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How people plan everyday travel

Published Nov 05, 2014

Åsa Nyblom shows that planning trips in everyday life is not just about finding out how to get from A to B. It is a process with many parameters and influences beyond the timeframe, price or comfort of a specific journey. Her research provides a broader understanding of travel information use in everyday situations and how people’s travel decisions are formed.

Åsa Nyblom presents her licentiate thesis 10 November 2014.

Growing cities lead to growing transport demand. Public authorities propose policies to address the environmental challenges connected with transportation. The role of travel information is regarded as crucial in this respect. ICT-based travel information systems are said to let people plan their travel smarter. Mobile travel apps (e.g. Google Transit, Res i STHLM) or web-based travel services (e.g. in Stockholm:, do not only provide real-time information about time- and cost-effective travel but can also suggest alternative travel modes: public transport, walk, bike - or perhaps no travel at all. But do these travel information systems affect people’s choices in everyday life? And prompt them towards more sustainable choices?

Beyond the A to B perspective

Åsa Nyblom employed ethnographic methods to study what travel planning looks like in people’s everyday lives in southern Stockholm: How people actually find their way to a destination, how they know when to leave to arrive on time, how they choose mode of transport, and how travel information is used in this process. She finds that travel planning is a process undertaken little by little and squeezed in between other activities of daily life. This process is more extended in time, space and content than the limited search for information about the best way to get from A to B, assumed and facilitated in many existing travel information services.

Åsa Nyblom’s research shows that the information people use to plan travel is more diversified than what is commonly understood as ‘travel information’ and comes from both analogue, digital and informal sources. In reality, these different types of information are often interdependent - informal information (e.g. advice on routes or modes of transport from family and friends) can be conveyed through mobile phones, and the directions on handwritten notes often stem from ICT-based services or web pages. Therefore it is important to have a travel information concept wide enough to encompass this diversity and to be able to assess the potential of travel information as a change factor for sustainable city travel.

People use different “blends” of information according to their own preferences, but what type of information that is drawn on depends also largely on the situation at hand. The kind of travel information deemed practical in one situation might not be seen as useful in the next if the perception of for example time and urgency changes. Åsa Nyblom shows that preparations for the trip – and the timeframes needed for this – are a central part of travel planning and travel choices. Weather changes, for example, often cause a need for more preparation time, especially when travelling by bike or walking.  

Planning travel is a part of planning life

From the traveller perspective, travel planning in everyday life is not limited to one trip at a time. Planning a trip normally involves considerations and timeframes both for the trip itself, but also for activities and plans before and after the trip. Consequently, travel planning is in many ways best understood as a subordinated practice of overall life planning.

Travel planning is also a social activity – typically involving other people than the planner. The choice of travel mode is affected by social relations (e.g. going by car may be chosen over cycling since it involves fewer conflicts among family members) and social norms (e.g. showing that one is a good parent by physically dropping off children at school instead of letting them walk/cycle by themselves) can heavily influence the planning and mode choice of the daily commute to work.

Design implications for future travel information systems

This contextual and in-depth understanding of travel planning and travel information use in everyday practice is crucial for the design of future travel information systems with sustainability ambitions. If such systems are to be widely adopted they need to be in line with actual travel planning practices. These kinds of in depth insights into travel planning practice also make it clear that so many other things come in to play in the planning of trips and everyday travel choices that travel information systems never can address. But they also highlight the possibilities of designing combined policy measures focusing on the many different factors holding current travel practices in place where reformed travel information systems can form one part.

In the analysis of the ethnographical material, Åsa Nyblom sees a need for current travel information systems to change the view of when, where and how travel planning is made. Since travel planning increasingly is made ‘on the go’ it is important to facilitate this practice also for active modes of transports like walking and cycling. More attention should be given to the assisting role of travel information systems during travel, bearing in mind that different travel modes require different ways of receiving and acquiring information. The identified close connection between travel planning and the overall ‘life-planning’ suggests that different ICT-systems supporting these practices (travel planners, calendars, reminder tools, weather apps) need to be interconnected. Through such a connection, and by including the timeframes of trip preparations and walking time, future travel planning tools may be able to send a quick reminder to ‘stand up and prepare to get going’ for the transport options that the traveller uses for everyday travel and that are preferable from a sustainability perspective. This might serve as the extra push needed to choose these options and may prevent instances of time slippage, when travel plans are not decided before the deadline for sustainable (and sometimes preferred) options has already passed.

Licentiate thesis

Nyblom, Åsa (2014)  Making travel sustainable with ICT? The social practice of travel planning and travel information. Licentiate thesis. KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm.

Licentiate seminar

10 November 2014, 14.00, Room Q34, Osqualdas väg 6
Supervisor: Professor Mattias Höjer, Greger Henriksson, Opponent: Docent Marie Thynell, University of Gothenburg

Contact: Åsa Nyblom, tel +46 8 790 8511,