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Old Apr 21, 09, 6:23 pm   #1
 
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Future of travel

I subscribe to Edward Hasbrouck's newsletter, and he's been following and commenting on the Amazing Race. He wrote The Practical Nomad, and is an ex airtrek agent who must hold at least a PhD in travel. I don't agree with everything he has to say re planning an RTW (for example, recommends consolidator tickets not alliance tickets), and his politics are way left of mine. But the guy is incredibly knowledgeable and the newsletters are extremely valuable as they analyze what the racers do and should have done to maximize their options.

Hasbrouck gave a speech in Sacramento,
( http://hasbrouck.org/blog/archives/001652.html ) and made some comments partially excerpted below about whether we are living in a very short window of opportunity for affordable world travel. With what I percieve as a paradigm shift in our country (will America as I knew her cease to exist?), Hasbrouck's comments really struck a nerve. What do you think? Would love to hear thoughts of other FTers on this.

Here are a few copied and pasted comments.

"Until recently, few people could afford to travel. Everyone else relied on what was written by those few adventurers who returned from far-off lands, whether that was Marco Polo bringing descriptions of the East back to Europe, Zhang Qian bringing news of Western lands back to China, or Mark Twain describing the strange land and stranger customs of California to readers several weeks' journey away back East.

Only within my lifetime has that changed. 50 years ago, the cheapest plane ticket across the Atlantic or the Pacific cost the equivalent of what a ticket on the Concorde would later cost. Today, for a month's wages, an ordinary American worker can fly to almost anywhere in the world and back. Travel is cheaper, easier, and faster than ever in history.

What will the future of travel, and travel writing, be like, in a world of oil depletion and global warming? Has air travel, in particular, already passed its peak of affordability?

Will our descendants look back on us as part of only 2 or 3 generations in all of human history, past, present, or future, who have the chance to see the world, meet its people, and learn about it through our own direct experience? What are we doing to take advantage of this precious opportunity?"
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Old Apr 21, 09, 7:10 pm   #2
 
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I agree that the relative cost of travel will rise, but I am also fearful that interest in travel will fall as the next generations are more content with a "virtual" experience and less willing to commit time, money and energy to travel.

However...

Huge leaps in the ability to travel could also drastically change the game as we know it. Think supersonic planes that travel on sea water or alga found in ocean water that could fly New York to London in 2 hours for even less cost than compared to now...
Think "Star Trek" style transporter that could transport people from one side of the earth to the other in minutes...
Think underground high speed rail tunnels that cut strait across the earth to travel from North America to Asia using only the force of earth's gravity to speed up as they get close to the earth's core and then slow the train pods down as they move away from the center of the earth, in as short as a few hours...
Think of "space elevators" that could take travelers to the edge of outer space in a matter of minutes to awaiting operating space platforms or ships that could travel to the far reaches of the solar system...

All this idea seem far fetched now, but I'm sure that the idea of flying over the Pacific ocean in a plane seemed far fetched just 2 or 3 generations ago
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Old Apr 21, 09, 7:44 pm   #3
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What a crock.

The premise that somehow travel will no longer be possible - certainly in our lifetime or that of the next few generations - is just plain crazy. Yes, travel is ridiculously affordable right now, but that doesn't mean that it will not be in the future. The idea that things are good now so they must get worse later just doesn't computer with me.
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Old Apr 21, 09, 8:34 pm   #4
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I think there are a number of scenarios where fuel makes travel less and less affordable. Some of the dark "peak oil" scenarios throw us back to the 19th century, with steam engines the main hope for long-distance travel. There would definitely need to be a technological game-changer in there to keep affordability going. If they ever get the A380 out there it could continue the 747's game by flying more people at lower per-person cost, countering some of the effects of rising fuel.

Just as important as those issues, though, is the threat that increasing homogenaeity poses. "See the world...while there still is a world to see." What that means is that satellite TV, movies and other cultural exports, multinationals and others are stripping a lot of the uniqueness from places. McDonald's replaces mom and pop eateries. People don't live in "traditional" houses for their area anymore. Four or five giant media companies own most of the satellite channels. Tourist sites get mobbed. Consumer culture takes over everywhere. That "shrinking world" problem means there's less of a "there" there, and that could be just as important as the cost problem in discouraging travel.
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Old Apr 21, 09, 8:42 pm   #5
 
