For thousands of years, people have been traveling for business, pleasure — and even survival.
Leaving our homes to visit other places helps connect people of different cultures, allows us to experience the unknown, and makes us learn something new about ourselves along the way.
In fact, we’d all probably go a little nuts if we didn’t spread our wings and explore every once in a while – which is why this developing travel trend leaves us with a lot of questions.
Technology has definitely made it easier for people to research and book travel.
Gone are the days of brick-and-mortar travel agencies – with window posters of palm trees and sun-soaked beaches beckoning you from the street.
There may still be a few of them out there somewhere, but really, who wants to go listen to someone desperately try and sell you something when you can just do the research and buy what you want yourself?
Booking flights and rooms and even complete travel packages can now be done with the click of a mouse.
We all know that technology is going to continue to expand and break boundaries we never dreamed of. And I’m pretty sure that most of us appreciate these ever-developing modern conveniences.
I, for one, would rather sit on a plane for a couple hours than trek across the country in a wagon caravan with nothing to show for my trip but scurvy.
But is it all becoming just a bit too much?
What about the human experience?
So, when I was growing up, there were – gasp! – no computers or cell phones. Well, not in my house at least, and not in most homes. The Internet was a brand-new thing as I was entering adulthood.
But that didn’t mean I didn’t appreciate it and increasingly became part of the digital age. Now I’m as dependent on it as the next guy or gal, but believe me (millennials) there are some things that are just better done the old-fashioned way.
And when I say the “old-fashioned way,” I mean actually going to a place and spending time there.
So, you may be thinking, “Um, well yeah, don’t you actually have to go somewhere if you’re traveling?”
Well, apparently not.
Enter Virtual Travel
If you’ve ever watched old sci-fi movies, you knew it was coming.
Back then, we watched as some brave soul put on a huge metal helmet with a bunch of tubes and wires coming out of it and when the bulb lit up, we knew our favorite character’s mind was transported to a spectacular new place. (Then he would uncover the dark secret, save the planet, and go home… but I digress.)
Virtual reality has been around for years, but has kind of remained in the shadows of the gaming world or for secretive training purposes.
Yes, there are VR units for your phone now, but very few people have them, or care to have them. (They’re not practical, for one thing. Expensive as heck, for another.)
But now there’s a whole new way to travel using virtual reality.
Want to swim in a deep blue lagoon thousands of miles away without running out of oxygen or being eaten by something bigger than you? Just strap on the headset.
Want to explore hidden caves or remote waterfalls or the top of a volcano? VR can take you there without the hassle that comes with actually getting there.
Tech companies have made the development of virtual travel a top priority.
It’s likely a big-money prospect that would appeal to people who want to see the world but don’t have the health, resources, or general ability to do so.
And you don’t have to use up your vacation days at work.
Of course, hip, greenie liberals see virtual travel as a way to “decrease our carbon footprint” by not using evil, gas-guzzling planes, trains, and automobiles to get there.
But there’s always a catch.
Real-life applications – now…
While virtual travel is still in its early development (like, how much would this even cost the everyday working stiff?), it is being implemented in a big way in the travel industry.
Hotels are now offering virtual tours of their rooms, and travel sites will start to offer snippets of footage in order to lure you to a particular destination – for example, standing in front of the Great Pyramids or on top of the Empire State Building.
In this way, companies hope to draw in customers who may not have made a decision on where they would like to go. Give them a few virtual teasers, and then they’ll want to see the real thing.
But will they? Or is it just curiosity or the novelty of something new and different in using the technology once or twice?
The New York Times reports that airlines are also chomping at the bit to get VR technology and sell cool, new experiences to travelers.
First Airlines in Tokyo is the world’s first carrier to use virtual reality. You can buy a first-class ticket for around $50 U.S. dollars and go on one of several “pretend” flights to beautiful (pictures of) destinations.
And other companies are offering actual VR “trips.” Buy the headset, buy the software (this sounds pricey), and you can “walk” around the Grand Canyon or kayak down a river in Colorado.
The current applications may offer another level of assistance for people who are researching and booking travel.
It may be a great tool for the elderly, or for those with physical disabilities – for use in hospitals or nursing homes. Yes, it may boost their spirits and offer a great opportunity to do something they could not otherwise do.
But – without going off on a whole metaphysical tangent – do we really want technology to replace the human experience?
And it will, if we let it.
So, will virtual travel take off?
I say no, at least not on a universal scale. But I’ve been wrong before. Just ask my husband.
It may be cool and interesting. But you better believe it’s going to be expensive for regular use. (And people who have actually tried it out have mentioned there’s a lot of nausea involved – no thanks.)
And more than that, how can technology ever replace the real travel experience?
Don’t we want to feel the sand between our toes when we go to the beach – or feel the salt in our hair? For that matter, do you really want to “swim” and not get wet? It seems like something’s not going to jive between mind and body.
Don’t we want that sense of accomplishment – even the sore muscles – earned when we’ve hiked the Rockies or the Appalachian Trail?
Or enjoy the smell of fresh-baked bread in some French bakery while someone mutters, “stupide American touriste” as we pass by?
There’s something to be said for actually being able to say, “I’ve been there.”
And what about the anticipation — the excitement — that traveling brings? Half the fun is planning and packing and getting there – not to mention leaving the office for a week.
Virtual travel won’t allow you to take a selfie in front of a famous attraction, or buy a useless souvenir, or eat a hot dog from a food truck and feel lousy later. Maybe it will in time, but not yet.
And what will happen to all the people in all the nations across the world who depend on tourism to make ends meet?
From major airlines and hotel chains to that old man selling hand-carved tchotchkes on some far-eastern street corner, it would have a pretty devastating effect on the global economy if virtual travel becomes the name of the game.
People love to travel because it’s a whole experience, from beginning to end. It’s not just being there. It’s all the little moments and feelings that you experience during your trip.
Technology may be improving our lives in many ways, but virtual travel? Just say no.