Slow Travel in Chicago

October 2009

I don’t travel to see made-for-tourism attractions. I don’t believe in seeing every sight a city has to offer. I travel in search of new perspectives. I want to see how others live. And I want to try to understand why.

Dashing from museum to famous monument to over-rated tourist restaurant will tell me little about a city or it’s citizens. Traveling slow through the landscape, noticing the planning and design, the pace of the people, the use of green space, the architecture, nature of music and street art… one can get a sense of a city.

I want to travel slow. Sometimes this is difficult. I’m currently in Chicago and the temptation to see all that this amazing city has to offer is great but, I have resisted. By taking in a few choice experiences on foot, by bicycle and transit, I’m leaving Chicago feeling that I have done it some justice.

Day 1 – An overview on foot and by boat

Boat_200On my first day in Chicago I focused on two activities: Millennium Park and the Architectural River Tour. These gave me a historical context for the city.

The Millennium Park tour is free and, to my disbelief, I was the only person on the tour. I learned so much about the history of the city as well as details about the park on our walk. The Architectural River Tour was equally amazing offering a perspective of the city not available on land.

Day 2 – Experiencing the lifestyle by bicycle

Before arriving in Chicago I contacted the Chicago Office of Tourism at and arranged for a Greeter. Another fabulous and free program everyone should tap into. Girls_200I could have had a greeter focused on history, gardens, architecture… I chose cycling. Cycling offers a pace to cover some distance while being slow enough to see how people live.

We picked up our free bikes, helmets, etc. at Millennium Park, rode to Museum Campus then north along the lake past Lincoln Park right to Wrigley Field then back through the neighbourhoods to downtown. With Jeanette, my greeter who was fun and informative – a great greeter – I saw people living their everyday life. I got to ask any question I wanted and I learned about Chicago worklife, recreation, the cost of an apartment, the beaches, politics and economics… of the city.

Day 3 – Accessing a Cultural Icon by Transit

Today, day 3, I had a so many options. I seriously considered the Art Institute and then thought better of it. Not that it isn’t an excellent gallery but, truth is, I can see excellent galleries many places in the world. On the other hand, Chicago is the only place I can see the home and studio of Frank Lloyd Wright. So, after a great crab cake at Shaw’s Crab House and a quick ride up to the 16th floor of the Trump Tower to view the other buildings from a unique vantage point, I hopped on the El Train – Green Line – out to Oak Park. There I took a tour of the house and then meandered through Oak Park seeing daily life along with other houses he designed.

On foot, by bike and on local transit, I can slow travel down and experience the city the way I want.

Janice Waugh is a contributor as well as editor and publisher of Solo Traveler, a blog offering advice, stories, destinations and perspectives on traveling alone. She recently published two FREE eBooks: GLAD YOU’RE NOT HERE: a solo traveler’s manifesto and TRAVEL ALONE AND LOVE IT! 10 stories by the readers of Solo Traveler.

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