Solo Trip to Mid-West

Aug 19th, 2017, 10:38 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Chicago has been named by Bon Appetit as the Restaurant City of 2017. (You can read the

With my tongue in my cheek--Somehow, for Chicago I don't see a "community aspect" or perhaps "evening bonfires". There IS that view of the Lake, but somehow I just didn't get that particular "Lake" as a prospect in OP's original post.
And it is entirely possible to actually spend less in a large city.

And yes, a larger budget is always nicer, but I am still of the opinion that with planning she can do it for hers--it is 5 days. If she can get cheap airfare (if she even does that), it leaves about $130/day for the remaining 3.5 days (excluding travel).
HOstels can be a great idea--maybe in the Southwest?
Gretchen is offline  
Aug 19th, 2017, 12:15 PM
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Exiled princess- I love Chicago but there is literally nothing in that suggestion to go with the OP's wishes. Have you actually stayed at HI Chicago? I have. It has all the charm and community spirit of a convention hotel

I do agree with you that the budget is tight for what she wants, but the only hostel that I can think of that is in the $60-75 range is Boston. That's flat out untrue for everywhere else.

It would be much easier, though, if you could manage airfare+1000 for expenses. Otherwise, I'm pretty sure you're limited to the east coast.

The southwest would be great but transit limits your options. And there are very few hostels. However, there is a hostel in flagstaff that does organized hikes of the grand canyon, so that might be something to consider although I think I would want a car for that.
marvelousmouse is online now  
Aug 26th, 2017, 11:58 PM
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Perhaps the two of you didn't get the crux of this: This person just doesn't have the budget for what they want - and probably not sufficient time. My suggestion for Chicago was to fit within that budget.

If they want what they state above, they will have to increase their budget. Period. Probably by 25-50%. Any rural or remote area will require getting a rental car. It would be extremely unlikely it would be served by public transportation at all. They may not even find Uber or any other shared ride in that particular area, because there are many areas of the Midwest that simply don't have that.

A rental car is not a necessary expense in a city which is well-served by public transportation. In Chicago, it is a downright liability. And, in the Midwest, there are very few even larger cities which even have any substantial public transportation.

By eliminating the rental car, this person would not only be saving at least 20% of the budget they would need if they had to get it, but they would also save many, many hours (perhaps a couple of days) of travel time getting to that park or more remote area. Airports serve urban areas - not what she wants.

marvelousmouse, again, I only mentioned the hostel because of this extremely low budget. Perhaps you should take a look at what the price for hostels is nowadays. Please remember to add in all the factors...The membership fees, the bed and city taxes, any required additional fees (such as bedsheets, locks and the like).

The HI Chicago, for example, has differing rates but (just for a quick check) can be $40-46 for a Standard Female Shared and over $110-135 (some nights are in excess of $150) for a semi-private room. That's exclusive of taxes and fees, BTW.

The Freehand (hostel/hotel hybrid) in Chicago charges almost $240 for a queen (extra for a city view) and more than $250 for a king (again extra for the view) for a private room and $60 for a shared quad room. This pricing is exclusive of taxes and fees.

And - no, I don't use hostels. If I had to resort to that for a visit, I would just wait until I could afford better. Because I simply don't see the reasoning in spending all that money and getting a second-rate experience somewhere. You *never* get the same (or better or best) experience at any destination if you are on a budget. Not even close. So I save my money for better things.

Honestly, I read some of these trip reports and wonder if the authors even realize what they've missed.

@OP: Just for the record, I understand what you want, but if that is your full budget - go where the huge majority of visitors to the Midwest do: Chicago. I've given you a suggestion for a very inexpensive day-trip out to see a national lakeshore and one of the 10 best state parks in the nation.

Also, you can dine as some tourists do - cheaply - on deep-dish/stuffed pizza, Chicago-style hotdogs or Italian beef sandwiches - fast food or chains. But if you want to dine as the locals do, by eliminating that rental car expense, you'd have more $ to apply to the dining portion. Or even the entertainment portion.
exiledprincess is offline  
Aug 27th, 2017, 01:59 AM
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Oh for pete's sake. We "get" it. LOL As the mouse and I have said we were trying to meet OP.
Gretchen is offline  
Aug 27th, 2017, 05:43 AM
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Chicago is the only option that fits the budget? Somebody needs to get out more.

As I already mentioned, fly to Minneapolis and get a rental car. Itasca State Park has a good cheap hostel. Alternatively, a number of state parks have camper cabins for 40-50 a night. Definitely doable in a $1K budget. The North Shore of Lake Superior is 10x better than taking a bus to Indiana to see some sand dunes. It's not even close.
WhereAreWe is offline  
Aug 27th, 2017, 09:22 AM
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I used to contribute to this site pretty frequently, but I don't any more just because of these types of comments.

WhereAreWe, of course there are other options. However, the OP not only has a budget of $1000 but specifies 4-5 days total for the trip. Eliminate 2 days for just the air travel between CT and the Midwest somewhere. Airfare will be cheaper (and more frequent) between hubs than between other airports.

How many days driving time up and back to the North Shore from MSP? 2.5-3 hours each way? Subtract that as well and you have what left - 1 or 1-1/2 day?

Let's ask the OP - Do YOU want to travel 3-4 days to enjoy 1 or 1.5 at your destination?

Please also keep in mind that the OP is only 25 - might be a substantial surcharge on the cost of the rental due to that fact alone - depending on where she rents it, of course. In addition, they are limited to using that rental car on a RT excursion or they'll have a very substantial one-way drop-off fee.

