The travel experience is unique for most of us. From a 30-mile casual trip in the family minivan to a first-class venture across the country in five-star accommodations, we each have our own idea of travel nirvana. To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, travel isn’t just about the destination — the journey may be just as, if not, more important.

Varying priorities combined with different needs, financial situations and limited time for a vacation can all affect how destinations are selected and how our journeys differ by generation and locale.

Acocrding to LearnVest, the average American spends roughly 10 percent of his or her annual earnings on travel, with others doling out much more. Many people are voyaging beyond the confines of their towns, cities and states for both work and play as travel becomes more affordable and travel options present themselves, says National Geographic. But aside from capturing the perfect travel selfie or tasting a cuisine you simply can’t find in your home town, what really motivates travelers? Where do they truly want to go and how do they decide on their trips?

Our survey of more than 4,200 Americans reveals fascinating facts behind modern-day travelers’ behaviors, including what influences their choice of destination and what options they consider when paying for their excursions.

Favorite States and Cities

Booking and Travel Preferences

The Social and Work Aspects of Travel

Travel Obstacles

Favorite States and Cities

When it came to selecting a favorite, two states were preferred by the vast majority of vacationing Americans. California and Hawaii, in that order, were top of the list when respondents were asked which state they most wanted to visit. Travel-related spending in California was $132.4 billion in 2017 — equating to roughly $525 spent per visitor annually to the state. This includes Hawaiians, who, despite their breathtaking archipelago, also wanted to see the Golden State.

But older Americans were more partial to the middle of the Pacific – both Baby Boomers and Generation X respondents selecting Hawaii as their top state. Baby Boomers ranked Alaska as their second choice.

When whole states were removed from the equation, and Americans had to choose a top city to visit, New York City rose to the top spot, garnishing double the votes of the runner-up, Seattle, Washington — New York City was also preferred across all generations surveyed.

Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco rounded out the top five spots overall among Americans, but the generations had slightly varying opinions on preferred locales.

Stateside travelers also seemed to select city culture over rural areas, as all of the favored cities selected are heavily populated and all rank in the top 50 most populous areas in the U.S.

Booking and Travel Preferences

Before you start packing for your next trip, decisions about how to book, where to find the best deals and how you’ll get there should be made. With a plethora of online travel sites and even more options on deals and means of transportation, selecting the right trip might seem a bit daunting. The good news is that you rarely have to look further than your laptop.

According to recent data from corporate payment provider Wex, 72 percent of consumers were more concerned with ease of booking than other factors — and 86 percent of travelers consulted online travel sources before booking.

Our survey also showed a strong interest in digital “flash sales”, online sales offered for a limited time, such as a Groupon, Living Social, Travelzoo or similar discount package. More than 92 percent of millennials looked at flash sales, and nearly 70 percent booked travel this way. The vast majority of all surveyed seemed to monitor flash sales, and more than half of Gen Xers and Gen Zers booked this way — baby boomers were the least likely to book a flash sale.

Travel Rewards

Another interesting discovery was that only 41.7 percent of Americans used credit cards with travel rewards when booking. Despite the potential for rewards, cash back or travel perks, less than half of the generations studied, and less than 38 percent of Gen Zers, booked with travel-focused cards.

It’s important to note that some cards not only offer unlimited, flexible travel rewards but also can provide some levels of travel protection, which could save you big in case something goes wrong.

A good travel card can also act as a type of “travel savings” if you let points accrue until reaching a certain level. You may build points until your airfare is paid for, thus alleviating some monetary stress for your next getaway.

Modes of Transportation

When it comes to the preferred means of travel, all generations seem perfectly happy jumping in their own vehicle when it was a realistic option. Baby boomers loved traveling in their personal car or truck the most, rating it an eight out of 10 for enjoyment — Gen Z travelers were the least excited about their vehicles but still ranked the road trip a 7 out of 10.

Airplane travel held an edge over trains for most Americans, but baby boomers seemed to be happy with either. No generation seemed excited about getting on a bus. Rankings for bus travel averaged 2.7 out of 10.

What Perks Are Worth to Consumers

Talk to someone about the golden age of flying during the 1950s and ’60s, and even into the ’80s, and you might hear how glamorous and fun it was — everything from full beds to free wine and spirits for all.

While it’s true that flying may have lost some if it’s perks, like real silverware and gourmet meals, planes are now faster, quieter, safer and more efficient than ever before. Seat prices, on average, are also less expensive compared to just 10 or 20 years ago. But most airlines still provide luxury experience options and the ability to pay for the extras each individual traveler cares about most.

Knowing this, we asked consumers what extras they were willing to splurge on and how much they were willing to pay.

