The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for travel and tourism businesses. The leisure and hospitality and travel and transportation industries have consistently been reported among the sectors hardest-hit by the effects of the coronavirus. Between shifting public health restrictions, travelers’ concerns about the spread of the virus, and ongoing challenges filling jobs, it has been difficult for businesses in these fields to return to full capacity and stay there. According to the U.S. Travel Association, major metrics like travel spending and hotel bookings only approached pre-pandemic levels this past December—nearly two years after the pandemic first reached the U.S.
Despite this, some forms of travel have remained resilient and even grown in popularity as a result of COVID-19. Among these are road trips, defined here as trips between 100 and 500 miles made in a personal vehicle. During the pandemic, road trippers have found that they can still take vacations while avoiding other concerns like greater potential exposure to the virus or the high volume of flight cancellations due to the Omicron surge at the end of 2021.
In 2019, the number of long-distance road trips averaged around 60 million per week, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. During the last two years, however, that figure exceeded 72 million per week on average. In 2020, interest in road trips appeared to be heavily impacted by the pandemic: weekly long distance trips dropped below 2019 levels during initial lockdowns before eventually climbing upwards and topping 100 million per week again in mid-August as restrictions were rolled back. Last year, travelers sustained a greater number of road trips, with the number of trips each week exceeding the corresponding week from 2019 in all but 12 weeks. And interestingly, road trips in 2021 showed less of the seasonal swings of previous years, hovering around 75 million trips per week for most of the year.
But like other aspects of the pandemic, the road trip trend has played out differently in different parts of the country. Eleven states have actually seen a decline in road trips from 2019 to 2021, led by Northeastern states like New Hampshire (-39.6%), Vermont (-33.2%), and Connecticut (-31.8%). In contrast, the biggest jumps have been in Southern states like Arkansas (+70.2%), Louisiana (62.6%), and North Carolina (54.6%). And at the metro level, most of the top cities where people are taking more road trips are also found in Southern states. These regional differences may be in part due to differences in government policy or guidance on the pandemic. States and localities in the Northeast have been more likely to maintain travel restrictions, vaccine mandates, or other policies that could deter travel, while Southern states have been more permissive in encouraging travel.
The data used in this analysis is from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. To determine the locations with the most people taking road trips compared to pre-pandemic levels, researchers at Outdoorsy calculated the change in 100–500 mile trips from 2019 to 2021. In the event of a tie, the location with the greater total number of long-distance trips in 2021 was ranked higher.
The analysis found a 15.6% decline in long-distance road trips in Utah from 2019 to 2021. Utah is one of just 11 U.S. states to have experienced a decline in road trips. Here is a summary of the data for Utah:
- Change in long-distance road trips (2019–2021): -15.6%
- Total long-distance road trips (2021): 50,929,311
- Total long-distance road trips (2019): 60,325,647
For reference, here are the statistics for the entire United States:
- Change in long-distance road trips (2019–2021): +20.9%
- Total long-distance road trips (2021): 3,810,300,104
- Total long-distance road trips (2019): 3,152,338,169
For more information, a detailed methodology, and complete results, you can find the original report on Outdoorsy’s website: https://www.outdoorsy.com/blog/top-road-trip-cities