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Travel Searches Plunged 64%, but These U.S. Travel Destinations Remain the Most Popular During Lockdown

Key takeaways:

  • Searches for all popular U.S. travel destinations were down 64% in March and April 2020 compared to the same time last year.
  • Searches for some locations were less affected than others. Check out the U.S. destinationssmall towns, beaches, and natural areas that held their popularity.

Besides “wash your hands”, no other words have been engraved in our brains over these past few weeks more so than “stay at home”. These words have put a dent in our daily routines and invaded every corner of our lives, including our vacation plans and what we consider as top U.S. travel destinations. As such, traveling during the pandemic has been brought to a halt. 

We asked 15,000 rentcafe.com visitors how COVID-19 impacted their travel plans and an optimistic 42% said they are still considering traveling during the pandemic. So, we turned to Google to see where Americans dream of escaping to at this time. Travel-related searches for over 200 popular U.S. travel destinations dropped by 64% in March and April combined, compared to the same period last year. Declines in interest ranged from 25% for the shores of Outer Banks, NC, to 78% for Brooklyn, NY. 

Given the overall plunge in searches for places to visit during the pandemic, wwondered what are the most resilient destinations that saw the smallest drops in travel-related searches compared to one year prior.

Top U.S. Travel Destinations Holding Strong during the Pandemic

top u.s. travel destinations during lockdown

People crave small-town comfort and nature vacations

It’s no surprise that online searches for traveling during the pandemic have dropped considerably. It is a surprise, however, to find out which U.S. travel destinations remained desirable in these tough times.

North Carolina’s barrier islands, known as the Outer Banks, are the most popular — or at least saw the smallest decrease (-25%) in Google searches among all popular destinations analyzed. And, because nothing says big, open spaces like the mountains or Alaska, Yellowstone is a second favorite alongside Fairbanks, AK, both with 36% fewer searches compared to last spring.  

Meanwhile, crowded popular spots like Miami, Orlando, Las Vegas, or Chicago are replaced by the likes of Honolulu, HI, Anchorage, AKAmarillo, TX, alongside a wide array of small towns and natural areas. Simply put, big, crowded cities are out, small-town comfort and big, open spaces are in as the top places to visit during the pandemic.

With Aspen’s best winter activities, and Honolulu’s most beautiful beaches, the two charming opposites share third place based on their online popularity during the lockdown, as searches for both are down by 40%.

However, the true stars are the 6 charming towns that managed to maintain their popularity in travel searches. Away from the hectic pace of big cities, places like Nantucket, MA, Moab, UT, Cheyenne, WI, or Taos, NM, are here to remind us that there’s just something about small towns that still makes us dream during isolation.

U.S. Travel Destinations: Nothing beats small-town charm when you need a breather

traveling during pandemic

Small-town America remains as alluring as ever. Whether it’s the desire to escape crowded cities or find quiet comfort, towns and smaller cities shine as the top U.S. travel destinations that have maintained their popularity during these times.

Despite the drop in travel-related searches for Fairbanks, the Northern Lights still call to us in this fascinating Alaskan city. The gateway to breathtaking Canyonlands, Arches, and Dead Horse Point, it’s easy to see why Moab, UT retains its online popularity, much like Cheyenne, WY. In fact, Wyoming’s state capital has a few aces up its sleeve, especially if you’re looking for family-friendly activities or getting in touch with your inner cowboy. 

Next in line according to the smallest decrease in online searches is history-heavy Taos, NM. It’s followed by the charming Eureka Springs, AR, a town full of Victorian architecture that’s a natural choice for anyone in search of healing through nature or art.

Nothing new under the U.S. sun: Hawaii beaches maintain their online appeal

covid vacation ideas

It’s safe to say our summer plans will look different than what we envisioned at the beginning of the year. Although we Google search sunny getaways 60% less than one year ago, nothing feels more liberating than dreaming of sandy beaches for our future trip as we sit in our homes.

And while searches for the Outer Banks might have dropped a bit compared to last year, the East Coast destination still earned the well-deserved title of the most popular post-pandemic beach destination during lockdown. Nantucket, MA — with so much to offer beyond its lighthouses — cemented its status as one of the best day trip destinations in the Northeast.

Hawaii is home to 5 out of 10 idyllic beaches just waiting for us once we go back to normal. The lockdown hasn’t diminished the appeal of Kauai, Maui, Hilo, and the fascinating Oahu. Likewise, The Florida Keys still engage our imagination despite them being understandably less looked-up compared to last spring.

