1. Time travel
Number one on the list is, of course, the ability to travel through time. The notion has been around forever, though ancient stories mostly depicted characters falling asleep for years or centuries. The modern idea of a time-traveling device comes from HG Wells’ The Time Machine in 1895. Now it’s a collective dream to jump through time and visit past or future civilizations — who doesn’t want to see ancient Egypt, or know where the human race will be in 1,000 years?
2. Teleportation (for Earth!)
Maybe a little less glamorous (but certainly more practical) than time travel is the concept of teleportation. No more daily commute, no more trans-Atlantic flights, no more traffic! Distance would no longer be an issue, and one can only assume that it would be much cheaper than flying. Travel time would be a thing of the past.
3. Faster-than-light travel (for space!)
Right now, there’s really no way for us to explore distant planets. We can barely travel within our own solar system — it just takes too damn long to go that far. So of course the next big dream is space travel that’s faster than light, which could get us out of our limited bubble and into other star systems, or even other galaxies. First, though, someone has to prove Einstein wrong…
4. Pocket dimensions (aka BIGGER ON THE INSIDE technology)
Even if you don’t watch Doctor Who, you probably know that the TARDIS is a blue police box that’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Now imagine if you could apply that technology to other things — cars, planes, hotel rooms, anything. Not only would it make traveling far more comfortable (no more kissing your knees on the ever-shrinking airline seat) but it would solve so many of the worlds’ overcrowding problems (or, on the smaller scale, my over-packing problem).
5. Food in a pill
Imagine if, instead of stocking up on food and lugging it around the country, up the mountain, etc., or having to find a different safe and worthwhile place to eat three times a day, you could just carry a little bottle of gel-caps in your pocket and pop a pill whenever you got hungry? I love eating as much as (if not more than) the next guy, and I’m definitely not saying we should replace food, but as a matter of convenience on the road, meal-replacement pills are definitely high on my list.
6. Nanobot immune system
Another theme that has bridged much of sci-fi is nano-technology — teeny robots that function autonomously, usually in swarms, to accomplish tasks that humans or human cells can’t. Many of these nano-fantasies seem to focus on the idea that nanobots can be used to cure physical ailments — either through micro-surgeries, or some other science/magic. Having been both sick and injured at the same time while traveling, I can say with confidence that it would be way more convenient to have tiny robots fixing me from the inside out, than it was hugging the toilet and trying to decide if I was going to die in Tangier.
The Tricorder comes from the Star Trek universe, and is basically a handheld data-recording device. “Sure,” you say, “but why can’t I just use my smartphone?” Well, the Tricorder (in true 1960s / late 1980s fashion) might not look as advanced as an iPhone, but it’s primary use is to scan unfamiliar areas and organisms and to record technical information on anything it detects. There’s even a medical variant that non-invasively detects diseases and other patient info. The tricorder is probably more useful for explorers in less-charted territory, but it would also be great to have when exploring an unfamiliar city. Might have to wait until we’ve got speed-of-light travel on lock before it’s much use scanning unknown lifeforms, though.
8. Matter compiler / molecular assembler
This next bit of sci-fi gold is something that countless labs all over the world are trying to create in real life. Not only would it be spectacularly useful, but it would go a long way in helping to solve the rapidly worsening landfill crisis — a machine that takes in waste or garbage and produces useful output, like food or other matter. Think of it as an atomic-level 3D printer, breaking down matter on a molecular level and reassembling it into something else. How great would this be on the road, or at a leave-no-trace event? No more trash, and anything you need at the push of a button (just throw in whatever waste you have lying around).
9. Mr. Fusion
Mr. Fusion powered the Delorean time machine in the Back to the Future series. Following a similar vein of waste-recycling logic as the matter compiler, Mr. Fusion used household waste to power nuclear fusion reactions (up to 1.21 jigawatts, the amount of power needed to travel through space-time), replacing the highly dangerous radioactive metal plutonium. And while I don’t think we would be able to use cold-fusion reactions to fuel time travel just yet, a little plastic tube that runs out household waste seems like a much safer option than any number of nuclear power sources currently in use around the globe.
Who doesn’t want a jetpack? There are prototypes floating around, and even some extraordinarily expensive models available for purchase, but none of them can quite live up to the vision of the jetpack promised by hundreds of sci-fi fantasies. The jetpacks we’ve managed to create so far are clunky and awkward, hard to control, and not very useful — nothing at all like the sleek, silver rocket-like machines that we thought everyone would be using to get around by the year 2000. But we live in hope — this one is pretty close to actualization.
11. Flying car
Flying cars are ubiquitous in science fiction, even more so than jetpacks. Any good traveler knows it’s never as easy as going in a straight line from point A to point B. Roads are winding, or closed. The cross-street runs diagonally. Toll booths. But if you could just take off, say, a couple hundred feet straight into the air, then screw roads, because with that technology you won’t need them.
