A Broke Spring Break: The Finale

the inside of a Starbucks on Ohio and State St in downtown Chicago

where are the bathrooms?

Chicago, among the many nicknames it has earned throughout the years, has quickly become the “City of Holding-it-In”. Seriously, there are rarely any public bathrooms to use and I’ve ended up having to buy a drink just to use the bathroom. It’s a vicious cycle, I tell you. It must be some kind of business scheme.

If you’re ever trapped in Chicago, the Starbucks on Ohio and State St., they gave me the bathroom code “0-3-0-5”. Hopefully, they don’t change it so you don’t have to buy an overpriced milk container just to go.

Yesterday was definitely the “hump day” for solo travel. Maybe it’s because I leave very soon, but I no longer feel the devastating loneliness. I’ll even dare to say I’m trying to fit in as a local by memorizing the public transit maps and boldly ignoring the various hecklers on the streets.

It’s not much, but I’m trying my best even though I keep riding the metro in the wrong direction. Every. Time. This time was kind of interesting because I ended up at a stop named “Lawrence”, which was kind of fun. I think another one of the perks of solo travel is the ability to do silly things like that and relish in them.

Playing music as I walked everywhere definitely helped take my mind off of things. Stopping every couple of hours to write for the blog and edit photos was also a great creative outlet for me. I’ve tried my best to not experience Chicago solely through a camera lens, though taking snapshots of breathtaking views felt like a must.

Lawrence stop on the red line for Chicago Transit Authority to Howard

I’m kind of getting used to the mannerisms, like “even if cars honk at you, just run and you’ll make it to the other side of the street” and the fact that there will be heaps of disappointment if you try to order a Chicago-style hot dog and ask for ketchup instead of mustard. Don’t do it here.

Obviously, I’m not a bumbling buffoon like the tourists that ordered before me, so I went with the full monte.

A very interesting experience, Chicago’s Dog House provided me with a delicious experience. I went with a classic and a Snoop Dogg, their name for a chili dogg. Is it unacceptable to spell it like that from now on?

at Chicago's Dog House, their classic Chicago hot dog and Snoop Dogg hot dog

I’m also not nearly as scared of being pickpocketed like I was in New York City after getting a $20 bill swiped and my backpack opened on their subways.

People are usually just minding their own business and not out to cause you harm. The majority of the tourist hotspots are very safe — my Chicago Greeter made it a point that the gun crime happens in a small pocket in the South Side, somewhere you’d never want to go as a tourist anyways.

a view of downtown buildings from Ohio and State St.

walking is better

After nearly 40,000 steps since I got into the city, I completely regret not bringing shoes that were more suited to hiking or running (not that I have any). My feet are sore all over and my hamstrings are starting to wag their finger at me walking another 10,000 steps all over again.

That being said, exploring the city on foot is the way to go in my opinion. Not only is it good exercise, you have more time to really experience it instead of driving past everything while looking at your phone, but make sure to pack some comfortable shoes.

Another tip that I have for travel is to download your maps. I’ve been eating up my data plan like crazy since I’m getting directions to everywhere I’m going. Google lets you select an area and save it onto your phone temporarily so you can use it offline. The same goes for any Netflix episodes you want to watch or Spotify songs — data is a luxury when away from constant WiFi.

Over-the-ear headphones make for great earmuffs (though not as warm) and they help drown out the constant road rage that goes on downtown. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen near-accidents at stoplights — I’m glad that people keep their brake pads working.

Another thing I was surprised at is how often people smoked marijuana in public. Walking from downtown to the lakefront, at least four or five people were taking hits of blunts. I’m not one to judge personal choice, but the smell was absolutely revolting.

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Visiting Navy Pier, there was a lot of temptation to get on the Ferris Wheel (which was invented in Chicago) to get some incredible views. Walking towards the lake, the view was actually pretty bland. Old buildings in front of a palette of an overcast sky and light teal waters wasn’t much to see, but once I turned around, I literally said, “damn” out loud.

Something I love about cities is the skyline. A bundle of architectural beauty, it tells a lot about a city. Though I wish it was either snowing heavily or lacking clouds entirely, Chicago is definitely gorgeous.

wrapping it up early

I haven’t slept very much the two nights I’ve been here. From freezing rooms to incredibly creaky beds (moving a nanometer will wake anyone up), I’ve been a zombie every morning. If there’s one thing about the Chicago Getaway Hostel, it’s that you should bring your own blankets or sleeping bag (or just don’t come in the winter).

Last night I finally gave in and bought a tiny $2.50 travel sized shampoo from a nearby CVS. Though horribly overpriced, I felt amazing after an extended stay underneath hot water.

My Megabus was set to leave tomorrow at 8:45 pm, but I realized that my CTA pass would have expired before then, forcing me to pay for fares or walk. As prices rise closer to the departure date, I was happy to find that Amtrak was offering a one-way trip to St. Louis for only $27.00.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stay within the budget constraints of $150 for the entire trip. Food was definitely on the pricier side due to it being a city, and deciding to leave early definitely added to the price tag.

However, I will say that especially for coming here alone, what I spent was very low, under $175 for four days and [essentially] three nights. An average of $58 per night in such a popular destination like Chicago is a success in my book. Personally, I would like to stay away from opting for bottom-of-the-barrel living conditions in the future.

I did not opt to skimp on food because eating is such a large component of the experience as it’s a key piece of the culture. Staying in a hostel wasn’t the best experience, but it gave me a place to sleep without breaking the bank.

Opting out of the popular attractions such as Chicago 360, paid Navy Pier activities, and paid museums may seem like missing out on quite a bit, though I’d argue that I don’t regret it. I got as much out of my organic go-as-I-please trip as I think I would have if I followed an itinerary costing me possibly double my budget.

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Budget and/or solo travel is never easy. There’s always a sacrifice needed to make things work and at some point, you’ll be giving something up that you otherwise wouldn’t need to at home. Often I’d go hungry and eat as late as possible as to not have too many meals a day. When you’re walking upwards of 15000 steps or more a day, your body wants food.

And it wants a lot of it.

There’s also the lesson to be learned that there’s so much going on outside of your own life that sometimes, the small things are inconsequential. Big cities are a representation of “big picture” thinking: small things go wrong all the time, but life keeps on moving regardless.

This week served as a great reflective period for my own life as well as an eye-opening week to the vastness of the world. There are so many opportunities out there.

I hope you’ll take my experiences as possible inspiration for taking that first step to travel. A weekend is honestly enough. Grab some clothes, don’t forget your shampoo, and most of all, know what you want to do. There aren’t any rules for what you want to experience, so don’t settle for following someone else’s trip.

Thanks for reading,

-LQH

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