Summer Road Trip Survey: Americans Will Stay Local, Try RVs, and Hit National Parks [Survey]

While the majority of Americans plan to stay close to home this summer, state and national parks still expect crowds.
Last updated Sep 29, 2020 | By Lindsay Frankel
Happy family together outside

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Warm weather has arrived, and that means crowded pool parties, music festivals, and summer vaca — oh, wait. Not this year! As the U.S. continues to recover from the coronavirus crisis, many of the summer activities we’ve come to look forward to now seem like a distant memory or a future dream. That doesn’t mean your summer has to be a drag, but it will look very different than it has in the past.

Americans are being particularly cautious when it comes to travel. Our May 2020 summer travel survey found that most Americans will either wait a year to get on an airplane or put off their travel plans until a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available. And while some said they’d take a road trip rather than flying, our latest survey revealed that most have decided to stay parked at home through the summer months.

FinanceBuzz surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,000 Americans to understand how their summer plans will compare to last year, specifically when it comes to road trips, RVing, and camping. We found that summer vacations will look different this year for many Americans, and most are even foregoing trips during the Fourth of July weekend.

Key Findings

  • 72% of Americans will stay home for the Fourth of July this year. Although it’s typically a big travel day, only 3% plan to travel more than 2 hours from home.
  • 69% will take fewer or no road trips compared to last summer. When they do hit the road, they'll stay local. A quarter (25%) of road trippers say they won't venture more than two hours from home.
  • Of those who plan to buy or rent an RV, it's mostly to avoid flying (53%) and hotels (47%). Beware — 38% of prospective RVers have never driven an RV before.
  • 38% of Americans plan to camp the same amount or more than last summer; it will look more like "glamping" for 54% of campers.
  • Expect state and national parks to be crowded. 47% of campers plan to stay at a state park, and 41% expect to camp at a national park.
  • Good news for sporting goods retailers: 87% of prospective campers plan to buy new equipment.

Americans aren't hitting the road this summer

July 4th has traditionally been a huge travel holiday; a TripAdvisor survey found that almost one-third of Americans took a vacation that week in 2019. This summer, expect to see at-home barbecues instead. Seventy-two percent of Americans plan to stay home this year, and another 15% plan to stay local — only 3% plan to travel more than two hours away from home.

We'll take fewer road trips and stay close to home

Sixty-nine percent of Americans plan to take fewer road trips than last summer or none at all.

And when they do hit the road, they’ll stay local. A quarter (25%) say they won’t venture more than two hours away from home.

While many are choosing not to travel due to health concerns, it’s likely that many families are also concerned about their finances. Coronavirus-related business closures have left millions without jobs or with reduced income. This is causing a savings-focused mindset that might lead many families to avoid unnecessary spending. Even the low price of gas isn’t enough to get Americans traveling.

For those that do decide to travel this summer, likely road trip destinations include the lake (39%), the beach (39%), and a family member’s home (36%).

While road trips are generally safer than flying, travelers are still at risk when they stop to grab food or use the restroom. That’s changing what people plan to pack and prepare for the road: Half of road trippers will pack extra food to avoid unnecessary stops, and 37% will try to avoid stopping at public restrooms along the way.

We’ll see more than just bathing suits and sunscreen on travelers’ road trip packing lists this year as well.

People plan to pack protective items to keep themselves safe; 74% plan to pack hand sanitizer, 74% plan to pack face masks, and 64% will pack disinfecting wipes.

RVs are a popular choice for summer trips

RVs are surging in popularity for one simple reason: Traveling in an RV allows road trippers to avoid contact with others at public restrooms and restaurants. Nine percent of Americans say they’re more likely to rent an RV this summer compared to last summer. That’s in addition to the 6% who say they’re more likely to buy an RV this summer.

Those who do rent an RV face high costs, and may end up paying more than they would for a hotel. Per-day prices for RVs typically range from $100 to $450, depending on the age of the vehicle and the class. And buying an RV certainly isn’t cheap either. Prices can range from $10,000 to $300,000, depending on the size and the features. However, loans for RVs are available, so financing could be an option. Some families might see an RV purchase as an investment in future travel since it’ll be a while before most Americans feel safe on an airplane.

Remember that parking at an RV park will cost you as well, but there are ways to save at an RV park, including using the right credit cards.

Coronavirus fears and first-time RV drivers

COVID-19 worries are driving RV popularity: 53% said they want an RV to avoid flying, and 47% said they want one to avoid hotels. The low price of gas was also an important factor for 41%.

The interest in RVs will put many inexperienced drivers on the road. Thirty-eight percent of those likely to hit the roads in an RV this summer have never driven one before.

If you're one of the RV novices planning to hit the road this summer, be sure to study up on RV basics and be careful out there, folks!

Camping is another popular option this summer

While camping has always been popular among outdoor enthusiasts, COVID-19 has made it an even more attractive option, and even people who are new to camping will be setting up tents this summer. Thirty-eight percent of Americans plan to camp the same amount as last summer or more.

As a result, expect state and national parks to be crowded. Forty-seven percent of campers plan to stay at a state park, and 41% expect to camp at a national park. Not only do these parks feature idyllic camping grounds, but the entrance fees have been waived for the time being.

If you’re planning to head out camping this summer, do yourself a favor and choose an overlooked national park without the crowds.

New campers mean new equipment

You can expect to see a mix of veteran and new campers at the campgrounds this summer. Twenty-seven percent of prospective campers consider themselves “pros,” while 12% are new to camping.

They prefer glamping (54%) over roughing it (46%). If you’re an experienced camper and you catch a newbie trying to rub two sticks together, be kind and offer some advice (from six feet away).

Americans’ camping plans are going to require new equipment, and that’s good news for sporting goods retailers. Eighty-seven percent of prospective campers plan to purchase something new, including 52% who plan to buy a tent and 52% who plan to buy safety items.

Bottom line

If you do plan to hit the road this summer, make sure to stay safe. If you’re not renting an RV, you may want to look into Airbnb properties with keyless entry, which could make socially distancing easier than staying at a hotel. And be sure to use hand sanitizer after coming into contact with high-touch areas at gas stations and in public restrooms.

Gas prices are favorable right now, and you can save even more with a credit card that earns cash back on gas. You can either put that money back in your pocket or save up points for post-pandemic travel bookings. Either way, you’ll want to take advantage of the rewards that using one of the best travel credit cards can bring.

Or, if you feel safer at home this summer, hang tight. We’ll all have the opportunity to travel again in the future, and in the meantime, there are several ways to make quarantine feel like a vacation.

Summer might look different than it has in the past, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the beautiful warm weather while it lasts. Whether you get creative with your travel plans or enjoy a staycation in the comfort of your home, have a great summer!

Methodology

FinanceBuzz surveyed 1,000 U.S. adults ages 18 or older, who comprise a nationally representative sample of Americans, on June 16, 2020.

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