How to Visit Chicago on a Budget

We have high hopes of doing as much travel as we can while we’re still able, but travel does cost money. While we do both work full time when we aren’t traveling, we try to be mindful of how we’re spending to make sure we’re getting the best deals. We love a good deal as much as the next person, so that’s why we wanted to share how we visited Chicago for less!

We really like to research our destination well in advance in order to find out the best locations, fun attractions, and generally where to eat and what to see while we’re visiting. Having had Chicago in mind as our next getaway, we started looking for hotels in the Chicago area. (AirBNB could also be an option if you’re interested, but we decided to go with a hotel!) Knowing that walking around the city would likely be the easiest (and cheapest) mode of transportation, we looked for a hotel that was centrally located. After getting an idea of what hotels were in the area, we hopped the budget hotel site,, (Canadian prices FTW!) and found the best prices available with accomodations that we wanted!

Once we chose our hotel, we looked at transportation options. When possible, we often prefer driving to our destinations if it is a reasonable distance to do so. Chicago is only a 6-hour drive from our home city, so driving was a great option for our trip! While it may seem like a bit of a sacrifice, time-wise, it wasn’t that bad. Considering that if we flew, we’d have to drive to Toronto, and wait at least 2 hours in the airport for check-in, fly there, then wait for luggage and find transportation to our hotel, we’d likely be spending at least 5 hours if not more. Same goes for the train – we’d have to catch transfers, and play the waiting game. Driving was the most logical option for our visit, but with driving comes the issue of parking! Parking at our hotel was valet only, and about $60 USD per day. Having stumbled across the budget parking website ParkWhiz, we found parking near our hotel at a fraction of the price – covered, valet & attended 24-hours! Score!

Following the theme of transportation, we had to figure out the best way to get around while we were there. Of course, walking was number one, but what if we want to go from one end of the city to the other? Driving ourselves around would be silly – limited parking and busy traffic. It’s a headache just waiting to happen. To avoid all of that chaos, there is the Ventra Card. This is a helpful little pass that you can purchase (or download the app for) to pay for public transit while you’re in the city! We actually didn’t purchase this for ourselves because our stay was so short, but a co-worker of Alicia’s had used it and only had the best things to say! Check out the Ventra Website for more information!

Next one on the list: what are we going to do in Chicago? Simple answer? As much as we CAN do in the short time that we’re there. With that being said, we don’t want to have to waste time standing in line to buy tickets for each and every attraction, especially since our trip was on the weekend and there are likely going be hoards of people trying to do the same thing! Fortunately for us, that same co-worker of Alicia’s had mentioned the Go Chicago Card. This fantastic little wonder is a pass that you can buy online which gives you access to over 25 attractions in Chicago. You can purchase a 1, 2, 3 or 5 day pass and either customize it to the attractions that you want to see, or simply purchase the all-inclusive pass and get access to everything! Needless to say, we purchased the all-inclusive pass – go big or go home, are we right? Pro tip: The Go Card comes with a 1-Day Big Bus Tour ticket. We used this as our main mode of trasportation on the Saturday that we visited, and it was great! If you’re only visiting for a weekend, purchase this instead of the Ventra card.

Chicago can be extremely expensive if you go in without a plan. Take note of our time- and money-saving tips here and you can’t go wrong. With all the money you’ll save, you can spend it shopping down the Magnificent Mile, or on the best food and drink around the city! Happy traveling!

–The Calkins’

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    • Thanks! I would only suggest the Go card in place if the Ventra card if you’re only staying from Friday until Sunday like we did. If you’re there for longer, I’d definitely suggest looking into getting the Ventra card. With the Go Card, you get a 1-day pass for the BigBusTour (Hop On, Hop Off bus) and we used it for the full day Saturday. If you’re there for longer and don’t want to drive around the city and pay for parking, Ventra is the next best thing for getting around (other than walking!).


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