Guide to a Chicago Getaway

Chicago has always been one of my very favorite cities. There’s just such a great vibe that surrounds the stunning architecture of the skyline; even in a simple walk around it can start to feel like home. I visit as often as I can and have accumulated some of my absolute favorite “must-do’s” of the city as well as some travel tips!

  • Travel

Although it’s a very easy three hour drive from where I live, taking the train from Grand Rapids is extra fun. We travel on the Amtrak train departing from the downtown Grand Rapids Station located on Century Avenue straight through to Union Station in Chicago. The ticket prices were extremely reasonable and it all can be found on the Amtrak website, link above. Making a couple stops along the way, the total travel time is a little over four hours. It’s a unique experience to stare out the window at the quickly passing scenery, much different than riding in a car on the highway, but the best part is pulling into the city and catching the first glimpse of the skyline. The tracks bring you right to the heart of it all as you step off with your bags strait into the hustle and bustle of the city life. Even if you decide to not take the train, I would still suggest taking a peak inside Union Station, it’s incredibly beautiful!

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Union Station ground entrance.
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Union Station waiting area.
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Union Station street entrance.

 

  • Hotel

There are obviously hundreds of hotels to choose from to stay in while you visit, my personal favorite has been the Wyndham Grand Chicago Riverfront. It is located directly along the river across from the Trump Tower; truly an incredible location with even more incredible views!

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Our room.
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Day view from our window.
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Night view from our window.
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Incredible view from the banquet room.
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My very favorite spot in the hotel: the Penthouse balcony.

 

  • Wendella’s Boat Tour and City Trolley Tour

Wendella’s– This is a fantastic boat tour that takes you through the Chicago River for an up close perspective of the iconic architecture then ventures out to Lake Michigan for a spectacular view of Chicago’s twenty six mile skyline. The full tour is about ninety minutes long, there are two docks where you can board (the Main Dock, 400 North Michigan Avenue and Trump dock 402 N Wabash Ave) where tickets can be purchased. Tickets can be purchased online as well on Wendella’s website, here you can also find directions and more information as needed. This has been one of my favorite experiences I’ve had in the city, the pictures don’t even do the views justice. A definite must do!

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Riding on the top deck of the boat through the river.
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View from Lake Michigan.

 

Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Co.– Since we didn’t drive our car, the hop-on-hop-off style trolley was the perfect transportation for us! Tickets can be purchased for a 24, 48 or 72 hour period in which you can use the trolley for as much or as little as you’d like for that amount of time. On the downtown tour, you can hop on and off as much as you want at the city’s most popular and famous attractions. There are thirteen different stops along the way ranging from each end of the city. The trolley gets to each stop every twelve to fifteen minutes so not only did we use it to take a tour and learn about the city, we used it to get to where we needed to go regardless if it was an attraction on the tour, just to save us some walking. There is also a double decker bus option to use rather than the trolley if you wish. Each ticket purchased comes with a night ticket tour as well that you definitely won’t want to miss out on! Definitely a fun and unique way to enjoy Chicago that I’d highly recommend. (This company runs all year round.)

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The super cute trolley come to pick us up.
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The inside view.

 

  • Skydeck Chicago, The Ledge

For all who are not afraid of heights, spectacular views can be found 365 days a year on the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower. The Skydeck ledge experience is one like none other, standing 1,353 feet above the ground in a glass box will provide you with a view of Chicago you can’t get anywhere else. As the eighth-tallest building in the world and a Chicago icon, this is something you have to try. Tickets here.

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Amazing views from all around the 103rd floor.

 

  • NBC Studios, The Steve Harvey Show

Although tickets for the show cannot be purchased, if you know the dates you will be in Chicago you can request free tickets here. We were selected for the free tickets when we went but happened to have a very unique experience. We showed up to the studio all ready to go in our brightly colored clothes we were told to wear, just then to be informed Mr. Harvey was sick that morning and the show taping would be canceled. As a courtesy to those who had tickets we were given the option to come back to the Mother’s Day show taping, since I am in school my mom and I knew that we wouldn’t be coming back to Chicago and were bummed we would be missing the show. So, we stuck around seeing if there was something else we could experience that day. Luckily enough some very nice staff members offered to take us on a private tour of the studios which was incredible and in my opinion even better than the show would’ve been!

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Inside the studio with my mom.

 

  • The Signature Room

The Signature room is a very special dining experience. Located on the 95th floor of the John Hancock building, the views while you eat are completely breathtaking. The fine dining experience is the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion, for my mom and I, we were celebrating our birthday’s as they are in the same week. A place and memory I will surely never forget. Also, located above on the 96th floor is the Signature Lounge and bar as well as an area for private events. More information here.

