Here’s yet another sign that people are eager to return to the pre-pandemic normal: Nearly three-quarters of Americans report they’ve made summer travel plans this year, according to a recent ValuePenguin survey of 1,050 U.S. consumers — a huge increase from 53% in 2021. Travelers are also planning to spend more but take fewer trips.
"People have likely been saving up to take major bucket list trips or are now ready to take trips they had planned before the pandemic," says Sophia Mendel, ValuePenguin credit cards and travel rewards expert.
But although inflation is preventing some people from traveling, fewer who have trips planned say they’ll take on debt to pay for them. Read about summer 2022’s travel trends, including the most popular vacation types, demographic differences and more.
- Key findings
- Travel heats up this summer, though some are staying put as inflation looms
- Travelers will increase vacation spending, but fewer will take on debt
- How consumers will spend their summer vacations
- More than half of summer travelers are returning to a favorite vacation destination
- Remote work continues during summer vacations
- 5 summer travel tips
- More Americans plan to travel this year, spending more money but taking fewer trips. Almost three-quarters of consumers (73%) have summer travel plans, a significant jump from 53% last year. Travelers plan to spend about $2,700 this summer (up $300 from 2021), but they’ll take an average of two trips instead of the three they planned last year.
- High costs are keeping others from vacationing. Among those who aren’t traveling this summer, 57% say it’s because they can’t afford to do so, up from 43% who said the same last summer. The pandemic is still playing a role, too, with 35% citing it as their reason for staying put.
- The good news: Despite inflation, fewer summer travelers will take on debt. Last summer, 48% thought they might add travel debt, but that dropped to 29% this year. This suggests consumers have saved up, are taking financial precautions (like going on fewer trips) or opting for budget-friendly alternatives.
- Summer road trips remain popular, while confidence in flying has increased from last year. Although 15% of travelers have changed their mode of transportation due to high gas prices, 79% of people are planning to drive to at least one of their vacation destinations. Air travel accounted for 45%, which increased by 5 percentage points compared to 2021.
- About 1 in 4 travelers will work remotely on their vacation to avoid using up vacation days, including more than a third of millennials. At the same time, 24% of workers won’t use any paid time off this summer, an even more common occurrence among Gen Zers (34%).
Travel heats up this summer, though some are staying put as inflation looms
Most Americans are looking forward to summer vacation this year, with nearly three-quarters (73%) reporting they have trips planned — it’s a pandemic high and a 20-percentage-point increase from last year. This includes 84% of parents with small children and 82% of millennials (ages 26 to 41).
However, inflation is putting a wrench in things: More than half of respondents (60%) report that rising costs have forced them to adjust their plans. As a result, 16% say they had to cut back on their number of travel days, while 15% say they changed their mode of transportation due to gas prices. Parents with kids younger than 18 report being affected the most, with 68% saying inflation influenced their planning decisions.
In addition, 30% of consumers say they’re taking fewer trips because of increased costs. While travelers skipped town an average of three times last year, that number dropped to just two this year.
According to Mendel, Americans may feel more comfortable taking trips now because traveling is less daunting than during the first two years of the pandemic.
"For the past couple of years, people were more reluctant to fly and navigate COVID-19 restrictions in various destinations," she explains. "But now as the transportation mask mandate has been dropped and many countries are relaxing their entry restrictions, the world is becoming accessible again."
Of course, not everyone is up for travel. Affordability is the primary reason why 57% of non-traveling respondents say they’re not going on a trip this summer. Broken down into age groups, Gen Zers ages 18 to 25 (72%) and Gen Xers 42 to 56 (65%) were even more likely to report they couldn’t afford a getaway this year.
"Travel prices, as well as the general cost of living, are up, so it makes sense that this could seriously impact people’s ability to afford trips this summer," Mendel says.
Plus, we’re not out of the pandemic: Lingering worries around COVID-19 was the next biggest reason (cited by 35% of respondents) people aren’t vacationing this summer. This includes 4 in 10 baby boomers, the oldest cohort (ages 57 to 76) featured.
Travelers will increase vacation spending, but fewer will take on debt
Despite taking fewer trips, summer travelers will spend about $2,700 on their vacations this year, up $300 from 2021. High-income earners ($100,000 or higher) are spending nearly double that — close to $5,400.
"Travelers are finally planning to splurge on a couple of major trips they’ve been unable to take during the pandemic and are putting their money toward making the most of those bucket list trips," Mendel says.
In a spot of good news, the percentage of summer travelers who say they expect to take on debt to fund their vacation went down to 29% for 2022 from 47% who said the same in last year’s survey. The percentage was even lower for older travelers (22% of Gen Xers and 21% of baby boomers).
