I have a thing for travel.
For me it’s as much about productivity as pleasure. I operate best in the four weeks before I go on leave and the four weeks on returning. In an ideal world I’d have a break every 10 weeks or so – but we don’t yet live in the world of unlimited annual leave offered by the likes of Netflix.
Travel places me in a more creative state. New sounds, smells, language, tastes, sensations, and sights spark different synapses in the brain.
There’s some science in it too: people have studied the phenomenon of why great ideas occur while in the shower or while engaged in some other relaxing or enjoyable activity.
Studies have shown that when increased dopamine levels (the “feel good” transmitter released during pleasurable activities) combine with distraction our brains are in the best position to come up with inventive ideas.
I’ve just returned from Lombok in Indonesia and thought I’d capture some of the things that made me think differently.
Board a Plane with your Watch:
This trip was the first ever in which I was entirely paperless – despite the fact I had six flights and six hotels to negotiate. Everything was stored in Apple Passbook or in Tripit , an app that organises an itinerary for you.
Emirates are absolutely rocking their online customer experience at the moment. On this trip they did two things that really made my life easier.
Firstly – my boarding pass was sent directly to my watch – how cool is that?
Secondly – they used bluetooth to automatically alert me when flights were boarding. No more craning your neck to look at 34 gates on a departure screen.
And although the in-flight wifi wasn’t free – it was good quality and affordable at just 66 pence.
So you’re stuck in transit at an airport for 8 hours. Too much time to spend shopping – but not enough to justify a hotel.
SnoozeCube – a bookable by the hour bed for one or two people. It’s no frills – with just enough room to squeeze in your hand luggage. What about SnoozeCube in the office for that quick energiser nap?
School Kid Entrepreneurs:
It took about two minutes of us having a drink in the shacks of Kuta, Lombok before our pasty white skin sent the local kid sellers into overdrive.
What I love about these guys is the way they use commercial thinking and excellent mastery of english to compete with each other to drive the best deal.
One of the older boys (9 or 10 I reckon) followed me to a local restaurant and told me about the YouTube business he started advertising his other goods.
Excellent english + street smarts + technology is a powerful combination. Southeast Asia is “Mobile-First” — and this could be the breeding ground of future business models.
Karaoke Taxi Drivers:
I was intrigued during the first couple of rides I had in Lombok at the musical tastes of the cab drivers. There seemed to be a predilection for MOR soft rock – The Eagles, Eric Clapton, Cranberries etc.
To me this seemed out of kilter with their age range (late 20s- early 30’s). It wasn’t until a driver asked us if we minded him putting his “learning music” on that it clicked into place.
They were using karaoke CDs – that displayed the lyrics on screen – to learn better english.
This generation had slightly missed the internet , which came later to Asia , so were having to catch up on english lessons whilst they worked. Brilliant!
Open Living Spaces:
If you don’t have the same problems in a community you can design very different homes. On the idyllic island of Gili Meno I stayed in a place with a completely open living room and bathroom.
No windows, doors or locks downstairs. Only the bedroom was defensible. Anybody could walk in , take the flat screen away , empty your mini bar or steal your toiletries.
This was jarring at first and challenged western expectations – I even heard some people complain.
But you don’t need to design out crime when crime doesn’t exist.
With a local population of just 400, zero crime and no police force – you can think very differently about space.
Tourism will , inevitably, bring crime to Gili Meno – but it’s not happened yet.
Wifi in the Middle of Nowhere:
The first place I stayed was down an unlit dirt track – off a road that didn’t even exist two years ago. It was full of dogs , chickens and in complete darkness at night.
But it had fibre optic broadband delivering 30meg consistently. Unlike in the UK – if people want to make it happen , they seem to make it happen.
We’d have just done a report about it.
House Building Combined with Community Building:
House building seemed to be going on everywhere. Not big developer led sites – this was local housing by local people for local people.
I was told it was common for skills to be shared in the community to identify the people best able to help others build new homes for their family – or improve shared spaces.
Repairs were carried out by a member of the family being trained up to a sufficient standard by an elder.
I’m not necessarily endorsing this – but it seems a world away from the paternalistic model delivered by the social housing sector.
How Clear is your Pee?
This is a great health nudge. Ladies , you’ll have to forgive me for this.
You’re standing at a public urinal doing a pee. Men will not, under any circumstances, make eye contact with each other in this scenario. You’ve only one place to look: straight ahead at the space usually reserved for gambling advertisements.
But at Bali airport they’ve gone with this nudge – which leaves you with no option other than to check the colour of your pee. Being a social sort of guy I tweeted mine was a four and quickly bought a bottle of water.
(Please note I’d zipped up and washed my hands when I took the photo. Got a few funny looks though.)
I’ve featured this kind of thing before – but I love the pop-up nature of life in parts of Asia.
Need a book? Here’s a pop up library.
Need a beer on the beach? I’ll bring my crate to you and a stool for you to sit on.
Got some fruit to sell? Here’s a roadside cabin for you to use as premises until you’ve sold it.
Some of this – but not all – is symptomatic of cultures without developed welfare systems – where community has to support community and constantly think of new ways to create value. It brings a wonderful vibrancy that I think many of our high streets have lost.
- Unencumbered by bureaucracy.
- Emboldened by technology.
- Routed in strongly resilient communities.
- A growing and highly motivated workforce.
South East Asia is rising – and could be on the way to disrupt us. It’s not just the likes of Uber we should watching..