Vrbo's 2021 Trend Report Shows a Rise in Family Travel and the "Flexcation"

After months locked down, families are eager to travel more in the coming year

Family playing on the beach
Chanin Wardkhian / Getty Images

Vrbo released its annual trend report that reveals how families are planning to travel in 2021. In past years for its annual trend report, Vrbo relied on travel demand data to determine trends; however, this year, acknowledging the recent changes and uncertainty in the travel landscape, the company also surveyed more than 8,000 people (all parents with children under 18 living at home) to determine how families were feeling about a travel year ahead.

The biggest takeaway? The excitement and willingness of families to travel in the upcoming year and plan their dream trips. According to the results, eight out of 10 families already have travel planned for 2021, and 65 percent said they would travel more frequently than they did pre-pandemic. Plus, 33 percent said they are willing to spend more on trips than they usually would.

This anticipation of future trips gives families something to look forward to, especially after most have been cooped up most of the year. There's a renewed sense of urgency to get out and explore, and 22 percent said that a vacation would improve their mental health. “We’ve certainly learned that wanderlust is resilient and people want to be experiencing or planning travel," said Jeff Hurst, president of Vrbo.

For 54 percent of respondents, that means planning to take their bucket list trip in 2021; for another 44 percent of people, that means re-planning the same trip that was canceled in 2020 because they had been looking forward to that destination. Either way, families can benefit and learn together from this planning stage, and parents can set a valuable example for their children, according to child psychologist and parent coach Ann-Louise Lockhart, PsyD, ABPP.

"It’s a re-do, letting them know that although plans might not have been what we expected, we can be flexible, and we can be looking forward to things, and we can try again," said Lockhart. "I love that, and it’s such a parallel to parenting."

Another major trend revealed in the report was a continued rise of the "flexcation," a term the company coined to define a vacation in which people are getting away for longer stays and combining work and play, a trend that emerged as many parents and kids began work and school remotely. According to the data, 52 percent of those who took a flexcation in 2020 found that type of trip to be refreshing, with 67 percent interested in doing it again. Plus, 38 percent said they took a flexcation to give their children a new experience.

Lockhart suggests that a change in scenery can be not only a fun escape but also a productivity boost for working and learning.

"Neurologically, our brain doesn't like a lot of monotony, a lot of the same," said Lockhart. "We lose our motivation, we become more exhausted, more irritable, more agitated when there’s too much of the same stuff. Changing up your environment, changing up your living situation can make a big difference. And connecting with the lakes and river, water, nature, being close to the ground when we’re always in our buildings all the time, can make a big difference, too."

According to the report, the top five emerging destinations include Emory, Texas; Smithville, Missouri; Slade, Kentucky; Outer Banks, North Carolina; and Mannford, Oklahoma, all of which offer outdoor recreation activities like hiking, fishing, and swimming. And the demand for cabins and chalets increased 25 percent and 20 percent year over year, respectively, suggesting the need for more space, coziness, and proximity to outdoor activities and landscapes for post-work and -school fun.

"You can model for your kids that it’s ok to work really hard, be in school, all those things, but that it’s also important to take a break and spend time with each other to do something different, to do something new that we’re not doing in our everyday world and life because now we’re out of the house in a new environment," said Lockhart. "[With a flexcation], you can still choose to work, but it’s important that you have an end cutoff time so that you are actually spending time [together]."