Technology is becoming a huge part of how we travel, but just how much are the gadgets we use changing the way we travel?
I have been backpacking independently around the world on and off for over a decade now and in that time a lot has changed in the travel and the tech world. Mobile phones, gadgets, HD cameras, social media, technology has changed the face of backpacking completely in the last decade and backpacking round the world now is very different than it was ten years ago.
When I started travelling mobile phones were only just becoming popular and mainstream and people were still carrying those old Nokia bricks! Social media was only just being born (imagine a world without Facebook!) And if you wanted to use the internet abroad you had to search out for the ubiquitous internet cafe in between all the local backpacker hostels. (Okay I’m getting old, don’t remind me!)
So given how much gadgets have evolved in the last decade and how much they are now part of our everyday lives, what tech is likely to be part of our packing lists or our travel experience in the near future? And just how will it affect our travels?
I think this technology trend is going to be one that has a huge impact on travel over the next decade, especially as flexible displays become more widespread.
Let’s face it, technology and gadgets have become an indispensable part of travel, and we all pack at least some form of technology with us when we go away. One of the big problems however is still space and weight. Yes this has been improved immeasurably over the last few years, but to be able to eliminate it entirely and wear the gadgets you would normally carry? That is something special.
Gadgets such as Google Glass and smart watches such as the Galaxy Gear are only really in their infancy at the moment – they still have a few kinks and you still look absolutely ridiculous wearing them – but look beyond the fad fashion statements and look at the bigger picture. Look at what these can become in the future beyond the fad.
This is no longer the technology of the future, the technology is already here, right now, just waiting to be refined and made better.
Instead of the huge and goofy looking glasses that Google are pushing at the moment imagine that technology inserted into a normal pair of sunglasses or prescription glasses, a sleek heads up display in the eyewear you already wear that can give you real time updates on where you are, give you directions via Google maps or call up information on a famous landmark or museum artifact.
How about being able to read something in a foreign language like a menu or directions? The handy heads up display can bring up the translation for you! Want to listen to music? Earphones can be incorporated into the glasses arms, no need for an extra mp3 player or earphones. They would make maps, guide books, music players and translators redundant without carrying anything extra than you do already! Assuming you wear glasses or sunglasses, of course.
The technology is already here, augmented reality has been around for a while, as have all the other software necessary to make this tech a potentially essential piece of kit, it is just a matter of refining the gadget so it doesn’t look quite so bad on your face. Think Geordie La Forge without the visor! (And yes, you get extra geek points for guessing the reference!)
Smart watches are exactly the same, at the moment aren’t that great at all to be honest. They are still just a little bit faddy and an expensive extension of your phone. Nothing more than a gimmick really. But as they evolve and get better over the next couple of years, the potential to have a variety of real life applications that will benefit the average traveller strapped to your wrist is immense. Airlines are already starting to pioneer contactless smart watch boarding passes similar to the passes already available on smartphones, and I don’t care how old you get, anyone who watched Knight Rider in the Eighties will get a kick out of speaking into their wristwatch when they think no one is looking!
It isn’t just about the technology you have on you though, it is also about the technology that is increasingly being built into the environment around you. As intuitive semantic technology becomes increasingly common, wearable technology will take advantage of this software to be able to provide you with a much more personal experience wherever you go.
Airlines are already investing heavily in intuitive technology for their next generation in flight entertainment systems, and it is certainly possible in the near future that you will be able to board an aeroplane, carry on watching the latest box set of Game of Thrones you were in the middle of at home or listen to your own cloud stored music collection by the seamless connection between your own technology and on board devices. You can arrive at your destination and the heads up display on your glasses will provide you with adverts of what is near to you based on your own personal browser history.
Do you think it is still a long way off? Well Virgin Atlantic are already trialling their iBeacon software for upper class passengers which sends passengers information and offers via their smartphones or other tech when they come in range of an airport or aircraft, and many other airlines including Iberia are following suit. Remember when we thought how ridiculous Tom Cruise looked waving his arms about in Minority Report and how we scoffed at personalised ads tracking him wherever he went? How normal and commonplace are movement based interfaces now? User generated content may be in its infancy, but it is here and it is happening now!
