Vrbo surveyed American travelers and found that age impacts how we feel about travel.

At Vrbo, we know that travel satisfies our desire to drop the distractions of everyday life and simply be together. Through travel we discover new places, we revisit old favorites, and we experience cultures different from our own. We make new friends, connect with old friends and family, and grow. But how do we determine where we’ll go? And when we're there, what makes for a delightful stay? Vrbo asked just that in its first-ever US Traveler Survey, conducted by Ipsos, of 1,067 adult American travelers. As it turns out, the stage of life we’re in significantly impacts the places we dream about visiting, the reasons we travel, and what we’re looking for when we get there.

Dream destinations

When we asked Americans where they’d go if all constraints were removed, the results hinted at why some destinations might remain a dream and how those dreams evolve as we grow older.

Among all survey respondents, Australia was the top dream destination. However, the country was only the 18th-most-visited destination by American travelers in 2018, according to Expedia data. The disparity between dream and reality signals that barriers of time and money are the deciding factors for whether Americans will take that dream vacation. This holds true for every age group except millennials, who are the group most likely to go into debt for travel (37%) compared to Generation Xers (27%) and baby boomers (15%).

While domestic travel destinations topped the list for all survey respondents, we saw variation between age groups when it came to international travel. For millennial travelers ages 18 to 34, the top dream destination was Italy by more than 9%. Interestingly, respondents 35 and older chose Australia as their dreamiest destination.

Why we travel

Millennials are the most likely to travel for exploration (45%), but as the survey revealed, travel isn’t always about adventure, especially as we age. Our travels are often tied to important moments in our lives, celebrations of life events, and key milestones. This trend is especially true for Americans aged 35 to 54, the group most likely to be traveling for a special occasion (20%). Of the 20% of respondents 35 to 54 years old who said they’ll travel for a special occasion in 2019, 44% said the special occasion is a milestone event, such as an anniversary or a birthday. Even more interesting is that baby boomers are the least likely group to be traveling for a hobby or activity (6%), like skiing, surfing, or hiking. By contrast, 23% of millennial respondents said they’ll travel for hobbies or activities in 2019.

Preferences and amenities

Not surprisingly, accommodation preferences reflect the starkest generational differences among American travelers. Millennials are most likely (71%) to consider unique lodging options, such as boats or treehouses. They’re also the age group most likely (25%) to take into account design and architecture when choosing a place to stay. Generation Xers voiced the strongest preference for having ample space for everyone in the party. And for baby boomers, noise level is more important when selecting lodging than for other age groups.

Internet/WiFi access is the single-most important accommodation amenity for American travelers, outranking traditional must-haves like TV and air-conditioning. While traveling, Americans would rather sweat through the night than miss a tweet. WiFi is so important that 75% of travelers said they’ll seek lodging with Internet/WiFi access, while only 59% percent said they expect an accommodation to have a TV. For millennial respondents, the gap was much wider than for any other age group: 72% said they want online access, and 41% said having a TV was important.

Although our travel preferences change as we move through life’s stages, American travelers are united by a common desire to travel with friends and family and to relax when traveling. All three age groups saw an increase in travelers who said they’ll travel with a group of four or more this year compared with last year, up 2%, and 52% said a family vacation is their reason for travel this year. All respondents rated relaxation as their primary reason for travel, indicating a healthy desire to disconnect from the stress of our daily lives and reconnect with family and friends while away.

Survey Methodology: Vrbo’s 2019 US Traveler Survey was conducted within the United States by Ipsos on behalf of Vrbo between Jan 10 - 14, 2019, among 1,067 US adults who have traveled for leisure in 2018 and plan on traveling for leisure in 2019.

Expedia Methodology: 2018 Traveler lodging demand data from Expedia.com.