Pandemic Sparks New Holiday Travel Traditions

Pandemic Sparks New Holiday Travel Traditions

45% plan to drop off surprise presents on loved ones’ doorsteps
A virtual holiday celebration

With large in-person family gatherings discouraged this holiday season, many Americans are getting creative as they balance safety concerns with connecting with their loved ones.

While nearly two-thirds of consumers — 63% — still plan to see at least some of their extended family this holiday season, more than half — 59% — said there are loved ones they expect to see only virtually, according to new research by lodging operator Motel 6.

Whether they travel or stay put, consumers are making adjustments to deal with the ongoing health crisis.

Holiday rituals updated for the pandemic

For many, the year 2020 has ushered in a new normal. That will hold true for the holidays, the survey found, with respondents coming up with different ways to celebrate. This includes:

  • Dropping surprise presents off on the doorsteps of loved ones (45%)
  • Connecting with extended family members via video during meals (43%)
  • Designating a day during which all family members will disconnect from their devices (40%)

Additionally, an earlier survey found that this holiday season has already seen an increased interest in gift cards, likely as a way to avoid safety concerns and easily deliver gifts to family members near and far.

In a further signal this holiday season will look different than it usually does, another survey found that more than a third of workers plan to take less paid time off this year since they won’t be traveling for the holidays. Among those who will be traveling, many will be using a different mode of transportation than usual, according to the Motel 6 survey. In fact, 76% of respondents said they are more likely to drive than fly to visit loved ones this year compared to years past.

On top of that, more than a third of respondents — 35% — said they are more likely to stay in a hotel or motel this year than they were on previous holidays. When asked why they would do so:

  • 50% said a hotel or motel would ensure personal privacy
  • 44% said their family does not have enough space to house them
  • 43% said it would be easier for family members to practice social distancing

Some of those staying in a hotel or motel also have safety top of mind, as 46% said they would prefer a room with a direct entrance from outside rather than having to enter into a hotel lobby.

Pandemic may bring new stressors this holiday season

Arguably, the holidays can be stressful in a good year. This year, the pandemic may heighten the stress that consumers experience.

In fact, the survey found that nearly 2 in 3 holiday travelers — 65% — said they believe travel will be more stressful than previous years. Additionally, 36% of respondents expressed being “very concerned” about travel restrictions leading them to have to change their plans.

Despite the extra hoops that consumers may have to jump through this holiday season, 81% of respondents said the stress they experience while traveling for the holidays this year is worth it if they can see their families.

Methodology: Motel 6 commissioned market research firm SWNS Media Group to survey 2,000 adults who plan to visit family during the holidays. The survey took place from Oct. 23-28, 2020, and it has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer who covers personal finance, entrepreneurship and careers.