Getaway Day: The Tech That Will Change Travel … Forever

Virtual travel has the potential to completely upend the safari experience. (Daniela Harrison photo.)

Travel seems like a pretty unchanging endeavor. You hop on a plane to a new and exciting destination, stay somewhere special, eat the food, see the sights, and when you’re done, you plan to do it all over again. What could possibly mess with that?

You’d be surprised.

Technology continues to change travel in amazing ways. There isn’t a day that passes without a news story about how technology is changing the travel experience. Given that, now’s a good time to examine a handful of the changes and see what they might mean for your future travel experiences.

The iconic underwing engine could be on its way out by 2020.

The Electric Plane

We discussed this in our last podcast, but there’s something just a little bit scary about an electric plane. Suppose the electric plane you’re taking on a 200-mile trip has a range of 300 miles (about the average for the concepts we’ve seen). Now suppose something unforeseen, like a thunderstorm, forces the plane to make a 150-mile detour. When it runs out of range will an auxiliary power system kick in, will the plane glide gently to a landing, or will it plummet out of the sky like a rock? Gas-powered flight had to overcome the “you’ll never get me up in one of those” haters; now it’s electric-powered flight’s turn.

There’s no shortage of electric-plane startups, several of which have some big-name backers. Siemens, the multinational electrical-supply giant, is funding several small-plane ventures (one of which broke the world speed record); meanwhile, Wright Electric rolled out an EasyJet-backed prototype at the Y Combinator Demo Day, and JetBlue is funding a Boeing-supported startup called Zunum Aero, which plans to have planes with ranges up to 1,000 miles in the sky by 2020.

In theory, an electric plane has even more advantages over its competition than an electric car. It can achieve takeoff speed faster and allow for more aerodynamic designs, while throttling down noise and pollution to negligible levels.

Will we get there? If batteries continue to get lighter and more powerful, yes. Otherwise, it may be a while before that electric-powered commuter hop becomes a reality.

The Tube

As long as we’re talking crazy tech concepts, head Teslan Elon Musk is proposing a “hyperloop” – a magnetically levitated tube – that would connect New York and Washington, potentially transporting travelers between the two cities in less than half an hour. Hyperloops are being planned all over the country, but if Musk’s vision comes to life in the Northeast Corridor, it could render commuter planes and Amtrak obsolete.

And the New York-Washington corridor is just a baby step in Musk’s ambitious plan to crisscross the country with hyperloop tubes. As NBC recently stated, “Passengers traveling via tube would board magnetically levitating pods moved by electric propulsion. Hyperloop One is aiming for pods to travel more than 700 mph, making any cross-country trip possible within five hours.”

(And yes, when hyperloop travel becomes feasible BHTP will protect it.)

With virtual reality, high-risk adventure travel could be possible for even the most timid traveler. (Ericka Hamburg photo.)

Virtual Reality

What’s the only thing faster than hyperloop travel? Virtual travel. We’ve kidded about it for the last two years (here and here), but the reality is that virtual reality is all over the travel space, introducing people to destinations in the most immersive way possible.

Right now virtual reality is mainly being used to show aspects of destinations or lodgings to prospective customers, and it’s been spectacularly successful. For instance, according to the British travel-news site Tnooz, “After Thomas Cook placed Samsung Gear headsets in select British stores to help customers plan their trips by transporting them to popular destinations such as the Rockefeller Center, it saw a nearly 200 percent increase in revenue from packages to New York City.”

There are multiple similar success stories, but this is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how VR can transform the travel experience. Short promotional jaunts to exotic destinations are just the warmup for full-scale virtual travel.

Want an example? We’ll give you two: Antarctica and African safaris. Lots of people want to see Antarctica, but it’s hugely expensive and hard to get to. Plus, it’s crazy cold. How many travelers would pay one-one-hundredth of the cost of a real Antarctica vacation to go on a virtual one – and never have to change out of shorts and flip-flops?

Similarly, the African safari is on many travelers’ bucket list, but as animals vanish from the savannas and demand for the trips increase, the price goes up and the experience may not be what it once was. A virtual safari has the potential to deliver 95 percent of the impact of the real trip at 5 percent of the cost.

Pipedreams? Hardly. Hey, if an electric plane can fly, then a virtual safari is an absolute lock.

And yes, BHTP will be there to protect your virtual trips, somehow, someway. No April Fool’s.

Author: Kit Kiefer

As content engineer for Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, I have one of the world's great jobs. Not only do I get to write about travel, but I get to edit the work of fantastically talented contributors from around the world. Plus I get all the maple syrup I can drink.