The future of travel: Are we moving fast enough?

Our latest Disruptors debate is exploring what the future holds for our desire to travel and how this will impact global issues such as climate change, overpopulation and the state of economies...

Virgin is a company built on a love of travel. In the early days of Virgin Records, when the brand had no travel companies to speak of, those at the label responsible for recruiting new artists would embark on trips to all corners of the earth to secure the most exciting new musicians. From taking Janet Jackson up in a hot air balloon until she signed on the dotted line to a hazy week in Jamaica for Richard Branson, the label was able to go places by going to places.

Before long, as a result of far too many poor experiences on airlines across the world, the Virgin Founder took the plunge and launched Virgin Atlantic – an airline that recently celebrated its 30th birthday. Atlantic was followed by Virgin America and Virgin Australia, while on the ground Virgin began to concentrate on different forms of transportation, with the likes of Virgin Trains and Virgin Cars both popping up in the UK.

Image by Thierry Boccon-Gibod

Away from the safety of dry land Richard Branson developed his taste for adventure as he explored the world and broke records in hot air balloons, boats, flying machines and even aquacars. That desire for pushing the boundaries has only strengthened in recent years, with Virgin Galactic getting ever closer to giving ordinary people the chance to become astronauts. Not to mention the glass-bottom plane and Virgin Volcanic announcements.

Yet as we look up into the skies and await the maiden voyage of the world’s first commercial spaceline, there’s also a different sort of race being run by those wearing the Virgin colours. 

Sam Branson and his fellow STRIVE Challenge competitors are currently making their way from London to the summit of the Matterhorn powered entirely under their own steam, as they run, row, cycle and climb their way through the mammoth journey in the name of the Big Change charity.

It’s these paradoxes that make analysing the future of travel so fascinating. Mankind is pushing boundaries to discover what lies outside of our solar system; we’re also looking at how everyday journeys can be altered, with innovations such as the sharing economy encouraging us to let go of the idea of ownership and embrace more sustainable ways of getting around.

We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.

Modes and motivation for travel have changed massively in recent years. The realisation that the travel industry can do a great deal to help solve many of the global problems we face is now shaping the way we move. However, with this appetite for evolution not currently being sufficiently satisfied there has been much frustration borne.

"We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters," points out the ever-outspoken PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, but is his sound bite a fair reflection on the progress being made in the travel industry? Many in the science community, including thought leader Professor Stephen Hawking, also put forward a strong case of continued innovation in the most ambitious forms of travel. "We must continue to go into space for humanity," explained Hawking. "We won't survive another 1,000 years without escaping our fragile planet."

It’s clear to see why the levels of excitement reach fever pitch when an Elon Musk unveils a Hyperloop or a Jeff Bezos provides details of a drone delivery project. It’s not only speaking to our desire for progression, but also the need for a more sustainable existence. "Short of figuring out real teleportation, which would of course be awesome (someone please do this)," wrote Musk in his 57-page proposal, "the only option for super fast travel is to build a tube over or under the ground that contains a special environment."

Our carbon footprints are leaving a heavier indentation than ever before and the need to reduce our output has reached a critical stage, so if any new mode of transport is to receive widespread support it must – like the solar-powered Hyperloop – present a plan for a sustainable existence.

Image from Aerofex

Our recent focuses on solar airplanes, augmented reality, flying cars, green planes, solar roadways and aircrafts launched from skyscrapers have shown there’s some truly thrilling projects currently being undertaken. But what else is out there? What can we expect to see in the future? And how will it help confront global problems such as climate change, overpopulation and struggling economies?

The way we travel has defined us for many years, so how will it continue to do this in the future?

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