Ian does Chicago. (a British perspective on travel)

9 September 2012

This post is underwritten by Deal Checker UK.

I’ve traveled overseas a little bit, but China and South Africa are quiet a bit different than the US. The language barrier alone is enough to cause a lot of travel difficulties. So I thought it’d be interesting to find out about traveling in a culture that’s might not feel too completely foreign, but is still pretty far away. Luckily, someone from that country just happens to be visiting right now, so I thought I’d ask him about the difference in traveling in the US and the UK, from the UK perspective…

Ian‘s here in Chicago from Liverpool, visiting friends–primarily some really great girl he’s dating… But he was kind enough to take a little time out to answer some questions for me.

So, what’s the biggest difference that you’ve noticed traveling here as opposed to in the UK?

It might sound a little silly but the answer is as a simple as organisation. It’s a little bit hard with size and scale of the UK to even one state here, so vast and different that comparing the Metra train line which you would use to go from downtown to the ‘burbs is like talking about me going from Liverpool to another city like Manchester (if I confused any American by not saying London then I’m sorry 😉 ).

Moving from Liverpool to Manchester, you have to get a ticket maybe a few days in advance or hope that you’re going to be lucky and manage to get a place to stand on a tiny ass local train by buying a ticket the day you want to leave. There is no buying a ticket on the train so if you are running late or have just enough time to make the train you’ve not chance after doing the great British past time of “getting in line”. You miss that train you’ll be lucky to get another one in 30/45 min .. and I do mean LUCKY, that’s even before I get into train line delays.

Here, Chicago I want to go from downtown to the ‘burbs simple, trains are frequent and during rush hour times more trains are put on. These trains a huge! At least 3 times the size of a train that would even run the length of England. You’ve got double decker trains, seeing one for the first time was amazing. I know you Americans like to do everything big but I mean come on, that’s just laughing at the rest of us. I’m running to catch the train, I’m going to miss this one but no, I make it on just in time. That’s fine, you have an amazing staff that walk up and down the train selling you tickets. Ok they can be sometimes a little bit more expensive but at least you have the option and the chance to get on the train. You are trusted. You manage to get on that train in England without a ticket… HELLOOOO fine.

All right, what about challenges? What kind of difficulties have you come across here in the states?

OK, it’s a new city and you have to understand being in a new city is a little hard at first but I’ve been coping. I’ve not got data on my phone over here but I do have Wifi. So taking photos of Google Maps which gives you the best and fastest route AND the times of trains or buses so you know when and where you have to be so you don’t miss anything (and the best thing it tells you the price). I can’t say I’ve noticed this in England but here it’s been a amazing help.

So the main problem has been once I can’t use the maps as a GPS anymore; I have gotten myself lost a few times downtown. Though even that hasn’t been a big deal, in fact it hasn’t been a deal at all. Chicagoan’s are some of the most amazing and friendly people I’ve met and each time I have needed directions someone has been there to help me. Though I tell you what I get massively confused when you give me directions in North, South, East and West … I know it’s simple but I can’t get my head around it, just say left after two blocks. Thanks.

So, even though you’re here for personal reasons, do you consider yourself a tourist?

I know I am a tourist. You’re new to a city, you have no real way of avoiding this fact. The old “you’re not from round here, where are you from?” “Liverpool in England” gets the same responses of “OH! The Beatles” or “Is that near London” every time.But I try to stay away from being a tourist. I love walking around the city, don’t get my wrong, the buildings are amazing to look at. The river and your food (oh god your food) are all fantastic things to see and do and it’s something you MUST do and see if in the city.

But I have always hated people thinking I don’t belong, it’s just me though. I’ve been to France and tried to blend in–if you’ve seen me I don’t look French and my use of the language is “I’m sorry my French is little sh*t” and “one beer and a bacon sandwich please.” But here it’s easy (long as I don’t talk) to pass myself off as not a tourist and I like that about America overall. Have to say, though, I took my girlfriend (who is an American and lives here in Chicago, why I came) on a river cruise for her birthday. It was all about the architecture. As the sun was setting and the sky was so amazingly clear it was a site to see–a site for any tourist and Chicagoan to see.

Ok, so say some of us here in the US want to go visit the UK… You’ve figured out how to find the cheapest holiday deals, what should we know before going over?

On the big train lines, from city to city … don’t expect staff to have a sense of humour. Really, you’d be lucky I think the amount is maybe 1 in 26 that will have a laugh and a joke, most of them are angry and bitter about having to work talking to strangers all day, mostly drunk ones going to or from football. If you’re lucky and get the one person, would you let me know what train that is just for future records, thanks.

A big thanks to Ian for helping me with this post! And for Deal Checker for sponsoring it.

  • Thanks Ian! This was fascinating to see our lovely city, Chicago, from your point of view! I really enjoyed this! I remember the trains in London being super easy to use and problem free. I guess I blocked anything else out?

    And you’ll realize you are no longer ‘a tourist’ when someone asks YOU for directions and you can help them! That’ll make your day! Enjoy Chicago!

  • Neat to hear Ian’s perspective on this!

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