This past weekend, my boyfriend and I embarked on a spontaneous get-away from campus life. After a little (okay, a lot) of planning, some pretty strategic financing, and 8 hours of mind-numbing Midwest corn field driving, we found ourselves in the great city of Chicago. Now that I’ve had a day to readjust to the “real world,” I can confidently say that this weekend was the best of my life. If you think that college students can’t afford the time or money necessary to travel, think again: Here’s how to experience The Windy City on a tight budget and a tight schedule.
Never turn down a $1 ticket: Two Words: THE MEGABUS.
Book early enough and you actually can buy a ticket to many major cities (including Chicago) for just one dollar.
Save money by booking overnight trips
We left for Chicago at 10:50 PM on Friday, and arrived in the city at 6:30 the next morning. Not the most ideal sleeping situation, but we saved ourselves from paying for unnecessary nights in the city.
Stay in the HI Chicago Hostel!!!!
Hostels are designed for the young traveler; the HI Chicago hostel offers free breakfast, SUPER CHEAP nightly rates, dorm style rooms, an awesome location right in downtown Chicago, and it’s super international. Of the four people in my room, I was the only American. You’ll also get discounted tickets for many popular attractions at the front desk!
If you do one thing in Chicago, go to the Skydeck on the top of Willis Tower
This was my favorite part of the trip; the view is absolutely breathtaking and you’ll want to take tons of artsy pictures. A word of caution: get there EARLY! The wait can reach up to 2 hours if you go at prime time (around noon.) We got there at 9:30 AM and didn’t wait for a minute.
Save money by doing things that are free but fun
Chicago is a gorgeous city-we spent a lot of time simply walking around and enjoying the scenery! A few of our favorite spots were
Millenium Park, (The location of “The Bean,” a giant bean-shaped reflective sculpture that is awesome for taking pictures) and the Navy Pier (best view of the skyline in Chicago; also offers plenty of restaurants, souvenir shops, and the iconic World’s Fair replica Ferris Wheel.)
Make it your mission to eat deep dish pizza-you won’t regret it
Our location of choice was Gino’s East-probably the most famous place for Chicago’s iconic pizza. Our tips? Get there before the dinner rush, bring a marker to write on the walls with, and check the weekly circulars for coupons. (We found a coupon for FREE garlic sticks!)
It’s okay to splurge a little when you’re on vacation….
My bank account wasn’t too happy, but my tastebuds sure were when we decided to live on the luxurious side for Saturday night’s dinner. Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak, and Stone Crab: waitstaff to customer ratio: 1:1, and bow-ties galore. Our server brought me out another cup of sauce for my 100% crab meat crab cakes (which put all other crab-cakes to shame) before it was even half-way empty. Oh, and mention that it’s your first time at Joe’s and they’ll give you a complimentary slice of their to-die-for Key Lime Pie.
Visit the Magnificent Mile, even though you probably won’t be able to afford anything
Chicago’s famous “Mag Mile” is a millionaire’s playground; Nordstrom’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Chanel, Gucci…you name it, and it’s there! But don’t worry, it’s not all out of your price-range; there is also a Hershey’s store, an awesome Macy’s, and a giant shopping center in a building called Water Tower Place that houses all the traditional mall stores. If you’re like me, you’ll want to go into Ghirardelli Chocolates for a free sample, and relive your childhood in the giant American Girl Store.
Go to the Museum Campus and pick one to visit (or 2)!
Chicago is home to some of the best museums in the country-go to the Field Museum if you like dinosaurs, ancient Egypt, and other “Night at the Museum” type stuff. Another one worth checking out is the Adler Planetarium; they have a pretty cool to-scale model of the solar system that takes up a whole room, and their location on the water gives visitors really great views of Lake Michigan. We went to both of these museums, but saved money by using my boyfriend’s reciprocal membership with the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. If your family belongs to another science museum somewhere else in the country, you could also be eligible for free entry!
You can sleep in at school….wake up and carpe diem!!!!!
What made our trip so wonderful was how much we were able to do in just two days. But we couldn’t have done half as much as we did if we had slept in every day until 10 in the morning! If you really want to make the most out of a trip to Chicago, or any city, sacrifice a little bit of sleep and you’ll be able to do everything on your vacation bucketlist! All you need is some coffee, a smile, and the excitement of exploring :)
Happy travels, Buckeyes!