"I think savings are playing a big part in the fact that fewer people will be taking on debt for their vacations this year," says Mendel. Because so many people scaled back from major trips over the past couple of years, it’s possible they’ve saved up funds to finally take one this year, she explains.
When asked how they’ll fund their vacations, 56% of travelers say they’re paying with a credit card, while 20% will cash in travel rewards points and miles. Since the majority of people also report they don’t expect to carry any debt, it’s likely consumers are using their cards to earn rewards before paying off their balances in full.
How consumers will spend their summer vacations
Road trips top the list of vacation plans, with 79% of travelers planning to drive to their destination. Close to half (45%) of respondents say they’ll fly to a destination, up from 40% who said the same last year. (This is despite 15% of travelers reporting they changed their mode of transportation due to high gas prices.)
Hotels and resorts remain the most popular (65%) lodging choices, followed by staying with family (36%) and vacation rentals (22%). Gen Zers are the most likely to stay with family or friends, while vacation rentals are most popular among millennials. Gen Xers are willing to go a bit more rugged — they have the highest percentage among the generations answering campgrounds and RV parks.
Finally, though the vast majority of travelers are staying stateside this summer, 20% are getting their passports stamped for an international trip, with 28% of Gen Zers leading the way.
More than half of summer travelers are returning to a favorite vacation destination
While the majority of travelers (55%) are sticking to locations they’ve visited before, some intrepid consumers say they’ve booked their trips solely based on recommendations from family and friends (27%). More than 3 in 10 (31%) respondents say they’ve planned their trip around visiting friends and loved ones, while 27% of Gen Zers, the youngest cohort, say they took their travel cues from social media influencers and travel bloggers.
Overall, most people made DIY travel bookings, with only 15% using a travel agent. Perhaps unsurprisingly, parents with young children topped the list of those who sought professional travel assistance (20%).
Remote work continues during summer vacations
Nearly a quarter (24%) of people plan to work remotely during some of their travels to avoid taking vacation days. Men are more likely to do so than women (31% versus 17%, respectively), while millennials (34%) take the top spot among the generations. In addition, nearly 1 in 4 respondents who have employer-provided paid time off say they won’t be using their PTO at all this summer.
Mendel worries that the working vacation trend might backfire for some individuals.
"Remote working is still a relatively new concept," she says. "I think after the summer is over and people have tried out working during vacation, they may find themselves seriously disappointed they didn’t take a proper, non-working vacation while the weather was nice."
5 summer travel tips
If you’re planning to get away this summer, these strategies can help you save money and enjoy yourself:
- Cash in travel rewards. If you have miles on an airline credit card or hotel card points, redeem them ASAP. "With inflation, more travel rewards programs could devalue their points, so you’ll want to use what you have as soon as possible to ensure the best value," Mendel says. If you’re in the market for a new travel card, look for one with the best sign-up bonuses. Then, book your trip on the new card to help meet the spending requirement.
- Fuel your road trip spending with gas credit cards. As gas prices continue to soar, one way to help offset the cost of road trips is to pay with a card that offers bonus points or cash back for gas spending. "You’ll earn rewards every time you use your card to fill up," Mendel says. "These rewards can be extremely valuable when put toward the cost of a road trip."
- Keep watch for COVID-related rules … yes, still. Even though many places have relaxed restrictions, if you’re going abroad this summer, make sure to check the COVID-19 requirements at your destination and for returning to the U.S. "Rules and restrictions are constantly changing, so you’ll want to know what you need (and don’t need) before heading out on your trip," Mendel says. If you're planning to pack a rapid COVID-19 test with you to take before you reenter the U.S., make sure that test type is acceptable.
- Put fun on your working trip itinerary. If you’re planning to work remotely during a vacation this year, set clear boundaries for working hours, Mendel suggests. "Turn off your work notifications on your phone if possible when you’re not working to really unplug and maximize your vacation time."
- Be a travel deal detective. As travel prices continue to climb, do your research, track prices and be ready to book at a moment’s notice so you won’t let a great deal pass you by, says Mendel — she recommends tools like Scott’s Cheap Flights and Google Flights for tracking airline prices.
ValuePenguin commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,050 U.S. consumers, fielded April 15-20, 2022. The survey was administered using a nonprobability-based sample, and quotas were used to ensure the sample base represented the overall population. All responses were reviewed by researchers for quality control.
We defined generations as the following ages in 2022:
- Generation Z: 18 to 25
- Millennial: 26 to 41
- Generation X: 42 to 56
- Baby boomer: 57 to 76
While the survey also included consumers from the silent generation (those 77 and older), the sample size was too small to include findings related to that group in the generational breakdowns.