Americans Are Still Vacationing, Just Not as Far Away

New research from combined-search site VacationRenter offers a snapshot of Americans’ ideas and opinions about what travel will mean for the remainder of 2020.

Perhaps more than ever, people are eager to get out and enjoy new places and experiences, but a new set of considerations brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have redefined the parameters of our searches and planning.

While safety has always been top-of-mind among travelers, the term itself has come to mean something different in the COVID-19 era, referring mainly to the hygienic conditions and preventive-health factors present in any given situation. VacationRenter’s survey found two specific variables that weighed heavily into U.S. travelers’ decisions about travel for the rest of the year: distance from home and mode of transportation.

Comfort Levels

Even amid the latest surge of new COVID-19 infections sweeping the nation, the past couple of months’ economic reopening efforts and long months of abiding by stay-at-home directives have made people more willing to leave their homes. In terms of comfortability with the idea of traveling, almost half (45 percent) of those surveyed were considering making travel plans for the coming months, with a smaller portion (19 percent) having already planned a vacation and just three percent that had already vacationed since May.

Survey responses made it abundantly clear that folks feel safest when traveling by car, versus all other modes of transportation, with social distancing being the most influential factor. Traveling in a personal vehicle offers the highest degree of control over the people with whom you’re sharing close quarters and the nature of your group’s interactions with outsiders.

Numbers-wise, 84 percent of respondents said they’d feel “extremely or moderately comfortable” traveling by car within the next six months, versus 27 percent who said the same about going by airplane, 24 percent by train and 18 percent by bus. On the flip side of the question, confidence is traveling by cruise ship ranked the lowest, with 60 percent of respondents saying they would be “not at all comfortable” going this route, and 36 percent saying the same about travel by plane, 35 percent by train and 48 percent by bus.

Distance Matters

The self-reported survey results also indicated that, regardless of age or location, Americans are focusing much more on finding enjoyable vacation options closer to home, possibly because people feel that contagion levels in nearby areas are comparable to what they’re accustomed to or perhaps simply because long-distance drives can be a pain.

In comparison with last June, more U.S. travelers were shown to keep closer to home on their trips, with the number of miles they’d be willing to travel being less than during the first few months of 2020. On average, those who had traveled or were planning to travel this summer chose vacation destinations within four hours of home. VacationRenter’s propriety data showed that, on average, its users expected to venture no more than 385 miles from home. As a company spokesperson told SFGATE, “Americans are tightening their search net when it comes to travel.”

Therefore, quick trips within driving distance of home and staycations are poised to become the new norms in U.S. travel, at least while the pandemic persists. Nearly 80 percent of respondents agreed that there are good vacation opportunities within 50 miles of home, with 54 percent saying that this type of holiday can be just as much fun as going somewhere farther away.

Even after COVID-19 concerns subside at some point in the future, people are likely to need some time to become comfortable with far-flung travel again, the survey indicated. 70 percent of those queried said that they’d still be more likely to choose a destination that they can drive to themselves over a vacation that requires them to travel by air, train, bus or ship.

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