I recently turned 30, so the math tells me I've already lived through one third of my life. That also means I still have at least 20,000 days to make all of my dreams come true. Speaking of dreams, it's strange how they change as we grow older. When I was 25, I had one dream, one goal I wanted to fulfill by my 30th birthday: I wanted to become a millionaire!
Let me end the suspense right away: I'm not even close. To be precise, I can claim to have accumulated no more than 2% of that sum. What's more, I haven't worked in two years and my bank account is starting to run low. I failed to achieve my dream — or at least, that's what some will say — and I couldn't care less.
I long ago gave up on my dream of having millions. Not that I think it's impossible (everything is possible), but I came to understand that more than money, what I really wanted was to BE FREE!
Back when I was determined to earn millions, the most logical way to get there was the following: to create a startup and sell it. In 2011, I created my first company together with my associate, Michael. It's called Etudinfo and it was the first platform where students could rate their university. The site was a huge success, it got half-a-million visits per month. I was over the moon. I was my own boss and running the business while still able to travel. I was a digital nomad before that even meant anything.
But I still had one goal that I had to reach: growth. That urge to always do better was crucial at the beginning, we had to be able to live off that website. It took two years until we earned a minimum monthly wage. We were far from being rich, but boy were we proud to see our "baby" grow and to be able to live off the fruits of our labor. The website had such potential, and we wanted to do more, always more, to dedicate all our energy to this project, and this project only.
We stopped traveling to focus entirely on making our company grow. Once we were back in Paris, we sought the help of coaches, we looked for a place to establish our headquarters, our first clients, our first interns, and finally, our first employees. There were about 10 of us. Business was booming and my head was spinning.
I'd gone from roaming entrepreneur to office boss. I'd become the slave of my own company. Going to the office had become a chore, I didn't feel happy about getting up in the morning anymore. I'd reproduced the model I was trying to avoid. And yet, nobody was forcing me to do it.
That's the thing about wanting to earn a lot of money: You enter a neverending whirlwind where days go by so quickly you don't even notice. You always want more so you always work more. I would spend my weekends letting off steam — drinking like a fish — to start working again come Sunday evening. This wasn't making any sense anymore. For two years I'd been traveling the roads of the world, but now I couldn't even go on holiday anymore.
But still, we had a clear plan: We'd continue for two years and, according to our infallible killer business plan, the company would be worth somewhere around 1,000,000 euros! Bingo! Everything was lined up to fall into place; we'd just forgotten one thing along the way: the desire.
That desire to have and earn more was gone. I was living very decently with my net monthly income of 1,800 euros. In fact, I didn't even know what to do with all the money. I'd grown so accustomed to leading a minimalist life, far from consumerism, that earning more just seemed like arrogance. What we longed for wasn't more money, but more time. The solution was self-evident, yet it took us some time to accept it. We needed to move on.
We managed to find a buyer in less than 6 months. I was 28 and I was selling my first business. From one day to another, I found myself free of all constraints and with 50,000 euros ($55,000) on my bank account.
What would you do with that kind of money? You're never short of ideas: invest in real estate, buy a new car, take a fancy trip.
I decided instead to be free, totally free. People say you can't buy time, but with that money, I've bought five years of my life, five years that will allow me to construct and deconstruct myself, to have a different perspective on society, to understand myself and what I long for a little bit better. I think there can be no greater investment than to invest in yourself. I have time to read, to improve myself, to talk, to travel, to learn, to create, to write... And the list goes on.
I'm 30 years old now. I've never been so alive as I am now. I'm not a millionaire, but I am free.
Rémi Le Calvez is now traveling around the world, writing his adventures on his blog Capitaine Rémi.
This is Worldcrunch"s international collection of essays, both original pieces written in English and others translated from the world's best writers in any language. The name for this collection, Rue Amelot, is a nod to the humble address in eastern Paris we call home. Send ideas and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.
It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.
More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.
But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:
Cleaner aviation fuel
The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.
While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.
Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.
In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.
Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.
High-flying ambitions for the sector
Hydrogen and electrification
Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.
One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.
Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.
New aircraft designs
Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.
International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.
The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.
Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airportcommons.wikimedia.org
Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.
The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.
Data privacy issues
However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.
Auckland Airport, New Zealand
The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?
At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.
Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.
40% of Swedes intend to travel less
According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.
But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.
At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.
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