How to do Chicago on a Budget

On your way to Chicago but only have a little money and a few days? Want to explore this historic city and soak up the culture, nightlife, and tourism all on a limited time and budget? Have no fear! Chicago is a unique and cool city, definitely one to see. Here’s what to see if you only have a few days and the cheapest ways to enjoy yourself.

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Millenium Park

If you’ve only got a few days, make sure you get to Millennium Park! I rode into Union Station and while it is a bit of a walk, it’s possible to get to Millennium Park by walking. Chicago is pretty walking-friendly, and if you get tired there are tons of Ubers driving around and the attractions are so close that rides are very cheap.

Millenium Park is home to Crown Fountain (pictured above), The Bean, Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus classical music performances and more. You can listen to music and see these attractions for free. Millennium Park is home to Chicago’s iconic trademarks, it’s beautiful, nice to walk through, and free.

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Buckingham Fountain

Located in the center of Grant Park and open since 1927, the Buckingham Fountain is a beautiful piece of architecture that’s completely free to view and easy to walk to.

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Go to the Top of a Tall Building

Part of the Chicago experience, right? The go-to here is the famous Willis Tower. But, the Willis Tower does cost money to experience. Although, if you feel like paying, you can go out on the skydeck which is a small glass room protruding from the Willis Tower that you can step out onto and look at the city hundreds of feet below. If you’d like the tall tower experience but would prefer a free option, try the John Hancock Building! On my first Chicago trip I went up to the top of the Willis Tower and it was a great experience. However, on this trip we opted for the free John Hancock Center, which was also memorable. It’s a 100-story 1,128 ft. skyscraper completely free to enter. At the top is a restaurant and bar, surrounded by glass walls that allow you to overlook the city while you dine. However, if you’re super cheap (like me!) you can ride to the top for the view and sneak back down without buying a thing!

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The Riverwalk

The riverwalk is quickly becoming a hot tourism spot in Chicago. Lined with restaurants and shops, the Chicago River goes straight through the city and hosts walking tours, boat rides, and beautiful scenery. I went on a “Chicago’s Finest Tours” walking tour which was exquisite. 90 minutes walking, lots of great history and facts, and a fun boat ride, plus the tour guide was enthusiastic and funny. While this tour wasn’t free, you can still walk through the riverwalk free of charge.

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Deep Dish Pizza

This is an essential part of the Chicago experience. There is authentic deep dish pizza everywhere, and each time I’ve visited Chicago I’ve eaten at a different spot. That being said, you really can’t go wrong anywhere. Go ahead and splurge on your pizza–trust me.

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This concludes the cheap selection! Although they are pricey, Chicago offers some of the best art museums, natural history museum, aquarium, and space and industry museum. Certain venues hold cheaper days/nights and if you’d like to go to the big three (Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum of Natural History, and the Art Institute of Chicago) you can buy passes that bundle the three and are cheaper than buying individual passes. While these passes aren’t exactly thrifty, if you have the means to go to at least one attraction you will not regret it.

Have fun in Chicago!

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Travel Stories from Around the World

I set out to ask some of the most experienced, knowledgable travel bloggers a few questions about their experiences. I asked where they’ve been, to share their favorite experience, a funny disaster story, and lastly one piece of advice for all of you newbie/ aspiring globe trotters. From their answers, I hope you can learn more about what to expect, know, and love about traveling (I know I did)!

Where have you traveled?

“I have so far traveled to 3 continents and over 20 countries. Some of the countries I have been to are: USA, Thailand, Amsterdam, France, Spain, Italy, Mexico, Jamaica and Tenerife.”

@dreamand_wander

“India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Borneo, Bali, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, United, States, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Czech Republic, Poland, Turkey, Morocco and of course England, Scotland and Wales.”

@ FindingBeyond

“So far only Europe. I’ve interrailed across Eastern Europe, driven around Iceland & Norway, been to Lapland 8 times and seen a total of 23 countries. I aim to double that in the next 5 years. “

@JoonasInCPH

What is your favorite memory?

“Whenever I travel, if I am not in a place long enough to immerse myself completely in the culture, I always try to have what I like to call ‘live like a local day.’ My favorite LLL day would have to be my trip to Florence. I rented a moped with a friend of mine and we drove through the cobble-stoned streets of Italy. We even got chased down by Italian foot cops for driving through a pedestrian only street! We had no idea. Although we only had the bike for an hour, I have never felt so free in my life. That feeling is something I will always cherish and I will forever think fondly of my Italian ‘live like a local day.'”

