Travelers Took Fewer Thanksgiving Road Trips in 2020

Drivers reduced total vehicle journeys by 35%, index shows
Photograph: Shutterstock

NEW YORK U.S. travelers threw their Thanksgiving road-trip plans in reverse in 2020, defying predictions for one of the busiest travel occasions of the year and largely heeding the advice of public health experts who warned Americans to refrain from traveling during the holiday against the backdrop of a surge in coronavirus cases and deaths.


Photograph courtesy of Arrivalist.

Road-trip travel over the Thanksgiving holiday was down 35% from last year, according to travel data company Arrivalist and its Daily Travel Index. The results are a departure from previous holidays earlier this year—such as Fourth of July and Labor Day—when road-trip activity rivaled or exceeded the same period in the previous year. Road-trip activity observed over Thanksgiving made it the least traveled major holiday of the year, with less activity than observed over Memorial Day.

“Travel by private car—generally regarded as one of the safest and most available means of leisure travel during the pandemic—had begun establishing itself as a leading indicator of travel’s rebound,” said Arrivalist CEO Cree Lawson. “That appears to have taken a back seat to people’s desire to protect themselves and each other from a surge of COVID-19 cases.”

The data was compiled from road trips of 50 miles or more initiated on Wednesday, Nov. 25 or Thursday, Nov. 26, compared to the Wednesday preceding and Thursday of Thanksgiving last year. Road trips of less than 50 miles and travel completed by plane are not included in the calculations.

Those who did travel over the holiday were more likely to stay overnight (69.3%) than in 2019 when 68.2% of those who departed on Wednesday or Thursday stayed overnight. Trips observed in 2020 were also shorter with trips of 50 to 100 miles represented 46.1% of trips, up from 44.8% the year before.

“The pandemic trends are clearly not going to allow a broad reopening of travel nearly as soon as we hoped,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow. “It’s heartening to see Americans making decisions to keep safe, but the situation is exceptionally painful for travel businesses and workers, who are going to need substantial federal assistance in order to survive until a recovery can begin."

The Daily Travel Index was designed as a free online resource available on Arrivalist’s website to provide the travel industry with insights to help plot its path to recovery during the pandemic. Site visitors can view trends in travel year-over-year by origin market and by mileage bands. Additionally, a customized Daily Travel Index is available to clients, which allows them to compare activity in their market to a nationwide index.

Arrivalist’s methodology is based on a representative balanced panel of GPS signals representing road trips taken specifically in cars (excluding travel by air). A trip is measured as one where the user has traveled a minimum of 50 miles and spent a minimum of two hours at the destination. Commuter travel or other frequently repeated trips—cargo deliveries or other reoccurring activities—are excluded from the Daily Travel Index.

New York-based Arrivalist is a location intelligence platform in the travel industry. The company uses multiple location data sets to provide insights on consumer behavior, competitive share, media effectiveness and market trends.

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a CSP member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


Looking Up: Limited-Time Offers on the Rise

These deals continue to grow in all mealparts, Technomic reports show

Company News

Knowing Growing: QuikTrip Flexes in 2023

C-store chain celebrates 1,000th opening, opens 13th medical clinic, more


Get Creative in Foodservice to Thrive in 2024, Technomic Says

Report: Operators must lean into tech, menu and service innovation, take advantage of existing ingredients and resources


More from our partners