Tablets and phablets.
I know, phablets is one of the most ridiculous words to enter the general lexicon in a while, but then so was Google once upon a time. When I started travelling I never even had a mobile phone in my pack (even now I usually only take one and stash it away for emergencies), and tablets were called PADD’s and only ever seen on Star Trek: The Next Generation! Now phablets, tablets and everything in between are now so commonplace that they are rapidly overtaking a wide variety of other gadgets and are even becoming a replacement for them in many travellers backpacks.
Smart cameras with impressive professional level megapixels and features, eReaders with entire libraries including digital versions of those all important (and previously bulky) guidebooks, iPods or other Mp3 players, internet connections, two way communication back home via Skype, GPS navigation, large and bulky laptops. All of these gadgets have in and of themselves changed how people travel, and yet even these relatively new technologies are now being surpassed by gadgets such as the Samsung Galaxy S4 or the Galaxy Tab that pack all of these gadgets into one, simple device.
The range of tech these devices are replacing is long and impressive already, and they are improving and gaining increasing functionality with every new model that comes out. The fact that even mobile phones themselves – arguably one of the biggest life changing technologies over the last decade – are beginning to take a back seat is proof positive of just how completely these gadgets have entered our lives!
There is no need to look into the near future for what may happen with this technology as the effects can be seen right now. Tablets such as the now almost ubiquitous Apple iPad are already part of most people’s packing lists. The benefits of carrying this technology with you on your travels will only continue to grow and solidify over the next few years as further improvements in design and battery life continue to be rolled out.
Tablets and phablets have already had a massive impact on the backpacking and travel world. A huge percentage of travellers are now carrying these gadgets with them as a practical halfway house between laptops and phones. Internet cafe’s are becoming fewer and farther between as wifi becomes increasingly prevalent, almost to the point of being expected in all but the most remote of places.
Old traditions such as swapping battered editions of old guidebooks with other backpackers are disappearing, old problems such as finding our way around a new town or city or finding that elusive hostel when you are a new arrival are now much easier thanks to Google Maps, Tripadvisor and a whole range of other apps available instantly on your device with or without internet. Our devices keep us in touch with everyone back home, they allow us to have that safety net of social media, GPS and a whole range of other software available through a variety of apps.
At the very least our packs are now feeling much lighter without all those extra gadgets and bulky paperback guidebooks!
On the whole this is a good thing, but the mass acceptance of tablets and phablets does have its downside. Loaded with the full smorgasbord of social media apps and internet capability, the once social atmosphere of the hostel common room has now become a geekified extension of the sullen teenagers bedroom as everyone sits in silence, faces buried in the glowing screens of their gadgets as they interact with everyone back home through technology instead of meeting and interacting with the real person next to them. Dorm rooms and balconies are becoming increasingly likely to be the locations of mass violence as inconsiderate muppets blather on Skype in the early hours keeping everyone awake. Being connected is a good thing, but remember one of the big reasons you wanted to travel in the first place was to get away from everything back home and see and experience new things, so remember to keep the connections off for a while too.
Yes, I know this isn’t exactly a new gadget or an exciting new piece of kit. Cameras have been around in some form for hundreds of years. What makes cameras an exciting addition to this list however is just how much they have changed over the last decade, and the potential they have for the future.
On my first backpacking trip over a decade ago digital cameras were still in their infancy. The best you could get was around 2MP and that was considered the height of tech at the time (I can hear the kids sniggering at the back, shut up!) and it was still common to see photo development shops around the world selling film or offering a burn to CD service if they were really fancy.
Now even basic mobile phones have cameras more powerful than digital cameras back then, powerful compact cameras such as the one I generally carry, the Sony Cybershot are the norm and high end, professional DSLR cameras are within the reach of many travellers. Even high end bridge cameras are becoming more and more commonplace as they become more reasonably affordable.
Gadgets improve over time, that is the case with any tech, but it isn’t just the quality improvements that are so impressive about the use of this technology for the modern traveller. Many people are setting off on their gap year or round the world travels now with access to even the most basic camera equipment and editing software that is frighteningly close to professional grade. That means that increasingly professional quality photographs and video, combined with cheap, professional editing software, are being live streamed through personal websites and social media much more readily, and this is changing how we share, view and access information on the road.
