Driving: While it is easy to drive to Chicago from Indianapolis, and is just about a $40 tank of gas round-trip, one often has to contend with traffic starting near Merrillsville, where a decision to take the Skyway or Route 80 into town is needed. Depending on my information, I may choose either way to drive based on the traffic I see building up at the exit to I-80.
The Skyway is the more direct route into the city, but can be an uncomfortable ride through scary looking deserted industrial areas and questionable neighborhoods. A single individual driving may want to choose I-80 just for personal safety, if she is squeamish about traveling alone. The Skyway is also a toll-road and requires several stops for tollbooth payments, contrasting with the toll-free I-80 route. Winter can make the Skyway a more slippery choice as well.
Driving can take anywhere between 3.5 hours and 5 hours, depending on traffic. Also, once in the city, finding parking will be required. Chicago city parking is comparable to most other large cities and can run between $25 to $45 a day depending on where you park. Total transportation costs for driving are between $65 and $85. However, when considering a group of travelers, driving will still be the cheapest alternative.
Train: To avoid the hassle of driving and parking, consider scouting the airlines for cheap flights, or try Amtrak. For as low as $30 one way and a 5.5-hour train ride, one can arrive refreshed into Chicago’s Union Station on South Canal Street by 10:35 am. The train back the same day is at 5:45pm and oddly only costs $19 to return. So you could spend about 5 hours in the city for a total outlay of around $49 in transportation. Trains are very comfortable, and have seating similar to an airplane, but with better views. Some individuals may find themselves slightly nauseous when the train travels slowly, but that feeling will go away once the train begins to move at full speed. Trains include dining cars where one can get a meal or a snack for an additional fee. The Snack bars and the food offered is similar to those found at sporting events. Reading is as easy on a train as it is on an airplane, and the trip, while slightly longer than driving, can be an opportunity to nap or read a good novel.
Bus: For the more adventurous, the bus is an option, but more costly. Greyhound fares vary and ranged from $50 to $70 for the same day of travel with Amtrak. Greyhound offers shorter travel time, with 4 hours to Chicago and 3.5 returning.
In town activities: For a short day trip with approximately 5 hours to enjoy the city, consider planning your day carefully. Know exactly where your destinations are, pricing and hours of operation. This information is readily available at a number of websites including Explore Chicago. If you plan to go to a number of museums or attractions, check out the Go Chicago Card to see if it will save you money. The Go Card allows the holder to enter a number of attractions for free. It also allows one to skip the line at certain locations. Go Card holders also receive special discounts at retail stores and restaurants. If you only plan to go to one site, however, it is unlikely to save you any money.
Extend your stay: For the effort of getting to the city, it may well be worth staying overnight to take full advantage of everything Chicago has to offer. Evening activities like attending current Broadway shows or hearing well-known blues masters are forfeited without an overnight stay. Booking a package through an agent like AAA may also provide some additional perks: AAA recently offered a free Go Chicago pass with an overnight stay.
Chicago is a truly world class city only a day’s trip away. The city has activities for everyone, too numerous to mention in a single article, but it is known for its Blues clubs, outstanding museums and great shopping.