For New Englanders, the timeless Martha’s Vineyard, MA is still a favorite. In the Pacific Northwest, the same goes for Seaside, OR, a somewhat hidden gem that caters to seafood- and beer-loving tourists who know how to enjoy traveling on a budget. 

A special shout-out goes to Myrtle Beach, SC, which was one of the most popular U.S. travel destinations both last year (204,070 online searches) and this year (70,540). The tourist-favorite beach didn’t make the cut once we took into account the sharp drops in searches.

Natural parks are evergreen in our hearts while homebound web visitors eye Colorado

u.s. travel destinations during covid

It’s only natural to crave a change of scenery at this point — the greener and further away from concrete walls, the better. While online searches for nature spots dropped 58% compared to last year, some green U.S. travel destinations just don’t go out of style.

It comes as no surprise that Yellowstone made the cut as an all-time favorite natural attraction. Not to be outdone, Aspen, CO still holds a special place in the hearts of winter sports and nature lovers. Two other Colorado wonders of the Rockies — Breckenridge and Vail ski resorts — made the list.  

You might expect the top contenders to include places like weekend getaway darlings Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN, or the everlasting bucket-list entry Niagara Falls, NY. But, it looks like tourists have their minds set on other locations these days.

Whether you’ll feel the need of a brisk hike in Montana’s Bozeman, a leisurely stroll in the scenic Glacier National Park after too much sitting at home,  or simply want to take in the beauty of Ruidoso, NM, the list of still-popular nature destinations offers plenty of places to visit during the pandemic. All you have to do is point a finger on the map and start planning your escape — once we have the green light, of course.

Amid travel cancelations, there are those who still dream of sticking to their plans

To get a clearer picture of the status of America’s vacation plans, a survey conducted on rentcafe.com with over 15,000 respondents revealed that, at the time the pandemic started, 22% had out-of-state vacation plans. Since then, 40% of them have canceled, yet there are still 42% who would like to travel, even if at a later date, while 18% haven’t decided what to do yet.

The survey responses also show that city trips and travel abroad fell among preferences — from first and second choices before the pandemic, to fourth and sixth spots for traveling during the pandemic, in favor of beach getaways and road trips. 

Check out the survey highlights below:


Methodology:

RentCafe is a nationwide apartment search website that enables renters to easily find apartments and houses for rent throughout the United States.

The keyword research was based on a list of 12 keyword combinations related to 960 popular U.S. travel destinations compiled from Google Travel recommendations. Online search volumes represent historic metrics from the Keyword Planner. For differences in online interest, we compared March-April 2019 to March- April 2020.

The Top 20 destinations with the lowest decrease in interest were selected from locations that amassed more than 5,000 average monthly searches in the past year. Population data has been sourced from the U.S. Census bureau. The small cities and towns, beaches, and natural areas on our list have a population of under 60,000 inhabitants, mid-size cities have 60,000 to 200,000 inhabitants and large cities have above 200,000. Searches “before and during lockdown” in the tables represent Google search volumes for March and April 2019 compared to the same time period in 2020.

The survey data was collected through an online questionnaire posted on our website between April 30 and May 4, among a total number of 15,262 U.S. respondents. 

For customized data and other requests, please contact us at media@rentcafe.com.

Fair use and redistribution

We encourage you and freely grant you permission to reuse, host, or repost the images in this article. When doing so, we only ask that you kindly attribute the authors by linking to RentCafe.com or this page, so that your readers can learn more about this project, the research behind it and its methodology.

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Alexandra Ciuntu
Alexandra is a creative writer and researcher for RentCafe. With a background in e-learning content writing and a passion for knowledge-sharing platforms, she's covered topics from prop-tech to renters insurance to interior design tips. Very familiar with the renter lifestyle herself, Alexandra enjoys researching and writing about renter demographic shifts and residential real estate market trends as much as she loves writing about how to get along with roommates. You can connect with Alexandra via email. Alexandra’s work includes collaborations with financial and business publications. Her articles have been featured in several national and international online publications, including the New York Times, Barrons, Inman, Forbes, Architectural Digest, Marketwatch, Bisnow, and Curbed. Her educational background includes a B.A. in Japanese and English and an M.A. in Journalism and Cultural Studies.

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