By Sarah Waffle Gavin, on September 29, 2015

A new look at family travel

We study family travel a lot at Expedia, not just because it’s a really important part of our consumer base. We study family travel because many of us have families and we travel with them. The best example of that is me; I’m a mom of four.

Over the years we’ve learned some really interesting things about family travelers. Like the fact that people who travel with families spend 2.5 times more than couples traveling without them. And the fact that 80 percent of people who take vacations regularly report being happier because of those trips. Today we unveiled even more data about family travelers—data from a survey of 1,002 American parents with children under the age of 17. The key points: 94 percent of respondents take at least one trip with their family per year, and 82 percent said they get more pleasure from vacation than from possessions.

Earlier this week I spoke about family travel at the inaugural Family Travel Association (FTA) summit in Emigrant, Montana. During that event, held at the beautiful Mountain Sky Guest Ranch, the FTA revealed some stats of its own. The most salient point: Family travel now accounts for a full one-third of all leisure trips booked in the United States.

And all these stats are great. But for the best perspective on family travel, I conducted my own survey of sorts—I interviewed about 25 kids.

When I talked to these children, I asked them pretty open-ended questions about why their families wouldn’t or don’t go on vacation. The responses amazed me.  Some of the kids told me they feel like their parents think work is too important to go away. This is in line with a study from US Travel’s Project: Time Off that indicated 6 out of 7 children report their parents bring home work stress.

Kids also told me they get the sense that booking travel is hard. We know from our own data that people conduct on average 48 searches for airfare across 12 different sites before booking. We also know nearly 60 percent of Americans spend 2-5 hours researching flights alone.

Many kids even said it seems going on vacation is too expensive, a point echoed by the statistic that 49 percent of Americans cite financial implications as top reason they can’t go away.

I wanted more insight from these kids, so I asked them why they wished their respective families would go on vacation. This is where the responses really blew my mind. One of the kids said, “My dad is funnier on vacation.” This comment reminded me of another stat from the Project: Time Off report: That 14 percent of kids say parents are in a very good mood at home on normal days, and that 50 percent say their parents are in a very good mood when they take time off.

Another told me, “My parents kiss more on vacation.” This echoed more data we’ve collected at Expedia: That 93 percent of adults say they are likely to be intimate on vacation, and that 48 percent say they are more likely to be intimate on the road than they are at home.



The most heart-breaking comment I got from my pint-sized focus group is when a third respondent told me she wished her family would go away because, “I am more important than my mom’s phone on vacation.” This comment related to a Project: Time Off data point that 76 percent of parents say traveling with children is more like play than work. It also made me want to cry.

I ended my focus group by asking the kids a pretty straightforward question: What advice would you give your parents so they could find more joy in family travel and planning?

Answers to this one might have been the best of all.

First, some of them suggested mom and dad use the internet—pretty good advice considering that, if leveraged wisely, researching travel online can lead to verified reviews and package deals that can save families up to $1,000 per trip.

Next, kids suggested that we grownups let them help. This is something my husband and I do all the time when we go away with our children; we pick the hotel and we let them pick the activities. As a result, my family has done everything from swimming with dolphins to riding camels on the beach in Cabo San Lucas. I’ll never forget watching whales frolic in the surf while we were riding a camel. Neither will my kids.

Another great response was for us big people to trust kids to help budget. As an example, one boy told me that if he knew he had a choice between a new skateboard or a cool trip, he would rather keep his old skateboard and take the trip. The problem? His parents never ask.

Finally, my focus group members suggested that we grownups need to get over ourselves a bit and stop thinking so much. I took this to mean that kids want to travel more spontaneously. Our research indicates that only 12 percent of families book “last minute” travel within a month of departure. Maybe family travel needs to be more impromptu. Or maybe more families need to “plan” last-minute trips (meaning more families need to have trips in mind so they can pick up and go away for the weekend).

The bottom line, of course, is that family travel truly matters. During our most recent survey, 91 percent of responding adults said some of their best memories are from vacation, and 70 percent said their absolute favorite childhood memory was from a vacation. Kid comments in my research suggested cool vacations will stick with them, too. Now we all just need to work harder to take more time to vacation together.