Illinois Tourism & Travel

Crazy About Travel

Gas prices are a ‘major factor’ in summer vacation plans, poll finds

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A majority of Americans say they are likely to travel for summer vacation this year, but high prices for gas, hotels and flights are weighing on those plans, a Washington Post-Schar School poll finds.

Less of a concern for this year’s travelers: coronavirus, which fewer than 3 in 10 Americans say is a major factor in their summer vacation plans.

With inflation the highest in four decades, cost concerns dominate considerations about traveling this summer. About 6 in 10 Americans, 61 percent, say gas prices are a “major factor” in making their summer vacation plans. A 54 percent majority say hotel or lodging prices are playing a major factor in their plans, and 52 percent say the same about flight prices.

Of the 72 percent of Americans who say they will “definitely” or “probably” go away on a summer trip, more than three-quarters expect at least some of their travel to be by car. Half plan to take a flight to get to their vacation destinations, according to the survey of 1,055 adults nationwide, conducted by The Post and George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government.

According to AAA, the national average for a gallon of gas has set a record every day since May 10. On Wednesday, the national average was $4.59 — and the organization questions whether prices have “nowhere to go but up.”

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Year over year, airfare went up 33 percent in April, while lodging prices rose more than 22 percent, according to an index of travel prices compiled by the U.S. Travel Association.

For MaríaVerónica Garibay, a project manager at a virtual events company in Chicago, those increases — combined with broader inflation — means making careful decisions before and during her planned vacations to Pittsburgh in July and Palm Springs in September.

“I’ve been finding myself trying to use digital coupons,” she said.

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She will stay with a friend on her Pittsburgh trip and booked an Airbnb far in advance for a friend’s bachelorette party in Palm Springs.

“As much as we wanted to splurge, we all had to come to a middle-ground number,” she said. “Once we finally decided on a number, I think that also shifted some of the activities we had talked about.”

Garibay got a new job during the pandemic that gives her more time off and pays better, so she has more flexibility to travel now. And plenty of friends are suggesting trips.

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“I have all these options, but I’m trying to be fiscally responsible,” she said.

Now vaccinated and boosted, Garibay said that earlier in the pandemic, her fear of the coronavirus kept her from wanting to travel. She said she is uncomfortable when people don’t keep a distance in crowded places. Still, she said, she’s trying to “live my best life and stay safe and be careful when I can” while acknowledging the risks of being out and about.

“I’m just trying to live, because I felt like for two years, I wasn’t living at all,” she said.

According to data tracked by The Washington Post, coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all increasing in the United States — but far below the omicron peak from earlier this year. Experts say official tallies of infections, which leave out most home tests, are lower than the actual number. But more tools are available to protect people from severe illness and death, including vaccinations, boosters and therapeutic treatments.

The Post-Schar School poll finds about 1 in 4 Americans (26 percent) are planning to spend more days on vacation this summer compared with a usual summer before the pandemic, while a similar 27 percent plan to vacation for fewer days and 47 percent plan to vacation the same amount.

Asked about cost, 27 percent plan to spend more money on vacation this summer than usual, while a larger 35 percent plan to spend less money and 37 percent plan to spend the same amount of money.

Robert Martin, a 74-year-old retired police detective who lives in Winter Springs, Fla., said he has traveled all over the world by air, cruise and land. He even had a recreational vehicle at one point. But this year, he said, he’ll stay local.

“Due to what’s going on with the economy and whatnot, it’s easier just to stay where we’re at and use the local swimming pool,” he said.

The day before he spoke to a reporter, he said, he was looking into the possibility of traveling nearby in the next few weeks.

“It is so expensive with regards to the cost of any place to stay,” he said. “And, of course, in addition to that, you travel somewhere even if it’s close, you still have to go out for dinner and whatnot, enjoy yourself. It’s easier just to stay home, and more reasonable in price.”

As a Central Florida resident, Martin has fairly easy access to the place most people want to go to for vacation. Beaches are the most popular vacation destinations for Americans this summer, with 64 percent of vacationers saying they plan to go to the beach.

A mountain or lake is the pick for 44 percent of vacationers, while 39 percent plan to go to a city, 35 percent will visit a national or state park, 22 percent will go to a theme park and 9 percent plan to take a cruise.

Geologist Jake Jones, 25, of Tulsa, has big plans in September, when he is getting married and going on a honeymoon to St. Lucia. He said he has been watching prices for plane tickets, which he described as “ridiculous.”

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In the meantime, he said, he is planning to stay local, go fishing, play golf and grill. And, probably, minimize driving.

“Everything is just so damn expensive right now,” he said.

The most popular vacation activity, the poll finds, is essentially free: about 3 in 4 Americans say they like to relax on vacation. Three-quarters like to eat at restaurants on their trips, while 65 percent enjoy going to a beach or pool.

Nearly half of Americans say they enjoy outdoor explorations while on vacation — 49 percent say they like to visit parks or zoos and 45 percent enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, running or yoga.

About as many, 48 percent, say they enjoy going to museums, learning about culture or taking tours. Another 45 percent say they like to go shopping on vacation, while 34 percent like to visit theme parks and 32 percent attend concerts or shows.

When asked about traveling companions, most summer vacationers said they plan to travel with a spouse or partner. About 4 in 10 said they will travel with other family in their household and one-third plan to rendezvous with other family members. One-quarter plan to travel with friends, while 1 in 8 plan to travel by themselves.

The poll finds 78 percent plan to travel within the United States, while 22 percent intend to travel abroad this summer.

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Friederike Lehrbass, 57, a part-time violin teacher from Plano, Tex., hasn’t solidified her plans yet, but she hopes to take a week off to attend a religious convention in Fort Worth.

She may travel to Germany, where she is from and where her 87-year-old mother lives. But she said she would also like to repeat a short getaway that she took with her two teenagers, now 17 and 19, last year. They got an Airbnb about an hour away at a little country house with horses nearby.

“I would like to do it, but I’m not sure if we will have the finances,” she said.

This Post-Schar School poll was conducted April 21 to May 12 among a random national sample of 1,055 adults who were contacted by mail through a random sample of U.S. households and completed the survey online or by mailing back a questionnaire. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus four percentage points for overall results; results among summer vacationers have a five-point error margin.