Daniel Blankenship, his wife, Jill, and son waited Wednesday at the Amtrak station in Milwaukee. They came from Seattle last week to see family for Thanksgiving and saved money by switching their normal travel days.

Carrie Antlfinger, Associated Press

Thanksgiving journeys feeling pinch of economy

  • Article by: JASON KEYSER
  • Associated Press
  • November 21, 2012 - 7:51 PM

CHICAGO - Millions of Americans piled their families into cars, hopped onto buses and waited out delays at airports Wednesday as they set off on Thanksgiving treks that many said required financial sacrifice, help from relatives to come up with airfare and hours searching online for deals.

Accepting that the road out of the recession will be long, many said they've become savvier or at least hardier travelers -- resilient enough to brave a day-long drive with the kids or a long haul by bus instead of flying. Others adjusted their travel schedules to try to save money, flying on less popular days or to airports that were a bit farther from their destination.

The effects of superstorm Sandy added to the hassle for travelers on the East Coast. Chris McLaughlin, 22, a senior at Boston College from West Chester, Penn., had hoped to combine his trip home for Thanksgiving with a medical school interview in Philadelphia, but the storm delayed his interview, so he'll have to make an extra trip home next month. He figured that would cost him another $200.

Looking for alternatives

And it's not just family finances that are tighter. Airlines struggling to save on jet fuel and other expenses have cut the number of flights, leading to a jump in airfares. Those hitting the roads face high gas prices and rising tolls.

Thanksgiving travel this year was expected to be up only slightly, 0.7 percent, from last year, said AAA's Thanksgiving travel analysis. Among the 43.6 million Americans expected to journey 50 miles or more between Wednesday and Sunday, more were driving and fewer were flying. Their planned trips were shorter, too, by about 120 miles on average, the travel organization said.

As car ownership declines among younger Americans, many of those hitting the road were jumping onto buses. Intercity bus service has grown in recent years with curbside companies like Megabus.

At a Greyhound terminal in Denver, Eileen Lindbuchler, 32, a massage therapist, hauled her bulky massage table through the line to board a bus. She had used her iPhone to coordinate bus schedules and connecting routes for the 65-mile journey to visit family in Colorado Springs and expected the effort to save her money. "I think it's going to be a lot cheaper," she said.

Aided by smartphone apps, social media and other technology, consumers are getting better at sniffing out deals and realize they need to be flexible with dates and even the airports they chose when booking, said Courtney Scott, a senior editor at Travelocity. "I think people are really becoming smarter, more creative travelers and shoppers," Scott said.

'This is the first year'

Sometimes, though, no amount of creativity with an airline booking can avoid breaking the bank for those with large families. So, Linne Katz and her five children hit the road, leaving their home in Haledon, N.J., at 1 a.m. Wednesday in hopes of getting to her father's home in Tennessee while the sun was still up. Driving has downsides, she said.

"My oldest keeps having to go the bathroom. ... I think he's getting carsick," Katz said.

And even with all the alternatives to flying, some still said they couldn't afford the journey. Lisa Appleton, 42, of Sandy Springs, Ga., said she lost her job as an accounting manager during the holidays last year. Her new job at an ice skating rink pays less, and she said that forced her to skip her usual Thanksgiving road trip to visit family -- including her 23-year-old son -- in northeast Ohio.

"This is the first year that I have not gone in like five years," she said. "It breaks my heart."

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