By NOMAAN MERCHANT, Associated Press
CHICAGO (AP) -- Whether on the highway or at home, Americans will pay more to celebrate Thanksgiving this year. But higher gas prices and costlier airfare are not stopping millions of people from traveling for the holiday.
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.
Ninety percent of them will drive. It won't be cheap. Drivers 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.
But George Gorham and his fiance, Patricia Horner, weren't deterred. They flew across the country to visit Gorham's son at North Carolina's Fort Bragg. They used frequent-flier miles and planned to visit tourist attractions in the nation's capital along the way.
Horner said they still would have made the trip without the miles, but "it would have been more painful."
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 across parts of New England.
The National Weather issued a winter storm warning for central Vermont, where flakes were expected to come down at a rate of an inch an hour through Wednesday morning and total 8 up to inches by day's end.
The Federal Aviation Administration reported few airline disruptions early Wednesday, but fliers braced for possible delays as storms made their way across the busy northeast, where The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said it expected more than 1.3 million passengers to travel through its four airports alone during the holiday weekend.
Still, plenty of people 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.
In Pawtucket, R.I., Jackie Galinis was among those looking for help to put a proper meal on the table. She stopped at a community center this week seeking a donated food basket. But by the time she arrived, all 300 turkeys had been claimed.
So Galinis, an unemployed retail worker, will make do with what's in her apartment. "We'll have to eat whatever I've got, so I'm thinking chicken," she said.
Then her eyes lit up. "Actually, I think I've got red meat in the freezer, some corned
beef. We could do a boiled dinner."
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 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. (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)