NEWS

Spring Break Travel Is Back, But COVID-19 Elevates the Road Trip

SUV towing a camper illustration Cars.com illustration by Paul Dolan |

Remember when we told you the COVID-19 pandemic had elevated America’s penchant for road trips? If consumers’ plans heading into spring 2021 are any indication, the road beckons big time. Spring break is back, and nearly a full year of pandemic-related curtailments have Americans itching to get out of Dodge — but mostly in their own Dodge. (Or Chevy, Ford or Toyota. Whatever’s in the driveway.)

Related: 3 Tips for Taking a Socially Distanced Road Trip During a Pandemic

For spring break in 2021, nearly 3 in 5 respondents (57%) surveyed recently by Cars.com indicated plans to travel to destinations at least 50 miles from home. That’s on par with levels before COVID-19 — 54% of the same group said they’d traveled for spring break in 2019 — and far ahead of spring break travel at the outset of the pandemic, with just 32% of the group indicating such excursions in 2020.

But if spring break is back, air travel is playing a markedly smaller role. Just 1 in 4 spring break travelers plan to fly to their destinations this year, down from 38% before the pandemic (2019) and 30% at the outset of widespread outbreaks (2020).

What’s replacing it? Cars, by and large. Seven in 10 spring break travelers indicated plans to drive to their destinations this year, up from 63% in 2020 and 57% in 2019.

That comes as health authorities caution against any sort of travel. Since early February, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has maintained explicit guidance that Americans delay travel and stay home to protect against the spread of COVID-19. Indeed, the pandemic has influenced many to do that: Of respondents who said they don’t plan to travel for spring break, 3 in 5 said the coronavirus drove that decision.

Even among the majority who still plan to travel, pandemic concerns weighed large: Over half (53%) indicated moderate or high concerns around COVID exposure during their trip, even as nearly a third of the group (29%) indicated higher comfort now that vaccinations are underway. By the CDC’s count, roughly 16% of Americans have received at least one vaccine dose as of March 1 (two of the three leading vaccines approved by U.S. regulators require two doses, spaced a few weeks apart). That’s still a long way off from so-called herd immunity needed to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic, which health officials reportedly peg at 75% vaccination.

If that seems a long way off, consumers are itching to travel sooner. Of the 1,017 total consumers surveyed by Cars.com on Feb. 26, 41% indicated plans to travel just to get away from home; one-third said they needed to see friends or family.

It goes without saying: Those who choose to travel assume higher risk of exposure to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re among them, see the CDC’s guidelines for how to do it as safely as possible.

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