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My cute mom.

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  • Broadway Chicago

If you’re anything like me you would never go into a big city without seeing a Broadway musical. We were lucky enough to be in Chicago the same time the traveling Broadway tour of 42nd Street was playing at the Cadillac Palace Theater. Spending time in the theatre district you can find great theatre themed restaurants for a meal before the show, or even just walking around you can enjoy the lively energy. The best way to find out what shows are playing while you’re in town would be on Broadway in Chicago’s website.

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The Cadillac Palace.

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  • The Classic tourist locations (of course!)

While you’re in Chicago you’ll definitely want to see the iconic best known tourist locations such as The Bean (Cloud Gate), Millennium Park, the International Amphitheater, the Chicago Cultural Center (where the Tiffany Dome is located), the Art Institute of Chicago, Shedd Aquarium, and the Navy Pier just to name a few. There are honestly endless things to experience in this city you are sure to enjoy yourself while you visit. Just get out and explore, Chicago truly never disappoints!

 

Let me know what you enjoy most when in Chicago, I’d love to try some new things next time I visit!

Sincerely, Sienna

Creative ways to capture your summer memories

I have loved photographs for as long as I can remember. I think what I love the most is that no matter how much the people in the photo have changed, the memory it holds never does. Today I’m sharing a couple of my favorite creative gadgets perfect for capturing your fun summer memories. We’ll chat about the FujiFilm Instax Mini Polaroid camera as well as the iPhone lens kit. Whenever I use these accessories in public I get tons of complements and questions, all the answers you can find here!

First, the FujiFilm Instax Mini 8 instant film camera.

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My parents always laugh when I use this camera, they say “it’s nothing new, polaroids are what everyone used when we were kids. We had it first!” (lol) this little FujiFilm camera has been around for a few years but is still just as popular as ever. It takes adorable mini instant polaroid photos that print on the spot. The mini film is sold in reloadable packs of 10 and are very simple to change in and out. The extra film can be bought in a number of locations such as Best Buy or even Walmart and come in classic white or fun colored patterns. The camera itself comes in a wide variety of colors as well (Raspberry, Grape, White, Pink, Blue, Yellow and Black) and can also be purchased in multiple locations (FujiFilm). The camera has a dial on the front part of the lens that allows you select the amount of light exposure needed for your indoor or outdoor setting. It takes great photos perfect for a little dorm room decor.

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Here are a few of the adorable photos the camera takes.

I found that I had a little trouble fitting the camera into my small sized purse to bring it with me places, so I was thrilled when I found the perfect solution: the Instax case. Not bulky and very convenient for traveling which also comes in various colors. The front opens up so you don’t even have to take the camera out of the case to take a photo. The case can be found at Best Buy.

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Next, the iPhone Lens Kit.

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Fisheye clip lens (smaller). Wide shot clip lens (larger).

These are fun accessories that can really help you step up your photo game and allow you capture moments in quite a unique way. Most kits come with three lenses, the Fisheye, the Wide Shot, and the Macro (not pictured above). They easily clip on to the phone; working best on the bare phone but are effective with a thin case on as well.

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Fisheye lens shown on the back camera.
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Fisheye lens shown from the side.

They look a little obnoxious when they’re clipped on but are easy to quickly attach and detach. I purchased my set of lenses on amazon.com for around $13, but I’m sure with a little searching you could find even cheaper ones as well. The pictures taken with the lenses are clear through both the front and back camera, pictures using each are below.

Fisheye Lens.

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Back camera. (Aerosmith concert)
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Front facing camera. (Florence + The Machine concert with Liv)

 

Wide Shot Lens.

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Back camera. (MSU vs. Oregon game)
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Front facing camera. (MSU vs. Oregon game with Hannah & Lysie)

 

Being able to “save” my milestones and memories with fun, creative tools like these have made me love photos even more. I hope your summer has already been fantastic and you’ve gained some new ideas on how to capture your next moments. Let me know if you have a favorite photography gadget you like to use, I’d love to hear about it!

Sincerely, Sienna

Finding your way as a college freshman

I just finished up my freshman year at Michigan State University and although the school year is over, I missed it so much already I had to come back; so ironically enough I write this post from East Lansing! I recently completed training to be a campus tour guide helping other students fall in love with their new home just as I did; something I love more than I even imagined I could. Quite the full circle year it seems and one I can honestly stamp as the best year of my life. I learned so much along the way, here are some of my experiences, things I wish I knew before I came to college, as well as advice as to how to make the most out of your freshman year!

