Sara Jensen was hoping to get to Germany to visit family this August, her first trip there since 2019, but she nixed the international excursion as flight prices climbed.
Also off the list this summer is a trip from Sacramento to the Midwest to visit friends. As average gas prices hover under $6 per gallon in California, a few other road trips might be on the chopping block, too.
“Two of the trips we planned we won’t be doing,” Jensen said. “We were talking about doing a road trip with our kids, and I don’t even know that it’s going to be cost-effective.”
After the delta variant cooled off “hot vax summer” last year and the omicron surge put holiday travel on ice, many Americans were clinging to the idea of returning to a normal vacation season - or what’s known as “revenge travel.” Instead, pent-up demand for travel, high gas prices and inflation has created the perfect storm.
That has led many travelers to reassess their itineraries, whether it means canceling that overseas trip (again) or trading it for more modest domestic tours.
Michelle Shainess, who runs the outdoor travel blog Almost There Adventures, anticipated going abroad again this summer. When she looked at flights to Europe from her home in Minneapolis, they ranged from $1,000 to $1,500 each, an untenable price for her family of five. Now the Shainesses are trading their European vacation for domestic flights and road trips to national parks. To save on gas, they will rent hybrid cars using the peer-to-peer rental car app Turo.
This summer, the family is mapping out visits to several parks in Washington state, including Olympic, Mount Rainier, North Cascades and San Juan Island. The parks lend themselves to trips that can be done in a more economical way, Shainess said.
“It’s more coming back to values and really trying to value time away with family,” she said. “We’re just trying to look at the situation and travel in any way possible. So with covid, it was road trips only, no flying. Now it’s more fly and drive, but how can we do that in a cost-effective way?”
Much of that calculus relies on cutting back on accommodations. For Shainess, that means mixing Airbnb stays with a few nights of glamping. Depending on the location and amenities, she has found glamping stays ranging between $150 to $200 per night. That can be a significant savings compared with Airbnb, where she must factor in fees as well.
Travel prices have increased across the board. Flights were up nearly 13% in February compared with the same time the previous year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and costs are expected to keep rising. Accommodation prices have risen too, with hotel rates up almost 40% from last March and home rentals up by 13% from February 2021.
Labor shortages are also part of the problem. Hotels have less staff and less inventory, which translates to higher prices for consumers, according to Peter Vlitas, executive vice president of partner relations at Internova Travel Group. Beachfront hotels in destinations such as Miami and Fort Lauderdale have doubled in price, he said.
“I don’t want to use the word profiteering, but [for] two years, certain suppliers didn’t have any income,” he said. “Now that there’s pent-up demand, they’re taking advantage of the situation and trying to get top dollar.”
Among the travelers hit the hardest by inflation are the procrastinators, Vlitas said.
That includes Justin Sims, an insurance adjuster in Birmingham, Ala., who is used to booking international flights 48 hours before his trip because of his unpredictable schedule. A few months ago, he saw a flight to Jordan at $600; now they are $1,100, he said. He’s assessing a trip there this summer, or maybe to Rome, but if prices don’t come down, he will stick to the Caribbean. Meanwhile, his other dream destinations may linger in the distant future.
“The Maldives and Dubai have the highest prices. It’s kind of like, ‘Ooh, I’ll wait,’ " Sims said with a sigh and a laugh. “Definitely a waiting-type situation.”
For Jensen, a single mother whose daughter is on a competitive cheer team, the travel for those extracurriculars this spring ate into the summer budget. Soaring gas prices meant that the cost of driving from Sacramento to Los Angeles, which Jensen said normally costs around $200 round trip, doubled. That makes their summer road trip all the less likely, especially as Jensen said the hotels she looked at in Utah and Arizona shot up by $100 or $150 per night.
“As a single parent, you’re going from saving for something to saving for the next thing,” she said, noting that she often doesn’t have the luxury of finding travel deals months ahead. “We’re paying for things more last minute than families who have a lot of cushion, so we’re paying higher prices anyway.”
Rising prices haven’t deterred stand-up comedian and avid adventurer Amber Klear, who is hitting the road now more than ever.
“If anything, I’m traveling more because I think our current circumstances in life are just making people realize that life is short,” said Klear, who says she has a different perspective on life since surviving a blood clot in her brain a decade ago. “People that I’ve talked to and even me, we’ve been holding back the last few years. And even comedy shows are growing exponentially and [I’m] finding that people are just going out more. They’re going farther. They’re not skipping their vacations.”
Klear, who is based in O’Fallon, Ill., said she is traveling to more remote places because she enjoys the juxtaposition of performing at crowded shows and being alone outdoors. She used to set up hikes around her comedy gigs, but now she creates a spreadsheet with her wish list of hikes first before setting up her tour. An August trip to Mammoth Cave National Park will include shows in Bowling Green, Ky., while an exploration of Stephen’s Gap will stop by Huntsville, Ala.
In the past, Klear often found hotel deals the day before she arrived. With the price of accommodations increasing, she said she is more likely to stay at a campsite or sleep in her Jeep.
“I almost pulled the trigger on buying a pull-behind camper,” she said, “but with gas prices, I’m like, I don’t really need a sink.”
In addition to traveling for shows, Klear also books comedians from across the country for a resort in southern Illinois. Tickets normally cost between $10 and $20, but she has raised them to $15 to $45 to account for comedians’ travel costs. One up-and-coming comedian from Los Angeles canceled since he can no longer afford the flight, she said. And in a Seinfeld-ian twist, some comedians are getting in cars together to split the cost.
“They’re carpooling a lot more, and it’s really funny,” Klear said. “I think that their material is growing because of it.”
Although gas prices have shocked many Americans, the price at the pump gives no anxiety to dual Tesla owners Bridgette and David Kelch. The St. Louis couple have saved nearly $200 on fuel costs in the past month alone. This summer, they will embark on more trips to national parks, as well as a flight to Canada for a trip across the Canadian Rockies.
“That’s the trip where we’ve been most concerned about travel prices looking at airfare,” David Kelch said.
While the Kelches are monitoring prices, they are not letting higher rates stop them from traveling. Along with stamping every national park site in their park passports, they’re looking forward to a Minneapolis Twins baseball game with David’s father and a trip to Glacier National Park to see the glaciers “before they melt,” Bridgette said.
“I think the pandemic and Ukraine have brought this to the forefront: Don’t take it for granted,” Bridgette Kelch said. “Go out and explore, see these cool things and eat this amazing food and appreciate what we have here.”