By Meredith Lyons
Holiday travel is difficult no matter where you’re from. Everyone is trying to get home to see their loved ones as fast as possible and generally traveling with more luggage than usual as they’re all bearing gifts. Chicagoans have a further cross to bear being a hub city and a centralized urban area. Here are a few tips to make your holiday trip less hectic.
A few tips seem obvious. Avoid rush hour traffic on the weekdays, but also consider those who may get half days on the final day before a holiday. For example, many companies downtown allow their employees a half day on December 23rd, so your best bet is to be on the road well before noon, leaving before 6 a.m. is optimal. Allow yourself some extra time so you don’t feel rushed. Have enough gas in your tank to get out of the city proper and then fill up in the suburbs for cheaper gas. This will help you to avoid feeling the pinch in your wallet while you’re idling in traffic. Always be prepared on winter road trips. Although the streets in the city may be clear, further out you may hit some snowy or icy conditions. Pack supplies like blankets, mugs, sandwiches and snacks and always have a first-aid kit. Remember, the more prepared you are, the more relaxed and less likely to rush you will be, which makes your trip safer all around.
Know your airport and make sure your driver knows it too if you’re being dropped off. Midway and O’Hare are on opposite ends of the city, so finding out halfway through that you’re headed to the wrong one can make for some close-cut flying. It also doesn’t hurt to check out the best spots to hang out in your terminal, be it a restaurant or bar, as delays during the holidays are fairly common and it’s best to make the most of it. Be sure to also check where your plane originates. If it begins its journey in Chicago, you will only have to deal with the weather and delays in Chicago and your destination city. However, if your plan originates in New York, you’ll have to deal with New York’s issues also.
O’Hare International Airport
5600 Mannheim Road
Chicago, IL 60666
The CTA is usually your best bet and routes can be found online at www.yourcta.com. There is also a free app for Android phones called Transit Tracks which will let you know when your bus or train is going to arrive at your location. There are similar apps for other applications all listed on the CTA website here.
If you’re a bit of a walk from the nearest bus or train stop or you’d rather not switch trains or buses with the amount of luggage you have to carry, another cheaper option is to have a cab take you to the nearest blue line stop and from there get the El train the rest of the way to O’Hare. You won’t have to worry about the cab racking up extra fares for traffic on the expressway.
If you elect to have a friend drive you or drive yourself, do your best to make sure you know which terminal your flight is leaving from. O’Hare is a huge airport and getting dropped off at the wrong terminal can mean the difference between making your flight and missing it. If your terminal is not on your ticket, check to see what terminal usually houses your airline here.
If you’re parking, a cheaper bet is use one of the three economy lots. It is a bit further travel into the airport, but much lighter on the wallet. Click here for more information on O’Hare parking.
Midway International Airport
5257 S. Cicero Ave.
Chicago, IL 60638
The CTA orange line runs direct to Midway and is usually the cheapest option. Unlike with travel to the O’Hare blue line, taking a cab to the orange line may not be as simple, as it originates downtown. Instead, a cab to the brown line may be your best bet as it is also elevated and runs along the same tracks as the orange line. You should only have to switch platforms, which shouldn’t be as much of a hassle.
Midway is a smaller airport than O’Hare and is often used by the less expensive airlines. (Although as of this September, reports are that Midway is due for some major upgrades. Click here for more information.) The only drawback is that fewer flights go out, so if you miss your flight, it may be a longer wait for the next one to your destination. All destinations are also not available from Midway. Although it is smaller, it doesn’t hurt to be aware of your terminal.
Parking is less expensive at Midway than at O’Hare, but if you’re looking for an even cheaper deal, there is an entire website dedicated to Midway Park Saver, a lot across the street from Midway that charges about two dollars less than the lot on the airport grounds.
If you’re traveling within the midwest, taking the old-fashioned train may be your best bet. With gas prices as they are, it could be cheaper than driving without the delays and stress of navigating your vehicle through snowy weather. On most trains there is usually a refreshment car where you can purchase food or drink, but unlike on an airplane, you’re also free to bring your own. Another upside to taking the train rather than driving, you can sip your eggnog while you travel.
If two people are traveling together, always check the price of a sleeper car. You get your own private room and can arrive at your destination early and well rested. Also, when calling or booking online, if your first choice of tickets is unavailable, keep checking back. Often times, seats free up as people cancel or change their plans. If the price seems steep when you first look, try booking on a Thursday or Friday. Travelers will sometimes make plans and book tickets early in the week and then things change and they cancel them before the weekend.
According to this article published last year, flying commuters were down but driving travelers were up. If that holds true again, the trains may be your best bet for a less crowded journey.