It’s totally normal and completely okay to be anxious for this huge, new chapter of your life. I know all of the “what if’s” kept me awake at night, it can be scary to part with the life you’ve known for the past four years but every college freshman feels this way. I wish I wouldn’t have worried so much about silly things before I left; try to turn your nerves into excitement – you get a fresh start!

Saying “see you later” to my family was emotional, move-in day had been highly anticipated for so long so let your parents have their moment – remember it’s a big step for them too! Let your mom take pictures, hug your siblings and don’t be shocked if your dad even sheds a tear. Despite the emotions, I found being dropped off somewhere completely new to be surprisingly refreshing. You become the newest “you” that you have ever been up to that point. Every single face is unfamiliar, every place you go feels brand new. Take it all in and explore! Don’t miss out on a single thing. MSU had so many fun things to do during Welcome Week, it was the best time to meet new people! Don’t hide away in your room to be “too cool” to participate, grab your roommate and head out to the activities together!

Speaking of roommates, I was lucky enough to have a great experience using RoomSync. RoomSync is an online tool to help you find the best roommate for you and it’s super easy to use! You fill out a short survey about yourself in addition to writing a quick blurb about what you are seeking in a roommate. Many schools across the country offer this as an option and I would highly recommend checking it out. It was the same feeling as going in blind but gave me peace of mind in knowing I knew enough about the person I would be sharing my room with to be comfortable. My roommate and I got along great, we were respectful of each other’s space and belongings; I couldn’t have asked for a better situation for my first year. Living in such a small space with someone you’ve never met before really teaches you to have a high level of respect for others and how to handle conflict like an adult. I know friends of mine who weren’t as lucky with their roommates, if this were to be the case with you, try to talk out the issues with them and if that doesn’t work, your resident assistant (RA) would be a great resource to help you.

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My roommate Lysie and I on the first day of classes.

 

Before coming to college I was nervous that the level of academics as well as the work load would be a challenging jump compared to high school. I found that although the content was more challenging and the work load was heavier, I had much more time to focus on my school work. I was a very involved high school student with packed full days of school, multiple extracurriculars, club sporting events and work. In college it was a blank slate, I was able to experience my first few weeks of school work and then decide how many things on campus I could get involved with based on the time commitment I needed to set aside to succeed in my classes. School comes first, this is college, you pay for your classes and you are there to earn your degree, stay focused while enjoying yourself and use your resources. Go to class; really, you already paid for it! Do the extra credit opportunities that you are offered, they can really help your grade at the end of the semester. Most importantly, ask for help when you need it! Do not be embarrassed to ask for help, go to your professor’s open office hours or utilize your university’s tutor program. At MSU they have free tutoring which I definitely took advantage of. Math is my weakest subject and I am not at all ashamed to say I spent many hours at MSU’s Math Learning Center on campus. Taking time out of my week to do this and seek out the help I needed was crucial to my success.

Your college experience will truly be what you make it. You’re on your own, you have new freedom you’ve never felt before and it’s time for you to go after what you want without your parents doing it for you. Set goals for yourself, the opportunities are endless. Experience everything you can, use your new freedom to excel, trust your decisions and make the most of your time – this is home.

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GET INVOLVED; this is what truly made my first year unforgettable. There are organizations on campus for any and every interest you may have. Specifically, I jumped right in during the first month of the fall semester by seeking out an organization that I could continue to participate in acting. When I auditioned for Telecaster’s Sideshow I had no idea how much I would learn about working on screen as well as off screen and all of the experiences it would bring my way. It provided me with a family feeling, a group of people that shared similar interests, inspired me and one I knew I could trust.

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My Sideshow family.
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On set with Sideshow.
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Presenting at the Albie Awards.

But also step out of your comfort zone, this is where adventure begins! Have an open mind, you never know what you could stumble upon or the people that you could be lucky enough to meet. I most definitely think participating in some time of organization during your freshman year is such a positive and beneficial experience.

What getting involved has blessed me with most of all is incredible lifelong friendships. The friends I made within my first year made school feel like home, they became my family and the reason for fun filled weekends. The best advice I can give is to surround yourself with hardworking people who have aspirations and goals who are supportive of you and encourage you to be the best you can be. I am so proud to call these people my friends and am so thankful for the memories we’ve made together.

The days of my freshman year have been some of the happiest of my life so far and I could not have imagined experiencing a better beginning to my Spartan journey. Everyone’s college experience will be different, remember that it takes time to adjust! But even through the stress, never take a moment for granted, you are so blessed to be able to be receiving a college level education and you will not believe how quickly time will fly.

Thanks for reading!

Sincerely, Sienna

(follow my Instagram at siennamohl for more updates!)

