In 1970, the proto-futurist alvin toffler published Future Shock, adding information overload to the lexicon when he posited that the pace of change itself was speeding up. As proof, he pointed to our newfound tendency to stay in motion. In 1914, the average American traveled 88,560 miles in his lifetime. By Toffler’s day, many frequent fliers covered that in a single year. “Never in history has distance meant less,” he wrote. “We are breeding a new race of nomads.”
Toffler didn’t foresee the half of it. “In 2050, there will be nine to ten billion people on the planet, and one in two will travel abroad,” says Ian Yeoman, one of the many self-styled futurists who have followed in Toffler’s footsteps. “That is, if growth continues, and if the world has enough resources to support that growth.”
And therein lies the rub. To accurately predict the future of travel is to predict the future itself. No wonder the assignment was catnip for the futurists we reached out to. They envision a world that’s still recognizable from our own, notwithstanding fringe events such as the “gray-goo problem” (when microscopic machines run amok). Here are a few of the terms that may define travel in the years to come—assuming gray goo doesn’t swallow us first.