@tfabroad

“Reaching the top of Preikestolen, Norway, with 600m drops on all sides of this amazing rock pointing out into the Lysefjord…it really is a spectacular place with incredible views! Sat here it is so easy to imagine Viking long ships sailing past returning with their plunder from from foreign lands…it is a place where time really stands still.”

@mytravelmission

“It’s a bit cheesy but when we got engaged in Dubrovnik, Croatia. The city is so beautiful and one of the most romantic locations we have ever visited. Darren proposed on top of the St Lawrence Fortress which overlooks the old city. He couldn’t have chosen a better spot.”

@FindingBeyond

Everyone’s had something go wrong while traveling, what’s a funny story where something did not go as planned?

“Through my travels, I have had many, many experiences where things have gotten a little crazy. The time that most sticks out in my mind was my trip to Monaco. A large group of us went to the Monte Carlo Casino. It was a big night out where we all got dressed up and has a lot of fun. On the ride back, I fell asleep on the bus and since I was in the back row with only one other person (who was also sleeping), nobody noticed us or thought to wake us up. Next thing you know, I wake up to hear the bus driver locking the door! We had missed all the bus stops and the bus was back in the yard for the night 20 minutes away from the hotel. When I approached the driver, he was so startled, saying “this has never happened before! I have never had anybody be left on the bus.” Lucky for me, he was very nice and had his friend (who didn’t speak a lick of English) drive me home. Then to top it all off, when I got back to our hotel, the gate was locked for the night so I had to hop the fence in my fancy dress and five inch heels! Looking back, I was very fortunate to have run in to the right people. Things could have gone very differently if not for their kindness. But, nonetheless, it is a night I will always remember!”

@tfabroad

“It was my first time abroad at the age of 17. Me and my best friend went to Brighton (UK), and we were staying with a host family we met back home. As soon as we enter the house, their over-friendly dog comes to greet me and completely rips off my shirt. I am left standing there in my underwear feeling like I am about to die with shame.”

@dreamand_wander

“I was in Key Largo with my friends because we had bought a Groupon for a one hour Jet Ski and all day kayak. First of all, the service from the people that worked there was rude. So it started off a little shaky. lol But once we were out in the open water with the Jet Skis we forgot all about it. The water is so amazigly blue, it was unreal. After our one hour was up, we went and switched to the kayaks. I have never been kayaking before so I was all about it. If you have never been to Florida, then you don’t know how quickly weather can change.We had only been out maybe ten minutes when the clouds started rolling in. I kid you not, we saw the clouds and said maybe we should head back but some of the guys thought we had a few more minutes. WRONG! Literally within seconds it was like we were in the middle of a hurricane. The workers from the company came out to get the others that were on Jet Skis, so we thought “ok cool, there be over to grab us too.” Yeah no…they left us stranded in the middle of the ocean. I am not even exaggerating when I say the wind was outrageous as was the rain. We were paddling for our lives basically. There was a dock that we had to get around before getting back into the canal but the wind was so strong we were getting thrown under the dock. Somehow we managed to get around it but once we did the rain and wind seemed to intensify to the point where I couldn’t see anything and the rain felt like hail against my skin. As we are trying to get back through the canal, there are also boats that are trying to get through so it was a struggle for us staying out of there way. Not only that, the wind was either pushing us back or swaying us into parked boats along the canal. After what seemed like hours of an ordeal, we finally made it back to the shop. It’s safe to say, you should definitely check the weather before going out on the water.”

@travelingbbrunette

What’s one travel tip you’d like to share with my readers 

“Don’t book accommodation solely on website photos. We’ve lost count of the amount of rooms we’ve checked into that look nothing like they did on the website. Do a little bit more digging online. Trip Advisor’s traveller photos are always good for more up to date images.”

‪@FindingBeyond

“As a solo female traveler, the best advice I can give is to always walk with confidence. If you give off an air of self-assurance, people will assume you know where you are going and what you are doing… even if you don’t. This could make all the difference in terms of safety. “

@tfabroad

“Never try to overplan it. I did this for our trip around the east coast of the USA, and while it was great to be at home and know exactly where we were going and what we were doing and having paid for it all, when you get there you just want to soak it all in. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you didn’t have enough time to explore! Not to mention you don’t always feel like doing something strenuous everyday and may feel like having a day off every now and again!”

