December 16, 2020

At Least 34 Million Fewer Americans to Travel This Holiday Season

Three-quarters of Americans are expected to stay home; AAA advises caution for those who decide to travel

AAA Travel expects the vast majority of Americans to stay home this holiday season. Public health concerns and travel guidance are influencing their decisions not to travel over the year-end holidays, a period that typically sees high demand for vacations. While AAA expects at least 34 million fewer travelers compared to last year’s holiday season, as many as 84.5 million Americans may still travel from Dec. 23 through Jan. 3, a decline in travel of at least 29%.

Road Trips Will Decline, but Remain Preferred Method of Travel

Most Americans who decide to travel will do so by car, with road trips accounting for 96% of holiday travel. Up to 81 million Americans will travel by car, a decline of at least 25% compared to last year. Auto travel is expected to replace some trips previously taken by bus, train or airplane, given the flexibility, security and comfort traveling by car provides.

2020 Year-End Holiday Travelers
  Automobile Air Other
(Bus, Train, Cruise)
2020 81.1M 2.94M 480,000
2019 108.0M 7.33M 3.89M
Change -24.9% -59.9% -87.7%

For those who decide to hit the road for the year-end holidays, gas prices remain nearly 50 cents cheaper than this time last year. Recent monthly gas prices are 19% below 2019 averages.

“Typically, cheaper gas prices are an incentive for last minute trips, especially around the holidays. But the lower prices and less traffic aren’t driving decisions to hit the road. Americans are looking to the public health landscape, including COVID-19 case numbers, to make their travel decisions,” said Jeanette Casselano McGee, AAA spokesperson.

INRIX Predicts Increased Delays During Holiday Afternoons

Traffic volume, and therefore traffic congestion, during the holiday week is expected to be less than in years past. However, travelers in major urban areas could still experience delays upwards of triple normal drive times at popular bottlenecks throughout the day. Nationwide, drivers could see travel times about 20% above normal pandemic congestion levels.

“Despite warnings, Thanksgiving traffic surged more than 30% above the daily pandemic average in some states,” said Bob Pishue, Transportation Analyst at INRIX. “We expect a similar increase around the upcoming winter holidays unless stricter travel restrictions are put in place and followed.”

Worst Drive Times on Nation’s Busiest Corridors
Region Corridor (to/from) Peak Congestion
Peak Delay
Atlanta I-75 North (Arthur K Bolton Pkwy to I-675) 12/26/20 at 3:45pm 32
Boston MA-3 (Derby St to I-93) 12/26/20 at 3:00pm 17
Chicago I-290 East (Mannheim Rd to Morgan St) 12/30/20 at 4:00pm 18
Detroit US-23 North (8 Mile Rd to I-96) 12/23/20 at 11:45am 15
Houston I-10 West (Sjolander Rd to Crosby Lynchburg Rd) 12/26/20 at 3:45pm 6
LA I-5 South (Colorado St to I-605) 12/29/20 at 5:15pm 30
New York I-95 South (I-678 to GW Bridge) 12/30/20 at 4:30pm 45
San Francisco US-101 North (Golden Gate to I-580) 12/23/20 at 5:00pm 16
Seattle I-5 South (WA-18 to Portland Ave) 12/30/20 at 4:15pm 22
Washington DC I-95 South (I-495 to VA-123) 12/28/20 at 11:30am 31
Source: INRIX

What to Know Before You Go

  • Plan Ahead. Check with state and local officials along your route and at your destination to learn about local guidance and any restrictions that may be in place. This includes what is expected of you when you return home. Many localities are requiring COVID-19 testing prior to and after travel.

  • Follow Public Health Guidance.

    • The CDC recommends taking a COVID-19 test one to three days before travel and another three to five days after travel, plus reducing nonessential activities for seven days after travel. Travelers should be aware of these and other local and state travel restrictions, including testing requirements and quarantine orders, and additional CDC guidance for before, during and after their travels.

    • Consistent use of face masks combined with social distancing (at least 6 feet) and regular handwashing are the best ways to lower your risk of contracting COVID-19. Be sure to pack face masks, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer and a thermometer to help protect and monitor your health. Also pack water and extra snacks to reduce the need to stop along your trip.

  • Verify Before You Go. Call ahead to minimize any last-minute surprises.

    • Hotels – Prior to any hotel stay, call ahead to ensure your hotel is open and ask what precautions they are taking to protect guests. Ask about social distancing protocols like capacity reductions in common spaces, hotel staff requirements to wear masks at all times and if all amenities are available, like restaurant dining.

    • Car rentals – If renting a car, ask what has been done to clean the vehicle. Hertz, for example, has introduced Hertz Gold Standard Clean, an enhanced vehicle disinfectant and sanitization process. For extra peace of mind, use disinfecting wipes to wipe down door handles, steering wheels, shifters and control panels.

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