Made famous by Marty McFly in Back to the Future Part II, the hoverboard is the youthful counterpart to the flying car — a skateboard of the future. Definitely more novel than practical, it would be a really fun way to get around, especially in the city. Unlike with skateboards, however, you’re not limited to the sidewalks, so you could really take your hoverboard just about anywhere.
13. Virtual reality travel
Virtual reality — brought to you by TRON. Yet, if perfected, virtual reality could be so much more than a platform for video games. Enjoy a day on a tropical beach, all from the comfort of your own home (or wherever they keep the virtual reality machines). You might argue that it takes all of the real adventure out of travel, but for people who can’t afford to actually go to a tropical island or a castle in Europe, virtual travel would be a magnificent alternative.
14. Solar sails
Solar sails are the low-cost, eco-friendly way to travel in the Space Age. The theory behind them is kind of complicated, but basically they use solar pressure to push big, ultra-thin mirrors through space at high speeds. They do already exist, but their potential applications range so much further than what they’ve been used for. Aside from traveling between planets (or, eventually, solar systems), there’s always solar surfing — anybody remember Treasure Planet?
15. Universal decoder
Very few things would be more useful in international travel than the ability to understand (and communicate in) all languages. In the Hitchhiker’s Guide universe, they recommend the Babel Fish — a little fish that lives in your ear and does the translating for you. However, since Babel Fish seem to be in short supply here on Earth, there will inevitably be technological progress that translates speech in real time, and phone apps are already cropping up that claim to approximate this.
16. Perception filter / invisibility cloak
Bridging the gap between sci-fi and fantasy, invisibility devices (or powers) have a ton of uses. A lot of the time they’re used for sneaking around, which would be convenient in plenty of situations, but they could also play a really excellent role in personal safety while traveling. Walking through unsafe neighborhoods in strange cities can be an unfortunate experience, but I can imagine being a lot less freaked out if I knew nobody could see me.
17. Computer/camera contact lenses
I don’t know how many times I’ve been looking at something amazing and simultaneously cursing myself because I forgot the goddamn camera AGAIN. Inevitably, every time this happens, I find myself wishing they made wearable camera contact lenses, because nothing would be cooler than blinking twice to capture EVERYTHING YOU SEE. Beyond cameras, computerized contacts have a ton of potential — heads-up displays, biomedical monitoring, you name it. Way more useful than having to rely on printouts or smartphones when you’re exploring a new place.
18. Mood-setting devices
Being completely in control of your mood would be pretty great — especially when you’re having one of those days that’s supposed to be so great, but everything seems to be going so very wrong. Imagine being able to decide not to panic when your luggage gets lost, or being able to decide that not everything is ruined when you get sick on the second day of your trip. You can’t plan for it, but shit happens. It would be pretty cool to get to be content with an entire vacation regardless.
Sure, we have Skype and Facetime and countless other fun vid-chat programs now, but how cool would it be to call someone up and have them sitting next to you on the couch, or going for a walk together when you’re thousands of miles apart? Holograms bring face-to-face communications to a whole new level (which, sadly, we haven’t quite managed to make practical yet). Communications aside, however, let’s talk about 3D maps — a pocket hologram projector that would pull up the entire layout of a city for you to navigate (a la Street View). Plus it would make following directions super easy.
20. Direct download to the brain
I bet that every time you’ve watched that scene in The Matrix when Neo gets plugged into a computer for a few minutes and suddenly knows kung fu, you’ve said “I WISH THAT COULD HAPPEN IN REAL LIFE.” Yeah, me too. But I’d probably use it to download maps, foreign languages, and a complete guide to the native species of any country that I plan to visit. Thereafter, I’d probably also download kung fu.
There’s a scene in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace where our Jedi protagonists dive underwater and swim for a very long time, presumably breathing through some strange mouth-pods that don’t require bulky oxygen tanks or hoses. Ask any scuba diver you know — that’s the dream. And better yet, we’re actually pretty close to having something a lot like the A99 Aquata Breather in real life; a new kind of scuba mask called “Triton” functions like mechanical gills to separate oxygen from water and create a bottomless air supply.
22. Glass airplanes
I’m not talking Wonder Woman’s Invisible Plane or anything that dramatic (though wouldn’t that be awesome?), but let’s face it — airplane windows are thoroughly disappointing. There’s a lot of concept art floating around for futuristic glass-roofed planes, with a ton of natural light and a lot more for passengers to look at. I say why stop there — there are glass-bottomed boats, so why not a glass-bottomed plane? It would be so cool that I’d wind up lying on the floor, looking down for the whole flight.
23. Shrink rays (and reverse shrink rays!)
Put a month’s worth of luggage in your pocket, and re-expand upon arrival. Have infinite room for souvenirs. Talk about a travelgasm.