Students among millions traveling home for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one day away and University students are hitting the road – along with 31.1 million other Americans that AAA estimates will travel by car for the holiday

by Nathan Hall

T Thanksgiving is one day away and University students are hitting the road – along with 31.1 million other Americans that AAA estimates will travel by car for the


Junior Nick Dooley left for home Tuesday and said he was

not worried about traffic. Dooley, who had to drive to Milwaukee, said he does not know any University student who is not going home.

According to AAA, 36 million Americans are traveling 50 miles or more this year – a 2.4 percent increase from last year’s 35.2

million travelers.

Rachel Pike, a first-year Hudson, Wis., native, said her mother will pick her up from Pioneer Hall for the 40-minute drive home.

“My mom has to pick me up because my friend who commutes has to work,” Pike said.

Most first-year students who cannot afford cars at the University catch rides with relatives or friends.

“Two of my roommates have cars, and one is being picked up,” Pike said.

First-year students Jenny Manogue and Jacky Weigelt, who are getting rides with friends’ parents, said they know students who are staying in the residence halls for the holiday.

“A couple of people are staying, like foreign exchange students, unless they found a friend to go home with,” Weigelt said.

International students who are not going home for Thanksgiving have the option of road-tripping to Chicago with the Minnesota International Student Association. In Chicago, all students will have Thanksgiving dinner at a hostel.

For students traveling by car this weekend, AAA spokeswoman Dawn Duffy had one piece of advice: “365 days a year” of buckling up is “the most important part of road travel.”

Ani Loizzo, a first-year University student, posted numerous notebook-paper signs on residence hall bulletin boards last week in an attempt to hitch a ride home to Janesville, Wis., to spend Thanksgiving with her family.

But it was all to no avail.

“By Sunday night, I was getting kind of nervous,” Loizzo said.

It is a dilemma as old as college itself, so it was only a matter of time before someone figured out to how to profit off it.

Tuesday afternoon, Loizzo became a first-time customer in a quickly burgeoning market – luxury charter buses that help students get home for the holidays.

In the Midwest, 20-year-old University of Wisconsin-Madison business student Jeremy Schwach dominates the lucrative field.

With a partner at the University of Iowa, Schwach operates four bus lines, including the Gofer Bus – which runs between Minneapolis and Milwaukee, Wis., with a stop in Madison, Wis., as well.

First-time customers boarding the Gofer Bus on Tuesday said they were drawn to the service because it claims to be faster and more comfortable than Greyhound Lines. Gofer Bus boasts complimentary snacks and new-release DVD screenings, as well as fares comparable to Greyhound.

Loizzo said she first heard about Gofer Bus during the University’s first-year student orientation picnic.

“Then a girl from my history class said she was going the other day and that pretty much cinched it,” Loizzo said.

Schwach, who has not yet ruled out further expansion, said he hatched his business plan during an uncomfortable nine-hour Greyhound bus ride. Getting the business up and running has been surprisingly simple, he said.

“I call up a visitor center, see where the students are from and how many of them have cars, and then just check what Greyhound is charging,” Schwach said. “It’s very grass-roots because we only advertise in newspapers and then contract out a student to tack up flyers.”

Schwach does not own any buses; instead, he contracts them out through other companies, which provide their own insurance.

“I pay for them as I need them so we can always cancel if we can’t fill it,” Schwach said. “Their perfect safety records are another good selling point.”

Schwach said his only substantial overhead is an outsourced Web site designer and server bills. His mother did the original page design.

Kim Plaskett, a spokeswoman for Dallas, Texas-based Greyhound Lines – the largest inter-city bus service in the country – said college students represent a “good portion” of its customer base.

“That’s why we offer a variety of different discounts throughout the year for them,” Plaskett said.

Greyhound complements its fleet of 2,900 buses by partnering with several regional bus agencies such as “connecting carrier” Jefferson Lines.