What American Travel Looked Like Before COVID-19

Despite historic setbacks similar to today’s, Americans have become more dedicated travelers

vintage suitcases
In 2018, more than 40 million Americans traveled overseas. Alexander Spatari via Getty Images

Americans as well as others around the globe are facing peacetime travel restrictions unprecedented in the modern era because of the coronavirus pandemic. We’re left to contemplate the many impacts of this unusual self-isolation, and not just in personal terms of canceled vacations or postponed weddings or even, more broadly, the terrible economic hardships borne by people working in hospitality industries. From Lewis and Clark to the beatniks, Americans have long dared to get up and go—for the thrill of it, of course, but also because it helps enlarge our perspective. As Mark Twain once wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

What American Travel Looked Like Before COVID-19
What American Travel Looked Like Before COVID-19
Workers in the U.S. take comparatively little vacation, even when it’s paid for. In 2018, they left 768 million paid vacation days unused. Smithsonian magazine
What American Travel Looked Like Before COVID-19
A 2016 survey by the U.S. Travel Association finds that vacation days correlate with compensation. Smithsonian magazine

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Click on the circles below to see how American air travel has changed over the years.

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This article is a selection from the May 2020 issue of Smithsonian magazine