Road trips, camping, and staycations: 7 charts show how the coronavirus pandemic has changed vacations

Less than a third of U.S. consumers feel comfortable going on vacation due to Covid-19. The result: Americans are canceling trips and spending less on travel.


Of the many activities that Covid-19 made riskier — indoor dining, getting a haircut, grocery shopping — travel is probably both the most anticipated and the priciest. Understandably, many Americans still aren't ready to travel. Overall, less than one-third, 28%, of U.S. consumers surveyed say they feel comfortable going on vacation, according to data from Morning Consult. Only 12% say they feel comfortable traveling abroad.

What you'll do when you arrive at a vacation destination poses its own problem. Many cultural institutions and attractions that are usually big tourism draws are closed. And even if they are open, most Americans don't feel safe visiting. Only one-fifth of U.S. consumers say they feel comfortable going to a museum, and 17% say they feel comfortable going to an amusement park

These challenges have resulted in consumers spending less on travel. From March 9 to August 24 of this year, Americans spent an average of $635 on travel, according to Status Money, which collected spending data from approximately 1 million people. Last year from March 4 to August 26 Americans spent $1,445.

Average weekly travel spending per person, 2019 vs. 2020
Note: Data is based on a proprietary panel that covers more than a million people across the U.S. Dates listed are for 2020.
kiersten schmidt/grow Status Money

With nowhere to go, fewer people are taking time off work. From April to July, time-off requests dropped 34% compared to the same period last year, according to Zenefits data reported in The Wall Street Journal. Many who already had trips scheduled had to back track on their plans. This year, almost half, 49%, of Americans have canceled a trip due to Covid-19, according to data from Destination Analysts

Here is how else the pandemic has affected Covid-19 spending on travel. 

What vacations look like now

Many Americans who are still traveling during the pandemic are opting to drive instead of fly. Earlier this year, AAA forecasted 97% of people vacationing this summer would do so by car, and just 2.1% would travel by airplane. That's down significantly from last year, when 7% of vacationers took to the skies. 

Uneasiness about flying is valid, Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, a pulmonary and critical care medicine physician told Grow. "Travel that needs people to be compacted, whether it's in a train, bus, or plane, will always be high risk," he says. "Planes are, for me, the scariest, because you are relying on everyone else doing the right thing."

Last year on August 29, almost 2 million people took flights, according to the Transportation Security Administration, which tracked how many people passed through TSA checkpoints. This year on the same day, only 591,734 people took flights. Overall, air travel is down about 70% from the same time last year.

Average daily travelers passing through airport checkpoints by week, 2019 vs. 2020
Note: Dates listed are for 2020.
kiersten schmidt/grow Transportation Security Administration

Instead, consumers are opting in for shorter trips, according to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. In August, trips of 500 or more miles were down 25% from the same time last year, while trips of 100-250 miles were up more than 50%.

Change in average daily trips from the same month in 2019
kiersten schmidt/grow Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Instead of planning international getaways, many Americans are spending time outdoors. Parks and public lands have experienced some of their highest usage during the pandemic, according to The Trust for Public Land

As a result, spending on camping gear has also increased significantly. From May to July camping equipment sales grew 27% over last year, according to data from the NPD Group. Camp furniture sales for items like chairs, tables, and hammocks grew 37%, and tent sales grew 43% compared to last year. 

Share of leisure trips accounted for by camping
kiersten schmidt/grow Kampgrounds of America North America Camping Report

Many are opting for staycations

As Americans attempt to make the most of staying put, many are spending on experiences or products that will make their homes more enjoyable and using vacation time to take advantage. About a quarter (26%) of people have already taken a staycation and another 40% plan to do so during the pandemic, according to data from Morning Consult

However, some generations are embracing the reality of staying home more than others. Over one-third, 35%, of millennials have taken a staycation during the pandemic, but only 17% of baby boomers and 27% of Gen Xers have done the same.

Share of people who, amid the pandemic...
Note: Based on a poll of 2,000 U.S. adults conducted from August 9-11, 2020.
kiersten schmidt/grow Morning Consult

Some consumers are shifting their focus and money to home improvements. Home Depot and Lowe's have seen sales surge during the pandemic, according to data from Placer.ai, a site that analyzes consumer foot traffic patterns

In June and July, Home Depot experienced approximately 19% more visits than it did during the same months last year. Lowe's saw an even bigger increase in traffic: In June and July visits increased 30.9% and 25.8%, respectively, over last year. Home improvement spending is up over 20% since March, according to Status Money.

Average weekly home improvement spending per person, 2019 vs. 2020
Note: Data is based on a proprietary panel that covers more than 1 million people across the U.S. Dates listed are for 2020.
kiersten schmidt/grow Status Money

And, of course, some people are trying to create their own slice of paradise right in their backyard. In June, searches for pool and spa professionals were three times greater than a year earlier, while searches for landscape contractors and deck and patio professionals more than doubled, according to data from Houzz, an online home remodeling platform.

By the end of July, pool construction permits were up 32.2% over the first seven months of 2019, according to data from the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance. Poolcorp, an international distributor of swimming pool supplies and outdoor living products, reported a 14% growth in sales for the second quarter over the same period last year.

As the pandemic continues and the weather cools down, we'll see whether people adjust their travel habits further, by either heading to warmer climates or stocking up on items that can help them better enjoy a long winter at home.

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