March 2015

Travel expenditures, 2005–2013: domestic and international patterns in recession and recovery


The shares of entertainment expenditures are identical for each type of trip. For transportation, however, the expenditure share for international travel is larger than that for domestic travel. The reverse is true for food (here including alcohol) and lodging: together, these two categories account for just over half of spending on domestic travel and less than two-fifths of spending on international travel. When considered individually, food and lodging each account for a little over one-fourth of the travel cost on domestic trips; for international trips, lodging is a little over one-fifth and food a little under one-sixth.

Also noteworthy is the breakdown of the transportation budget (see figures 13 and 14), which accounts for the largest share of any major category for either domestic or international travel for trips of at least one night. (Day trips are extremely unlikely to include airfare or other large transportation costs and are therefore excluded from this portion of the analysis.) Airfare constitutes the largest share in the transportation budget for either type of trip; however, while it accounts for only half of travel expenditures on domestic trips, it represents nearly three-quarters (70 percent) of international travel expenditures. Nevertheless, this result must be interpreted with caution, because the sample examined here is not limited to those who incurred an airfare expenditure, a condition that undoubtedly decreases the share for domestic travel more than it does for international travel.

Destinations visited

So far, the analysis has revealed definite changes in expenditure levels, if not shares, during the recession and recovery, for both domestic and international travel. Might the recession have influenced the choice of destination visited and therefore, at least indirectly, the changes in expenditures?

In terms of domestic travel, the pattern for destinations involved in overnight trips is much like that for expenditure shares: that is, there is very little difference over time in places visited, to the extent this dynamic is tested. Overall, the four most visited states were California, Florida, Texas, and New York. When analyzed year by year, Texas and New York sometimes changed places for number of visits reported, but no other change was detected. In addition, the analysis did not check for a change in pattern for intra- and interstate visits. Thus, a trip to California is counted identically for an Angeleno who visits San Francisco and for a Nevadan who also visits San Francisco, or Los Angeles for that matter.

More intriguing are the patterns for international travel. Table 3 shows the total number of trips to destinations asked about in the survey instrument, after the reported numbers are weighted to reflect the total. Because of the small sample size, the analysis combines Africa, Middle East, and South Pacific destinations into one category.7 Also, travel to the Caribbean includes Puerto Rico as an international destination, even though Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory. (See appendix A for details.)


7 Even after combining, the number of reported trips each year ranged from 49 to 78 for this category.

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About the Author

Geoffrey D. Paulin

Geoffrey D. Paulin is a senior economist in the Office of Prices and Living Conditions, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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