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Due to the ongoing global pandemic, the 2021 holiday season is going to look a little different.
One of the biggest changes will be travel. With the explosion of COVID-19 variants over the past year, travel remains risky, and many people will likely be cancelling their winter break vacation plans—or shift them from air-based to car-based travel.
That being said, many people are still planning to go through with their vacations.
Vacation rental site Evolve asked over 5,000 travelers whether they were taking the Delta variant into account when planning their winter vacations. A total of 32% of travelers are not considering the risk of the Delta variant at all, and 46.5% of those who are don’t intend to cancel their travel plans because of the variant (or at least not until “much closer to the trip dates,” according to Evolve).
So before planning your holiday road trip, it’s important to know how travel is changing, as well as which are the busiest travel days for Thanksgiving and Christmas 2021.
This year, holiday travel will be different—and will mean more driving
Though air travel has certainly rebounded from its 2020 all-time-low, it remains far below pre-pandemic levels. Matt Clarke, VP of marketing at travel agency Kayak, told Travel and Leisure, “When compared to 2019…both international and domestic flight searches are down, 52% and 43%, respectively.”
Clarke added that he suspects many Americans are waiting to book their trips closer to the holiday season. “The trend for last-minute bookings is strong,” he said.
This means that domestic travel, and especially road trips and other car-based travel, is on the rise this holiday season. “The demand for car rentals in the U.S. this holiday season is already up 229% compared to 2019 and up 244% compared to 2020,” said Clarke.
He proposed that this may be “an indicator that we could experience another car rental shortage this holiday season as we’re seeing an increase in those searching further in advance than years prior.”
So, if you were planning to take a road trip this holiday season, you may want to book fast—or consider an alternative to a car rental.
This trend can be further seen in the spike in short-term rentals. According to the Los Angeles Times, short-term rentals during the Thanksgiving season have skyrocketed this year, up 302% from 2020 and 93% from 2019.
Busiest days to travel for Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving travel is looking a bit different this year. In 2019 and 2020, the most popular day for Thanksgiving travel was the Wednesday before the holiday, and the following Sunday was the most popular return date, according to Travel and Leisure.
Not so this year. The busiest day to travel during Thanksgiving 2021 is Monday, Nov.15, followed by the Wednesday preceding Thanksgiving.
Travel and Leisure speculates that the difference is due to Americans becoming more accustomed to remote work, which allows them to loosen, and even extend, their travel plans.
Busiest days to travel for Christmas
Typically, the busiest day to travel before Christmas is Dec. 23, with the Sunday following Christmas being the most common travel day after the Christmas season.
In 2021, this is changing. This year, the busiest day to travel before Christmas is expected to be Dec. 22, and the busiest day to travel after Christmas is Dec. 28 (a Tuesday, rather than a Sunday). Again, Travel and Leisure speculates that this shift is due to flexible remote work policies that allow travelers more leeway in terms of return dates.