Ten years isn't a long time in the grand scheme of things, and travel today looks much as it did at the start of the millennium. But, at the same time, many things have changed about the way people travel, how travelers access and carry information, and what hurdles travelers must clear to get to their destination. Baggage fees are now standard, albeit unwelcome; food service on airplanes has become much less common; and getting through airport security involves increasing levels of patience and wardrobe planning.
By far the largest changes have come from the tech sector, where ten years is sufficient for several major advances. Mobile phones can pinpoint you on a map, tell you what's nearby, and keep you in contact with friends and family, in many parts of the world. Paper is beginning to seem like a quaint anachronism: printed airline tickets are a thing of the past, boarding passes are slipping away into the mists of time, and guidebooks are rapidly invading the digital realm. Seeming flights of fancy like commercial space travel and transparent airplanes à la Wonder Woman are real possibilities in the near future.
This begs the question: what will have changed about travel in the year 2020? We polled the Lonely Planet editors and the community on the Lonely Planet Facebook page and selected the 12 travel-related predictions most likely to come true over the next decade:
- Mobile devices will become increasing common, more varied, useful, faster and increasingly durable. But limitations for travelers will remain because of infrastructure problems and inconsistencies around the world. Most importantly, while mobile devices will unquestionably be useful to travelers, no device will encourage you to put it down and look at the world around you.
- Clean travel: the green revolution has yet to make a serious impact on the airline industry; look for travel consumers to demand change in the next 10 years.
- All user-generated online reviews will start to converge on an equilibrium of 3.5 out of 5 stars. Turning to your social network for travel advice will only serve to make you question how well those people actually know you. However, tools that connect you with like-minded people that share your interests and tastes, whether they are friends or complete strangers, will prove invaluable for travel planning and advice.
- Child long-distance sailors will be passé - child astronauts will be all the rage.
- Maps as we know them will change. Look for the current wave of 3D and holographic products to invade the map world (a possible glimpse of the future of the map here). Tablet computers and smart phones are already changing the map using experience, but innovations in flexible electronic paper and projected holograms provide the potential for truly dynamic maps without the size, weight, and durability constraints of a mobile phone or tablet.
- Unplugged tours will become popular, offering connection-free wilderness experiences to the hopelessly tech-addicted.
- Airline fees, "pre-reclined" seats, pay toilets on flights, and multi-hour tarmac captives have been the story of recent years. The airline that figures out how to make a profit while pissing off their passengers the least will come out on top, and most of the major airlines of today will be too slow to make this change.
- In-flight mobile phone use will be the norm -- mastering a withering "please shut the #@% up" look, or bringing noise-cancellation headphones will be mandatory for all flights.
- The BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) are rapidly advancing in terms of economic development and will continue on this track for the next 10 years. Savvy travelers have been visiting these countries for years, but look for travel to increase following the economic trends, and look for more outward-bound travelers from the BRIC countries as well.
- Airlines will start to fill in niche and commuter routes with smaller aircraft, fully leveraging NASA's "Highway In the Sky" technology.
- Biometrics and safe non-invasive security technology at airports will ease traveler tensions over privacy while increasing safety. The word "junk" will go back to its previous level of usage, and air travelers will only use it in the context of in-flight movies and airport food.
- Bullet trains: they take at least 10 years to build, but look for significant spread of high-speed rail projects over the next decade.
What are your predictions for the state of travel in 2020?