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The Great Outdoors: Why are Americans craving it so much?

The past year has brought unprecedented change for people across the globe, along with a drastic need to adapt to these changing circumstances. The hardest hitting occurrence has been the long duration of time spent at home. The lack of socialization has gravely impacted people’s well-being, and has led to a strong preference for the outdoors (with all safety precautions).

Individuals have tried adopting many different ways to reset and improve their mental health and work productivity during the pandemic. Being outdoors and close to nature offers people an outlet to disconnect from the material and digital world. With the shift towards remote work, people also have the option of working outdoors amidst beautiful surroundings.

Keywords such as “best parks near me”, “outdoor dining”, and “outdoor conversation sets” increased by 56%, 131%, and 114% respectively in 2020 as compared to the same time frame in 2019.

What’s so appealing about being in the open?

In order to understand consumer motivations around preferring the outdoors (apart from the safety aspect, of course), we used a mix of search data and our Culture AI to decode the main factors that drive people to open spaces during these pressing times. We analyzed over 500 Instagram posts with hashtags such as #natureusa and #parksusa to demystify consumer intentions and the positive aspects of outdoor spaces, and here’s what we found.


The desire for extreme adventure and adrenaline

After months of being idle at home, the yearning for thrilling and adrenaline-filled activities has shot up. People are seeking out amusement parks, water sports, and intensive treks to release all the pent-up energy from staying indoors and engaging in virtual work and fitness commitments. While searches for terms such as “extreme outdoors” went up by 27%, those for “sledding hills near me” increased by a whopping 1333% in the same period. In addition, our topic extraction tool identified canoeing and kayaking, mountain biking, and nordic skiing as emerging topics spoken about in Instagram posts. The need for adventure and outdoor sports is once again amplified as people are looking for ways to boost their endorphins and revive their physical wellbeing.


Finding places to disconnect from the world

The Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact on mental health like never before. Social distancing and stringent lockdown measures in most countries have led to stress, anxiety, and a lack of human interaction. As a result, people have resorted to spending more time in nature and taking in fresh air to experience calmness and serenity, which would help improve mental wellbeing.

Searches related to nature and beautiful sights rose by 185% as people seem to be motivated by the prospect of being in the restorative, healing, and lush-green outdoors. Keywords such as “parks with lakes near me”, “river trail near me”, and “parks with waterfalls near me” saw search spikes.


Rediscovering one’s neighborhood

Before the pandemic, it was common for people to take multiple international trips every year. A few weeks into the global shut down, however, all kinds of travel became a distant dream for globetrotters. Over the months, as lockdown restrictions started easing, domestic travel was resumed as it involved minimal safety-related breaches.

Our AI analysis of Instagram posts reveals that today, consumers are looking towards the outdoors as spaces where they can rediscover their locality. Searches for terms like “road trips near me” and “travel in usa” went up by 97% and 27% respectively. People are realizing that not only is domestic travel a safe alternative to international travel, but that it is a great way to explore their own country.


Working amidst nature

With the work from home culture becoming the new normal, people are looking for ways to use the outdoors as long-term workstations. As compared to attending zoom meetings between the four walls of one’s home, domestic destinations with picturesque views and local activities to engage in are becoming popular amongst the working population. We saw searches for “work from beach”, “workation”, and “staycation near me” increase by 23%, 168%, and 184% respectively. Working in the outdoors is generally associated with having a better work atmosphere and mood, which results in higher work productivity.


An opportunity to bond with loved ones

Lockdown restrictions and social distancing measures resulted in loved ones not seeing each other for months at a stretch. With outdoor spaces such as national parks opening up, they turned into havens for friends and family to bond and spend time together. Partaking in activities together such as treks, bicycle rides, and water sports are considered by many as experiences that bring them closer to their loved ones.


Our AI detected several posts of people spending quality time with their families at local parks such as Central Park, Bryant Park, and Bear Mountain State Park in New York City. Searches for “best state parks in new york” went up by 78% in the latter half of 2020.

A map of all outdoor parks in the state of New York

What our Emotion AI detected

To explore the top emotions represented by users with posts relating to the outdoors, we ran the images through our Emotion AI tool. The primary emotions we detected were Solitude, Vividness, Affiliation, Fear, and Happiness.

Solitude is likely the emotion that is expressed most because of the sensation of calmness, seclusion, and tranquility offered by the outdoors, namely parks. National parks offer people the opportunity to escape from pandemic-related stresses and be at peace with themselves. The sensation of finally feeling free, secure, and at ease also ties into the emotion of Happiness.

The sentiments of Vividness and Affiliation are powerful portrayals of the memories and nostalgia people have associated with the outdoors. While locals and visitors frequented national parks on a daily basis pre-pandemic, curfew and travel restrictions made it difficult to reach these parks in the initial months following lockdown. When parks finally opened up to people, they became spaces of rejuvenation, familiarity, and remembrance of better times.

As people explore the outdoors after months of experiencing the new norm of isolation, they are faced with a fear of the unknown, as they cautiously set out to embrace the feeling of freedom. The pandemic put in place a rigid need for social distancing and a limit on socializing, which is why the move to finally step outside instills a feeling of precautionary, disciplined freedom.

Is the ‘open-air’ trend here to stay?

The benefits of being in the outdoors are widely acknowledged and are multifold, and the pandemic has further made people realize their significance. Apart from their positive impact on mental and physical well-being, the exteriors have, in the past year, also proved to ameliorate individuals’ relations with other aspects of their lives, such as work, family, and self-growth.

Today, open spaces offer people a fresh outlook towards the daily functionings of their being, and one that they are willing to adapt to in the long-run, in a post-covid battered world.

Read our blogs on Post-COVID travel trends and RVs in America.

For more travel trends, get in touch with us at anurag.banerjee@quilt.ai



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We are a culturally rooted, AI powered insights firm that converts millions of data signals into human understanding. Visit us: https://quilt.ai