Holiday Travel Plans During a Pandemic

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, staying home is still the safest way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. And while it may feel like you’ve been “sheltering in place” or “safe at home” for months on end, experts still recommend limiting your exposure to crowded places and taking unnecessary excursions into public, and that includes traveling.

For people trying to navigate traveling in the time of COVID-19, the logistics (and the public shaming) can be difficult to navigate. Around the world, it’s expected that the impact of COVID-19 on the travel industry will cost 75 million jobs and over $2 trillion in revenue. Even if you’re not comfortable getting on a plane any time soon or visiting your favorite theme park, it’s possible just planning your next trip for some time in the future can help fill the emotional void left by not being able to take a proper vacation in 2020.

Looking ahead to the holiday season and beyond, we asked over 1,000 people to tell us about their travel plans (or lack thereof) during this global health pandemic. Read on as we break down how many people are still planning on traveling long distances to see their families for the holidays; how they plan on getting to their destinations; how much they plan on spending; and what has Americans scared about traveling.

Getting Away in 2020

For all intents and purposes, Halloween at large may be on the chopping block in 2020 as Americans continue adjusting to life in this new normal. Many cities and states have issued specific guidance dictating how residents will be allowed to participate in fall festivities, and many experts have warned against participating in conventional Halloween events to prevent further outbreaks of COVID-19. If Halloween is canceled, the remaining holidays (including Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s) may be the last opportunities people have to travel or see family this year.

Among the more than 1,000 surveyed, 88% of Americans indicated they plan on traveling long distances to see their family for the holidays in 2020, with just 12% indicating they expect to forgo their travel plans entirely. Another 75% admitted if COVID-19 cases worsen in the next few months, they’ll cancel their holiday travel plans.

Compared to 84% of people who traveled for Christmas in 2019, 72% of people plan to travel for Christmas in 2020. Similarly, slightly fewer people plan on traveling for either New Year’s (38%) or Thanksgiving (32%), compared to those who traveled for the same holidays in 2019 (44% each). Seventeen percent of people reported planning on traveling for Hanukkah in 2020, the same percentage who traveled for the holiday in 2019. Overwhelmingly, 54% reported they planned to travel by car, with 34% expecting to fly and 11% planning to take a train. Including 68% traveling less than 300 miles and 55% traveling between 300 and 800 miles to get to their holiday destinations, 47% of travelers in 2020 traversing over 800 miles planned to drive. Thirteen percent of people who flew while traveling for the holidays in 2019 planned to instead drive in 2020.

Inflated Travel Budgets

While many airlines have instituted new safety measures to make air travel safe during COVID-19, those policies can differ wildly from carrier to carrier. Many require passengers to wear masks for the duration of travel (though requiring and implementing aren’t always the same), but others have gone further. Some airlines continue to block off middle seats on flights, limit the capacity of travelers allowed on each plane, and check passenger temperatures before boarding. Still, these policy guidelines are updating all the time, and some travelers still aren’t comfortable getting on planes at all until a vaccine is available for COVID-19.

Seventy-eight percent of people planning to travel for Thanksgiving in 2020 expect to drive, while the rest of Thanksgiving day travelers brave the airports. Last year, around 55% of Thanksgiving travelers drove to their destinations, while 35% flew and 9% traveled by train. This year, around 56% of people traveling for Christmas will drive, but that wasn’t a considerable change from last year as around 52% of Christmas travelers did so by car. While those planning on flying anticipated spending more on their travel ($1,515, on average), traveling by car might not be much less expensive.

Compared to their travel budgets of $1,115 in 2019, Americans planning to travel by car in 2020 foresaw spending $1,242 on their expedition. Regardless of transportation method, people traveling with children budgeted an additional $400 in travel expenses. Eighty-three percent of people planning to travel in 2020 also indicated they planned on wearing masks around family members for the duration of their visit.

Travel Concerns in 2020

In 2020, travel shame is a real experience people opting to take trips may encounter, but so is travel fear. As we found, 58% of people choosing to travel for the holidays reported feeling guilty about their decision, but even more were worried about getting COVID-19.

Along with 58% of travelers in 2020 who voiced worry about spreading COVID-19, 69% of people admitted they were afraid of getting the disease themselves. Other common travel concerns included overspending on travel (39%), stress over the method of transportation (25%), and worry that the trip would be unpleasant (19%).

Among those opting to forgo holiday traveling in 2020, 77% said they were staying home because they were afraid of infecting family or loved ones with COVID-19.

Finding the Best Deals

Adapting to life during COVID-19 has been challenging and, for many people, that includes limited (if any) opportunity to travel or see distant family members. According to our survey, many people are planning on traveling for the holidays, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t concerned about the virus. Many are choosing to drive instead of fly and plan to wear masks around their family members while visiting. Some have a concern that their loved ones could become sick as a result of their travel. On top of these stresses, people planning on traveling for the holidays in 2020 are budgeting more for their trips, perhaps because fares are on the rise.

If traveling for the holidays this year seems stressful, saving money on your packing list or holiday gifts can go a long way in helping you stay on budget. At CouponFollow, our mission is to help shoppers save time and money by delivering instant access to the latest discount codes. With real-time coupons that are automated at checkout through our browser extension, we help online shoppers get the best deals in no time at all. CouponFollow is committed to finding the codes other sites simply don’t offer – helping us collect more than 2 million codes and saving shoppers over $400 million since 2010. Want to make smarter shopping decisions? Visit us online at CouponFollow.com today and start saving now!

Methodology and Limitations

We surveyed 1,004 people who traveled for the holidays last year in order to explore how people are handling travel plans amid COVID-19. In order to control for respondents who may be traveling locally for the holidays, we asked respondents to indicate whether they considered a holiday trip “long distance” and then qualified those who indicated they traveled at least 200 miles or more to see family for the holidays. Because we are exploring the cost and effort of travel, we wanted to ensure respondents were planning on making substantial trips.

Respondents ranged in age from 18 to 72. The mean age was 38 with a standard deviation of 11 years. Around 40% of respondents identified as female, and 60% identified as male. Seventy six percent indicated having children who typically travel with them, and 24% did not report having children who traveled with them.

Survey data has certain limitations related to self-reporting. These limitations include telescoping, exaggeration, and selective memory. Telescoping refers to reporting events as being more recent than they actually were. We didn’t weight our data or statistically test our hypotheses. This was an exploration of travel plans for the 2020 holiday season.

Fair Use Statement

Odds are your readers are trying to make travel plans for the holiday season. Share the results of our study for any noncommercial use with the inclusion of a link back to this page as credit to our team of contributors for their work on this report.

about the author

Marc Mezzacca
Marc Mezzacca is CEO of CouponFollow, a consumer savings engine that surfaces popular coupons. He has been in the coupon and deals industry for over a decade with a deep interest in evolving e-commerce technologies.