Chicago: My first solo Vacation

Before I left town I started to get a bit nervous about my trip. What if I was miserable? What if I regretted picking Chicago? This was my first time traveling alone, and for no reason other than to explore a new city and get out of my routine for a while. It was the best experience of my life. No exaggeration.

Traveling alone was extremely liberating. It's hard to coordinate times/places to travel with friends, and I didn't want my singledom stopping me from doing things I wanted to do anymore, so I just took the plunge and bought a ticket. I picked Chicago because I'd never been there, I wanted to see snow (hadn't seen it in 10 years!) and I wanted to go somewhere that felt Christmasy.

Mission: Accomplished!

The trip would not have been possible for me had it not been for the extreme generosity of Hotel Lincoln. They put me up a few nights in their Junior Suite and I've never felt more like a VIP in my entire life. 2013-12-05 16.14.15-1The hotel has this very hipster, fun vibe to it. The staff were always extremely friendly (Edgar is my new unofficial Chicago bff) and helped make sure I got on the right bus! (I took the wrong bus on the way in and ended up 45 minutes in the wrong direction - my first adventure!)

The room itself was perfect. I've never stayed in a hotel room with two bathrooms before. #Fancy. I reveled in having cable again and was able to watch Buffy every morning as I was up planning my activities for the day. 2013-12-05 14.39.02I also had the best view ever. Getting to see the sunrise over Lincoln Park every morning was amazing. The hotel is pet friendly and it's location across from the park is perfect. When I asked on Twitter if the hotel was in a safe area every single person gave a resounding 'yes!' I knew I wanted to try and walk most places and I walked alone at night and never felt my safety was an issue. The hotel is 3 miles from the main downtown area but I actually preferred being a bit out of the super high intensity part of the city. I ended up walking to/from downtown Saturday and would advise coming in the Spring so you can really walk around more. 2013-12-05 14.39.10Awkward hotel bathroom selfie! The hotel has a fancy restaurant, a rooftop bar, and a casual breakfast/lunch spot on the first floor. They also have a little fitness center that I used to keep up my workouts while out of town. During the warmer months they have bike rentals! When I come back to Chicago (and I definitely will) I absolutely hope to stay with them again!2013-12-05 15.16.39After I got settled in my room on Thursday I headed out to explore. When Edgar found out I had no plans or set destination he suggested the Lincoln Park Zoo right across the street. It's a FREE zoo. I headed over there and they were decorated for Christmas. There were lights everywhere, (some synchronized to Christmas music), ice skating, and some indoor exhibits I went in to defrost for a bit. 2013-12-05 16.00.33After the Zoo I walked to the nearest Whole Foods for dinner and to pick up a few healthy snacks for the hotel. I brought some with me, but wanted fresh fruits. I usually end up losing weight while on vacation by (1) bringing healthy food and making healthy choices when eating out and (2) walking everywhere. Between walking everywhere and one 6 mile run on Sunday I covered 25 miles in 4 days!

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I definitely picked up some chocolate and PB as well :)

Saturday morning I got up early and walked downtown to the Field museum (post on that tomorrow!) After I was finished there I met up with Suzie for lunch at Native Cafe. When I asked Twitter for Chicago restaurant suggestions Suzie gave me some great ones and I asked if she'd like to meet up for lunch sometime. I was thrilled she said yes! The doll even treated me to one of the best salads I've ever had :)

Native Cafe, a small vegetarian/vegan restaurant chain with a few locations in Chicago, was super busy when we got there. After we ordered we still had our food out within 10 minutes. I'm so glad she recommended the Sweet Potato fries because I tore them up. I went with the Rockin Moroccan which had: tofu marinated in homemade Moroccan sauce with grilled veggies and quinoa. Topped with currants and toasted almonds. Delicious!

