Here’s Where Americans Are Vacationing This Summer — and What They’re Spending

Domestic vacations are not necessarily less expensive overall, but cutting out transoceanic flights or sailings can mean savings on transportation

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David Ramos/Getty Images

What to Know

  • Just about half of Americans are hitting the road — literally or figuratively — in the next three months.
  • The average American is budgeting anywhere from two to three weeks’ pay for summer vacation.
  • Men tend to budget more for travel, and boomers are more partial to road trips.

Going on a summer vacation this year? You’re in good company.

Almost 100 million Americans, or 4 in 10 U.S. adults, will take a family trip in 2019, according to AAA. That’s up slightly from last year. Meanwhile, financial website Bankrate.com found in a March 2019 survey of 2,577 adults that 52% are planning a summer holiday this year.

So just about half of us, more or less, are hitting the road — literally or figuratively — in the next three months. Where are we headed and how will we get there? For the most part, somewhere we can drive to, according to findings from both AAA and vacation rental management company Vacasa.

The recent Summer Travel Trends report from Portland, Oregon-based Vacasa found that most travelers surveyed are vacationing within the U.S., with 33% traveling cross-country, 28% exploring their own region and 22% staying within the borders of their home state. (Vacasa, which operates in 30 U.S. states and 16 countries, teamed with public relations firm Allison+Partners in April 2019 to survey 1,017 Americans over age 18.)

To that point, 64% overall will drive on their summer vacation, including 53% of Gen Z vacationers (about age 22 and younger) and 76% of people age 74 and older, Vacasa found. That basically jibes with AAA findings, which indicate road trips are among Americans’ top plans (53%) for summer getaways.

The top five routes this year for summertime road trips are, according to AAA member routing data: Las Vegas to national parks in Nevada, Arizona and Utah; the northern California and southern Oregon coasts; northern New England; North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway; and the Black Hills region of South Dakota.

And 6 of the top 10 most popular destinations among Vacasa customers — Kissimmee, Florida; Miami; New Orleans; Portland, Oregon; San Diego; and Seattle — are also located in the driveable “lower 48” contiguous U.S. states. (Honolulu — a flight or two away for most — joined by Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and Milan and Rome in Italy, rounded out the list.)

Vacasa also crafted a list of 10 comparable and (often) nearby alternative “hidden gems” that may be less crowded and more affordable. Examples include Bend, Oregon, instead of Portland; Davenport, Florida, in place of Kissimmee; and Savannah, Georgia, as an alternative to New Orleans.

Domestic vacations are not necessarily less expensive overall, but cutting out transoceanic flights or sailings can mean savings on transportation.

Americans are more apt to get behind the wheel at the moment thanks to relatively reasonable fuel costs. Gas prices have been dipping since early May, after rising steadily through April from January lows. Regular gasoline cost just over $2.73 a gallon on average nationwide June 13, compared to $2.87 May 15, according to Gasbuddy.com.

In fact, 19% of travelers polled by Vacasa described themselves as “super savers” — meaning price points are paramount when they’re gauging potential getaways — while 16% claimed to be “high rollers.” (Other identities cited in the survey centered around travel motivations such as “chill masters,” “thrill seekers” and “wellness warriors.”)

On average, Vacasa customers polled said they’d budget $2,778 on their summer getaways, while Bankrate.com found the average American plans to spend $1,979. As the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports average American earnings of about $905 a week (as of the first quarter of 2019), it seems people are budgeting anywhere from two to three weeks’ pay for their summer vacations. (Vacasa’s high rollers, however, are spending upwards of $6,000 on vacations in 2019.)

Women are the most cost-conscious spenders while away, Vacasa found. Fifty-three percent of women indicate cost/expense one of most important determining factors on where they’ll travel, compared to 41% of men. Men budget $2,958 for annual vacations, on average, compared to $2,410 for women.

Of course, drawing up a budget and then sticking to it are two different things. In 2018, budgeting app Mint reported that of the 2.2 million users who created a monthly travel budget with its technology, 44% spent more in the end than they’d saved for trips.

The reason most (60%) of those not traveling can’t or won’t go? They can’t afford it. They most common factors for those respondents are day-to-day bills (44%) and paying down debt (22%), Mint found.

“Travelers may undershoot their vacation budgets for a variety of reasons,” Keri Danielski, head of communications for Intuit Turbo & Mint, told CNBC in January. “More than likely, vacationers exceed their budgets by not keeping a close eye on their spending during their trip.”

Sneaky cost culprits that help blow travel budgets include airport meals, resort staff tips, rideshare fares, airline baggage charges and resort fees that people neglect to account for in advance. The latter — supposedly covering use of gyms, pools and Wi-Fi at a hotel or resort — can run about $27 per day, according to ConsumerReports.com.

Many consumers end up putting charges, whether planned or unexpected, on a credit card, NerdWallet.com has found. In March 2018, the finance website polled 1,194 U.S. parents who were planning a family summer vacation and found that people expected to put an average $1,019 on plastic. Interest charges could add $452 to that tab, the site calculated.

How best to plan and fund a budget friendly holiday at any time of the year? Bankrate.com offers these suggestions:

  • Sign up for a credit card with a generous cash-back or reward points policy. You can redeem that cash or those points for flights, hotel stays and other travel perks. Just make sure to pay your bills in full and on time to make those points you earned worth it. Consider a co-branded airline, hotel chain or auto rental company card for added value.
  • Start a vacation fund using a high-yield online savings account.
  • Scout airline and hotel deals as early as possible. Plan ahead and decide what’s most important about each vacation and destination you’re planning to visit, so you can save and budget accordingly.
  • Take a “stay-cation” instead and explore your own hometown or state. There are probably myriad attractions and activities you’ve never availed yourself of, and old favorites you’ve been meaning to revisit, within arm’s reach.
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