- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 21, 2012

CHICAGO — Millions of Americans piled their families into cars, hopped on 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 daylong drive with the children 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 weather, along with the economy, handed setbacks to some. Heavy fog shrouded Chicago, causing more than 1,600 delays or cancellations in and out of its two airports and sending ripples around the nation. The effects of Superstorm Sandy added to the hassle for travelers on the East Coast.

Chris McLaughlin, a 22-year-old senior at Boston College from West Chester, Pa., 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.

“It killed me,” Mr. McLaughlin said of the financial impact of the storm, which also left his parents without power for eight days. “I think we were feeling we could loosen up a little bit [financially], but with Sandy and everything that happened, [people] feel like they can’t.”

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.

After a couple of years of healthy post-recession growth, Thanksgiving travel this year was expected to be up only slightly, 0.7 percent, from last year, according to AAA’s yearly 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 downtown Denver, Eileen Lindbuchler, a 32-year-old 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. “I want to see how it works. I’ve always had to travel by car.”

AP writers Maryclaire Dale, P. Solomon Band, Kantele Franko and Matthew Barakat contributed to this report.