Planes, hotels and automobiles: How Americans are traveling during the pandemic

Sep 23, 2020

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It’s been more than six months since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, and the new coronavirus remains a very real threat. Still, travelers are finding ways to get out and explore — even if it’s in radically different ways than they did in a pre-COVID world.

Unsurprisingly, 40% of adults in the U.S. are comfortable taking a driving vacation and visiting a national park or a similar scenic area right now, according to a new poll. Only 19% of people surveyed, however, would feel comfortable on a plane.

But, the survey highlights how Americans are continuing to hit the road and take to the skies — all with safety in mind.

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Planes, trains and hotel stays

Initially, we heard reports that the solitude of a private home rental was preferable to that of a crowded hotel with elevators, escalators and bustling lobbies. Apparently, that’s not the case anymore.

According to the results of an exclusive poll conducted by Ipsos on behalf of TPG, 31% of travelers said they’d be comfortable staying at a hotel right now — slightly more than the 22% of travelers who said they’d bed down at a vacation rental property (say, a home booked through Airbnb or VRBO).

And though automobiles are clearly the preferred method of transportation right now, travelers are almost equally comfortable with the idea of both air travel and a train trip.

For travelers who aren’t ready to travel just yet — but would take these types of trips under different circumstances — many (between 16% and 22%) said it would take a vaccine or treatment to make them feel comfortable with the idea of a theme park vacation, flight, train ride, hotel stay or vacation rental.

This underscores the incredible shift toward road trips and outdoor getaways in recent months. And for a portion of the population, nothing short of immunity or a viable treatment will get them back to riskier forms of travel.

The findings of this poll, which surveyed over 1,100 adults 18 and older from all 50 U.S. states between Sept. 14 to 15, suggest traveler sentiment has been shaped by past experiences. According to the survey, 39% of travelers have already stayed at a hotel since April. If the experience was positive, it would explain why consumer confidence is rebounding faster with hotels than vacation rentals. Far fewer travelers have traveled to theme parks or taken a train ride (17% and 10%, respectively), which could account for the lower confidence travelers have expressed with these types of trips.

And roughly a quarter of travelers also said vacation rentals (26%) and train trips (25%) weren’t trips they’d normally take — so it makes sense they wouldn’t be particularly eager to try them during a pandemic. 

Related: Nearly a third of the country is ready to travel this summer — a TPG special report

Ultimately, the findings are consistent with what travelers said back in May, when TPG issued a report on how the global health crisis was influencing traveler opinion. Even then, with the pandemic still in its relative infancy, travelers felt more comfortable at hotels and resorts than at home rentals (28% versus 19%) and preferred domestic flights to trains or public transportation (20% versus 13%).

Staying safe while traveling

Whether you’re flying to a hotel or driving to a vacation rental this year or next, travelers should still remember there are important safety measures you can and should take — regardless of the type of trip — to minimize your risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

Experts continue to urge travelers to be mindful of how small (or large) and well-ventilated a space is; the duration of your exposure to others; and how much you’re interacting with high-touch surfaces. And, of course, you want to steer clear of crowds.

Related: TPG’s safe travel guide: How to minimize risk on your summer vacation

That’s why road trips to wide-open spaces such as parklands continue to be some of the most popular forms of vacationing during the pandemic. And though hoteliers have gone to great lengths to keep their properties safe and clean (think: the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, which has an on-site doctor and complimentary COVID-19 tests) vacation rentals typically have a much lower volume of travelers than hotels.

No matter what your next trip looks like, you’ll want to be sure to pack a mask and possibly a face shield; be prepared with hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes; have a back-up plan in case your plane, train or park is overcrowded; and, no matter where you are, be mindful of staying at least six feet away from others.

Featured photo by jtrend/Twenty20.

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