CHICAGO (AP) ? Holiday travel got off to a soggy start in parts of the country Wednesday as millions of Americans undeterred by costlier gas and airfare set out for Thanksgiving celebrations, but few major problems were reported.
About 42.5 million people are expected to drive, fly or ride trains to their Thanksgiving destinations, according to travel tracker AAA. That’s the highest number since the start of the recession, despite an average 20 percent increase in travel costs.
“Sacrifice to see the ones you love, that’s what we do,” said John Mahoney, who was driving 20 hours with his girlfriend from his home in New Hampshire to visit his mother and sister in St. Louis. “Americans will still do what Americans do. We travel the roads.”
Mahoney, 44, acknowledged the economy has changed the way he travels ? which is why the couple slept in the car instead of getting a motel room when a heavy, wet snowstorm flared up along the New York State Thruway.
Ninety percent of holiday travelers plan to drive, and will pay almost 20 percent more for gas, which has reached an average of $3.42 a gallon.
Air travelers have been hit, too. The average round-trip airfare for the top 40 U.S. routes is $212, up 20 percent from last year. Rail tickets on most one-way Amtrak trips have climbed 2 to 5 percent. Hotel and motel rates are also up slightly.
Jake Pagel, 32, a restaurant server from Denver, said he worked longer hours to save money and get bills in order before the holidays.
“We’ve just been working pretty much nonstop for the past few days to make sure rent’s paid before we go,” said Pagel, 32, who was flying from the Denver airport with his girlfriend to see her family in San Jose, Calif.
Pagel said he gave up being able to work during one of the service industry’s most busy and profitable times.
“I think it’s something you can’t quantify in terms of monetary cost,” he said. “I mean, being able to spend quality time with your family is fairly significant.”
Some motorists who tried to get an early start along the Pennsylvania Turnpike found themselves stopped by ? or stuck in ? a gooey mess after a leaking valve on a tanker truck spread driveway sealant along nearly 40 miles of highway. Officials said at least 150 vehicles were disabled and an unknown number of others were damaged Tuesday night.
“Now we have to turn around and go back home,” Laura Frick, who was traveling from Cleveland to New Jersey for the holiday, told WTAE-TV. “It’s horrible.”
Turnpike workers who peeled up the sticky puddles, then covered them with sand to hasten drying, had traffic moving normally again by Wednesday morning.
Travelers also were at the mercy of the weather.
Heavy rains and scattered thunderstorms prompted flood warnings and closed some roads across swaths of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York early Wednesday. Snow mixed with sleet and freezing rain to make for treacherous driving and thousands of power outages across parts of New England and upstate New York.
Philadelphia and Newark airports had some delays of between 30 and 45 minutes “and increasing” due to low cloud cover, but the Federal Aviation Administration reported few other early disruptions.
Plenty of people also were staying home.
Damian Buchwald of Buffalo, N.Y., picked up a second job earlier this year. His new work schedule has helped pay the bills but leaves him without time to travel to Connecticut to spend the holiday with his wife’s family.
This year, the couple and their teenage son, Raven, will celebrate Thanksgiving with his mother, neighbors and friends in town.
“When you can’t travel and people can’t travel to you, you gather your closest friends. And that way nobody has to pay an arm and a leg, and everyone can eat well,” Buchwald said.
But having relatives over for dinner is becoming more expensive, too.
A 16-pound turkey and all the trimmings will cost an average of $49.20, a 13 percent jump from last year, or about $5.73 more, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation, which says grocers have raised prices to keep pace with higher-priced commodities.
Carole Goldsmith of Fresno, Calif., decided she didn’t need to have a feast, even if she could still afford it.
Goldsmith, an administrator at a community college in Coalinga, Calif., said she typically hosts an “over-the-top meal” for friends and family. This year, she canceled the meal and donated a dozen turkeys to two homeless shelters. She plans to spend Thursday volunteering before holding a small celebration Friday with soup, bread “and lots of gratitude.”
“I think everybody is OK with it,” she said. “They understand. Everybody is in a different place than they were a year ago.”
Associated Press writers Ben Dobbin in Rochester, N.Y.; Ivan Moreno in Denver; David Klepper in Pawtucket, R.I.; Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, N.Y.; Eric Tucker in Washington, D.C.; and Gosia Wozniacka in Fresno, Calif., contributed to this report.