“Nearly 43 million Americans will start their summers on a high note with a Memorial Day weekend getaway,” the American Automobile Association reported a year ago. This year?
For the first time in 20 years, AAA will not issue a Memorial Day travel forecast, as the accuracy of the economic data used to create the forecast has been undermined by COVID-19. The annual forecast – which estimates the number of people traveling over the holiday weekend – will return next year.
But don’t count out America’s highwaymen and women quite yet. AAA continued:
Already, there are indications that Americans’ wanderlust is inspiring them to plan future vacations. AAA online bookings have been rising, though modestly, since mid-April, suggesting travelers’ confidence is slowly improving. When it is safe to travel, AAA predicts vacationers will have a preference for U.S destinations, mostly local and regional locations, and the great American road trip.
Paula Twidale of AAA added:
The saying goes that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Americans are taking that first step toward their next journey from the comfort of their home by researching vacation opportunities and talking with travel agents. We are seeing that Americans are showing a preference and inspiration to explore all that our country has to offer as soon as it is safe to travel.
While less than one-third of Americans plan to drive long distances this summer, down from 44 percent a year ago, GasBuddy noted “a surge in [planned] last-minute, shorter road trips in the second half of summer as people continue to assess the situation.”
While car travel is down, sales and rentals of recreational vehicles (RVs) have jumped. “RV fever” was explained by one dealer: “It allows you to control your environment and that’s really important on the other side of this pandemic to be able to control when and how you interact with people.
More than a half million RVs were sold last year, tripling 2008’s nadir. Motor homes involve 40 million Americans, led by the 35-54 age demographic. Millennials, too, are taking to open-road living, with 15 million already owning an RV.
Overall, more than 11 percent of U.S. households own an RV, served by more than 16,000 campgrounds that have opened up for the summer. California and Texas, along with RV Capital Indiana, are the biggest motor-home states.
RV rentals have surged for the Memorial Day weekend. “With states beginning to reopen following the nationwide shutdown,” reported Kristin Finan in the Austin American-Statesman, “some people are viewing RV travel, which makes it relatively easy to avoid crowds and incorporate social distancing, as an alternative to booking flights and staying in hotels.”
RVshare reports that its bookings have doubled since the week of April 22. In addition, according to an RVshare survey, while 75% of customers do not plan to travel within the next four weeks, 77% are looking to make travel plans within the next three months. Of those who plan to travel, 65% want to be in nature, and nearly all responders said they will avoid any destinations with crowds.
Back-to-nature is experienced environmentalism made possible by petroleum-based transportation and asphalt roads.
Envision the Open Road
The Green New Deal is institutional; the current Pandemic is temporary. The joy of automobility—hitting the open road—will not be held back much longer.
The spirit of traveling Americana was captured by Walt Whitman, whose “Song of the Open Road” reads in part:
Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.
America’s comeback is underway. Discount the speculation that the Pandemic is the arrival of Peak Oil Demand. Just the opposite; with mass transit on trial, and drivers at the ready, expect gasoline and diesel demand to set new records in the years ahead.