Visiting Chicago recently, we were without a car. Since we were staying outside the city, we needed to figure out how we were going to get around. My husband was there for work, so we were on our own.
Related: Read about Christina here.
From the Airport
First, we needed to find a way to get from the airport to the hotel. We were new to traveling in the snow and we landed in a snowstorm. There are a lot of ground transportation options and Chicago O’Hare has a strict policy about soliciting a patron for transportation for really great safety reasons. It’s a bit overwhelming.
I had never used Uber but I know plenty of people who have loved it. I’m not going to lie…I was slightly concerned about riding in a stranger’s car with my kids in the snow! It turned out to be a great experience and we have since used it many times since. We had this amazing travel car seat that I borrowed from another trench mom, Nichole. If you need to travel and don’t want to bring a car seat, the miFold Grab-and-Go Booster Seat is a lifesaver and popped in the seat of the uber in seconds. We headed out into the massive snow, (which was likely just a few inches to those snow experts out there) to the hotel. The cab arrived in minutes, and we were off.
From the Hotel
The hotel offered a shuttle to anywhere in a 1-mile radius which came in handy because we learned we were able to visit the botanical garden, the mall, and the train station in less than a mile!
This brings me to our travels outside the 1-mile radius. We used guest services at the hotel to help us with travel but let me tell you something. They told me about the train station that they could shuttle me to. But when I arrived at that train station, there was no one there. Not a soul. I stood there with my 3 kids and realized I never looked at train schedule. What? Me?? Be unprepared??? I found the train schedule on the wall in an otherwise empty train station. I guess I was lucky enough to be at one of the few unmanned train stations.
Fortunately for us, we were there right on time for the next train into Chicago! Totally planned that. Totally. We paid in cash on the train for that tip, but I saw all these people using their phones to pay with an app. When we got to the train station in Chicago, I got the information and loaded the Ventra app so I could pay in advance for tickets for our return trip.
Chicago Train Stations
We walked out of the train station and I employed Google maps to get us to Millenium Park. It was about a 10 block walk so we just trekked it. But not before stopping along the route for some incredible macrons! See my Homeschooling on the Go in Chicago post for more on macrons.
Upon our return to the train station that evening, however, it was like a scene from Harry Potter at the train station. People were everywhere going in every single direction. We got to the platform and there were twenty different tracks and I had no clue which one or what time because I didn’t grab a schedule.
Thankfully they have a ticket counter and they were happy to help me. They told me the train and the track number. The only problem was the train was leaving as we ran up the stairs. I had no idea that if I took a different train, I needed to find out what track it was on. I am not afraid to ask for help! There was a man at the head of each track and he helped me read the train schedule to find out the next train and track.
It was a little stressful as I was, once again, dragging my 3 kids around all these tracks with trains coming in and out and having no clue where I was going. I should’ve known better and just found a schedule. I grabbed one for the next trip in. On that train, it was rush hour and we couldn’t find a seat so we had to sit in the stairway until some people cleared out. I was able to use my new app to pay. It was like I was becoming a local!
We made it back into the city a day later. This time I had the train travel down. I used my app and blended in like a cheetah.
Needing a plan of attack, I googled “How to get from Olgilvie train station to the Navy Pier”. I came across Rome2Rio. This website became my new right hand. It told me the actual bus numbers and how to get to it from my current location including walking. It was amazing! An important note to make here is, since I was traveling as a solo adult, I made sure to ask the bus driver if it was the correct bus. Nailed it ALMOST every time. But I’ll get to that.
We took the bus to the Navy Pier. This up and coming local learned I was able to use my Ventra App to pay for buses too. A-Mazing! Probably not new for city frequenters unlike myself. This trip required making a bus transfer, but with my handy little Rome2Rio, I was golden. Next stop was the Field Museum. There were so many museums and places to visit over in that area. I wish we had more time.
The Big Mistake
It was time to head back to the hotel. I used my handy little website to find my way to the right bus, only this time I went to the wrong corner. I had not checked the sign that was on the bus stop to see where the buses at that stop led. Each stop has a list of buses and their numbers. Super helpful! When I asked the bus driver she directed me to the bus that was on the diagonal corner. We ran over there, hopped on, and off we went.
I was diligently paying attention all along to street names and directions when I noticed we had turned away from the direction of the train station. It became evident something was wrong. Pretty sure the driver knew I wasn’t a local. She told me where to get off and what stop to go to and what bus number to take in her most “stupid tourist” voice she had. That was fun.
Here comes rookie mistake number two. This time I did check the sign to be sure a bus was coming with that number. I was beginning to get anxious because people were coming and going on buses all over the place and none of them was our bus number. So I pulled up my website which directed me to a different route. But thanks to a pedestrian who took pity on our lost looking faces, she sent me back to our original plan. We did make it back to the train station and really didn’t lose much time. Just earned a few gray hairs.
Getting Around Chicago With Kids
Life lessons for traveling in the city. Check the schedule before you go. Check the signs at the bus stop for added security. Ask EVERY driver if you’re on the right bus.
I should also add that snacks from the trendy market at the station taste way better when you know you’re in the right place!