Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Miracle Innovations in Travel

Milestones in Modern Travel

In our daily lives we are surrounded by spectacular technological marvels. So much so that we simply yawn and take them for granted. I put hybrid automobiles, IMAX 3-D movies and central air-conditioning  solidly into the category of "almost magic!"

Travel related marvels include the development of steamships, transcontinental railroads, and modern jets.

But there are those "other" achievements that are so deserving of recognition.

Herewith are the travel related Innovations I feel deserve hall of fame status:

1. Roll-a-board Luggage
Yep this is it. IMHO wheeled luggage constitutes the seminal innovation in travel during my lifetime.

After a decade spent lugging a fold-over Samsonite Silhouette II garment bag all over the planet, I know that wheeled luggage is the bomb.

Now, having said that, I am a purist and hate the new spinner models. They are kind of like my pound pups, cute, but sorta goofy.

2. Woolite
Yep. Woolite.
For years I resisted the urge to take those little packets on long trips. Then, on a trip to London, I found myself paying a couple hundred bucks to launder about 6 items.

Now, to be fair, the Marriott County Hall did fold everything with exceptional care, slipping little tissues between every fold. And they delivered it in a lovely wicker basket. Despite that the feeling that “I have been soooo ripped off “ did not diminish.

Nowadays, I bring a handful of woolite packets and wash everything in the bathroom sink of my hotel room. On a two-week trip the money I save using Woolite easily covers a couple of very nice Parisian dinners (with wine.)

3. The Euro
I love the Euro.

I remember my first trip to Europe and all the little skirmishes I had with my mom trying to figure out what things really cost in crowns, schillings, francs, guilders and lire. What a nightmare.

At every border you had to visit a little bulletproof kiosk to convert money from one currency to another, losing epic amounts of value in every transaction.

Heck, on that first trip to Italy, I remember the whole nation was simply “out” of change. To a kid from America, this was completely inconceivable. How could a nation simply not have the resources to make coins?

The situation was so dire that Italian phone companies issued their own coinage. They simply had no choice since government issued coins were virtually extinct and the ones you did come in contact with were aluminum and far too light to trigger the mechanisms in an Italian payphone.

As a result telephone tokens became Italy’s defacto national currency. When a shopkeeper ran out of telephone tokens they would offer a piece of fresh fruit, or even zots (cute little hard candies).

The coin thing provided me with my first “a-ha” moment as I lifted the veil and peered into the confusing soul of 1970's Italy.

Now, when we travel throughout the EU (except Britain) there is the Euro. For that I offer my profound gratitude.

4. The Lay-Flat Business Class Seat / Bed
Oh how I love Business Class. I remember my first trip in the upstairs business class bubble of a British Airways 747 that featured lay-flat beds.

Over the course of our 11-hour flight from Seattle to Heathrow I reveled in comfort. The situation was reinforced when I ventured down to visit my children seated in steerage. They had seats just inches from the doors to a couple of busy restrooms scented with that fragrant “magic blue water”. Making matters worse, my daughter had lost a contact and was squinting at her malfunctioning little TV screen. My son shot me a “daggers-to-the-heart” look that conveyed without a single word his evaluation of the state of transcontinental air travel.

Shaken, I slinked back upstairs to "the bubble" advising my spouse that “you don’t want to go down there”.

These days, I jealously guard frequent flier miles until I have enough to go Business Class. If I can’t go BC, I don’t go.

5. Grey Hair
On most domestic flights these days many flight attendants are eligible for AARP. That suits me just fine. If something goes wrong, I like knowing that this ain’t their first rodeo.

When other passengers (usually fat troll businessmen) moan about not having a twenty something trophy babe to ogle, I shoot them my best "Eat Feces and Die" look (I took notes from my son.)

6. Noise Cancelling Headphones
Oh yeah. They may be pricey, but noise-cancelling headsets are so worth it.

From my first flight using a pair of Bose headphones there was no turning back. I have lost two sets of the Bose units and now when I lose a pair I google "refurbished noise canceling headphones" to see what comes up. That is how I found my current Sennheiser’s at Amazon. Personal note, I actually prefer the Sennheiser's to my former pair of Bose.

Now, when that baby behind me starts sucking in the air needed to drive out an ear splitting shriek, I just flip the “Go Away” switch on my headphones and all is well with the world.

Now if someone can devise a way to eliminate seat kickers they will join my list…

7. In Room Coffee, Refrigerators, Safes, Irons and Microwaves
When I was a kid all I cared about was whether the hotel / motel dad picked had a swimming pool. If it had a pool it was cool. If not, it sucked.

As an adult, I look back and chuckle remembering all of those motel rooms with lumpy beds, wall hung lavatories, and tiny little bars of soap with names like “Lisa” or "Sweatheart" or "Cashmere Bouquet".

Lets agree that the hospitality industry has come a long way in a single generation.

8. Decent Airport Food
I realize this isn’t universal, but putting local food into airports is an emerging (and most welcome) trend. Now I actually plan trips through certain terminals just to grab some regional fare.

If I need to change planes in Cincinnati? No problem-O, a bowl of 5-way chili waits for me. In Oakland there is Fenton’s ice cream (and they dish up very generous scoops.) In Phoenix, Carmen Tafoya’s tamales await you at El Bravo in Terminal 4.

9. Frequent Flier Points
OK I admit it, I am a point hound.

I squeeze points out of every credit card. I know the deadlines for Marriott’s annual “Mega Bonus”. I keep track of my stays to make sure I retain my Diamond and Platinum hotel status each year.

You see, when I travel for fun, I love being able to take my friends, colleagues and family to the Concierge Lounge for breakfast, drinks and evening snacks.

Concierge breakfasts are usually pretty awesome. Some, like the Hilton Molino Stuckey in Venice or the Cavalieri in Rome, are downright sublime. But more importantly, they save the family bank account in places like Rome where restaurant waiters (with a straight face) present you with a $40 per head tariff after delivering a couple of eggs, toast, and juice.

I believe that certain prices (see laundry above) are so absurd that any traveler not related to the Saudi royal family, is obligated to “just say no”. 

10. Free Airport WiFi
Oh to the airports with it I say “You Go!”

To those that pimp overpriced Boingo hotspots (like O’Hare), I say shame on you.

There are many many other modern innovations I am thankful for: web enabled travel planning, intermodal mass transit connections, the list goes on.

And, of course, there are slip-on shoes......

Roadboy’s Travel’s © 2011

1 comment:

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