Travellers are no longer taking quick snapshots of a landmark and hoping they all turn out when they get developed (imagine getting back home and having one of those bad shot stickers over your one and only blurred memento of the Taj Mahal or the Pyramids? That would have to hurt!) Travellers are now instantly uploading their mobile phone or tablet snapshots to Pinterest or Instagram in real time, uploading videos to youtube or their own easily accessible websites, chronicling their travels as they go and taking professional photos and video with their own, small, reasonably priced cameras without the aid of an entire carry case of professional equipment.
The average traveller now has access to equipment and software that can give high definition, professional quality photos or video of their round the world adventures and many are choosing to use this as a form of expression, creating blogs or websites of their travels with images and video that can and does compete with professional travel sites. Cameras such as the Go Pro are making the transition from enthusiastic amateur to professional vlogger and videographer much easier, and websites like you tube are making internet stars of people and high definition video of the amazing sites and locations around the world are providing an instant link to thousands of travellers journeys to anyone with an internet connection.
Traditional travel media such as big brand name guide books or heavily produced travel shows on the main TV channels are now facing serious competition for audience share with what are effectively enthusiastic amateurs.
Reruns of the legendary Around The World With Michael Palin and shows of that calibre will always have a special place in many travellers hearts as they did inspire wanderlust in many backpackers roaming the world today. But now shows like that simply can’t compete with Around The World With … pretty much anyone who wants to document their travels.
Bloggers and Vloggers are increasingly the content providers that potential travellers and backpackers are turning to for up to date quality information from their peers, and this is only going to increase exponentially as the technology upgrades and refines itself over the next few years.
Okay, apps have been round for a fair few years now. They aren’t exactly software or technology of the future, but they have had such a massive impact on the travel industry and the way we travel, it is hard to ignore them and not wonder how they will continue to change our travel lives in the near future.
Traditional travel industry stalwarts have slowly been replaced and usurped by a whole slew of different apps over the last few years that the peripheral services of the travel industry are becoming increasingly obsolete for the independent traveller. Need a guide book? A travel agent? A review? A translator? A currency converter? There is an app for all of these and much, much more!
Travel apps have certainly made our travelling lives easier. The big question is how are they going to continue to do that in the future? As software continues to be developed it needs to be more innovative and more helpful than the last batch, in many cases solving problems that we didn’t even know were actual problems!
Easier Transit Technologies.
Okay, this isn’t really a piece of technology in its own right but a whole range of different technology and software applications that are already beginning to profoundly affect the way we travel for the better.
We all hate the long queues at customs and the often overzealous security measures, the constant gamble of whether our luggage will actually turn up where it is supposed to and the tedium of check in, but recent advances in a range of technologies such as biometrics, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), facial recognition software and many more besides are beginning to make all our lives just a little smoother when we travel.
The application of biometric technology and facial recognition software are already starting to let some travellers bypass security, and as these technologies develop it isn’t unfeasible that we will be able to arrive at an airport, collect our luggage straight away (having been identified through constantly transmitting RFID data to ensure it stays on the same route we are and eliminating the chance our pack is having a holiday of its own two continents away) and breeze through the gates to an awaiting taxi, as a team of experts analyse the facial recognition software with the biometric technology they have collected on us without even having to physically stop us and check. After we arive we should be able to arrive at a hotel and check in instantaneously from the RFID and other smart software in our smartphones, smart watches or glasses or any other form of wearable technology.
The privacy applications are a little scary, as are the dehumanising aspects, but you can’t deny the security potential and the relative convenience it will bring, especially when integrated with smartphone and wearable technology as well as social networking. Airlines and hotels are already investing heavily in these systems as they could potentially save them a lot more money in the long run.
We may not have hoverboards and transporters yet, but the future of tech in travel looks very promising, and given how much it has affected backpacking over the last ten years I’m really looking forward to seeing how different things will be again in another decade!
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This post is not in any way a sponsored post. Although affiliate links are used throughout to help pay for the upkeep of the site, I received no compensation or incentive for mentioning these products in this article, they are simply products that I have used myself over a period of many years travelling or am otherwise happy to recommend to you.