@OP, I am sincerely trying to give you an alternative option in lieu of a more substantial $/time budget. It's up to you if you wish to do this under these circumstances or wait until later. If the latter, IF you had the sufficient budget AND more time, these are what I would have suggested for some of the Midwestern states you've mentioned as well as the surrounding ones:

Fly into Grand Rapids, MI. Pick up a rental car and drive up along the northwest coast of Michigan up to Mackinaw Island. Stay ON the Island, perhaps at the Grand Hotel. This is considered a premier resort in the Midwest by many reputable travel publications.

Or fly into ORD. Pick up a rental car there and drive to the NW corner of the state. (This is about a 4-4.5 hr. drive from ORD.) Stay in a B&B in Galena, IL. 85-90% of the downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places. If she doesn't want to stay right there, she could always stay at the Eagle Ridge Resort. Or she could cross the Mississippi River and stay in Dubuque, IA. Then, starting from there, drive up or down one of the Great River Roads (each state has one), which travel along the Mississippi River - even up to Minneapolis/St. Paul, if you so wish. This is considered one of the great driving tours in the entire U.S.

Or fly into IND. Pick up a rental car there and drive south or southwest. Bloomington, IN; Brown County State Park; drive through the Hoosier National Forest (which actually has 3 sections). She could stay at French Lick/West Baden,if she wishes, although I do think she has better options. She could go down to Madison, IN and visit Clifty Falls State Park - see the waterfalls.

Or, if she is of an artistic bent, at the correct time of the year, fly into ORD or MDW and drive up to around Saugatuck, MI and stay at the Ox-Box School of Art (associated with the Art Institute of Chicago).

And - just so the record is clear - I myself have done all of these.

P.S. WhereareWe, the South Shore is not a bus, it is an electric commuter train which services South Bend, IN (OP: That's where the University of Notre Dame is located) - Chicago area, if you would have only taken the time to do a little research before answering.

Oh - and that assessment of the Indiana Dunes is not by me and not only by major publications (such as USA Today) but by the actual visitation of U.S and international travelers. The parks had over 3 million visitors in 2015 and grows substantially every year. Again, you would have known that, too, had you looked.
exiledprincess is offline  
Aug 27th, 2017, 09:30 AM
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Forgive me if some of my comments might have seemed a little short. However, there have been a couple of instances here where my comments were questioned - and not in very civil ways.

@OP, when you get these suggestions, take a look at the BIG picture of what you want to accomplish with your valuable vacation time and the *quality* of the experience.
exiledprincess is offline  
Aug 27th, 2017, 01:52 PM
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As said above- we get it. But I wasn't talking about private rooms nor Freehand, which is more expensive because it's a "boutique" Hostel. I wouldn't actually suggest Freehand, because while I love it, I don't do hostels for the social aspect and Freehand isn't strong in the social aspect so it would not be worth it for the OP. I have stayed at several US hostels in the last year, and I'm well aware of the prices. $40 is not the same as 60-75, and there are plenty of hostels elsewhere that are actually close to what the OP wants. It's just that HI Chicago is NOT one of those. First time I stayed there, the majority of the guests were under 14 years old- school groups. Yuck. It's a massive, modern hostel, but not a great community hostel. Someone who wants the latter is not going to enjoy it.

FYI: you don't need a membership for a hostel usually. In the US, if you have an Hi card, you save like $3 a night so unless you hostel a lot, it isn't worth it. You NEVER pay for sheets. You might have to put a deposit of a buck down for a towel and lock, but most people travel with those so no. The amount of taxes you pay at a hostel is MiNISCULE compared to the taxes you pay for a hotel, that point just puzzles me. Female economy bed for Wednesday at Hi Chicago is $30.60. Tax is 17%. 5.20. So it's approximately $36 without extras. It does raise a bit during conventions, but nothing like a hotel would.

I remember your previous posts, and I wondered what happened to you. You're a fantastic source for Chicago for a specific type of traveller. But I do object to your assertion that you have to spend a lot of money for an ideal experience. Some people don't care about food. Some people don't care about lodging. It's completely possible to have a blast with staying in hostels and eating inexpensive food. I actually like hostels more than I like budget hotels. I love classy hotels but I don't love spending $300-500/night. And your hang up on gourmet restaurants always makes me laugh, because it's totally possible for someone to enjoy both Michelin star restaurants and street cart hot dogs. Alinea's is on my bucket list, but Garret's Popcorn will never be something I skip.

OP- I thought of a few places to add...

HI Harper's Ferry is a hiking hostel for the Appalachian Trail. That would be awesome.
There are hostels on Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. Also in Hyannis. I think they are mostly seasonal so it may not work for you.
There's a hostel in Stowe VT which I'm pretty sure is accessible by bus. Stowe is a ski town. Smugglers' Notch State Park is nearby. I haven't been to Vermont, so this is all based on my own research- but I thought that while I would want a car, between my bike and the transit, I'd probably survive without one.
marvelousmouse is online now  
Aug 27th, 2017, 05:46 PM
Join Date: Aug 2008
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My goodness.

Flying into MSP and driving 2.5-3 hours to the North Shore is a no go because it eats up too much travel time. Yet flying into Grand Rapids and driving 4-5 hours to Mackinac is ok. And flying to Chicago and driving 4-5 hours to Galena is ok.

Makes perfect sense to me. No idea why anyone would question this advice.
WhereAreWe is offline  
Aug 27th, 2017, 07:53 PM
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Not to mention for Mackinac you recommended the Grand. You're kidding, right? Or you have a very different definition of "sufficient budget" than most...
marvelousmouse is online now  

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