Summer Travel Expected to Drop

Road trips will grow in popularity as flying, cruising and other modes are hard-hit

Expect busy roads and nearly-empty flights this summer.  According to AAA’s latest projection, Americans will complete 683 million summer road trips, just three percent less than last year.  But airline travel is expected to plummet by 74 percent due to lingering concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, while other modes of travel, including cruises, buses and trains, will be hit even harder, dropping by nearly 86 percent from last year.

Overall, Americans will take 707 million trips from July through September – about 120 million trips, or 15 percent, less than last year.  A trip is defined as an overnight stay, or a journey of at least 50 miles away from home that falls outside of normal activities.  Some families will take more than one trip.  This year marks the first decrease in travel volume since 2009 during the Great Recession. 

“Things are moving pretty fast, and popular destinations and even some states may raise or lower their restrictions at the drop of a hat.  But driving gives people a chance to change their travel plans at the last minute,” says AAA Idaho spokesman Matthew Conde.  “Airlines, rental car companies, cruise lines, and others are working hard to roll out cleanliness and distancing plans, but it’s going to take a while for some passengers to get comfortable with these options in the ‘new normal.’”

According to AAA’s partner IHS Markit, unemployment numbers are beginning to shrink as more states re-open and as people get back to work.  The additional near-term growth could give potential travelers the confidence they need to make a summer getaway – confidence that was crushed in March and April.

“Some AAA members have started making their travel plans for next year, so we are confident that recovery is a question of when, not if,” Conde said.  “And with some theme parks and Caribbean destinations in stages of re-opening, travel activity could get back on an upward trajectory soon.”

Before the coronavirus devastated the travel industry, 2020 was expected to be another consecutive year of strong travel activity:

U.S. Summer Travel by Mode (millions of trips)

 

 

Automobile

Air

Other

Total

2019

706

57.9

64.3

828.3

2020 Forecast

683

15.1

9.3

707.4

2020 If No Pandemic

728

60.8

69

857.7

Source: AAA Idaho

The effects of COVID-19 are most visible in this year’s projected growth of automobile travel to 97 percent of all trips, up from an average of 87 percent over the past five years.

 

In most parts of the country, gas prices are anywhere from 50 to 70 cents cheaper than they were this time last year, including here in Idaho.  If travel demand builds and begins to reduce the available supply, it will put upward pressure on gas prices throughout the summer.  Even so, drivers will likely be smiling when they fill up for the foreseeable future.

Planning a road trip

  • Do your homework.  Make sure your route is open, including tourist spots and other stopping points along the way, such as hotels, rest stops and gas stations.  TripTik.AAA.com can help you finalize your plans, along with various state and local health district websites.  You can also use the TripTik app to find points of interest, restaurants, hotels, and more.
  • Get your vehicle ready.  “As people have been driving less, some basic car care may have been neglected in the past few months,” Conde explained.  “It’s a bit of a rude awakening to discover a dead battery or an engine leak right before you leave for a trip, so it’s a good idea to get your car in for a pre-trip inspection as soon as possible.  Make sure the repair shop has a good cleaning and social distancing policy in place to help you stay healthy.”
  • Bring your emergency kit.  Pack food and water for everyone in your party, a flashlight with extra batteries, some flares or reflectors, and a basic first aid kit.
  • Pack the PPE.  Unlike previous road trips, you may need personal protective equipment wherever you’re headed, including retail shopping areas, movie theaters, and museums.  Pack your face coverings, gloves, and cleaning supplies, like disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer.  If you can’t find gloves, use sandwich bags as a protective barrier to handle gas pumps, door knobs, hotel remote controls, etc.  Make sure you bring along your health insurance information, too.
  • Get ready for restaurants.  Consider wiping down your table with a disinfectant cloth if sit-down service is available and use hand sanitizer whenever you interact with servers or cashiers.  Bring along extra snacks in case some restaurants are closed or operating at diminished capacity.  A shower caddy from the dollar store can be a fun and effective way to help kids keep their food in one place if you have to use a lot of drive-thru options.
  • Stay healthy at hotels.  When you arrive at the hotel, wipe down high-touch areas in your room, like door handles and light switches, with a disinfecting wipe.  And be prepared for a pre-packaged breakfast to go – most hotels are avoiding buffet or continental breakfasts.

Above all, AAA reminds travelers to be patient.  “Most of the people you will encounter along the way have never been through a pandemic before, so it’s important to stay positive and adapt to the situation,” Conde said.  “To give your road trip the best chance for success, maintain social distancing wherever possible, focus on good hygiene, and do your best to have a Plan B if certain attractions are closed.”

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