advice for a trip to America?

Discussion in 'Community' started by anneleonard, Nov 18, 2003.

  1. anneleonard macrumors regular

    Mar 21, 2003
    Reading, UK (a.k.a. Strongbadia)
    mrjamin and i are going to a wedding in grand rapids (it's near chicago i'm told!) next autumn, sorry- fall. we'd like to see the area, as much as we can in about 2 weeks. however neither of us have much money, so we're talking serious america-on-a-budget here!

    are there any tips or tricks to get around cheaply or stay cheaply anywhere around there?

    thanks in advance :)
  2. AnotherMortal macrumors regular

    Jan 14, 2003
    Well, I don't travel out of the Baltimore/Washington area often, but I discovered last weekend that many hotels will give student discounts. I stayed at one place for $69 instead of $120.

    The other possiblity is to just plan the places you want to visit, and setup a roadtrip. The cost is gas and your sleep. :)

    As for places to see....

    Some people like to see the Smithsonian Museums in DC, others like to stroll through the city...But you might not want to travel from Michigan to here. (a 20 some hour drive)

    I've never been to Chicago, but I'm sure if you went to its website, you could find some sites to see.

    What may be of interest is the Mall of America, which is 9 (or so) driving hours away.( 595 miles; My friend drove there after she graduated from college and did a nice mid-west/central USA road trip.
  3. patrick0brien macrumors 68040


    Oct 24, 2002
    The West Loop
    Re: advice for a trip to America?


    Well, as the crow flies yes, but we humans are relegated to having to get around Lake Michigan :D

    As a drive, it's about 3 hours.

    One mode of transportation isAmtrak.

    Chicago is still the primary rail hub for the States.

    Another option if you are keen on Chicago is perhaps getting yourself to South Bend in Indiana. From there you can hop the South Shore line - takes you right down town.
  4. pivo6 macrumors 68000


    Dec 2, 2002

    Public transportation is not the strongest suit here in the U.S. If you're flying into Detroit or Chicago, you will have to rent a car.

    If you can make it to Chicago, there is so much to do there. I'm sure that Patrick0brien will put you up for a few nights. :D :D :D
  5. jxyama macrumors 68040


    Apr 3, 2003
    if you will be in grand rapids and would like some awesome nature scenes, head up the western edge of Michigan a few hours to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. (Near Empire, MI.) Rent a camping equipment... it's cheaper and definitely worth a trip, I'd say.

    if it's good time in the fall, leaves will be turning colors too!

    otherwise, hitting chicago would be the best, though may not be the cheapest place to stay.

    here's a picture of the big sand dune i took when i went there this past summer. the dune on the left (far away) is the big one, about a 150 meter drop. you can go down and come up but it's quite an effort coming up!

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  6. jxyama macrumors 68040


    Apr 3, 2003
    here's another... doesn't really do justice in conveying the steepness of the dune, though.

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  7. Mr. Anderson Moderator emeritus

    Mr. Anderson

    Nov 1, 2001
    I can't imagine you're flying direct to Chicago - any chance to stop along the way for a day or two? If you arrive in LA or someplace out west there will be even more things for you to see.

    what sort of limitations (other than money) do you have?

    Also, it could be cold up there depending on exactly when you arrive. What month is the wedding?

  8. Foxer macrumors 65816


    Feb 22, 2003
    Washington, DC
    OK. Born in Michigan, living north of Chicago. Also lived many years in DC. These are my biases.

    That said, Michigan in the fall is beautiful and scenic. Wouldn't take too long to see. Chicago is also nice, but not too much in the way of tourism. Decent shopping, some nice buildings and a couple museums worth checking out. Washington is must see. All the historic buildings as well as the vast complex of museums encompasing the Smithsonian.

    If you prefer nature to cities, New England, in the fall, would be wonderful, which would also allow you the chance to take in Boston.

    San Fran is the most picturesque American city (let the challenges fly), but it is far, far away from Grand Rapids. I've never been a fan of New York, and have only speant limited time there, but New York is New York, and some people swear buy it.

    Getting around. You'll find that - aside from the east coast - intercity public transit is lacking. Out geography and vast spaces preclude it. Trains rarely go where you want them, and when they do they take too long. (Example: Detroit to Chicago. Plane:45 minutes, car:3.5 hours, train:better part of a day). Avoid Greyhound (the bus system) at all costs. However, many airfares between major cities are (by Euro standards) very affordable. Chicago to DC (one way) should be WELL under $100.

    As far as accomodations: look for places outside of the cities. You can probably find a very suitable chain hotel in the suburbs of most cities for about $50 a night.

    Enjoy your trip. Hope this was of use.
  9. jxyama macrumors 68040


    Apr 3, 2003
    kind of wanted supplement foxer's post...

    plane: having lived in europe, where most major airports are connected by rail to the actual city, i must warn you that it will be quite different for the most part in the u.s. flying is still the fastest, but you will need to be at the airport at least an hour ahead of time for check-ins and it will take you that much again to get into the city once you arrive. chicago o'hare is good 45 min. from downtown. (well, depends a lot on traffic... could be 15 min. or over an hour.)

    just imagine that every airport in the states is like heathrow - far away from the heart of town. :D (still accessible by public transportation...)
  10. railthinner macrumors regular

