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

For many Americans, the classic song “I want to be home for Christmas” will literally describe their plans this holiday weekend, as most choose to celebrate in place in the midst of the ongoing pandemic.

Only about a quarter of nationwide travel for Christmas and New Year, down from about a third or so last year, and most of them will run instead of flying or taking the train, industries say.

AAA predicts that at least 29% fewer trips will be taken today to January 3 compared to the same period a year ago. While up to 84.5 million Americans may choose to travel despite the current Covid wave, it is at least 34 million fewer than in 2019, the organization says. By comparison, AAA estimates that the Thanksgiving trip was off by up to 15% last month.

“Holidays at the end of the year are when Americans often venture out for longer and more detailed vacations,” Paula Twidale, senior vice president at AAA Travel, said in a statement. “That will not be the case this year.”

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Twidale cited public health issues, official government guidance on travel, and a general decline in consumer sentiment as factors that make many people decide to stay home. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that travel may increase your chances of getting and spreading Covid-19 on its website.)

Consumer finance site ValuePenguin found that only 23% of 1,000 Americans surveyed planned to travel this coming weekend, compared with 32% who said they would travel for Thanksgiving.

Meanwhile, in mid-December, company management software company Guesty reported that residency reservations for both Christmas and New Year’s Eve, while rising, were still less than 15% compared to 2019. (However, Guesty’s officials were optimistic that reservation prices would close end of the year, or at least country close.)

Americans who decide to travel within the next two weeks are likely to do so by car. AAA says road travel will account for 96% of vacation travel, with as many as 81 million Americans hitting the country’s highways. That would represent a decrease of at least 25% compared to last year – despite a shift towards cars and away from buses, planes and trains.

AAA says auto travel replaces other modes of travel thanks to the “flexibility, safety and comfort of traveling by car.” However, ValuePenguin found in its survey that 7% of those traveling for the December holidays will actually fly, which is an increase over the 3% who planned to make it to Thanksgiving. This may be due to cheaper fares: AAA reports double-digit falls in average airfares.

Drivers will also save money by filling their tanks this year with gas prices 33 cents cheaper per. Gallon compared to 2019. But some of these savings are burning out in traffic; AAA warns road trippers to expect about 20% more congestion on the country’s highways and urban highways.

Where the fearless travelers are headed

Imgorthand | E + | Getty Images

Traveling but not with friends or family? You may be able to find some overnight savings in your sock. Guesty found that the average nightly rate for New Year’s Eve had dropped this month and sat at the same rate as in 2019. Hosts are likely to lower prices to encourage reservations in the general reluctance to travel.

And where do diehard holidaymakers live this Christmas and New Year? Global reservation system Amadeus has found that the top five destinations in the United States with an occupancy rate of 50% or more are:

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