Americans stay at ‘home on vacation’ – or prefer cars if they travel

For many Americans, the classic Christmas song “I’ll be home for Christmas” will literally describe their plans this holiday weekend, as most choose to celebrate on the spot amid the ongoing pandemic.

Only about a quarter of the national population will travel at Christmas and New Year, compared with about a third last year, and most of them will be driving instead of flying or taking the train, industry sources say.

AAA predicts that at least 29% fewer trips will be made today by January 3, compared to the same period last year. While up to 84.5 million Americans can choose to travel, despite Covid’s current increase, that’s at least 34 million less than in 2019, the organization says. In comparison, AAA estimates that Thanksgiving trips have decreased by up to 15% last month.

“The holidays come when Americans often venture out on longer, more elaborate vacations,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, in a statement. “That will not be the case this year.”

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Twidale cited public health concerns, official government guidance against travel and a general decline in consumer sentiment as factors that drive many to decide to stay home. (The Center for Disease Control and Prevention advises that traveling can increase your chances of obtaining and publicizing Covid-19 on its website.)

The consumer finance website ValuePenguin found that only 23% of the 1,000 Americans surveyed planned to travel next weekend, compared with 32% who said they would travel on Thanksgiving.

Holiday property management software company Guesty, meanwhile, reported in mid-December that Christmas and New Year accommodation bookings, while increasing, still fell 15% compared to 2019. ( Guesty were optimistic, however, that reservation fees could close the gap by the end of the year or at least close the gap.)

Americans who decide to travel in the next two weeks are likely to do so by car. AAA says that road travel will account for 96% of holiday travel, with up to 81 million Americans taking the country’s highways. This would represent a decline of at least 25% compared to last year – despite a shift towards cars and moving away from buses, planes and trains.

AAA says that car travel will replace other modes of transport thanks to the “flexibility, safety and comfort that car travel provides”. ValuePenguin, however, found in its survey that 7% of people traveling on December holidays will, in fact, fly, up from 3% who planned to travel on Thanksgiving. This may be due to cheaper airfares: AAA reports double-digit drops in average flight prices.

Drivers will also save money when they fill their tanks this year, with gasoline prices 33 cents cheaper per gallon compared to 2019. But some of those savings will be consumed in transit; AAA warns travelers to expect about 20% more congestion on the country’s highways and detours.

Where intrepid travelers are headed

Imgorthand | E + | Getty Images

Traveling but not staying with friends or family? You can find some savings on accommodation in your sock. Guests have found that the average nightly rate for New Year’s Eve bookings has dropped this month, staying at the same price as 2019. This is probably because hosts are slashing prices to stimulate reservations amid general reluctance to travel.

And where will obstinate travelers be at Christmas and New Year? The global reservation system Amadeus found that the top five destinations in the US, with occupancy rates of 50% or more, are:

  1. Vail, Colorado
  2. Key West, Florida
  3. Sedona, Arizona
  4. Aspen, Colorado
  5. Fort Myers