@_jordan_short

“Things will happen: planned and unplanned, but always keep an open mind. You never know: that one terrible moment in that trip you took may be something you’ll look back on fondly – or even be the catalyst for life long friendships and hilarious photos.”

 @JemicahColleen

Thank you to everyone that contributed! I got a lot of great responses, too many to post! So I will be featuring even MORE in a later article 🙂

Everyone showcased in this article:

@JemicahColleen

@_jordan_short

@tfabroad

@FindingBeyond

@travelingbbrunette

@dreamand_wander

@mytravelmission

@JoonasInCPH

Touffailles, France – and Why You Need to Go There

I arrived in Touffailles from Valencia, Spain. There is a bus line, train, and airport as modes of transportation to Toulouse, which is a city near Touffailles. From Spain you can easily get there from Valencia or Barcelona. Touffailles gave me a glimpse of the quaint, historical, flourishing land of French countryside. Before, my only experience had been the bustling tourist destination of Paris. Touffailles is an entirely different world. If you enjoy rustic buildings, old architecture, slow village life, and gorgeous natural scenery (with plenty of open land) Touffailles is the spot for you. Upon arrival I ate at a café—enjoying cheap but strong coffee and yet another delectable unpronounceable chocolate pastry—in a square closed in by an 11th century abbey. After breakfast, I ventured inside the church; its foundations were built in 600 A.D. and painted walls and arched ceilings were added in the 1000’s. The inside of the church sparkled with high stained glass windows and the walls shone uniquely of hand-painted gold and red that stretched all the way to the arched ceilings. After leaving the square I resided in my B&B for the next three days (relatives!), which is settled in a small village that is surrounded by blooming green hills and colorful flowers. The old houses in this area were the real treat. Rustic and beautiful, my room over looked the village, equipped with chapels, old churches, and homes sprinkled between the hills. So far, I’m loving Touffailles.

My first night in southern France I spent at a weekly evening Marché Gourmand in a square in Lauzerte. There, I enjoyed curried sausage, a local beer mixed with lemonade, and my first ever snail! Drenched in garlic—they’re not half bad. There was live music, dancing, and local vendors selling a variety of dishes. French chips (French fries) are delicious and so are their crepes; I had a Nutella one for dessert. Around the square you can take in the views of Lauzerte below you. Many towns are atop hills like this because in the ancient world they were built up high for protection. A particularly good locally grown wine was the Château d’ Aix Rosé. This square hosts these evenings every Thursday during the months of July and August.

On the second day I enjoyed yet another beautiful view of the French southern countryside atop a hill in Tournon-d’Agenais. In this area you will find many war memorials, churches, and breath-taking scenery.

Sitting outside looking down the rolling hills on which this small village is perched, surrounded by vibrant flowers and their accompanying butterflies and bees, one cannot help but be inspired. Touffailles is an undiscovered gem of the world.

 

Pisa, and the last of Italia

Let me first say, the bus ride to Pisa, Italy from Rome was the most picturesque bus ride I have ever been on in my life. Traveling through Europe made me privy to many beautiful places, but there is no countryside more naturally gorgeous than the Western Coast of Italy. I highly recommend bussing or taking a train through this during the day so you can witness the vibrant blues and greens and rolling hills and remote cottages that are too stunning to be properly captured in a picture. But anyways…

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On the bus to Pisa

Pisa! We made it. The final stop before going our separate ways in Spain. After the long bus ride, we made it to the slightly isolated and quaint province of Pisa. Pisa is not a huge, booming, tourist-filled city. Besides the Leaning Tower, there isn’t much else going on. But that’s all we came to see; and frankly, a sleepy town was perfect after all of the running around in Rome. We did a lot of walking through Pisa. Transportation was fairly reliable, and we were able to use both walking and the public bus system to get around. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is cool! It’s located in a pleasantly underrated area with surprisingly just a handful of tourists. It is a huge, sparkling white tower that does look like it’s about to fall over. It costs some euros to get in and walk to the top, so we opted out of that. After taking our stereotypical Leaning Tower pics, we headed “home” for the night. Our last night in Italy, and we ate Chinese takeout! You start to get over carbs, and since the only other options in Italian food are a side salad or some meat, we needed a break from authentic cuisine. The Chines food was surprisingly delicious! This laid-back night concluded our backpacking journey and my time in Italy. It was a truly unique country that I am eager to explore again. Our hostel was walking distance form the airport, and run by an impressive German trilingual fill-in traveler just getting into the hostel-running world, who did everything he could to make us feel at home. The next morning, bright and early at 5 am, we were off to catch our planes. Mine, to Madrid, to start my Spanish adventure.

