In all honesty, I had never felt quite as afraid of going into the open world as I did this morning.
The combination of an unfamiliar location, strange people all around me, and completely ditching the comfort of the home really made me feel fear. However, the exchanges you make for the freedom to do what you want is absolutely worth it. Both liberating and overwhelming at the same time, I can do everything, so I want to do everything.
Traveling alone on a budget is where things get really, well, interesting. I didn’t expect too much from a $2.50 round trip bus fare, but when I got dropped off by my father in downtown St. Louis at 3:00 in the morning, “interesting” just doesn’t give my experience justice. In a sense, “budget” might just mean “out of your comfort zone” in some ways.
Getting on the Megabus, the seats were lined with horizontal people dozing off into the night. The bus had started its route somewhere in Mississippi, and most of the passengers had been riding for several days after making their way through Nashville, Memphis, and now, St. Louis.
“Budget” might not even be the word for the roughly six-hour drive the bus took me on. Trash bags lined the seats, there were no seating assignments, and most of all, there was no heating. At below freezing temperatures on the highway, I was curled up in my own isle wishing I had brought a blanket.
If I learned one thing from that trip, it’s to eat your breakfast. And eat a lot of it. I forgot to bring some granola bars with me and ended up going to sleep on the bus hungry.
Overhearing conversations, I found out that there were quite a number of recently-released convicts onboard. Discussion about getting diamonds in white gold grills was had between the people sitting in front of me. Another man was detained after urinating on the floor of the lower level — the driver and other passengers suspected he was drunk. There was a lot of road rage from both the bus driver and the passengers.
It was entertaining, to say the least.
I arrived in Chicago at around 10:00am.
Getting off the bus, I immediately made my way to the Chicago Transit Authority subway station just a few blocks away. I didn’t expect a New York City level of public transportation, but everything was seamless and absolutely reminded me of getting around in the Empire City.
I’m really glad that I ended up getting a 3-day unlimited pass for the CTA because I ended up swiping onto the trains five times today, which would have added up to $12.50 at $2.50 per ride. I still have two more days to go — it’ll easily pay for itself.
I think that public transport serves not only as a good way to get around but as a powerful sightseeing tool as well. Winding through the various parts of the city, I could see how Chicago was both historic and modernizing. As a lover of modern architecture, it was a great introductory view of the city.
The Getaway Hostel is an impressive suite of repurposed apartments.
There are dorm-style living spaces and communal bathrooms. Unfortunately, if you paid attention, I did not pack a pair of sandals and shampoo, so I’ll be rinsing off as much as possible while trying not to make contact with the floor. Or, I can just wait and get some shoes and shampoo.
Although I was sure I booked a single bed in an all-male dorm room for 12, I ended up getting assigned a co-ed room of four, rooming with an older lady (41) named Jocelyn who introduced herself as a nomad that completely left her home in California and decided to tour the world.
The minimalist’s dream.
She’s walked across entire states in support of firefighters everywhere, feeling inspired after being saved from a near-death experience. After a short talk, I found out that she was filming a series with the firefighters in Chicago and had been staying in the city for over a month. She also claimed she was under U.S. government scrutiny for her YouTube videos, which she said were “very political”.
One of them, Jocelyn said, had received over 300 million views worldwide, but I couldn’t seem to find it. Trying to look for any of her other uploads failed as well as they seemed to have been taken down.
There’s another person staying in the room, though I haven’t had the chance to meet him.
My first meal in Chicago was a bowl of Vietnamese pho, one of my favorite foods, period. About half a mile away from the hostel, the restaurant Fuh offered a Chipotle-style “build it yourself” pho which ran me about $9.
I also felt the need to buy some bottled water after I found that it was extremely difficult to get water in the city, whether it was from a restaurant or drinking fountain. After walking over 17,000 steps today, I thought I deserved to be hydrated.
Budget-wise, I’m staying well within my limits of $150 for the entirety of my stay. Today alone, I have spent less than $15.
The beauty of solo travel has already made itself apparent to me.
I’ve spent the day soaking in the essence of Chicago. It’s a beautiful city with a bountiful history, booming downtown and beautiful architecture. The people here always seem to be in a hurry to get somewhere, with a lot of them running around with briefcases in their hand.
I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. Nobody can tell me otherwise. If I get lost, it’s not a big deal. There were no deadlines to meet, no quotas to fulfill. If I felt like walking to the Trump Tower in downtown, I could do it. And I did. If I felt like spending an hour at a small university art museum just 5 minutes from my lodging, I could do it. And I did.
By going somewhere alone, I gave up the “safety in numbers” mentality, but what I gained is something far better: time. A single person doesn’t have to wait on someone else, compromise on what activities they wanted to do, or squander any time waiting on others.
It’s just the constant feeling of “go” and the ability to follow that drive.
Solo travel also lets your mind wander freely. When I was staring in awe at thousands of feet of skyscrapers, I started feeling smaller. Insignificant, but in a good way — my problems were insignificant.
Whenever I went to see the Cloud Gate (AKA “The Bean”), I felt this way especially. Being able to see the towering feats of engineering looming behind me as well as the teeming tourists eager to take photos of themselves and friends all at once just gave me the feeling that “nothing matters too much”.
All the worries I had in the world kind of just melted away the longer I stood underneath the massive sculpture.
All in all, the first day of travel turned out much better than I thought it would.
I started the day out fearing for my life, but as I’m finishing up this article in the lounge of my hostel, I’m a strong believer that anyone seeking out adventure is capable of ditching their comfort zone and experiencing something new.
Overall, disregarding popular eats and the big museums, I feel satisfied with my experience in Chicago. I’ve absorbed the soul of the city and managed to hit so many of the free attractions that I’d be fine if I had to go home tomorrow.
You don’t need to have a lot of time, you don’t need to have a lot of money. Travel is flexible.
I’m proof. I’m excited to see what tomorrow brings.
Thanks for reading,