While AAA expects at least 34 million fewer travelers compared to last year’s holiday season, as many as 84.5 million Americans may still travel from Dec. 23 through Jan. 3, a decline of at least 29%. It will mark the first decline in year-end holiday travel since 2008, breaking a streak of 11 straight years of travel volume growth, and the lowest travel volume since 2002.
Public health concerns and travel guidance are influencing personal decisions not to travel over the year-end holidays, a period that typically sees high demand for vacations. The CDC urges Americans not to travel for the holidays this year.
Most Americans who decide to travel will do so by car, with road trips accounting for 96% of holiday travel. Up to 81 million Americans will travel by car, a decline of at least 25% compared to last year. Auto travel is expected to replace some trips previously taken by bus, train, or airplane, given the flexibility, security, and comfort traveling by car provides.
Many holiday travelers are continuing to take a wait-and-see approach to their travel decisions. With COVID‑19 cases steadily increasing this month, the expected continued rise will likely prompt some Americans to make last minute decisions to not follow through with upcoming travel plans, which was the trend during the lead up to Thanksgiving.
Based on mid-October travel forecast models, AAA expected up to 50 million people would travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, which would have been a decline of 10 percent from 2019. While final Thanksgiving travel numbers are not yet available, AAA expects the decline to be closer to 15 to 20 percent, as the CDC and state and local authorities advised against holiday travel.