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How Many States Has the Average American Visited?

In an exclusive survey with Ipsos, we asked what states people have lived in, visited, and want to visit

By Matt Carmichael on July 25, 2016

A map based on a data survey of many states has an average American visited
Livability/Ipsos Public Affairs Survey; Map produced by ESRI

The average American has visited just 12 states, according to a new study conducted by Livablity.com and Ipsos Public Affairs. Florida is the most-visited state with 48% having crossed its border, but no state reports a majority of Americans having traveled there for work or pleasure. California, Georgia, New York and Nevada round out the top five.

The survey, conducted in June, asked more than 2,000 adults which states they have lived in, which states they have visited (excluding airport lay-overs), and which states they would like to visit.

Montana, Nebraska, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Idaho and Alaska have all been visited by fewer than 15% of Americans. North Dakota is the least-visited state with just 10% having traveled there. The U.S. territory Puerto Rico was also visited by just 10% of Americans.

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A nation on the move

While 10% of Americans say they have never been to a state other than the one they currently live in, we are generally an adventurous nation.

Destination Analysts’ bi-annual survey, The State of the American Traveler finds that Americans take more than four leisure trips per year, on average. According to AARP, 95% of Baby Boomers will travel domestically this year. Yet a quarter of seniors (55+) in our study have essentially seen what they want to see of our nation and say there are no states they still want to visit that they haven’t been to already. We all want to go somewhere, but there are not many specific places we want to go. Only five states (Hawaii, Alaska, California, Colorado and New York) and Puerto Rico were on the must-visit list of more than 10% of trip-takers. Almost all of the remaining states were listed by five percent or fewer.

The good news for Alaska and Puerto Rico is that while few have been there so far, they are among the most-desired domestic travel destinations. Just as many people want to visit Puerto Rico as have been there, and more than twice as many people want to visit Alaska than have done so already. Hawaii (30%) tops the list of places people aspire to explore. That figure is lead by 37% of Millennials (the generation currently aged 18-34) who want to spend some time in the islands.

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Looking at it regionally

In looking at state-to-state travel, regional travel is clearly the dominant trend, but it’s not the whole story. For instance, about half of Californians have visited Nevada, but so have high percentages from Massachusetts and Minnesota.

Interestingly, residents of the most-visited state are less traveled themselves. California, Florida and New York residents have visited fewer states than the typical American. Nevada is about average, and Georgia residents have seen one more state than the mean.

Because the red-state/blue-state divide has become so pronounced in America, we wondered what, if any, relation it had to travel patterns. We ran some analysis on these questions based on party-affiliation. On the whole, Democrats have visited fewer states than Republicans (10.8 to 13.9). There were not significant party differences in the states they want to visit, but Republicans were more likely than Democrats to have visited every state except Rhode Island. Republicans were also more likely to have seen (i.e. visited or lived in) every state expect Rhode Island.

Some other key findings:

  • Three states (Florida, California and New York) have at least been seen by a majority of Americans, who have either visited or lived there.
  • New York trends younger — a higher percentage of Millennials (21%) report having lived there at some point than older Americans. Texas is the opposite with a much lower percentage of Millennials (12%) having lived there.
  • Households with no children are more likely to want to visit Alaska, but people with kids are slightly more likely to have Florida on their wish list.
  • Very little difference was seen in the travel preferences based on marital status or by race and ethnicity, with the exception of Hawaii, which is slightly preferred by minority travelers and non-married travelers, and Alaska, which was preferred by more whites.

The haves and the have-nots

The study was meant to be a somewhat update of a similar study performed in 1988 and reported in the May issue American Demographics. That survey asked about places Americans had both lived in and visited. Therefore it tended to skew toward heavy population centers. Illinois and Pennsylvania joined states like California and New York at the top. We can’t do an apples-to-apples comparison but two things jump out. One is the Vegas-driven popularity of Nevada which was in the middle of the 1988 ranking but has rocketed toward the top of ours.

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More importantly, there’s a marked division of destinations. There are much clearer “have” and “have-not” markets for both places visited and places that people dream of visiting. In the 1988 study, only Alaska had fewer than 22% of Americans having lived or visited there. Nearly 30 years later, 40% of states fall below that threshold.

Here’s the fine print:

These are findings from an Ipsos poll conducted June 24-30, 2016. For the survey, a sample of roughly 2,010 adults age 18+ was interviewed online in English. For more information about Ipsos online polling methodology, please go here http://goo.gl/yJBkuf

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