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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Long-Distance Travel

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Long-Distance Travel

Long-distance trips in the 2001 NHTS are defined as trips of 50 miles or more from home to the farthest destination traveled.9 For a long-distance trip, this includes both the portion of the trip to reach the farthest destination, as well as the return trip home and any overnight stops made along the way or stops to change transportation modes. Similar to daily trips, long-distance travel includes trips made by all modes, including personal vehicle, airplane, bus, train, and ship; and for all purposes, such as commuting, business, pleasure, and personal or family business.

In addition, the long-distance trip definition has changed from the long-distance definition used in the 1995 American Travel Survey (ATS), where long-distance trips were defined as trips of 100 miles or more and excluded trips for the purpose of commuting. Therefore, estimates provided in this report cannot be directly compared to estimates resulting from the 1995 ATS.

Who Is Traveling?

Of all long-distance trips made in the United States in 2001, fewer than half (43 percent) were made by women (table 3). Furthermore, within any given mode men made as many or more trips than women, with the exception of travel by bus. Women made 55 percent of all bus trips (out of a total of approximately 55 million bus trips, see table A-18b).

The majority of long-distance trips, approximately 55 percent, were made by individuals living in households with total household incomes of $50,000 or more per year (table A-19). (Households with $50,000 or more in total income represent 43 percent of the population.10) Fewer person trips from these households were likely to be made in personal vehicles (87 percent) compared to person trips from lower income households (figure 11). For the higher income households there were significantly more trips by air. About 10 percent of person trips by households with an income of at least $50,000 were made by air, compared to around 4 percent in households with an income between $25,000 and $49,999 and less than 3 percent for households of less than $25,000 (table A-20).

Nearly two-thirds of all long-distance trips were made by persons aged 25 to 64 (table A-21). This group represents approximately half (52 percent) of the U.S. population as of 2001.11 One-quarter of long-distance trips were made by persons under the age of 25 (35 percent of the U.S. population), and only about 8 percent by those 65-years-old or older (12 percent of the population).

How Are They Traveling on Long-Distance Trips?

Nine out of 10 long-distance trips were taken in a personal vehicle, such as a car, pickup truck, or sports utility vehicle. In 2001, Americans took a total of 2.3 billion long-distance trips in personal vehicles, resulting in just over 760 billion miles of travel on the nation's roads (table A-22). Personal vehicles were used for nearly 97 percent of long-distance person trips of less than 300 roundtrip miles (table 4). On the other hand, personal vehicle trips comprised a much smaller percentage of longer distance trips, representing a little more than half of trips with roundtrip distances of 1,000 to less than 2,000 miles, and less than one-quarter of trips 2,000 miles or greater. The median distance for all long-distance trips taken in personal vehicles was 194 miles (table A-22).

Air travel was the second most utilized transportation mode for long-distance travel, accounting for over 7 percent of long-distance person trips. Not surprisingly, trips by air were much more likely for trips of longer distances, accounting for 42 percent of trips between 1,000 and 2,000 roundtrip miles, and three-quarters of trips over 2,000 roundtrip miles (table 4). Meanwhile, air travel comprised less than half a percent of trips of less than 500 roundtrip miles. The median distance for air trips was 2,068 miles, 10 times that of personal vehicle trips (table A-22).

Travel by bus was the third most popular choice for long-distance travel, yet accounted for only 2 percent of all long-distance trips. Similarly, train was the next most used mode but accounted for less than 1 percent of all long-distance trips. The median length of a bus trip was 287 miles, and 192 miles for train trips (table A-22).

Why Are Americans Traveling Long Distances?

Of all long-distance travel in 2001, over half of the trips (56 percent) were made primarily for pleasure purposes (figure 12, table A-24a). Pleasure trips consisted of vacations and sightseeing excursions, as well as trips taken for the purposes of rest and relaxation, visiting friends and family, and outdoor recreation. More than 90 percent of pleasure trips were by personal vehicles, another 7 percent were by air, and less than 3 percent were by bus, train, boat, or other mode combined (table A-24b).

The second most common reason for long-distance travel was for business purposestrips taken to attend conferences and meetings or for any other business purpose other than commuting to and from work. Business trips also include those trips where business was cited as a primary purpose, but the traveler also included sightseeing, recreation, or other pleasure activities as part of the trip. Nearly 16 percent of all long-distance trips, or approximately 414 million trips, were made for business. A little less than 80 percent of these trips were by personal vehicle, while 18 percent used a commercial or charter airplane. Train travel accounted for about 1.6 percent and bus travel accounted for nearly 1 percent of business trips. All other modes combined accounted for less than 1 percent of business travel. Meanwhile, nearly 13 percent of long-distance trips in 2001 were for commuting purposes, that is, travel of 50 miles or more away from home to go to work. Again, personal vehicles dominated the share of modes used for these trips at over 96 percent. Trips taken by train and airplane were the next most common, each representing approximately 1.5 percent of commuting trips.

Trips made for personal reasons or family business, such as shopping trips, medical visits, and providing rides for others, accounted for approximately 13 percent of all long-distance trips in the nation. Although personal vehicle trips again comprised the majority of these trips (slightly less than 90 percent), trips made by bus and air accounted for almost all the remaining trips at approximately 6 and 5 percent, respectively.

Where Are Americans Traveling?

In 2001, Americans took about 2.6 billion long-distance trips. In total, over 1.3 trillion person miles were logged in long-distance travel (table A-22). The majority of these trips, about 98 percent, were to destinations in the United States (table 5). About 16 percent of long-distance person-miles were covered traveling to international destinations. A portion of these miles were spent traveling on or over U.S. soil. Miles traveled on or over U.S. soil to international destinations are not included in the estimate of domestic miles traveled.

Most long-distance trips (62 percent) were to destinations within the traveler's home state (intrastate). Intrastate travel generated 27 percent of all person miles for long-distance trips. Of the remaining trips, 17 percent were to destinations within the same Census division and 8 percent were to destinations in a different division but within the same region. Eleven percent of long-distance trips were to destinations outside the home region. (See Appendix C Census Regions and Divisions of the United States.)

End Notes

9. Although the definitions for daily trips and long distance trips differ, it is important to note that trips made as part of daily travel are not mutually exclusive from long-distance travel. That is, daily tripsor combinations of daily trips into home-to-home journeyscan result in travel of more than 50 miles or more away from home. Therefore, these trips would be included in both the estimates for daily travel, as well as long-distance travel. Care should therefore be exercised when using estimates for daily and long-distance travel together. This is especially true of trip rates and trip miles since simply combining would provide an overestimation of total household travel.

10. Household income estimates as of March 2001, Current Population Survey, March Supplement 2002.

11. Population estimates as of July 1, 2001. Table NA-EST2002-ASRO-01National Population EstimatesCharacteristics, Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau (June 18, 2003) URL: