Over Memorial Day weekend, my mom, her friend, and her friend’s 12-year-old granddaughter visited Chicago and I was able to accompany them to all the tourist-y destinations that I, admittedly, had not visited in my many years living in and around Chicago. I spent most of my regular time within the neighborhoods enjoying the less tourist-centric venues and fare. I worked quite literally one block from The Sears/Willis Tower, for instance, and had never been to the top. Weird, right?
We took an architectural boat tour (Chicago has some fantastic architecture!), a hop-on/hop-off double decker bus tour of the Loop, and hit up a lot of the Mag Mile, Millennium Park, and Navy Pier. It was rainy and chilly, but hey, that’s an authentic Chicago Spring!
Here are some tips for making a frugal vacation choice and spending some time re-discovering your own city.
1. Plan it out beforehand
Figure out what you’ve never seen before and plot it on a map. Find out when the less busy times are, too. Those tourist traps can be BUSY, and prohibitively so. We all got sensory-overloaded at the top of the Hancock Center during prime time.
2. Make some time for the lesser-known places you love
Though it was amazing to see Chicago from an outsider’s point of view and hit up all the heavy-hitting destinations, I’ll definitely make sure to show them the more personal side of the city the next time around. Chicago is a quilt of diverse neighborhoods, mural tours, ethnic food, and hidden gems that are worth exploring off the beaten path. Your city surely is, too!
3. Look for free venues and attractions
4. Use alternative travel options
If your city has a public transit system, try to use it. It’ll give you a more authentic experience. Alternately, utilize any bike, segway, or buggy ride options if you’re into that.
5. Ask a local for help if you’re in an unfamiliar part of town
Most folks are totally down to give you some restaurant or entertainment ideas. Heck, most people will talk at length if they’re locals. Alternately, some cities have private companies with guides who will show you around the neighborhoods you’re interested in for free! Chicago has a few companies that do this. Just tell them what you’re into and they’ll craft up a little excursion. It’s an awesome way to get out of your own niche for awhile.
6. Google “Most [Your city] things to do”
Sometimes you want the experience that makes your city, well, your city! In Chicago, this will net you some amazing deep dish pizza, probably an amazing hot dog (no ketchup!), the Billy Goat of SNL fame, some blues and jazz, and definitely some awesome sketch comedy (it is the Second City after all).
7. Don’t forget your camera
I forgot mine during some key moments and missed a few amazing shots of a misty Chicago day. Boo.
Are you ready to explore your city in a new way and save some money? Tell me about it!