Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Chicago Travel Challenge: Part 1

I was reading the Mogul in Training blog and she had done a challenge to spend only a certain amount on her last vacation. I have never really had a budget for a vacation before so I thought I would give it a try.
This week the hubby and I are in Chicago because I am attending a conference for work. A couple of days before we left, I sold a desk which I had on CraigsList (part of my $1500 challenge) however I had already reached the $1500 so didn't need the funds for that challenge so I thought I would take the $300 and see if we could keep our spending for five days to $300 or less for both of us. A few things are working in our favor, namely the five star hotel we are staying in is paid for by a client (rant about these kinds of hotels below), airfare was also paid, we long ago got over buying souvenir trinkets, and, since we only travel with one carry on bag each, it is really hard to buy much because we would have no way to get the excess stuff back home. I did a bit of research before we left to find out what (really cheap, preferably free) things there are to do in Chicago and was able to develop quite a list. Here's how our money has been spent so far:

Day 1 (Monday): $56 spent
  • Two three-day CTA (bus/subway) passes $28 for both. This is one of THE BEST investments we made for our trip. With this pass, you can use any bus or subway for an unlimited amount of trips for 72 hours. We have been literally all over Chicago using these passes so this already saved us a bunch of money (and hassle) over using a rental car.
  • Dunkin Donuts, $2. This is my favorite donut place and we don't have this on the West Coast so a necessary splurge.
  • $4 for a two litres of pop and bottled water for the hotel room. Using the mini-bar is insane because the prices are so high so we go to the local corner store and buy beverages for the room at a fraction of the price.
  • KenKee Restaurant, $22 for both of us. We went to Chinatown and looked into the windows of restaurants until we found one packed with local Chinese people. This is a sure-fire way to find a good restaurant because if all of the locals eat there, it is pretty much guaranteed that they have good food and good prices. We weren't disappointed--the food was excellent!

Day 2 (Tuesday): $25.55 spent

  • We headed to REI because they had a big sale and this could have been a budget buster but I couldn't find anything I really needed so we just looked but didn't buy. Free.
  • Next we hopped on the subway to Greektown and went to Mr Greek Gyros for lunch (another place packed to the gills with people during lunch). $14 bought us a huge helping of rib tips and rice and a huge gyro and fries. Excellent food, huge portions, and great prices!
  • I gave $1 to a guy who was singing and playing his guitar in the subway. A good price to pay for 10 minutes of good entertainment.
  • We then hopped on the subway again and went to window shop at the Magnificent Mile--Macy's, Saks, and dozens of other stores that are incredibly expensive. Bought nothing so this cost 0.
  • The Museum of Contemporary Art was right down the street from the Magnificent Mile and it was FREE today. We wandered around in a nice air conditioned gallery and checked out the (decidedly odd in my opinion) artwork.
  • Across the street was the Northwestern School of Law. I wanted a sweatshirt from the school but we didn't feel like walking to the other end of the campus in the heat so this stop cost nothing.
  • A Starbucks stop cost $5.35 for both of us.
  • We discovered WowBao which produces great Asian buns in this same area. $3 for two buns.
  • We finished up with a lite dinner at The Dog Joint in Lincoln Park (we had headed over to the zoo but it was closed), so dinner cost $5.20 for both of us (a hot dog for hubby and a hot dog with all the fixins, hold the hot dog, for me).
  • Leftovers from earlier today was the perfect late night snack for hubby, cost, free.
  • A beautiful fireworks show provided evening entertainment for about 30 minutes and it was right outside out hotel window in the middle of the river so we didn't even have to leave our room to watch it! Free!

Day 3 (Wednesday): $46.63 spent

  • We hit the subway early this morning so we could be at the Lincoln Park Zoo when it opened. Apparently every other school kid in Chicago did the same--I have never seen so many kids in one place at one time! The zoo was great--clean and lots of animals to look at and photograph. Best of all, this attraction was FREE!
  • Lunch was in Chinatown where we broke our cardinal rule of restaurant finding and went to a restaurant that had no people in it. The food wasn't all that great unfortunately. $15 for two lunches that were only so-so.
  • $1 went to a lady who was singing in the subway--she had a beautiful voice! Here name is Miss Flow she has a website.
  • $4 for a Starbucks during a break at the conference I was attending (bad habit, I know).
  • After looking over the entirety of Greektown for a place for dinner, the only restaurant that was packed was Mr Greek's so we went here again--a spanokopita dinner complete with rice, salad, and bread and a pork chop dinner for hubby cost $15.10 for both of us.
  • $1.10 for Dunkin Donuts (again) to bring back to the room for dessert.
  • $10.43 for a six pack of bao from WowBao which will be a late night snack.

And a short rant: I pretty much detest 5-star hotels, even when someone else is paying for it. Give me a nice Comfort Inn type hotel any day. At least with a mid-range hotels like a Comfort Inn or Quality Inn, they include free wi-fi, free exercise room, free parking, free pool, and even free breakfast! Most 5-star hotels, like the one we are staying in, nickel and dime you to death! Room, $250+, parking $15, internet $10 (per computer per day!!), health club $15, breakfast $10+. Ayayay...

1 comment:

  1. You came in way under budget. I agree with your assessment of 5-star hotels. The only good thing about them is the beautiful decor--but that alone does not justify the price.

    It's really cool how you plugged the young lady's website. I checked it out. She really does have a great voice. She is smart to brand herself. In today's reality show culture, she just may make it big.