Travel is the purest expression of freedom. Hop a plane or a train or get behind the wheel and in a few hours you can escape--from the routine, the familiar, to something new, exotic, liberating. But for years the travel industry has managed (or mismanaged) to drain much of the freedom and spontaneity out of travel. Planning a big summer trip with the kids? Better make your reservations now. Want to take a flight that doesn't set you back a month's salary? Better buy your ticket weeks ahead of time. And God forbid you should want to change your plans later. That'll be $75, please--if you're lucky.
The impulse behind much of the innovation in travel these days is an effort to restore that spirit of freedom. As airlines merge into more impersonal behemoths, an aviation executive creates a low-price, customer-friendly carrier that gives flyers a real choice. Three entrepreneurs convert a Seattle halfway house into a chic inn that people can actually afford. A computer geek almost accidentally creates an online service that cuts through Web clutter to find lower fares. An aviator builds an inexpensive private jet that can almost fit in your garage--the ultimate escape vehicle. Sure, the rest of us still have to sit on overcrowded runways. But these innovators remind us that travel is not about treading the old paths. It's about finding new ones.
--By Richard Zoglin