The Future of Travel

The prospect of a holIday Is lIable to persuade even the most down-cast that lIfe Is worth lIvIng. AsIde from love, few events are antIcIpated more eagerly, nor form the subject of more complex or enrIchIng daydreams than holIdays.

They offer us perhaps our fInest chance to achIeve happIness - outsIde of the constraInts of work, of our struggle for survIval and for status. The way we choose to spend them embodIes, If only unwIttIngly, an understandIng of what lIfe mIght Ideally be about. DurIng the long workIng weeks, we can vItally be sustaIned by our dreams of goIng somewhere else, somewhere far from home, a place wIth better weather, more InterestIng customs and InspIrIng landscapes – and where It seems we stand a chance of fInally beIng happy.

Botton was born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1969 and now lives in London. He is a writer of essayistic books that have been described as a ‘philosophy of everyday life. ‘He’s written on love, travel, architecture and literature. His books have been bestsellers in 30 countries and have been translated in 16 languages. Alain also started and helps to run a school in London called The School of Life, dedicated to a new vision of education.
The prospect of a holiday is liable to persuade even the most down-cast that life is worth living. Aside from love, few events are anticipated more eagerly, nor form the subject of more complex or enriching daydreams than holidays. They offer us perhaps our finest chance to achieve happiness - outside of the constraints of work, of our struggle for survival and for status. The way we choose to spend them embodies, if only unwittingly, an understanding of what life might ideally be about. During the long working weeks, we can vitally be sustained by our dreams of going somewhere else, somewhere far from home, a place with better weather, more interesting customs and inspiring landscapes – and where it seems we stand a chance of finally being happy.
But of course the reality of travel seldom matches the daydreams. The tragi-comic disappointments are well-known: the sense of disorientation, the mid-afternoon despair, the arguments, the lethargy before ancient ruins. When we look at pictures of places we want to go and see, we are prone to forget one crucial thing: that we will have to take ourselves along with us.
What is the future of the travel industry? When tour operators and hoteliers gather to consider this question, the thought is always similar: more luxury. This is unsurprising. The majority of the world’s businesses operate with a materialistic vision of contentment. They sincerely believe that the central cause of human unhappiness is a lack of comfort and money. They are not wholly wrong, of course perfect sheets and a room full of gadgets can cheer us up, however, this is a dramatic simplification of how our psyches actually work.
The brochures for luxury hotels tend to promise us opportunities to rediscover what is most essential to us, they show us images of couples in plush dressing gowns, they vaunt the quality of their mattresses and toiletries or boast of their twenty-four-hour
provision of room service. But the emphasis is always on physical satiation and mental diversion rather than on any real fulfilment of needs of our souls. These places have no way of helping us when the incompatibilities in our relationships reach a new zenith, when reading the Sunday newspapers provokes panic about our careers .. Otherwise solicitous concierges, brimful of ideas about where we might partake of horse-riding or mini-golf, will fall suddenly silent when questioned about strategies for enduring guilt, wayward longings or self-loathing.
If the predominant share of our distress is caused by the state of our psyches, it seems perverse that the modern leisure industry should seek always to bring comfort to our physical bodies without attempting simultaneously to console and tame what the Buddhists so presciently term our ‘monkey minds’. We require effective centres for the restoration of our whole beings; new kinds of retreat hotels devoted to satisfying, through an array of secularised spiritual exercises, not only our corporeal but also our psychological needs; places where we might enjoy light healthy meals, attractive gardens and tools to lead our souls in calmer, more mindful and self-aware directions.
A good hotel should be an embodiment of the act of love: love understood as a commitment to the wholehearted care of another human being. The ideal hotel of the future would for a time manage to satisfy with the utmost intelligence all the needs, physical as well as mental of its clientele. I venture to say that no hotel is quite there yet – which is not to disparage what is already on offer, but rather to open up a range of ambitions for a new generation of hoteliers.
We have already reached a very high stage in the evolution of beds and showers. Phone systems are also at a pitch of refinement. But in so many other areas even the best hotels still lag. They forget that their customers want to be properly mentally stimulated. Almost no hotels have any good books to hand, or bibliotherapists to guide clients to what they should be reading next. Hotels have invested heavily in spas, but none offer even basic psychotherapy services, arguably much more useful than massages to the well-being of an individual. While many hotels have exciting bars, how few of them are able to promote proper sociability? The average hotel is doggedly concerned with satisfying bodily rather than mental needs.
Hoteliers also routinely forget about the fact that we are creatures with ears. They design in a visual rather than an auditory way. So they forget that the experience of an expensive room will be ravaged by a strange clicking sound from near the window or the cascade of a neighbour’s shower at 3am. The world is still waiting for the Silent Hotel, perhaps also known as the Proust Hotel in honour of the notoriously noise-sensitive great French novelist, a hotel that would guarantee not a single click from dusk till dawn.
The hotels we love are the work of those rare hoteliers with the humility adequately to interrogate themselves about their desires and the tenacity to translate their fleeting apprehensions of joy into logical plans – a combination that enables them to create environments that satisfy needs we never consciously knew we even had.
We also assume that the future of travel will all be about going faster: New York in 2 hours, Sydney by rocket... My suggestion is that it might be wiser if we learnt to take things more slowly. It would take two days to reach Rome, a month before one finally wafted exultantly into Sydney harbour. And yet there would be benefits tied up with this languor.
This new widespread ‘camel pace’ would return travellers to a wisdom that their medieval pilgrim ancestors had once known very well. These medieval pilgrims had gone out of their way to make travel as slow as possible, avoiding even the use of boats and horses in favour of their own feet. They were not being perverse, only
Henry Ford begins to test a four-wheel vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine.
1896
A Millennia-old Phenomenon
Travel has been part and parcel of human life since time immemorial. Here are some turning points in mankind’s age-old travel adventure.
Used to drag humans and burdens from one place to another, sleds begin to be pulled by animals following their domestication.pulled by animals following their domestication.
M.Ö. 7000
The wheeled horse cart becomes an important mode of travel following the domestication of the horse.
M.Ö 2000

The Chinese begin building large canals. Originally used for irrigation purposes, in subsequent centuries they begin to be used for travel as well.
1000
The 17-year-old Marco Polo sets out from Venice on his journey of discovery.
1271
Mankind takes to the skies when the French inventor Joseph Montgolfier, fashions a hot-air balloon based on the principle that hot air rises.
aware that if one of our key motives for travelling is to try to put the past behind us, then we often need something very large and time-consuming, like the experience of a month long journey across an ocean or a hike over a mountain range, to establish a sufficient sense of distance.
We should also recognise the peculiar way in which getting somewhere too fast may lead us to fail to appreciate or see it, because we properly apprehend things only by recreating them in our imaginations through delay or absence. Venice must have felt a great deal more real when one had to cross the Alps to reach it. We are too often cursed by the speed with which our technology fulfils our desires. It seems we may best own a place when we are not too swiftly challenged with the additional burden of actually being there.

When we think of the future of travel, we tend always to imagine that we will invent some kind of machine, or innovate a new service. But the real changes to travel may be psychological, even philosophical ones. These inner changes will remind us to regard travel principally as a means of existential healing, rather than merely a source of entertainment or relaxation.