Roma, My First Cappuccino, and More Camping

Rome! We had arrived. Our bus left from Venice the night before. For a moment, we thought the bus would never come and that we’d have to make frantic impromptu plans—Milan airport style. But it ended up ok, and that the bus was just two hours late. Something I learned, particularly about Italian travel, is that their polychronic time culture expands to the transportation systems. This means you can’t plan for or expect Italian travel methods to be on time, except the metro. When we got to Rome around 7 am, we still had a few hours until we could check into our hostel.

The first thing we saw, after grabbing a coffee and pastry (the croissants are different in Italy!), was the Altare della Patria. The locals call this The Wedding Cake, because it’s rectangular, white, and tall, but the name reflects a gaudy and frivolous connotation, which the Romans aim at whom the monument is for: Vittorio Emanuele II. Vittorio was the first king of unified Italy, and as our walking tour guide told us, not very embraced by the Romans. To the local, the monument symbolizes Vittorio’s love for himself instead of the promised unity and advancement of the Italian people.

The walking tour that we went on was great. Very informative, spoken in excellent English, and free! If I had known about these sooner I would have looked them up for every city we visited. They’re a great, cheap way to learn the history of what you’re looking at. Which is especially crucial in Rome. On this tour, we also saw the Spanish Steps, Campo Marzio, and the Trevi Fountain.

After our walking tour of the city we checked into our hostel. Two Ducks, it was called. Despite having almost all terrible reviews, we committed to the place because it was cheap and convenient.

It actually turned out to be ok! No hot water in the showers, which was hard to get used to, but we were only there for one night. The view of the city from our room was great and we were near a cute breakfast bar (in Europe many bars will also serve breakfast) where I ended up having my first cappuccino. European cappuccinos, unlike American as I’ve since found out, have chocolate in them, along with the coffee, steamed milk, and foam. Delicious.

Later that day, we also went to go see the Coliseum! —As well as some incredible ruins, a yummy midday meal, and the exquisite Pantheon. The Coliseum was incredible. We waited in line for a good amount of time, but definitely less than an hour. I had my British passport, and that helped me get into the speedier line, also if you have a student ID card or identification proving your under 25 years old, you can get a discounted ticket. Once inside, the structure was so cool. They built a wooden platform over some of the area that a platform would have originally covered, this showed where the platform would have been and where gladiators would have walked, and leaving some of the space uncovered showed some underground tunnels where the warriors and beasts walked under the stadium. You could really imagine where the seats would have been and could even see the big arches where fighters walked through into the platform to be enveloped by the crowd. Much of the structure has been depleted, not because of time, but unfortunately because of stone theft. When the Roman Empire was crumbling, many thieves stole this stone to be used as building materials elsewhere, but the remaining structure gives a good insight into what the Coliseum once looked like.

To keep this article at a decent length, I’ll finish the rest of Rome in the next article, Rome Part #2! Read on to experience the Pantheon, more gelato and pasta, the Vatican, and our campground.

London to Paris

Arriving in London is usually the cheapest destination in Europe. And you can easily travel from the UK to the European continent, by bus! We took a 10-hour bus ride from London right into the heart of Paris. Arriving at about 10pm (our bus came in late) we checked into our campsite (more about that later) and struggled to maneuver around a city for which we did not fluently speak the language. Despite this—Paris is brilliant. Forget what you’ve heard about French people! We were worried our American nationality and English speaking would turn people off—as it is commonly thought in the states. But quite the opposite. Parisians went out of their way to stop us on the street, whether we were looking at a map or buying a metro pass, to ask us if we needed help. In English! I know what you’re thinking, and we never even came close to being pick-pocketed. Usually you’ve got to watch out for these “helpers” who target lost tourists as means to a new phone or wallet. But none of these locals approached us in this way, they were genuinely trying to be helpful and we felt very safe.

