The winter holiday season is usually a time of family, fun and tradition for Americans. But COVID-19 put a damper on 2020, and holiday celebrations were no exception. Millions of people suspended vacation plans throughout the year as the virus upended travel. The winter season brought a new, frightening surge of coronavirus cases and caused areas to tighten restrictions even further.
Even without legal mandates to halt traveling, many people were hesitant to potentially expose their family members to the virus. As a result, more people stayed put than ever this past year. One study conducted by the American Hotel and Lodging Association found 72% of Americans stated they were unlikely to travel for Thanksgiving, and 69% were unlikely to travel for Christmas. According to TSA checkpoint data, while millions of travelers passed through U.S. airports in the final weeks of 2020, total throughout was more than 50% lower than in 2019.
Included in those staying home was Dave Mantey of St. Joseph, who opted to do family Zoom calls rather than travel.
“We would normally be making our yearly voyage down to Texas to visit my parents and brothers and sisters. That didn’t feel right this year,” he said.
A family of travelers, the Mantey family loves to go to national parks and amusement places like Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington and Castles N’ Coasters in Phoenix, Arizona, when they visit relatives.
“We love to head out on the road and visit family. So 2020 was particularly tough,” Mantey said.
While St. Joseph didn’t land on the list of “Cities that travel the furthest for the holidays,” Mantey said he knows a lot of families in the area just like his.
“Oh, we’re out there. We’re probably just too busy being on the road to factor into the survey or whatever it is,” he said.
Late spring through summer always has been a popular time for travel. Between summer break for schools, good weather and lighter workloads, many people decide to leave home for relaxation and adventure, flocking to airports, campgrounds and RV parks.
Once fall sets in, and school gets back in session, traveling typically calms down to its lowest levels. However, holidays have long been the exception to the rule. Long-distance trips usually spike around any non-summer holiday. During the 2019 Christmas-New Years holiday, long distance trips — those greater than 250 miles — rose by 16.7% compared to the two weeks prior.
The newest COVID-19 travel guidelines have had a larger impact on some areas than others. While traveling during the summer months is typically spread across most areas, winter holiday travel is most common for those who live in warmer states.
To see which areas were most affected by COVID-19 travel restrictions, researchers at Outdoorsy performed an analysis to see which large metro areas travel the farthest for the winter holidays during a typical year. Researchers used data from the U.S. Department of Transportation Statistics Trips by Distance to calculate the percentage change in trips over 250 miles during 12/20/19 to 1/2/20 with the two weeks prior. Researchers also calculated the number of long-distance trips taken per capita in each of these two-week periods. To ensure that the analysis is as relevant as possible, only areas with at least 100,000 residents were included.
News-Press NOW reporter Andrew Gaug contributed to this story.