march 14 – 17, 2018
Travelling is an (almost) universally shared love. Who doesn’t enjoy the experience of being thrown into an entirely new environment? Whether it’s indulging yourself in new styles of food to being immersed in a new culture, there’s always something to relish in when traveling.
Unfortunately, it’s disheartening to people like me who don’t have the resources available to dish out hundreds of dollars to go to exotic locations. Scrolling through the stream of Instagram photos from European cities and tropical vistas has made me itching to go somewhere new.
Being trapped in Kirskville, a small college town in the middle of nowhere, has given me a bad case of wanderlust.
But what do you do when you’re broke?
Sometimes, you’ve just got to dig through dozens of booking sites, ask around, and ultimately, be patient. Once, Frontier Airlines had tickets so cheap that I flew round trip to Denver for less than $40.
With the price surge during spring break, finding a good method for getting away gets tough. Driving can take days, gas prices easily rack up, and hotels can bring your travel bill sky high.
This year, since I’m apparently an “adult”, I wanted to go somewhere I haven’t really experienced to its fullest, but I also wanted to go alone.
Solo travel is so liberating because there aren’t any compromises when it comes to what you want to do.
I remember when I was in New York City a couple of summers ago and the best moment was just walking through the city alone, only carrying a backpack and wearing headphones, going wherever I wanted.
Chicago. The Windy City.
The biggest city in my childhood state, the only times I’ve visited were when I was either too young to remember or on a school orchestra trip. Not much of vacations. Everybody seems to go there once in a while, so I wanted to see for myself what it was all about.
There are some guidelines when it comes to how I want to travel:
- I want to travel light. It’s not much of a vacation if I have tons of things to keep track of all of the time.
- I want to travel alone. For the reasons aforementioned, I want to be able to do everything I want, when I want.
- I want to spend as little as possible, but still experience everything my destination has to offer. I have a budget of under $150 for the entire trip, something completely doable for anyone looking to travel on a budget.
Fortunately, I’m a student with a .edu email address. This unlocks a whole suite of savings, particularly from UNIDAYS, a website dedicated to giving discount codes to popular brands for students.
Getting from point A to B is usually pretty expensive.
Driving allows you to have a car, but also requires paying for parking and gas, which can add up to be more than a train ticket. MegaBus, a company dedicated to jamming people into a two-story bus and shuttling between cities, is an extremely affordable way to get around. They even have WiFi onboard.
A one-way ticket from St. Louis to Chicago was only $5, making the round-trip cost out to be $12.50 with processing fees. Applying a $10-off coupon code from UNIDAYS took it down to a mere $2.50. Incredible.
As for getting around in Chicago, I think it’d be best to take advantage of their public transit system which serves 1.6 million people every day. A one-way ride is around $2.50 and for a 3-day unlimited pass, it’s only $20, which would pay for itself once I rode three times per day.
I also prefer walking everywhere. Not only is it free, but lets me soak in the urban environment and take my time with sightseeing the city. I do think that it’s important to stay safe, though, and that’s why I’m purposely investing in public transit for those later trips across the city.
I will leave St. Louis at 3:30am on Wednesday and arrive around 10am. My return trip will leave at 8:45am and get back to my hometown at around 2pm. That leaves me two and a half days, which should hopefully be plenty for one person to get to see the city.
Lodging is usually the most expensive part of traveling, and staying for three nights meant that the overall cost could rack up pretty easily. I didn’t want to sacrifice the amount of time I could spend in the city to make sure I could experience it to its fullest.
AIRBNB is usually an attractive option for people traveling on a budget, but I found that sometimes, it’s a pain. I’ve looked through dozens of cheap listings advertising $20/night, but tacking on hidden processing and cleaning fees can raise that price to over $90 for the entire trip. I’m not digging it.
Hostels are the next cheapest option, and I chose to stay at the Chicago Getaway Hostel.
At $23/night, I thought it would be the safest and most affordable option. Apparently, I’ll be staying in a room with about 10 other people, which will undoubtedly be interesting. UNIDAYS also gave me a 10% off coupon for booking on Hotels.com, bringing the total cost after fees to $74 — not too bad considering that’s the average price for a single night most places.
They even offer free breakfast.
So far, lodging and transportation have set me back $96.56. That leaves me about $25/day to eat and see the sights, which is definitely doable as I’ll try my best to do everything for free that I can.
I’ve already booked at the Chicago Greeter, which is a program that pairs visitors with a free local tour guide that can take me anywhere in Chicago. I plan on visiting the many parks throughout the city and relaxing near the beach side. Chinatown is also a renowned neighborhood of Chicago and I think I’ll be spending at least half a day if not an entire one there just to soak up the culture.
A lot of people seem to enjoy paying a lot of money to go very high up in a skyscraper. I’ve done that in New York City, and honestly, it isn’t worth the hype. Everything’s just small, I’d rather see it life-sized and in person.
Why am I documenting everything?
I believe that you don’t have to be wealthy or have a ton of time to experience the world, especially your own country. In a time frame just a bit longer than a weekend, I’m able to vacation to one of the places I’ve wanted to check off my travel list for quite a while, all while spending as little money as possible.
I often hear people complain about not having enough time or money to travel. Well, as someone with no time nor money, I’m trying to practice what I preach. I often talk about living a deliberate and exciting life while minimizing the negatives, but sometimes, it’s hard to prove to my readers that it’s actually what I do.
The urge to get away is something shared by many, but the number that actually do it seems to be quite low. Chicago is the first step of many in exploring the world.
With a little bit of digging and squeezing every penny from your trip, everyone can end up getting away from the same mundane locale we’re all used to. From a couple hours’ drive to flying across to various countries, travel can be an amazing educational tool as well as a great way to relax and destress.
Thanks for reading. I’ll keep you posted as the trip grows closer! I hope you’ll join me on my first steps into the incredible experience that is travel.
If you’re a student and interested in UNIDAYS, click here to sign up with my referral code. There are discounts from quite a number of large companies such as Under Armor and Apple.