Rising travel costs lead to more college students skipping family Thanksgiving gatherings

Samantha Roper sometimes dreams about the mashed potatoes her mother makes on Thanksgiving, from potatoes grown at an uncle's farm 10 minutes from her Southern Idaho home. But today, with airfare costs and distance making a trip home impractical, the Chapman University freshman will go without the creamy spuds on the holiday for the first time. Instead, Roper, 18, is staying at her Fullerton dorm as classes shut down for the long weekend.

"It's depressing," said the public relations and advertising major from Twin Falls, Idaho. "College is expensive. I'm going to need to get books for next semester, and that's going to cost $300."

College students: An article in the Nov. 27 California section about college students who remained on campus for the Thanksgiving weekend said Chapman University freshman Samantha Roper would be staying in her Fullerton dorm. The school and dorms are in the city of Orange. —

On college campuses across the nation, a number of students typically stay put for Thanksgiving because of some combination of homework, job responsibilities, travel costs or distance home. But with travel for the holiday predicted to be down 10% across the nation this year, stranded students are likely to have more company than usual this turkey day.

Count Kristen Entringer, a Chapman sophomore from Phoenix, among them. Last year she flew home for the holiday, but the cost of airfare put the trip out of reach this year, with the family figuring the money was better spent on college expenses. Instead Entringer is staying on campus, buoyed by the fact that winter break is a scant two weeks away.

Entringer, 20, says she has work to do over the weekend for her part-time job as an assistant in the graphics lab. Because of her class schedule, she also would have had to leave late Wednesday and return Sunday, spending just three days with her family while getting stressed about falling behind on her work.

"I really need to stay in order to get things done; I need to physically be in the computer lab," she said.

One of her professors has invited Entringer to join his family for Thanksgiving dinner. Still, she'll miss her family's holiday traditions, which include a large meal with her parents, brother and grandparents featuring homemade pies, followed by a movie marathon.

"The meal is an excuse to get to dessert. We all view Thanksgiving as, 'Let's just get dinner out of the way in the early afternoon so we can spend the rest of the evening going back for seconds and thirds of pie,' " she said. "As much as I am really saving myself in the long run a lot of money, time and stress, you still miss out on that whole thing."

Sometimes the decision to celebrate apart can be harder on the parents than on the students.

Tustin mother Carol Burby-Garrett said her family decided earlier this semester that son Jordan would stay at Reed College in Portland, Ore., for Thanksgiving because winter break starts in three weeks and it seemed too expensive to fly him home twice.

But lately, Burby-Garrett has had doubts about her family's long-distance Thanksgiving and has taken to mailing her son turkey-themed treats. Think turkey jerky and sugar cookies shaped like large poultry (she included a note to be sure Jordan would know what they were supposed to resemble).

"As the holiday gets closer, I'm having second thoughts about our decision. We will really miss him," she said. "He, on the other hand, will probably have a great time. Although he says he will miss us, I think he'll keep busy."

Several of her son's friends are remaining at school, too, she said, and one of the other mothers decided to visit and make a traditional turkey feast. "I feel a little better about it -- at least he gets a home-cooked meal," Burby-Garrett said.

Trent Fuenmayor, who attends Princeton University, and his family decided that he, too, would stay on campus this Thanksgiving because flying home to Downey for a couple days seemed like a waste with winter break starting Dec. 12. But as the holiday approached, mother Paige worried about not spending the day with her youngest son.

"We really thought about it, [but] we thought it's just too crazy for such a short amount of time," she said. "I'm very sad. It's going to be hard."

The bright side is that Trent Fuenmayor, 18, now has special plans on Thursday: He has been invited to Thanksgiving dinner with Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman and her family. College presidents and faculty at many institutions regularly share Thanksgiving meals with orphaned students.

"I'm pretty excited," he said of the invitation. "It's at her house. I haven't met her in person." He recently finished midterms, so he is not overloaded with schoolwork over the holiday weekend.

But for students such as Alex Avery at Fordham University in New York City, staying on campus during the break gives them an opportunity to catch up. Hours of schoolwork can be tough to fit in a holiday weekend packed with visits with relatives and high-school friends.

"I have three essays due the day after Thanksgiving break," said Avery, 18, a political science major from Irvine.

For others, the biggest concern is the meal. Although some universities, including Princeton, keep some dining halls open for students who remain on campus, others such as UCLA and Chapman don't, leaving students to fend for themselves.

Genevieve Conroy, a junior at Pittsburgh, has published some advice on the basics of a dorm room Thanksgiving at collegejolt.com. She advises her fellow students about supermarket turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and other dishes that can be easily microwaved.

"This . . . will work perfectly in any dorm provided you have a microwave. (If not, I suggest you stop reading and start finding the closest place to order T-giving dinner because I can't help you)," Conroy wrote.

Roper, who only recently learned that her dining options would be limited for the holiday weekend, made a last-minute run to buy frozen pizza and potato chips. She had yet to decide what to do on Thanksgiving and was pondering visiting Disneyland or Knott's Berry Farm with friends. Although she misses home, she is thankful for at least one thing this holiday -- that she'll also miss the weather in her Idaho hometown, which will dip below freezing tonight.

"At home, I would be wearing a parka right now -- and I'm standing outside wearing flip-flops and a T-shirt," she said. "I'm so glad to be here."

Mehta is a Times staff writer.

s eema.mehta@latimes.com

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