travels when you're finally there, and even more. Seamless, see.
No More Annoying Docs And Stuff
No one likes sifting through reams of documents and papers to find their boarding pass in the airport. No one likes having to print off visa forms and booking confirmations. No one likes remembering the times and dates of departures and arrivals. It's all the boring stuff; the part of travel that keeps you from daydreaming about encounters with elephants or swims in waterfalls.
It's another aspect of life on the road that could soon be changing though. That's because there are now travel apps that are determined to render the classic printed boarding pass and document totally useless by automatically organizing all of your important stuff in one easy-to-access place on your smartphone or tablet.
Granted there's some way to go yet. Some people will worry that once they run out of battery there's no way all those important details can be accessed. Others might be travelling in destinations where digital versions of tickets are rarely accepted (we're looking at you, India). And there are other reasons why folk might not be quite ready to handover all the admin of their trips to the digital sphere.
Still, the point is it's happening. Albeit slowly.
Crunching The Numbers To Bag Travel Bargains
If you remember only two words going into the new era of travel shopping, make it these: Big data.
Why? Well, because this method of analyzing the way people search, buy and compare travel deals is revolutionizing the way things are done. How? By changing the way that both globetrotters and travel agencies go about their business.
And if that sounds a little overblown, just consider for a moment the power of airfare aggregators. Since the rise of comparison sites like Skyscanner and Momondo in the last decade or so, a vast proportion of would-be fliers don't even consider heading straight to the airline's sales department as they would have done in yesteryear.
That's because they know that by collating more searches across more airlines and more airports, it's possible to bag some uber-wallet-friendly deals with hefty reductions. And the bonuses don't end there for consumers. You can also pinpoint the exact dates where average ticket prices or tours are cheapest now, instantly reveal if it's better for you to travel with certain airlines, and home in on the cheapest seasonal prices – all with the click of a mouse or the tap of an iPad.
Crunching The Numbers To OFFER Travel Bargains
Big data isn't just the province of buyers though. It's also a great way for travel agents and tour providers – that's us! – to check that they are doing things correctly. With the vast amount of info that sloshes around with the billions of monthly airfares, holiday destination, hotel and tour searches on the internet, it's possible to see what it is that the travelers of today are after the most. It's also possible to draw conclusions on what particular groups of travelers from particular places are after the most.
Just think how awesome that could prove to be – a sort of unspoken feedback loop between globetrotters and travel agents that works to always offer the precise thing you're after.
It's already working, actually. We for one have seen a sharp increase in folk after real, authentic travel experiences thanks to big data trends like this. That means people are slowly moving away from the established "bucket-list" sites and places to seek out more off-the-beaten-track destinations, cultural encounters, and earthy connections to the planet.
Fancy sacking off the usual photo snaps of the Panama Canal for a Robinson Crusoe-style jaunt to a private island in the Pacific Ocean? Yea, we get that. Prefer sailing your way on a private yacht over the Adriatic Sea rather than classic bus tours from Croatian town to Croatian town? We can hardly blame you!
AI Is Coming
No, that's not a line lifted from I, Robot but a serious prediction about the way tech is going to change the way we travel the world in the coming years.
There are already reports that major tech firms are trying to create in-the-know digital assistants that can not only replace the classic guide book but also offer innovative solutions to travel problems, suggest great restaurants that are suited to your personal preferences, dig out awesome off-the-beaten-track sights to see – you get the idea.
The absolute pinnacle of that sort of tech is thought to be virtual reality (VR for short). Offering much more than just stomach-lurching rollercoaster rides courtesy of a smartphone stuck unceremoniously to your face, we're talking about being able to explore a place in full-HD and 3D before you even go there.
That could help you seek out places you really want to visit in person. It could help you navigate your way through particularly tricky places (though we're certain travelers will still be lost like Alice in Wonderland when they first hit zig-zagging Venice). It could help you calm that sad nostalgia long after you've returned from your favorite Thai beach town.
One thing that all tech firms agree on is that VR experiences are NEVER going to replace the real deal. Travel isn't a computer game and there's never going to be a substitute for actually going somewhere, getting a feel for it, immersing yourself in a place and culture.
Whizzing Around The World Like You Never Knew How
Only this year did the world's resident sci-fi daydreamer, Elon Musk, start to talk seriously about his admittedly awesome ideas for the future of world travel.
There are some truly tantalizing things to sink your teeth into here, all laced with that trademark even-more-tantalizingly plausibility that Musk manages to give everything he talks about.
Start with the Hyperloop: A vacuum tube that's loaded with electrodynamic suspended pods that shoot from city to city. In English, that's a super-fast train sort of thing than can clock up velocities of a whopping 760 miles per hour on its speedometer. Pretty nifty, eh?
Next is the promise to jet passengers around the globe from anywhere to anywhere in under an hour. Pick that jaw up – it's doable (or at least Musk seems to think so!). Using point-to-point rocket systems that leave Earth's atmosphere and delve straight back down again to wherever it is they're destined for, you could be looking at doing hefty hops like London-Sydney or New York-Beijing in just 50 minutes.
We'll stop there. Before we get into Elon's plans to colonize Mars. It's all too much for just one article…
Revolutionizing The Sort Of Souvenirs We Take From Travel
Millennials are the proud Instagrammers and the selfie generation, the Facebook status-mongers and the Twitterphiles. It's the result of an age group beset by tech and gadgets; one which sees no problem merging their connections on the smartphone with their connections to the people and places they visit.
Pictures are now easier to take than ever (who doesn't have a gazillion-megapixel camera at hand in their pocket?). Selfies are the new token to take from a Thai beach. Facebook check-ins are the new postcard to signal you're on holiday.
The upshot here is that the days of painted fridge magnets and postcards might be numbered. People are starting to prefer digital souvenirs over traditional ones, whether that means a hash-tagged photo of you outside a Buddhist stupa in Laos or an endless portfolio of Go-Pro vids shot while surfing on the Pacific Ocean.
Those can be uploaded and shared with ease, unlike a novelty hat or t-shirt. They can be carried on memory cards or whacked in The Cloud for safekeeping. And they can add to your digital identity, projecting your wanderlust and explorative self across the airwaves for all to see.
If you've come across any other ways that you think technology is going to change the way we travel in the coming decades then we'd love to hear about them in the comments below. Or, if your Instagram obsession and encounters with the blogosphere have started your wanderlust fizzing for destinations from Vietnam to Costa Rica, be sure to head over and check out our offering of travel tours around the globe. (No vacuum-powered pod trains with us. Promise).
"Rich is a traveler, writer and filmmaker who's always after somewhere new to go. He's been hopping around the globe since 2011, from Poland to Paris, Mumbai to Ho Chi Minh. He runs several travel sites of his own, from Ski Eastern to Live Krakow to Crabs Move Sideways. When he's not planning his next trip, he's usually listening to 50s jazz, surfing in Wales, skiing in the Alps, or just swigging (too much) great craft beer."
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