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Isn't she the cutest?!2013-12-06 14.06.02After lunch I walked over to the Art Institute of Chicago. (If your going to be visiting multiple museums in Chicago definitely check into getting a city pass - 5 museums for $89!) 2013-12-06 14.48.13The best part of the museum was the following exhibit. It was a giant pile of candy in the corner and as I entered the room it was in a little boy started to dart toward it. The parents quickly grabbed him back, and the museum guide began to explain about how it was actually designed to have people take a piece. The guide gave the most moving description of the exhibit (it literally brought tears to my eyes) and I asked her to take a photo of me taking my piece away. 2013-12-06 15.04.33 2013-12-06 15.02.16After walking 10ish miles that day I ended up going back to the hotel and crashing by 8 o'clock. The next day I woke up and the windchill was -1. I was already cold the day before so I knew I had to ramp it up for this weather. 2013-12-07 09.53.43I started with a walk through Old Town.2013-12-07 10.36.11Eventually making my way to the International Museum of Surgical Science. While not as famous as the Field Museum or Art Institute I really enjoyed this one given my psych/clinical background.

Random selfie there (I didn't want to come back from my trip without any photos of myself!) 2013-12-07 10.55.40-1I finished up there in about an hour and headed downtown to meet a blogging friend/Chicago native. I ended up stopping by the Protein Bar for a quick lunch and devoured this Vegan burrito. I wish Pensacola had the variety of vegetarian/vegan places to eat at like other cities.  2013-12-07 13.05.42I met Kamila at Macys and we made our way over to the German Christmas Market - ChristKindleMarket. It was set up in an open square area downtown and there were dozens of places to get delicious German food, desserts, and crafts. I got a gingerbread cookie that almost froze before I could finish eating it!2013-12-07 14.49.44I hadn't planned to go to the Bean or Navy Pier but since we were so close Kamila suggested we swing by. I'm so glad we did! She was such a great tour guide. The Bean was 10x more fun than I anticipated. Everyone there was just in such a good mood taking goofy photos. I can definitely see why it's a 'must do' in Chicago. 2013-12-07 17.55.05We made it to the Navy Pier just in time to see the sunset - perfect! They also have an incredible stained glass museum that's free (I'm a sucker for free outdoor/cultural activities!) 2013-12-07 16.37.15I actually looked up symptoms of frostbite online after my fingers and toes started getting so cold I could hardly feel them anymore. I think I definitely experienced some frostnip (like a baby frost bite) and had the genius idea to buy thermacare heat wraps to put in my shoes. Worked like a charm! 2013-12-07 15.38.53Saturday night Shannyn and her adorable fiancee picked me up and took me to the Boiler Room. It was in Logan Square, a less touristy part of Chicago, and I couldn't leave town without having pizza in Chicago. Yes, I know it's not 'real' chicago deep dish - but this is as close as it was going to get! 2013-12-07 19.53.18After pizza we split an order of Drunken Doughnuts. Fresh made doughnuts that you dip in Jameson spiked vanilla ice cream. It was as heavenly as you can imagine. 2013-12-07 20.22.22 We ended up at some hole-in-the-wall bar after (I seriously think there were 3 other people there on a Sat night) and it was great just to catch up with Shannyn and listen to some epic jams (everything from Michael Jackson, to rap, to Van Morrison!)

Sunday morning I woke up and had until 11 to kill before getting on the bus to the airport. I ran at the hotel, watched some Father of the Bride, and started to pout that I had been there 4 days and despite the freezing temperatures hadn't seen any snow.

Then, with the most perfect timing possible, Shannyn texted me around 10 that it was starting to snow outside! I was happier than a kid on Christmas. I took this picture while waiting outside the hotel for my bus. #TripComplete2013-12-08 10.56.17-1I hope I adequately conveyed what a good time I had. I went to Chicago with zero expectations. No real set plans and I tried to just embrace an adventuresome spirit and see where the day would take me. I ended up meeting amazing people, eating incredible food, and making memories that far exceeded any of those I could have planned.

Chicago is absolutely one of the best cities I've ever been to. I fell in love hard with NYC when I was there last year but Chicago held it's own. I'm already dreaming up a Summer time visit. Lots of bike riding, running through the neighborhoods, and more merry memory making (how's that for alliteration?)

Check out more photos from my trip in my facebook album!

Have you ever traveled alone? If not, would you? What has been your favorite city to visit?