The experience we have of a place is a combination of what we see, read, and hear about it. From social media to virtual reality, today we have even more ways of traveling the world, both physically and imaginatively. As digital technologies become more advanced, the depiction of space becomes more immersive and new forms of narrative emerge. This allows us to experience travel through other people and ultimately become the traveler ourselves.
This research examines the images, objects, and tools—or “devices”—that allow us to experience travel without the need to move. Through a qualitative analysis of these devices, we can understand how they create a myth of travel and reach a definition of “non-travel,” allowing us to better understand and talk about the contemporary experience of travel. Does non-travel mean it is now possible to take a virtual holiday, and would we want to?
I was selected to present this research, from my MA in Design Research, Writing and Criticism, at the annual Tourism and Travel Research Association International Conference in 2016, for which I received the “Best Graduate Colloquium Paper Award.”
Just a month before I submitted this thesis, someone asked if I was “advocating for not traveling.” Anyone that knows me will appreciate this is not a possibility. I have gained so much inspiration from the places around the world that I have had the opportunity to visit and live, that a world without travel sounds like a very boring place. I am also a self-confessed travel junkie, and love everything connected to traveling: whether that be reading guidebooks or travel literature, collecting and organizing my photos and souvenirs, or looking through Instagram travel accounts or Airbnb wish-lists. When I find myself in any one place for a period of time it is not long before I start taking my own trip through these objects. I hope that in some small part this research encourages others to travel, whether that be in body or mind.
The work that formed the basis of this research began by looking at the way in which technology has changed the travel process: the way we daydream about, research and book trips, the way we navigate a foreign place, and the way we share our experiences. My first realization was that digital technologies—wi-fi and mobile apps being just two—have led to a conflation of the travel experience, where planning and sharing occurs in the moment of travel itself. However, I was reluctant to make technology the sole focus of my research; there are many in-depth studies already completed that do more justice than I could manage in the brief eight months of this course.
Instead, it was in brainstorming the tools we use before, during and after travel that I realized the common association between those I felt had most interest. The idea of non-travel. The images, objects and tools (or devices, as I collectively call them) that allow us to travel, not just physically but also, or maybe just, imaginatively.
Through the lens of non-travel it has been possible to look at the entire spectrum of travel devices we use today: editorial (Surface Magazine and Instagram), physical (MUJI to Go) and digital (Marriott Hotels VR Postcards, as well as Instagram again). Ultimately, virtual reality became the biggest proponent of my research and as a field that is currently undergoing rapid advancement, we have only just begun to scrape the surface of its impact on travel. Still there are a huge number of non-travel devices that we use that I have not had the opportunity to study.
The biggest challenge throughout the research process has been in talking to companies about an idea that is in its very name the antithesis of travel, but I hope that this is not taken literally. Non-travel is intended as a contemporary form of travel that opens up opportunities to travel more often and more widely, and engage more actively with the world around us, at home and abroad.