While I’m still waiting for flying cars, a hoverboard and my very own Mr Fusion Home Energy Reactor (OK, so Back to the Future II is clearly my vision of the future), technology is advancing at a scarily fast rate.
In fact, 2011 is going to be the year where travel technology goes mainstream. Have you so far ignored all the benefits that technology can bring while you circle the globe? It's time to get on board.
Crowdsourcing - the answer to your travel questions
It’s increasingly easy to crowdsource for all your travel needs with social media. Want a flight buddy? Use Planely, the social network for lonely passengers. Want a flight? Just recently, a group of people used Twitter to coax KLM into organising an extra flight for them to get to Miami for the Ultra Music Festival. They found 351 passengers so KLM put the extra plane in the air. Groupon for specially chartered flights with your friends? We'd be up for that.
Foursquare have used their massive amount of user-generated content to create a travel guide to America. Mediamatic have their own crowdsourced arts and culture destination guides. Lonely Planet's Facebook routinely gets hundreds of travel ideas. Stuck or need a couch to crash on? Just tweet. Meanwhile, our Thorn Tree forum is the original crowdsourcing platform - you'd be hard-pressed to find a travel question that hasn't already been answered by Lonely Planet's intrepid members!
Smartphones: your ticket to the world
It doesn’t matter whether it runs the Apple iOS or Android. Smartphones are more computer, less phone. What can't they do when it comes to travel? Google Maps on the phone provides navigation, as does the internal GPS when combined with navigation software. With a 3G or wi-fi connection, you can blog and upload photos and videos from your phone. You can also post trip updates on Facebook and Twitter.
Smartphones will truly take off for travel when the price of data connections drops. In the meantime, when travelling, get a local SIM card with data. And make sure you carry an extra battery or an external battery pack. Heavy usage = dead phone.
Apps for every travel need
Of course, a smartphone is useless as a travel tool unless you load it up with apps. Look for a place to eat on Urbanspoon. Read user reviews on Foursquare. Score the best plane seat with SeatGuru's app. One of the apps that's had the Lonely Planet office talking is Word Lens: an iPhone app that instantly translates languages on signs instantly – fire up the camera, point it at a sign and off you go! This kind of augmented reality is only going to get bigger in 2011.
Pin this image Lonely Planet has a bunch of iPhone City Guides with things to do and see marked on offline maps. This means that you don’t need a pricey data connection to surf your hotel and sightseeing options when touching down in cities from London to Hong Kong. We're biased, of course, but we think they're pretty nifty. We also have phrasebook apps for when you want to order a beer or book a hotel room on the go but don't have the lingo.
All this app buying can get expensive so where possible download them when they're on sale or when a 'free' promotion comes about. Or get AppShopper for the iPhone – it lists apps when they drop in price. Big retailers often discount iTunes gift cards. Wait for the sale to save as much as 35%.
Wi-fi in the air: the new in-flight entertainment
With more airlines installing wi-fi hotspots on airplanes, being entertained on your long-haul flight is now less dependent on the in-flight entertainment program and all about how long the battery on your mobile device lasts! The year 2011 will see more planes equipped with wi-fi.
Until now passenger take-up of wi-fi on US airlines has been slower than expected, but with the ubiquity of smartphones and increasing sales of iPads and their ilk (the ultimate travel companions) - and with more competition hopefully pushing prices down - this should change in 2011. For now, if you're wanting to go online in-air, do make sure you check costs before blindly using the connection. Only threat to this trend: people actually enjoy going offline while flying.
Cloudsourcing - access your details from anywhere
Don’t fuss with saving documents on a portable USB stick (which you could lose) or taking a laptop with you (weight). Store all your files in the 'cloud' so you can access them from any internet cafe across the world. It's the best way to travel light. In theory, cloud computing could be something as simple as emailing your travel itinerary to yourself - or sharing it with yourself using something like Google Docs. There are any number of ways to store files and photos: Flickr, Picasa, Box.net or Dropbox. All that said, it's still a good idea to keep a hard copy of all your documentation - in case you can't get online.
E-books go multidimensional
Pencil this one into the 'we'll believe it when we see it' category, but a company called Delta Electronics has announced that it will focus on developing 3D electronic paper in 2011. Think of the possibilities: flexible sheets that can display dynamic holograms while weighing less than a tablet computer. Princess Leia would be proud.
Xbox Kinect - hacked for travel?
What does a console gaming device have to do with travel? We’re not entirely sure yet except that there will be new and more interesting ways of integrating the little motion detector/camera unit into travel. Already, clever people have managed to manipulate the device's hardware to make themselves invisible (kinda) and create adorable 3D shadow puppets. What next - 3D travel videos on YouTube? Ultra-interactive displays in museums and galleries? Real-time 3D cameras rigged up in key tourist sights? A Lonely Planet Xbox Kinect game?
@shawnlow is Lonely Planet's Asia-Pacific travel editor