With the pandemic sparking a host of safety concerns and economic challenges, nearly three-fourths of Americans decided against taking a vacation this summer. Some even risked burnout by working through the summer without taking paid time off.
- 72% of Americans did not take a summer vacation this year. Of those who did travel this summer, 71% opted for a road trip rather than flying.
- 44% of working Americans did not use any of their paid time off this summer, and an additional 22% took less time off than normal. When asked why, 16% expressed concern they could be at risk of furloughs or layoffs, and 13% felt guilty asking for time off since they're working from home.
- A third of consumers had to put off a milestone trip such as an anniversary or graduation celebration. That's especially true for parents of children under 18, of whom 50% were forced to table a celebratory trip.
- 60% of Gen Z and 49% of millennials fought with family or friends over COVID-related summer travel disagreements, primarily over whether or not to reschedule an event and their decision to travel or attend an event.
Coronavirus pandemic put summer travel off the table for most
For many Americans, a summer vacation is a yearly ritual that provides an opportunity to get away, relax and unwind. However, this year, the vast majority of Americans — 72% — did not take a summer vacation at all.
With surging COVID-19 infections across the country for much of the summer, some consumers likely deemed travel an unnecessary risk in their bid to avoid the coronavirus and stay healthy. Others may have hesitated to spend money on travel because of furloughs, layoffs and job insecurity sparked by the pandemic. Indeed, some consumers even closed their travel credit cards during the pandemic.
However, some still made it a priority to get away, or plan to do so before 2020 is up.
Younger Americans were most likely to take a trip, perhaps because they are less likely than older Americans to have severe complications resulting from COVID-19.
In fact, 39% of Generation Z respondents took a vacation this summer, followed by 37% of Generation X and 36% of millennials. Among baby boomers, only 13% took a summer vacation, as did 9% of the silent generation.
Men were more willing to give a summer vacation a go, as more than a third of them — 37% — took a vacation, compared to 20% of women.
"Women tend to be more cautious than men in many ways, so I'm not surprised they might be more reluctant to go on vacation," said Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst at LendingTree, the parent company of ValuePenguin. On top of that, women may have less vacation time to take in the first place and may bear more household responsibilities in the pandemic than men, Schulz added.
Those with more money were more likely to travel: 52% of those with household incomes of $100,000 or more went on vacation this summer, compared to 36% of those who earn between $75,000 and $99,000. Only 15% of those with household incomes of less than $25,000 took a summer vacation.
Even when consumers decided to travel, many played it safe. Only 13% flew to their destination, perhaps because they perceived flying as putting them more at risk of contracting COVID-19. Instead, 71% took a road trip and 17% took a train.
Some people have already written 2020 off and are looking ahead to 2021. Nearly a third — 32% — said they are planning a big vacation next summer. Using travel credit cards now could help you build up a reserve of points to cash in for an extravagant summer trip in 2021.
Employees took less paid time off this summer
Not only did many Americans stay home this summer, but many worked throughout the entire season. Nearly half of working Americans who have paid time off — 44% — did not use any of it this summer, and an additional 22% took fewer days off than usual. Women were particularly likely to power through their work over the summer: 56% didn't use paid time off, as compared to 36% of men.
While the largest percentage of employees who didn't take paid time off this summer — 36% — said they didn't bother because they had nowhere to travel to, some avoided taking time off because they felt insecure about their jobs.
In fact, 16% said they were worried taking off could put them at risk of furloughs or layoffs, and another 13% said they felt guilty taking time off since they were working from home.
However, failing to take a break can set you up for burnout.
"While the location of your work may have changed, your need for a break from that work hasn't," Schulz noted. "If anything, it has probably multiplied because of all of the stresses of the pandemic."
Indeed, tech giant Google announced in May that it was giving all employees a day off to prevent burnout from working from home during the pandemic.
"Americans have always prided ourselves on our blue-collar work ethic," Schulz said. "Working hard is great, but the truth is that Americans simply don't take enough time off of work and it is not good for us. For our physical and mental health, we need breaks and this survey shows that we're clearly not taking enough of them. If you are one of those who is leaving a lot of vacation time unused, ask yourself what you can do to change that."
From fewer weddings to more staycations, most agree summer 2020 was vastly different than years prior
Regardless of whether consumers took a vacation — or even a day off of work — most respondents agreed that the summer of 2020 was not your average season of leisure.
More than half of respondents — 52% — went on fewer trips, while 36% said they spent less money than usual on travel. With social distancing guidelines limiting the number of people who could attend events, 21% of respondents went to fewer special events, such as weddings and graduations.
However, some types of vacations became more popular in the age of COVID-19.
Nearly a third of consumers — 31% — decided to take a summer staycation. Staycations were particularly popular with parents, as 49% of parents with kids under 18 took one this year. In addition, 6% of respondents took more short weekend getaways than usual.
"Short road trips, done right, can be every bit as relaxing and rejuvenating as an international trip," said Schulz. "Yes, that trip might require a little more research than it would have a year ago, and you still need to take steps to keep socially distant and responsible, but it can still be a great time."
There are a number of benefits of taking a staycation:
- You can make it affordable. Since you're staying in your local area, you can save money on housing and transportation costs. You might even use your rewards from cash back credit cards to go toward the costs of your short trip.
- They can be easy to plan. With a staycation, you don't have to research a location you know nothing about. You may also be able to get suggestions for things to do from your local tourism board or people in your community.
- Taking a staycation can help boost your local economy. Spending dollars locally helps your community during the pandemic.
Disagreements and disappointments: Canceled plans create tension for some
The summer's decrease in events has also caused some relationship tension. Among respondents, 60% of Gen Z and 49% of millennials fought with family or friends over how to handle summer travel in light of the pandemic.
While younger consumers were most likely to have travel-related squabbles, 38% of all respondents said they disagreed with someone about travel plans this summer.
While the most common cause of a squabble (14%) was whether to reschedule an event, 4% had a disagreement with a family member or friend because that person did not travel to a special event, such as a baby shower or a wedding.
In addition, a third of consumers had to delay a milestone trip, such as a graduation celebration or a honeymoon. Among parents of children under 18, 50% had to cancel a celebratory trip.
With so much uncertainty sparked by the pandemic, consumers should be understanding when dealing with any plans, Schulz said: "The reality is that plans are going to change often, so people should be flexible and thoughtful and should over-communicate about them."
How to relax and recharge during this new normal
While rest and relaxation are always important, with the stressors of the pandemic, they may be even more critical. Here are some ways you can make time for self-care during this new normal:
- Take a staycation and visit some local sites you've never visited before
- Go hiking in a local park
- Take a mental health day from work, even if you simply stay home and binge watch your favorite television show
"People owe it to themselves in these enormously stressful times to carve out some time for themselves to decompress," said Schulz. "Maybe that means a short afternoon outing to a nearby park rather than a flight to Maui, but it still needs to be done."
ValuePenguin commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,105 Americans, with the sample base proportioned to represent the overall population. The survey was fielded Aug. 13-17, 2020.
Generations are defined as the following ages in 2020:
- Gen Z ages 18 to 23
- Millennials ages 24 to 39
- Gen X ages 40 to 54
- Baby boomers ages 55 to 74
- Silent generation ages 75 and older