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2 big ways Americans’ travel habits changed during the pandemic

Oct. 11, 2021
5 min read
Unruly passengers
2 big ways Americans’ travel habits changed during the pandemic
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In the early days, pundits theorized that the coronavirus pandemic would mark the end of many things: New York City, buffets and business travel.

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As we now see, none of those things turned out to be true in the long term. Still, the travel industry has changed -- as has traveler behavior.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve noticed two major trends that point to how the pandemic has forced consumers to rethink how they vacation -- which also debunk some commonly held beliefs people have about travel during the pandemic. More importantly, these trends show that the way we travel has changed as a result of the pandemic -- and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

People are staying closer to home

One thing I expected when travel was more widely accessible this summer was that Americans would book trips to far-flung locations, simply because they could.

Don’t get me wrong: People did fly to the Maldives and take yachts to Fiji. However, more travelers are still choosing to stay closer to home. Despite the fact that many countries are open to vaccinated Americans (and some that are even open to unvaccinated travelers) some people really feel more comfortable exploring places they can drive to, or destinations they can explore during a weekend road trip.

According to a recent study from Longwoods International, 29% of Americans said they would plan travel in the U.S. instead of abroad in the next months as a result of the delta variant.

A recent survey of adults in the U.S. conducted by YouGov on behalf of TPG this summer also indicated that people — particularly those who are fully vaccinated — are less comfortable with certain activities in light of the delta variant, including taking either international or domestic flights.

Americans are staying close to home for several reasons: cost, vaccination status and not wanting to be on an airplane for long periods of time. Several TPG readers have said that with all the United States has to offer, they see no need to fly around the world to travel right now.

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“[I’m] traveling more domestically across the [U.S.],” said TPG reader Chris Miller. “Despite a love for international travel and exploring new cultures, there are a lot of hidden gems in the states that we often under-value.”

Travelers will accept rules and regulations

We’re moving closer to a world where it will be extremely difficult -- if not impossible, in some places -- to travel if you’re unvaccinated.

A handful of countries have already required vaccines to travel, including the U.S., which is requiring foreigners to show proof of vaccination to enter the country. But there are even stricter mandates, such as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement that all passengers 12 and older must be fully vaccinated if traveling by rail or air.

“If you haven’t gotten your shots yet but want to travel this winter, let’s be clear. There will only be a few extremely narrow exceptions like a valid medical condition,” Trudeau said. “For the vast vast majority of people, the rules are very simple to travel. You’ve got to be vaccinated.”

What’s interesting, aside from the actual mandate, is that there is very little wiggle room to challenge the rule. That’s the point, and Trudeau stated as much in the announcement. Canada, it appears, is dangling the privilege of air and rail travel like a carrot, hoping to snare some of those who, for whatever reason, have delayed getting vaccinated.

Earlier this summer, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio did something similar when he banned unvaccinated people from indoor dining and other activities. Daily vaccinations in New York City doubled the first day the mandate went into place, as I reported over the summer.

What that demonstrates is that most travelers are willing to follow the rules if it means they can travel and resume their favorite, daily activities.

Sure, some travelers don’t like being told what to do. Especially on vacation, travelers don’t like being told they have restrictions or are being required to comply with specific rules. We saw earlier this year harrowing stories of flight attendants and other travel professionals being subjected to violence that prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to crack down on unruly passengers. (For what it’s worth, rates of rowdy passengers aboard commercial flights have dropped by 50% since early 2021).

However, focusing solely on the bad actors doesn’t tell the entire story. That’s because people are traveling, domestically and internationally, and to do so requires a certain level of compliance. In fact, according to a survey from the Associated Press, more than half of Americans support mask mandates for travel and requiring vaccines for air travel.

Ultimately, travel is back: People are both flying again as well as staying in hotels in the U.S. and abroad. But travel habits have undoubtedly changed. As the pandemic stretches on, it's clear that many travelers still want to stay close to home and will eagerly accept more rules and regulations if it means getting back on the road.

Featured image by Bloomberg via Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.