Chicago On A Budget

We’re just back from a fun, whirlwind vacation over the Memorial Day weekend in Chicago on a budget plan. I didn’t think it could be done, but with a little planning and a spirit of adventure, we pulled it off. What’s more, we’d do it again…and it has me wondering what other big cities we can explore on The Cheap.

The Challenge: Visit the major attractions in three days, no driving, a few meals out, and experience Chicago’s culture first hand.

Our Chicago on a Budget Vacation Started at the McCormick Truck Marshalling Yard.We parked our motorhome at the McCormick Truck Marshalling Yard, banking on its proximity to public transportation. We heard conflicting reports on price – from $21 to $38/night. Supposedly the lot is secure and you can walk across the street to hop on a city bus.

We paid $30/night for three nights. While there is security, to call it a secure lot is a joke. Anyone can walk in or out at any time. On one side there is Moe Drive which parallels Lakeshore along the east side of the yard. On the west, a fence and behind it, very busy train tracks. On the south the yard is bordered by 31st Street, and to the north McCormick Center building. So to get to an actual bus stop or train station you have to walk upwards of a mile, depending on which end of the yard you park and the route you take. We were told to park at the north end.


The lot is busy…with trucks of all types and sizes, buses and McCormick workers, who also park their cars in this lot. Did I mention the airplanes – not on the lot, of course, but overhead? Depending on which runways they are using for arrivals at Midway, you’ll find you’re parked under the approach corridor. Noticeable, but not as noisy as some of the trains and highway noise. All in all, that first night we didn’t get much sleep, but the following two nights we slept straight through. I guess it’s all relative – if you’re tired enough you can sleep through anything! Our secret? Skip the cab and walk Chicago!

Seriously! We thoroughly enjoyed walking to the Museum Campus on Sunday and Monday. It takes about 40 minutes to get to the Shedd Aquarium while walking at a leisurely pace from the truck marshalling yard, less to the Field Museum, a little more to reach the Adler Planetarium. The only ‘dicey’ part is walking under McCormick Place, but maybe I’ve watched too many crime dramas. We encountered no one…it just feels a bit eerie. I don’t think I’d walk through after dark and definitely not alone.

The rest of the walk is lovely, past Soldier Field and Lake Shore Trail. There are no busy roads to cross and the trail itself is heavily traveled by bicyclists, joggers and walkers. You have the city skyline on your left and the Bay of Chicago on your right.

_MG_3531e6We purchased a Citipass online before arriving in Chicago. At $96 per person, it’s an inexpensive way to visit the larger attractions and reduce your time waiting to purchase tickets at each venue. It got us into the Museum of Science & Industry, the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Alder Planatarium and the Sky Deck. Actually, we never made it to the last two; we ran out of steam as the day heated up on Monday and returned to the coach early.

We also saved $5 per ticket on’s Architecture Riverboat Tour by pre-purchasing tickets online. It cost us $78 total – money well spent. This was the highlight of the trip for me. Our guide pointed out the architectural styles and the history of the Windy City as we slowly passed between massive skyscrapers.

divyrackWhile we walked-in twice, we hailed taxi’s or requested Uber pickups for the ride home each night. Uber and Capital One credit card had a great promotion going, where if you add Capital One as a payment account they’d give you a $30 credit towards your first two rides. So two of our rides were free! Two additional taxi rides set us back a total of $20.

We packed lunches instead of eating out, with the exception of one pizza dinner out with the our kids and grands and one snack at the Shedd Aquarium. Total cost of eating out was less than $30.

So there you have it – an exceptionally cheap yet fun way to vacation in Chicago. Have you had a similar experience? What tips can you share about visiting any big city on the economy plan?


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Shari Voigt

Shari Voigt is an author, website developer, and marketing consultant. She's been working and living on the road with her husband Gerald since July 25, 2013. When she's not working on the latest marketing idea for herself or her customers, she's exploring new places and meeting new people from all over the USA.