    Jul 1, 2002
    Driving straight from GR to Chicago takes 3-31/2 hrs. depending on traffic and construction. Amtrak takes about 5 hrs. and the schedule is prettly limited. Once your in Chicago, despite what others have said, you can get pretty much anywhere via public trans. -- the El [elevated train, with portions running subway through the loop (downtown)] and buses. Not only that, but pretty much anything you can think of doing is available, whether you want to hear whatever kind of music you might be in to, get a great meal, take an architecture tour, get a tattoo, whatever. If you want museums and such check out which covers most of the major museums although you should also see the MCA. The drive from GR south of Lake Michigan to Chicago is pretty industrial and traffic heavy once your half way through it. If you want a scenic drive and have the time you can head North from GR, through the upper peninsula of Michigan and south through Wisconsin, as someone else suggested. You'll undoubtedly see some beautiful scenery, cheap motels or camping available, and if you want to see a strange tourism mecca and do some bungie jumping, stop in Wisconsin Dells -- though AUTUMN is the off season. On a side note, Grand Rapids is a Republican strong hold loaded with churches and people who voted for our current president. Chicago is relatively liberal for the midwestern US and has been mostly Democratic for a long time, with a strong showing of anti-war protestors. I'm not taking sides or waging politcal discussion here. I just thought I'd point it out considering your signature.
  11. patrick0brien macrumors 68040


    Oct 24, 2002
    The West Loop

    Well, I've met a few folks in Chicago as a result of this board, we could make a time of it - and not just the touristy places.

    One little caveat - if one intends to spend a lot of time inside Chicago city limits, having a car/renting a car is more of a hindrance, like NYC in that regard.
  12. mrjamin macrumors 65816


    Feb 6, 2003
    we are? Better mark it in my diary....
  13. kevin49093 macrumors regular

    Feb 27, 2002

    If you drive to Grand Rapids from Chicago you must stop in at a wonderful little brew pub in Kalamazoo called Bells. Wonderful beers and very friendly staff. Just a great little bar that is hidden away from the collage scene a bit. I spent more that a few study times during school there!

    Bells Site
  14. radhak macrumors regular

    Aug 28, 2003
    NJ, USA
    plan it now

    in any such trip you would find yourself either visiting a city where the city itself is the focus (say chicago), or someplace where the focus is something else (say Niagara).
    while in chicago, you might find it ultimately more satisfying to spend a tad more and stay within the city. that way you would avoid the hassles of driving in a strange downtown with all the quirks of one-way streets, parking (which can suck up all your hotel savings) etc. you would find nice acco with some of the cheaper ones like Quality inn or Best Western etc. Then you don't even need rent a car! Every hotel downtown has a shuttle, or at least easy access by public transport from the airport.

    Niagara or Mount Rushmore, definitely needs a car, so you could easily choose the cheapest acc around, even if some miles away.

    But before you do all that, you might want to check out the International Hosteling people at HIHostels if plush living is not mandatory. (you might not get a room to yourself, more like a dorm, in the thick of season, which could vary place to place, but we have always been lucky). There would be a very small annual membership fee, but you could stay a night at as low as $15 per person... and many-a-time it is far more fun than staying in a hotel. you could run into crowds from anywhere in the world, swigging beer late into the night, all which makes your trip even more memorable ;)

    but if you are in the US for 2 weeks, please don't go back without seeing at least one of the spectacular spots. Chicago is a great city, but nothing takes your breath away like Niagara or the Grand Canyon, or even a huge mountain with heads of past Presidents. and i am not scratching the surface here. where-ever you are, you would find at least one such within reach that you will gush about later at home...
  15. true777 macrumors 6502a


    Dec 30, 2000
    California, Austria, Arkansas
    I have travelled a lot on a budget, mostly in the US and Europe, and recommend the following:

    - For hotel, go to
    Double rooms in the chicago area in the fall go for about $ 45 a night (per room, NOT per person) at middle class hotel chains such as Doubletree. Rooms in such hotels are VERY NICE compared to European standards. Even low priced motel type places will always offer spacious rooms, very clean & modern, always with private bath, often with in-room coffee maker, fridge, or microwave, often also offer a free simple breakfast.

    If doesn't have anything cheap & nice, check out Travelocity or Expedia (the US version, NOT the European one!), they often have special offers, promotions and such, so look around the site's "special deals" sections.

    I would DEFINITELY rent a car (if you feel ok about driving on the right side), as driving is just part of American culture, and having a car will make you feel much less like a tourist, and give you the freedom to explore. Again, Travelocity & Expedia generally offer good rental car deals. It's perfectly ok to rent from smaller rental car companies if they're the cheapest. Just pick the smallest car, this will still be plenty big for European standards. You can often rent small cars for about $ 15 a day. For insurance, just pick "CDW" and decline everything else (about another $ 10/day).

    For cheap intra-US flights, check out

    - All major US airlines (such as United, Continental, US Airways, Delta, Northwest, Southwest, etc) special weekend fares and last minute offers (on airline websites, and can also sign up to have them emailed every week).


    - travelocity, expedia, and (US sites).

    Remember, Tue, Wed, Thur are the cheapest days to fly, but you need to stay over a Sat night for low fares.

    Hope this helps. The Chicago area is a little boring, but just being in the US for the first time will be fun.

    There really is no super-cool city in the Chicago vicinity. If you're really adventurous, fly out to LA, SF, Boston or NY for a weekend. If not, just drive to rural midwest places for true movie-type Americana with 50s motels, drive-in restaurants & such. Explore & have fun!

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