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In Europe people normally have lots more paid vacation time than we do over here. Hopefully that trend will catch up and then we can travel even more than we do now.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) in my line of work, all I need to do my magic is a laptop and an internet connection, which means that ever since I joined the 'working' population in 1999.......there has not been a day (Except for when I went to my country's highest mountain......where btw they now have internet there too!) when I was not able to go online, but of course most people can't go on vacation whenever they want by just taking a laptop with them
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Old Apr 21, 09, 8:59 pm   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wolfie_cr View Post
Unfortunately (or fortunately) in my line of work, all I need to do my magic is a laptop and an internet connection, which means that ever since I joined the 'working' population in 1999.......there has not been a day (Except for when I went to my country's highest mountain......where btw they now have internet there too!) when I was not able to go online, but of course most people can't go on vacation whenever they want by just taking a laptop with them
I'd highly recommend reading the book "The Overworked American" by Juliet Schor. She documents in great detail how, over the long term, U.S. employers have always pushed to pay out rewards of increased productivity as more money (if they have to part with it) rather than more leisure time.

The 40-hour workweek, for example, dates all the way back to 1938. We've gone the entire computer age without any real drop in hours worked.

It's a cultural problem more than a technological problem. In places like Europe and Australia, more value is placed on vacation time and quality-of-life issues, even if that means governmental mandates (especially laws regulating store hours - without those, the mega-chains take over). In the U.S. there's more of a laissez-faire, market-will-take-care-of-it attitude that just hasn't worked out when it comes to leisure time. A good place to see it is in all the employees who take maternity leave or want to spend more family time and end up just quitting. Or how many people have tried to make a go of self-employment despite the likelihood of lower pay and zero benefits, just for the chance to have control over their time.

In another culture, your laptop might be liberating. In ours it can be interpreted as a 24-hour leash.
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Old Apr 22, 09, 7:59 am   #7
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Originally Posted by RustyC View Post
I'd highly recommend reading the book "The Overworked American" by Juliet Schor. She documents in great detail how, over the long term, U.S. employers have always pushed to pay out rewards of increased productivity as more money (if they have to part with it) rather than more leisure time.
I actually tried to trade my raise for additional vacation days at my last job. They didn't bite - it actually freaked them out a bit that I'd ask such a thing - but it did set the stage that allowed me to be a bit more liberal with a flexible schedule and days that I was not necessarily available.
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Old Apr 22, 09, 8:09 am   #8
 
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Travel is becoming impossible because wherever you go, you're in the same place.
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Old Apr 22, 09, 9:22 am   #9
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Travel is becoming impossible because wherever you go, you're in the same place.
If you really feel that way then you aren't doing it right. Even a quick trip to Hamburg 10 days ago provided a welcome and refreshing change from NYC, and the two are much more similar than different. PTY and POS/TAB were even more different.
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Old Apr 22, 09, 10:31 am   #10
 
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Count me as a cynic if you must, but from 1962 until 1994, I managed employee groups ranging from a handful to 100 or so. Since, I've done a fair amount of consulting in the US, most of it in small operations (and admittedly mostly among the modestly compensated).

On the record, I'm comfortable maintaining that among the employees I've seen in action, the legendary 40 hour week had little relationship to actual performance or productivity. I've had employees who could in 10 hours do a week's expected work, and had others who took a month to actually work for 40 hours. The folks who worked hardest did so (in almost every case) because they wanted to, and matched with productive capacity, the results were grand.

Sadly, most of the folks who worked fro me either couldn't afford a 30 day vacation or already took 60 days off in bits and pieces, unofficially. For over half of the US's employed workers, "vacation" is no more than not coming in for two weeks, with activities ranging from steadier beer drinking to fishing near home to cleaning out the garage. If the European system was so much better than ours, their economies would be sounder than ours (which they're not). But then, we shouldn't struggle like the great mass of Heathen Chinee' or the majority of the employed and underemployed of the Indian subcontinent who can't afford to travel at all.

I've always suspected that the real decline (or the failure for demonstrable increase) in worker "productivity" in the US had more to do with the swelling ranks of the Byzantine bureaucracies of the "organs of the state", local, state and federal, where often constructive "output" can not be measured in economic gain. Of course, I'll admit that "privatization" doesn't seem to work any better.
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Old Apr 22, 09, 8:24 pm   #11
 
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Since there seem to be two different topics going on here:

1. Future of Travel:

I hardly think we are at the end of travel. I think we are really just entering a golden age of it, really. Until a few decades ago, it was very costly to even provide the equipment to travel great distances. With new technology we have brought that down. Todays planes are so vastly more efficient that they can move people farther than before on less fuel. And I am not so sure about the declining oil as being a catastrophic event - our ability to extract more from those reserves increases daily, and we are finding new ways to find oil. For that matter, fossil based fuels themselves may end up becoming quaint memories as bio and other fuels are developed.