Since vacation time is often limited, it would be logical to think that most would rather relax at their hotel than 30,000 feet up in the sky or trudge through an airport trying to make a connection. Nearly 78 percent of respondents were willing to spend close to $70 more for direct flights.

Most Americans were prepared to spend a little more than $27 for transportation to the airport, while $14.40 seemed a fair extra for airport parking.

Almost 66 percent would pay to check a bag, and the expected checked baggage fee was in line with the industry average of $25. Keep in mind that checking more than one bag can get expensive, with fees into the $100 range when checking in more than two. Southwest is the only American carrier to offer two free checked bags.

The Social and Work Aspects of Travel

Staying Connected

Telecommuting is becoming more popular in the U.S. Nearly 4 million Americans work remotely (usually from home) at least half of the time, and 70 percent work away from the office at least once a week. Experts predict that one-third of all full-time employees will go remote over the next 10 years.

With work flexibility and accountability on the rise, our survey explored how travelers “plugged in” when on vacation. Nearly 57 percent of American workers checked their emails while on vacation, with nearly each generation engaged in this behavior equally.

With a majority willing to at least partially engage with work while on vacation, only a small contingent thought it reflected poorly to utilize all their annual paid time off.

On the flip side, 30 percent of Gen Zers would nix a vacation if there were no internet and cellphone service available. Baby boomers were also surprisingly less willing to ditch communication, as more than a quarter of consumers surveyed wouldn’t take a “disconnected” break from their day to day.

The other side? More than 1 in 10 millennials were surveyed admitted to going somewhere specifically because they thought it would make for good pictures on social media.

Travel Obstacles

Traveling the world carte blanche might seem like a dream come true to some, but according to job site Ladders, 53 percent of Americans opt for a “staycation.” If you’re not familiar, the term refers to any vacation spent close to home, usually within the same town or city. Staycations can be less expensive and easier to plan — and since roughly 82 percent of Americans blamed a lack of money for not vacationing more, the alternative makes sense.

Free time and available days off from work were also to blame for a lack of vacations, with pet logistics coming in as the No. 4 reason respondents didn’t take more time away.

Whatever your future travel plans are, there are lessons we can learn from our peers. Whether it’s checking out flash sales for the best deals, researching internet quality at a location or handling work-related issues while away, hopefully, we’ve helped you better prepare for your next vacation.

When it comes to planning and booking your next vacation, using a rewards card like Discover it® can work to your advantage in ways you might not realize. Discover it® not only offers complete flexibility and no blackout dates when booking but also you can earn 1.5X miles for every dollar spent.

Discover it® also offers a 14-month, 0 percent intro APR[i] for new cardmembers and Discover Match®[ii], a unique benefit that matches all the miles you’ve earned in your first year.1 Discover it® is a great way to jump-start your travel savings and make sure your vacation is everything you want it to be.


Methodology: To compile the data shown above, we surveyed 4,281 Americans via SurveyMonkey about their traveling behaviors and preferences. Our respondent pool came from Reddit, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and Facebook users. Each respondent was weighted using, age, gender and state populations to more accurately reflect the American population. The data rely on self-reported data, some of which asked about previous spending and traveling behavior. We removed outliers at our discretion so as not to unfairly sway averages.

[i] Intro purchase APR is 0% for 14 months from date of account opening; then the standard purchase APR applies. Intro Balance Transfer APR is 10.99% for 14 months from date of first transfer, for transfers under this offer that post to your account by June 10, 2019; then the standard purchase APR applies. Standard purchase APR: 14.24% variable to 25.24% variable, based on your creditworthiness. Cash APR: 27.24% variable. Variable APRs will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Minimum interest charge: If you are charged interest, the charge will be no less than $.50. Cash advance fee: Either $10 or 5% of the amount of each cash advance, whichever is greater. Balance transfer fee: 3% of the amount of each transfer. Annual Fee: None. Rates as of February 28, 2019. We will apply payments at our discretion, including in a manner most favorable or convenient for us. Each billing period, we will generally apply amounts you pay that exceed the Minimum Payment Due to balances with higher APRs before balances with lower APRs as of the date we credit your payment.

[ii] Discover Match®: No purchase minimums. After the first 12 consecutive billing periods that your new account is open, we will match all the Miles you’ve earned and apply them to your account in the following one or two billing periods. If your account is closed or no longer in the Miles reward program at the time we calculate your potential award, your Miles will not be matched. You’ve earned Miles rewards when they have posted to your account by the end of the 12th consecutive billing period. This promotional offer may not be offered in the future. This exclusive offer is available only to new cardmembers.

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