The global engineer

How much do we care about the speed, shape and former life of the place we stay in for a few nights, asks E&T.

When is a hotel not a hotel? Never. It seems anything these days can be sold off as single rooms. From disused oil rigs to igloos, you'd hardly believe what can be turned into accommodation.

That's where the Hotelicopter flies in. Designed to "elevate your stay", this former Soviet Mil V-12 helicopter has 16 cabins, two suites with whirlpools, and a SkySpa where you can indulge in deep tissue massage at several thousand feet. It was purchased by Alvin Farley, who spent five years converting the world's largest helicopter into the world's first flying hotel.

Except he didn't. Farley was imaginary; the story was a hoax. But that didn't stop several reputable websites featuring the innovative accommodation in the run up to its supposed inaugural flight this month.

We believed this April Fool tale because, when it comes to hotels, anything goes. So the disused oil rigs and igloos really are hotels, where you can book a bed and go for dinner. And there is an old plane you can lay your head down in: an old Bristol freighter, parked up in Otorohanga, New Zealand, has been converted into a motel, with one suite in the pilot's cabin and another tucked into the tail. In the unlikely event of you having to bail out, in the Hague two marine survival capsules have been similarly made into comfortable accommodation. And I know you will be convinced that this is also a hoax, but only in Austria can you stay in large sewage pipes fitted out with just a bed, paying only what you think it's worth.

According to Morris Architects, designers of the first Rig Hotel, the Gulf of Mexico has about 4,000 oil rigs that will be decommissioned over the coming century. Rather than blow them up - an expensive and messy business - Morris's Houston office conceived a plan to turn them into high-end, self-sufficient, eco-friendly hotels. Vertical-axis wind turbines will harvest the plentiful Gulf of Mexico winds, and wave energy generators could be installed for further power. Features will include conference facilities, a ballroom, a rooftop infinity pool and stargazer lounge. There will even be a dive bell and scuba training for the more adventurous vacationer.

Rooms are modeled on prefabricated, standard cargo containers, so they will perfectly fit the rig platform. They will be transported out to the rig and unfolded to size. With the rooms on the exterior of the platform, all guests will have ocean views at no extra cost.

Pretty hot, eh? But if you want to be cool and go beyond Sweden's much hyped Ice Hotel, you can chill out in Norway's Igloo Hotel, where even the glasses in the bar are made of ice. Or you can stay in an igloo made of special thermo glass which keeps the interior at a constant temperature and prevents the glass from frosting over, giving even more star-gazing opportunities. Sweden has also come up with a floating sauna on a catamaran hotel which can travel at speeds of up to 15 knots.

I wonder how much we really care about the speed, shape and former life of the place we stay in. After the initial "Wow, I've never slept on an oil rig/helicopter/speeding sauna before!" has worn off, what's left to lounge about in? When the Wi-Fi doesn't work and my morning cup of coffee arrives 30 minutes late, I might begin to feel a little fed up staying in a place with propellers and long for an old- fashioned, traditional brick building with big soft sofas and no ambitions to be weird.

Wherever you check in, you'll have baggage with you. I've reported before on the power-assisted suitcase, enabling even heavy loads to be wheeled along as if you were transporting no more than your toothbrush and a few pairs of socks. It works very simply: an extendable handle can be pivoted away from the case, meaning 85 per cent of the weight is automatically balanced over the bag's two wheels, powered by rechargeable batteries.

When I tested the prototype last year, although it was light, it was burdensome on the eyes. Now the designers, Live Luggage, have gone even further in assisting you to travel without having to exercise too much muscle and developed the Hybrid PA bag, which - unlike its predecessor - is soft-shelled and good-looking.

And what will the holidaymaker's lighter load consist of? According to the latest research by holidaylettings.co.uk, chilli peanuts (to stop sinuses drying out on the flight) and custard (purpose unknown, but I suspect as comfort food).

It was comforting to discover that two-thirds of travellers still squeeze books into their suitcase, far more than pack an iPod or iPhone. Only last year, I predicted that the iBook would never replace the soggy, sandy paperback on the beach. Perhaps that's because, with power assisted luggage, the additional weight of a few good reads won't concern us.

I'm off to Las Vegas tomorrow, with a couple of good books (but no custard) in my suitcase. I'm flying there on a Virgin Boeing 747-400. But perhaps in a few year's time, I won't be reaching my destination on a Boeing, but the Boeing will be my destination.

I think I'd prefer that to an old Bristol freighter...

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