One “hot” season of summer road trips

Looking out the front windshield of a car at cliffs along the road.

It will be busy on the roads and in the air this summer. By all accounts, 2023 was an exceedingly busy travel year; regardless of frequent flight delays and rising prices, Americans made vacations a priority. Now, 2024 is poised to continue the travel trend.

Insights from a recent AAA Travel study, a reputable source in the travel industry, indicate a peak travel season. The data reveals that approximately 44 million vacationers in the United States traveled out of town over the Memorial Day weekend, historically known as the unofficial start of summer.

The same study projects a substantial increase in travel budgets, with nearly half of Americans planning to spend more on travel in 2024. Over Memorial Day weekend alone, an estimated 38.4 million people will be hitting the road, marking the highest number for that holiday since AAA began tracking in 2000. As Paula Twidale, Senior Vice President of AAA Travel, confirms, “We haven’t seen Memorial Day weekend travel numbers like these in almost 20 years.”

The traffic volume with kickoff-to-summer road trips certainly hints at what travelers can expect for the upcoming three months. Overall, it’s looking like this summer will be a travel season to remember, especially following the Covid-stricken summers of 2020 and 2021. Looking ahead, AAA further defined some trends for this year, including:

  • Bucket lists: Travelers taking once-in-a-lifetime trips
  • Milestones: Families booking anniversary, retirement and family reunion trips
  • Asia: More travelers interested in visiting Asia, especially Japan
  • Solo trips: More people, especially women, are interested in traveling by themselves
  • Luxury vacations: More travelers seeking high-end cruises and tours
  • Trains: Many travelers interested in rail vacations across New England, Canada and Europe
  • Adventure in nature: Travelers booking trips to Antarctica, Africa and the South Pacific

We’re not just excited about our own travel plans but are curious about what our Santander colleagues have in store. To learn more, we surveyed our colleagues who plan to travel this year. Here are the key insights we’ve gathered.

The times they are a-changin’
Our survey respondents are being more cautious with their spending this summer roughly due to inflated prices for gas, groceries, insurance, clothing, furniture and other priority expenses.

“It feels like all prices are climbing,” said one colleague. “I feel it at the pump, in the grocery store, even at Buc-ee’s travel centers! I think we are more flexible on where we travel. We are more likely to go if we see a good deal.”

When asked about upcoming travel arrangements, another respondent said, “I see gas prices fluctuate, so depending on price, that impacts spontaneity. Prices have gone up on everything, so I’m cutting back on expenses by cooking at home more and splurging a little when I go out. Inflation has made me more mindful of price checking and probably decreased some spontaneous road trips.”

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Destination and distance
While a three-hour trip out of town for a long weekend can serve as a great way to recharge and take in some new sights, many of the people we spoke with had plans to put some serious miles on their vehicles. “We will be traveling approximately 1,200 miles across several states,” one respondent said. “We decided driving was not only more convenient with a child, it will save us money and allow us more freedom to travel and make memories.”

With the size of Texas covering more than 260,000 square miles, several of our Texas-residing colleagues have plans to explore the Lone Star State by car this summer, including Austin, Houston, San Antonio and the surrounding coastal areas.

Travelers aren’t in denial over rising prices, as seen from the number of respondents budgeting extra in 2024. “It will save money to drive instead of fly,” one colleague explained. “Plus, it will probably take the same amount of time because we won’t have to worry about getting to the airport early, going through security and dealing with potential flight delays. It will also allow us an opportunity to make pitstops for kolaches and see Texas bluebonnets (our state flower) on the way!”

The AAA travel study closely matched what we heard from our colleagues regarding destinations, with Florida and California landing at the top of both lists. Other U.S. spots on AAA’s list include Seattle, WA; New York, NY; Denver, CO; Anchorage, AK; and Boston, MA.

One colleague we spoke with lives two and a half hours away from Orlando, Florida, and considers the legendary Walt Disney World a mandatory summer destination for the kids. “We drive because of convenience. We are only a few hours away, so driving is much faster. We can take a train, but it is very expensive, and traveling with kids on a train would be much harder. We can take as much stuff as possible in our van!”

While the automobile was generally preferred for trips around eight hours or less, with longer trips, flying still seems to be the transportation of choice, as described by an employee who “will be traveling to California, Austin and Houston this summer—California by plane and Austin and Houston by car.”

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High maintenance
In terms of car maintenance before hitting the highway, our respondents say it’s important to keep their vehicles well-maintained year-round and in top shape for the trip ahead, especially during the hotter months. Nothing is less relaxing than having your vehicle break down while on vacation!

Proper maintenance includes performing oil changes and tire rotations, confirming that windshield wipers are in good working condition, and fluid levels are full. As one of our colleagues smartly prepares, “I always do a tire rotation, oil change and a 21-point inspection before I start my travel season.”

That said, inflation is also affecting maintenance, as motorists fine-tune their vehicles before trips. “I will be spending more on car maintenance, gas and insurance this summer – everything has gone up!” said one respondent. “I am also currently ‘in the market’ for a new vehicle and estimating my insurance to increase between $150-$200 more monthly.”

Emergency roadside kit
In addition to maintenance before you hit the road, it’s important to be ready for any situation while you’re out cruising the country. Generally, it’s good to have an emergency roadside kit packed in case you hit a bump in the road and need assistance.

​If your car does break down on the road, have some basic tools on hand, such as wrenches, a flashlight with batteries, a blanket, a phone charger, a first aid kit, booster cables and flares or reflectors so you’re prepared for any situation. Having hand sanitizer, pre-moistened wipes and a trash bag in the vehicle is also beneficial to keep the inside clean.

Image of Cadillac cars in a row buried nose first and painted with multi-color spray paint.
Cadillac Ranch along historic Route 66 near Amarillo, Texas.

Don’t forget the snacks
Gotta admit, one of our favorite (and mandatory!) things about road-tripping is the snacks to keep you fueled on long car rides. Our survey respondents agree. In addition to water and a cup of hot or iced coffee, the top travel treats are chips, crackers, nuts, dried fruit, gummy candy and an all-inclusive trail mix.

Of course, every family member also tends to have their favorites. “The kids love Cheez-Its, Yogis and Bamba!” says one associate about their preferences. “Mom loves salt and vinegar chips and starts each road trip with an iced coffee … thank goodness for Dunkin’ being right next to the turnpike ramp!”

Another colleague describes their snack scene as, “A big cup of hot coffee, a big water bottle and a selection of salty and sweet snacks such as mixed nuts, dried fruit, pretzels, chips and of course chocolate in one form or another.”

When it comes to travel eating, “anything goes on the road. Calories don’t count when driving, so a good crunchy snack is fun.”

Ready. Set. Drive.
In summary, inflation continues to impact households, yet the appeal to reconnect with loved ones and experience a change of scenery outweighs price increases. Travel trends show no slowdown in 2024.

The open road is yours, and we hope you travel safely and enjoy all the sights! If you’re looking for a vehicle to help you navigate daily life and travel, visit Drive® and start going places.

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