Even given issues such as greenhouse gases and carbon footprints, there is still lots of economy to be realized by larger planes with fewer actual flights.

If anything people are becoming more interested in the outside world. People live in different countries and no longer seem content to stay on one continent. We may loose the novelty factor of foreign countries, we may t the interest is still there.

2. Vacation time:

That is a huge issue in the US. I think it has to do with out fanaticism about numbers. We measure "productivity" as though people are robots that turn on and off. Vacation, as TMOliver said, isn't even about "vacation", it is just rest from work. We have become so slave driven that we in the US anyways think of anything that is not working full out as slacking. That comes from a total disregard for actual work done except in terms of spreadsheet numbers.

I am particularly concerned that we have become so focused on mechanical output that we are sorely missing the point that we can no longer lead in design, ideas, or scientific knowledge. I disagree that we are as sound an economy as other countries - I no longer think that is true and it is, unfortunately, becoming all too clear. The faith from other countries in the Us to lead is diminishing, and with that our ability to lead is rapidly declining - once those other countries realize that they CAN survive without the US, then they wont look to the Us to lead.

Vacation time - time off - is vital to that. Americans live to work. We measure people's quality of life now not by what they do with their life but how many hours they work and what kind of jobs they hold. We somehow now glorify throwing one's life away for the sake of a corporate bottom line. we have essentially sold out our point in living and are now finding it hard to really put any effort into making our lives better.
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Old Apr 23, 09, 1:37 am   #12
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Originally Posted by TMOliver View Post
On the record, I'm comfortable maintaining that among the employees I've seen in action, the legendary 40 hour week had little relationship to actual performance or productivity. I've had employees who could in 10 hours do a week's expected work, and had others who took a month to actually work for 40 hours.
The ones who are good at doing the week's work in 10 hours quickly figure out that there's NO INCENTIVE for that kind of behavior if they work in a company of any size and their goal is more time off. The company will just tell them to stay the 40 hours and do 4 weeks' work. They might get the highest pay bump at evaluation time, but they're not going to get fewer hours. That's part of the problem in the U.S.

There's an interesting book out called "The Four Hour Work Week" by Tim Ferriss where he points out that no roads in conventional workplaces lead to more leisure time. He recommends arguing for a telecommuting job to get out of the office and not to have to look busy to try to recapture some of the time. He also recommends outsourcing a lot of day-to-day duties on an individual level while trying for an ultimate goal of a side business not aimed at maximizing money so much as taking up as little time as possible.
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Old Apr 23, 09, 1:50 am   #13
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Originally Posted by Cloudship View Post
I am particularly concerned that we have become so focused on mechanical output that we are sorely missing the point that we can no longer lead in design, ideas, or scientific knowledge. I disagree that we are as sound an economy as other countries - I no longer think that is true and it is, unfortunately, becoming all too clear. The faith from other countries in the Us to lead is diminishing, and with that our ability to lead is rapidly declining - once those other countries realize that they CAN survive without the US, then they wont look to the Us to lead.
The "real" economy of making things or inventing things didn't do well at all under Bush when you strip away the housing boom. People were using credit cards or borrowing against rising home values to fund better living standards that weren't being confirmed via wage increases. Some also bought into the idea that the stock market mattered more to their own well-being than their wages, even though their holdings weren't that large.

Now all of it has crashed at the same time and people are waking up to not being nearly as well-off as they had thought.
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Old Apr 23, 09, 3:08 am   #14
 
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Originally Posted by RustyC View Post
The "real" economy of making things or inventing things didn't do well at all under Bush when you strip away the housing boom. People were using credit cards or borrowing against rising home values to fund better living standards that weren't being confirmed via wage increases. Some also bought into the idea that the stock market mattered more to their own well-being than their wages, even though their holdings weren't that large.

Now all of it has crashed at the same time and people are waking up to not being nearly as well-off as they had thought.
It's just as bad - if not worse - here in Britain.
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Old Apr 23, 09, 10:37 am   #15
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Originally Posted by Edward Hasbrouck
<SNIP> What will the future of travel, and travel writing, be like, in a world of oil depletion and global warming? Has air travel, in particular, already passed its peak of affordability?
As fashionable as the theory of anthropogenic global warming is right now, Iím really getting tired of it being rolled out every time some excuse is needed that we are nearing End Times. As for the hand-wringing over fossil fuel depletion, emerging technologies such as thermal depolymerization will make it a moot point.
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