Something that entranced me from the start, and all the way through Europe, was the architecture. Normal buildings, apartments, shops—even McDonalds—are built inside the most beautifully crafted historical architecture. Simply walking around the streets is the best way to fully absorb Paris and its beauty.

For the day that we were there we had three objectives: Eiffel Tower, Catacombs, and the Louver. A piece of advice is know where you want to go, how far away they are from each other, and what method of transportation is best. The metro was perfect for us and our plans because it made each spot accessible and was wonderfully easy to maneuver. I recommend getting the one or however many day pass that you plan to spend there, it’s a way to spend money and know you’ve got a secure way of getting around. Second, get out early. You’ll be waiting in lines for everything. We got up around 7, ate breakfast, and were at the Eiffel before 9. This was lucky because the Tower didn’t open up until after 9, so we got a good spot in line and didn’t have to wait long. One forewarning: PARIS IS NOT BACKPACK FRIENDLY. At least not for traditional backpacking size, where you’ve got a 40-lb pack with you at all times, which we had that day. We almost didn’t get into the Eiffel because of our large backpacks, small purses are fine, but large bags must be checked for security reasons and they were hesitant to even let us through. Therefore, I’d recommend staying in a place in Paris where you can securely leave your bags while you’re out, or renting a locker. Once inside, you have to pay for a ticket for the elevator up to the top, or a cheaper ticket to climb the stairs. We climbed as high as is allowed (with our packs) and then took the elevator up the rest of the way. You don’t have to pay for another ticket at the second level, nor to get down. I highly recommend going all the way to the top, the third level. The elevator is cramped and a bit sketchy—if you have a fear for that sort of thing. But it’s a short ride and well worth it. The view of Paris is spectacular. And the Tower itself is magnificent. Much bigger than I’d expected!

After the Eiffel we made our way back to the Catacombs, which is in the center of the city and can be a bit hard to locate. Every sign and person will direct you to a triangular strip in the middle of an intersection. You’ve got to walk around the perimeter of it until you’ll see a small wall with little letters saying Catacombs. Of course, you could always just follow the line. We waited two hours in a massive hoard of people; some friends of mine who went a few weeks later waited four. Allow for this kind of waiting time in your schedule. The Catacombs were awesome. I thoroughly enjoyed them and all their creepiness. It’s literally stacks and stacks of ancient bones, and eerie old signs written in French (“mort” was all I could understand). Again our backpacks were a problem, but here they’ll let you store your pack in a room and you can wander below freely. However, you’ll have to find your way back to the entrance to retrieve your bag, because the end of the displayed tunnel spits you out a few blocks down. It’s truly amazing how far those Catacombs reach. They cover nearly the entire city. We didn’t opt for a tour; you can learn on your own by reading informative signs—and maybe secretly trailing a tour group or two.

The Louver unfortunately did not happen. Security wouldn’t let us in with our bags, and they had no lockers or rooms to store them. Disappointing. But I’ve heard exploring the whole museum takes many hours. Also some nights and days of the week offer free student admission to limited exhibits and there are many discounts you can take advantage of by checking their website. I’ll be back to Paris undoubtedly, and the Mona Lisa will be waiting for me.

Our hostel situation was a different, but good, experience. We stayed in a campground in the garden of a discontinued hospital that was now used to house low-income passerby’s and locals. The check-in lady described it as a place for artists, starving musicians, and travelers to stay and be welcomed. The price reflected this! We stayed in a teeny tent atop some wooden planks and had close neighbors. Besides the audible next-door snoring and slight panic at a spider inside our tent—the place was great. I’d recommend it to people who are looking for a unique experience; it’s not for those who prefer luxury. We showered outside under a pull-down tent, used outdoor sink and toilet facilities, and yoga mats to sleep on (plus other rentable equipment) were provided. All in all, it was a positive experience.

Paris is an incredible city that needs to be explored. You definitely can’t do everything in one or two days, so plan accordingly to get to the things that are most important to you. And remember not to carry around a backpack! We didn’t feel comfortable leaving our packs in our unlocked tent, so the only thing I’d do differently is sleep somewhere secure as to leave our bags there. From Paris it was time to fly to Milan where we could catch a bus to Venice and arrive by morning. Or so we thought…