Despite sharp declines in total travel since the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans have been taking significantly more long-distance road trips than in previous years.
COVID-19 took hold during the warmer months and peak travel periods for many Americans, contributing to a more than 30 percent decline in total travel since 2019, according to recently released government data. However, while social distancing measures and remote work have led to a decrease in short-distance trips and a massive 70 percent decline in air travel, the number of miles logged on long-distance road trips has risen dramatically above last year’s numbers.
On average, during the first two weeks of August last year, about 2.5 million people passed through U.S. airports per day. This year, that number was about 700,000. On the other hand, in the first two weeks of August this year, Americans recorded nearly 12 million long-distance (100-500 mile) road trips per day compared to 8.6 million in 2019—a 37.6 percent increase. Such a shift in travel behavior may serve as an example of the “new normal” when it comes to how Americans will travel to more distant destinations.
At the state level, residents from the Mountain West and Southeast have recorded the greatest increases in long-distance road trips compared to 2019.
Specifically, travelers from the states of Colorado, North Carolina, and South Carolina have logged the largest increase in long-distance road trips. Conversely, travelers from the Northeast, where initial rates of COVID-19 cases were the highest, have shown the largest declines in long-distance road trips.
To identify the metropolitan areas that have reported the greatest increases in long-distance road trips, researchers at seoClarity analyzed data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, calculating the percentage change in the number of 100-500-mile road trips between the first two weeks of August 2020 and the first two weeks of August 2019. The researchers also calculated the average daily number of long-distance trips taken during both time periods, as well as the percentage change in all travel.
For this report, only metropolitan areas with populations of 100,000 or more residents were included. To improve relevance, metros were classified into three cohorts: large (1,000,000 or more), midsize (350,000–999,999), and small (less than 350,000).
As with state-level trends, the largest increases in long-distance road trips have occurred in the Southeastern and Mountain West regions of the U.S., with metros in states such as North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Colorado, and New Mexico leading the way. More frequent long-distance travel by metro residents of Mountain West states may be attributed to lower COVID-19 infection rates in these states. In the case of Southeastern states, where infection rates are higher, residents may feel more inclined to travel due to less restrictive social distancing policies and stay-at-home orders.
The analysis found that in the Asheville / Western North Carolina metro area, total travel has decreased by 31.3% percent since last year. Nevertheless, long distance road trips have increased by 93.0% over the same time period. Here is a summary of the data for the Asheville, NC metro area:
Percentage change in long-distance road trips from 2019: 93.0%
Average daily long-distance road trips 2020: 16,325
Average daily long-distance road trips 2019: 8,456
Percentage change in all travel from 2019: -31.3%
For reference, here are the statistics for the entire United States:
Percentage change in long-distance road trips from 2019: 37.6%
Average daily long-distance road trips 2020: 11,961,849
Average daily long-distance road trips 2019: 8,690,433
Percentage change in all travel from 2019: -32.7%
For more information, a detailed methodology, and complete results, you can find the original report on seoClarity’s website: https://www.seoclarity.net/blog/road-trip-research.
Written by Lattice Publishing.