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Why Americans will be 'winging' their vacations this summer

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While more people identified as “planners,” 72% said the pandemic has shifted their current travel habits, so flying by the seat of one’s pants may be the summer vacation mode de rigueur.


Four in 10 Americans will be “totally winging it” when it comes to their vacations this summer. That’s according to a poll of 2,000 Americans who were asked if they consider themselves a planner, or a “pantser” - someone who flies by the seat of their pants to fill in the details along the way.

While more people identified as “planners,” 72% said the pandemic has shifted their current travel habits, so flying by the seat of one’s pants may be the summer vacation mode de rigueur.

Among the 64% who identified as planners, two in five (40%) said not being able to travel as often during the past year has “converted” them to a looser approach to travel.

With this style of travel increasing, and various guidelines in place to protect against COVID-19, Americans’ summer trips may look very different this year - for both “planners” and “pantsers.”

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of TravelCenters of America, the survey delved into the ways in which these two types of vacationers are traveling in the coming months.

When it comes to their summer trips, “planners” were also likely to say they’re already planning to take more trips in 2021 than in 2019 and 2020 combined (60% vs. 45%).

But planning doesn’t always mean a perfect trip - and planners were slightly more likely to report having a vacation that was a “total disaster.”

Even then, they’re not letting it get them down: while respondents may not be able to create a plan for happiness, self-identified “planners” are more optimistic about the future.

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of planners are optimists - compared to 65% of “pantsers” who are able to see the bright side.

“We are excited to welcome back the many families who are choosing to take road trips and vacations this summer after a long pause due to the pandemic,” said Sue Smolenski, vice president, marketing, TravelCenters of America, operator of the TA, Petro Stopping Center and TA Express travel centers. “Whether travelers have a plan in advance or prefer to make it up as they go along, the variety of restaurants, snacks and beverages at our locations offer something to please everyone in the family.”  

Respondents agreed that driving is their preferred mode of travel (59%) - with “pantsers” slightly more likely to say so, perhaps because of the flexibility driving can offer.

Surprisingly, both groups said their preferred approach to road trips is to make a few stops along the way, but not so much that it significantly increases travel time.

For “pantsers,” that was followed by preferring to stop whenever and wherever their curiosity is piqued, as they think the fun of a road trip is being able to take pit stops. On the other hand, planners were more likely to say they prefer stopping only when it is absolutely essential to do so.

While driving, one in five said they’re “very likely” to even have their rest area and travel center stops planned out in advance - with planners, unsurprisingly, most likely to do so (23% vs. 12%).

When respondents are choosing where to stop, restaurant options (42%), safety (41%) and cleanliness (33%) were found to be the top three factors in that decision.

“Safety and cleanliness are more important than ever before to travelers, and we take pride in ensuring our locations are clean, welcoming and offer a sense of comfort as our teams continue to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines,” Smolenski continued. “And while the pandemic caused many Americans to change their behaviors, we too are refreshing who we are. Travelers can see new products and food options this summer, and we are looking forward to transforming the look and feel of our sites in the near future. Whether ‘planner’ or ‘pantser,’ all have a home away from home at TravelCenters of America, with our sincere commitment to returning every traveler to the road better than they came.”

Americans’ Ideal Trips

  • Beach vacations
  • Cross-country road trips
  • All-inclusive resorts
  • Camping trips
  • International getaways
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