HomeTravelsWhy is traveling so difficult and what could improve it?

Why is traveling so difficult and what could improve it?

(CNN) — I haven’t taken a vacation in 10 years. Part of the reason, admittedly, is that I’m a workaholic. The other part is that I hate flying. I despise the queues, cramped seating, security – it all feels like a huge waste of time.

Usually I keep those feelings to myself. (Who needs to hear me complain more than I already do?)

But then I read a statistic that kind of blew my mind. For all the relentless air travel coverage, pre-pandemic polls showed that a majority of Americans don’t fly every year. Now even fewer people fly.

Some of them probably hate flying like me. This got me thinking – is there a better way to travel?

I decided to explore solutions in the latest episode of my podcast, “Margins of Error”.
I started by looking at the way you board an airplane. We spend so much time doing it. Most airlines use what is called block boarding, which means front-to-back or back-to-front boarding. There is also the window, middle, aisle method. Southwest Airlines, on the other hand, is said to have the fastest boarding process of any major airline by allowing people to claim the first available seat.
It turns out, however, that there is a faster way. It’s called the Steffen Method, named after its creator, Jason Steffen, a professor of physics at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.

He came up with a model that explains how and where we put our luggage when we find a seat.

“You want adjacent passengers in line to have their seat assignments spread throughout the plane so that when one person comes to their row, the next person behind them can pull up to their row,” said Steffen. “In this case, it was two rows.”

By placing people in two rows, “both could put their luggage away at the same time without getting in each other’s way, and they could sit down at the same time”.

Travelers maneuver through a long line this month at a security checkpoint at Denver International Airport.

Travelers maneuver through a long line this month at a security checkpoint at Denver International Airport.

David Zalubowski/AP

Why not just start using the Steffen method? This requires strict quality control. Steffen also said airlines have so many priority boarding groups based on status that these interfere with his model.

Maybe one day the airlines will change.

And maybe airplanes aren’t your thing. Want to take the great outdoors by car and enjoy the countryside?

If so, there is also a statistical model for you here.

I spoke with computer scientist Randy Olson who, along with science writer Tracy Staedter, created the algorithm-verified “ultimate road trip across America.”

Let’s say you have 50 places you want to visit because you really want to see the United States. “There are three times 10 out of the 64 possible ways to organize those 50 destinations,” Olson told me. “If you tried to get your computer to find the optimal route by trying everyone else, it would take about ‘9.64 times 10 to 52 years’.

It’s time consuming – more than I can type here – and not really useful.

The key is to use chance and route optimization, Olson told me, which means swapping two of the destinations and gauging the new road trip. “Is it shorter? If so, keep it, if not, throw it away and keep trying, trying, trying,” he said. “It only takes a few minutes on my MacBook to find the optimal driving route.”

If you really did the whole ultimate road trip, you could probably knock it out in a couple of weeks. But Olson recommends giving it a month or two to take in the scenery.

Here is a leg of the journey: you drive north from the Grand Canyon, through Utah and Idaho, before arriving at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Then you head back south, through Colorado and New Mexico, until you come to the Alamo in Texas.

The cost of fuel is a factor on road trips.  Here, traffic slows in June along Interstate 395 in Washington, DC

The cost of fuel is a factor on road trips. Here, traffic slows in June along Interstate 395 in Washington, DC

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Of course, driving is fine. But what about the cost of fuel? Not to mention its environmental impact, which also afflicts aircraft.

The answer to these problems may in part end up being… kelp. Yes, the stuff that grows in the ocean. Diane Kim, a senior scientist at the University of Southern California’s Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, has studied the potential of kelp as fuel.

Kelp is “one of the fastest growing organisms on the planet,” Kim said. “Under ideal conditions, you’re talking about growth rates of over 1 foot per day. And so you can generate a ton of biomass, which you have to convert into bioenergy.”

Early results from kelp experiments are promising, although the use of kelp as a major energy source won’t happen for some time. And even if we could use kelp, that’s only part of the solution.

Kelp could represent “about a third of our energy use in the United States,” Kim said. “You would need a lot of kelp, and you would take a lot of ocean space, but there’s a lot of open ocean space. When you compare it to fossil fuels, I mean, it’s a much better alternative.”

If finding the ultimate way to travel is your thing, you should listen to this episode. You will find out what happened when we appealed to people who like to travel by bus. Turns out they’re not easy to find.

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