Around Chicago, June 2011
Photo by Dave Sizer, on Flickr
Don't read this if you think "cheap" is a bad word.
However, if you want a blissful holiday in the large metropolis of Chicago without letting your money drift away in the "windy city", read on and make some serious savings on your vacation fund. Like any other major city, Chicago has an exclusive tourist economy and one for its locals that's far cheaper. So all you have to do is, avoid the tourist traps of this huge city and you'll find yourself spending far less on your holiday.
Hotel rates in Chicago can be confusing and very expensive. Rates vary for weekdays and weekends and generally go up during festivals and conventions. Yes; you can shop around, book early and save a few bucks. But a better option would be to check out hostels, especially if you are travelling alone or as a couple. Nowadays, families can also opt for hostels since most new hostels offer private rooms for up to 6 people with exciting bunk beds for kids.
The only adjustment here would to use the common bathroom; but then look at the sum you'll be saving. You can book a hostel in downtown Chicago instead of searching for a cheap hotel room away from the city and spending on transport.
Here again, the Windy City is known for its stormy costs; restaurants here are among the costliest in the country. But again, there are places where you can get a delicious meal sans the luxurious settings for a fraction of what you would pay in touristy restaurants. BYOB (bring your own booze) is yet another cost-saving technique where you can avoid paying premium rates for drinks.
Most hostels have kitchens where you can cook your own meal; else book a service apartment with a kitchen where you can cook and save on dining costs. If you're bored of cooking and want to check out the local cuisine, try the street food of Chicago. Chicago Hot Dogs compete with Italian Beef Sandwiches, tortas, tamales and cheese burgers. Of course, you haven't been to Chicago if you don't taste the deep dish Pizza at Pizzeria Uno.
The El makes travel very easy for the budget traveler. When in Chicago, forget the car and hop on the El, a water taxi or a bus and reach your destination on time and within your budget. This is much better than traveling by car, getting stuck in the traffic, wasting time looking for parking space and paying a parking fee that's more than you'd have to spend in the place you plan to visit. Buy a visitor pass for the duration of your stay and enjoy unlimited rides on the El and in buses and get to see as much of the city as possible.
The view from the Sears Tower, now the Willis Tower, is incredible; but so are the entrance costs and the crowd. Instead of waiting for an hour and paying a fortune to see Chicago from the top of this building, check out the views from the Adler Planetarium or from the Signature Lounge at the John Hancock Tower where you just have to buy a drink to relax and enjoy the spectacular view.
The Millennium Park with its Cloud Gate and Crown Fountain is one of the best free attractions of Chicago as is the Lincoln Park Zoo. If you are holidaying with kids, these are nice, cheap places to take them to. The sandy shores of Lake Michigan and the beaches of Chicago are other enticing places that can be enjoyed for free.
Museums in Chicago are very interesting and an essential part of Chicago; but entrance fees may cost a fortune here. Most museums have free entry days like the Art Institute of Chicago that can be visited for free on the first and second Wednesday of every month. Schedule your itinerary based on these and you will find that you've saved a good sum of money to spend away at the Magnificent Mile.