I often find myself thinking of the time when I first visited the city that I now call home. My hosts showed me many of the superb buildings and places that Chicago is known for, including the (then) Sears Tower, Hancock Building, Michigan Avenue and Grant Park. I enjoyed walks along the pedestrian-friendly lakefront, took a Lake Michigan boat tour to delight in the view of the downtown skyline, spent hours exploring the museum campus, and got introduced to Chicago’s mouth-watering deep dish pizza. As a visitor enjoying my summer vacation, I was focused on sightseeing and had plenty of time for it. However, that was no longer the case when I later moved to Chicago and the “real life” began.
Preoccupied with work and settling in, I did not spend much time downtown beyond 9 to 5. I was also anxious to become more familiar with my new city by exploring its various neighborhoods. Before long, I had a list of favorite restaurants, cafés, stores and venues around the city, and those were the places I started frequenting alongside Chicagoans. I soon discovered that doing so made me feel less like a newcomer and more like a local. But as a result of my new-found Chicago identity, I began to associate the downtown area mostly with tourist attractions and conducting business, just like many of my friends did. Most of the time, I did not feel the need to venture out there on my days off, and only occasionally would I return to shop or attend outdoor events. It wasn’t until professional choices took me outside the city that I found myself longing to be downtown more often.
As I started altering weekend plans to include visits to the better-known parts of the city, I realized how much I had been missing by not paying closer attention to downtown events and attractions. By once again walking around the famous sights, attending high-profile performances and exhibits, and discovering new businesses and buildings that had sprung up throughout the area, I was able to recapture the excitement that had accompanied my initial visit to Chicago’s downtown. In the process, I developed an ever greater appreciation for all that the city has to offer. I also noticed that my local excursions made me feel much like I do on the road – enthusiastic, curious and ready for new experiences. For those reasons, and because the trips didn’t require a travel-sized budget, I decided to make them a more frequent entry in my calendar.
Even though traveling locally cannot equate faraway journeys, it can nevertheless evoke some of the same sense of excitement and exploration associated with destination traveling, yet at an often much lower cost. It can be as simple as a day trip to a museum or a tour of a famous building, or a weekend getaway that combines an overnight hotel stay with extended sightseeing, multiple dining selections and other attractions, e.g. performances or spa visits. Such longer staycations may be enjoyable choices for celebrating birthdays, anniversaries and holidays, as well as provide travelers with a sample of adventure in between trips. And because local traveling requires less planning time and a shorter notice, it gives you the flexibility to easily customize your itinerary to include solo sightseeing and group outings.
When you consider exploring well-known sites in your city, you can start your preparation by doing one or more of the following:
- Browsing your local official tourism website
You will find a listing of current events, dining options, new attractions and tours, as well as hotel information and, sometimes, visitor coupons.
- Exploring social media sites
An increasing number of organizations and places of interest can be found on Facebook or Twitter. These sites may give you access to the most up-to-date information, special deals and recommendations from other users.
- Subscribing to newsletters
Many theaters, museums and cultural centers offer free e-newsletters that will alert you about upcoming performances, exhibitions and events.
- Finding discounts
- If you plan ahead, you could benefit from deal-of-the-day sites, such as Groupon (now available in several European countries, including the UK, Germany, and Italy), Living Social and StealtheDeal (Canada), or websites that track multiple deals, e.g. Daily Flock. You may find coupons for restaurants, tours and beauty services throughout a selected area.
- Talking to others
Friends, family and coworkers can be a valuable resource, providing recommendations or steering you away from places and experiences that may not be worthwhile.
When traveling to away destinations, looking beyond the obvious attractions can provide travelers with a more complete experience. However, doing the opposite at home may prove just as beneficial. By occasionally approaching your city from a tourist’s standpoint, you might discover things about it that could otherwise escape your attention, and at the same time enjoy a taste of travel.