 

What to see in NYC (a student tourist’s guide)

Part two of the New York City post! This time a guide on all the must-sees in the city. Some may be a little touristy but hey – you’re there to see it all! Bonus: as student tourist’s guide only two things on this list cost money ($), the rest are completely free to do! Of course there are many, many more amazing things to do and see in NYC that are not on this list, these are only what I experienced while I was there.

Transportation note: we did A TON of walking to avoid the cost of expensive transportation. We had great weather and wanted to enjoy every part of the different city streets while walking so it never seemed as much as it actually was. For the extra far lengths we did take the subway, (a single ride subway ticket is generally around $2.75 or $3.00) although the system may seem a bit confusing at first, we were surprised to find how quickly we got the hang of it! Don’t be afraid to try it, not only will it save you time by avoiding the constant city traffic but it’s part of the New York City experience as well!

(The list is in no particular order.)

  • The Brooklyn Bridge

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The bridge looks incredible from every angle, a perfect place for pictures!

The Brooklyn bridge was even more amazing than I had imagined. It’s just a little over a mile in length and a very enjoyable walk. Amazing views of both sides of skyline and even benches half way to sit and take a break. I was there on a Monday afternoon and was surprised by how packed it was with walker and bikers.

  • Water Street, Brooklyn (Gossip Girl’s Humphrey Loft)
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455 Water Street Brooklyn

If you’re a fan of the Gossip Girl series this iconic location of the Humphrey loft is a fun spot to see in person! Just after crossing the Brooklyn bridge it was a short five minute walk over to Water Street. Even if you’ve never seen the show, this location is a stunning place for pictures and a great area of Brooklyn!

  • Central Park
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The Central Park mall
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Proposal Bridge, although I did not see any proposals nor was I proposed to..

I was completely blown away by Central Park it was so easy to spend hours upon hours exploring, at times it felt as if you couldn’t be further from the hustle and bustle of the big city. Some of my favorites within the park were the mall; a beautiful walk surrounded by trees and a great place to listen to talented musicians do their thing! Another favorite being the Bethesda Fountain and Proposal Bridge. The park itself is 843 acres, 2.5 miles long and .5 miles wide so the best advice I can give is to find a map, pick out the things you’d like to see the most and check which direction to get there instead of aimlessly walking to search!

  • The Today Show live taping!
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Had to represent Sideshow on national television when we had the chance!

This is definitely a must do (and it’s free!!)! The Today Show does a live taping every morning Monday through Friday with most of the outdoor activity happening from 7:00am-9:00am. The taping takes place in Rockefeller Center between 48th and 49th streets 5th Ave. and the Avenue of the Americas (6th Ave.). It’s a very cool experience to watch everything behind the scenes happen right in front of you! We went on a Tuesday morning and arrived around 8:00am, we were surprised to find that it wasn’t as packed with people as we had imagined and that we hadn’t missed anything by the time we got there. On a day where there isn’t a concert taking place we were told it generally looks as it does in the picture above; plenty of room to comfortably stand and no waiting in line to get in. Around 8:15am the anchors came out, shook everyones hands and made small talk with the audience until they went live on TV. Overall one of my favorite things we did, best advice I could give is that there really was no need to arrive earlier than 8:00am!

  • Grand Central Station

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Truly spectacular, pictures do not do it justice! Much more “grand” than I had imagined and the perfect place to people watch.

  • Times Square (Day & Night)

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Met the sweetest photographer this night who took wonderful photos for us! @thankyouriz

The ultimate tourist move I know!! But you have to see it at least once, especially at night! Times Square is a constant mess of bright lights, construction and the biggest tourists you’ve ever seen but it truly is quite the sight to see. After we saw Chicago the Musical on Broadway (see earlier post for details) it was the perfect time to experience the night life and it definitely lived up to my expectations. If I had to pick between seeing it during the day or at night, I would pick at night hands down.

  • Ellen’s Stardust Diner ($)
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Located right on Broadway, home of the singing waitstaff

This was definitely one of our favorite parts during our trip. Although it’s touristy, it truly is a very fun experience and a great place for a meal! It’s open from 7am-midnight with diner style American food at reasonable pricing. We went for dinner at around 5ish before we saw Chicago the Musical and the food was fantastic! We only waited in line for about 10 minutes before we were sat, even then it wasn’t completely packed. The environment is so much fun, all of the waitstaff are either Broadway hopefuls or have already made their Broadway debut. They are constantly singing and performing on the tables and up in the balcony. Everyone was immensely talented and interacted a lot with the customers (our waiter even gave Liv a little solo in the mic during his song!) I cannot say enough great things about this place, we found ourselves constantly smiling in awe paying attention to the performers instead of eating! If you don’t have the opportunity to see a Broadway show while in NYC, this is a fantastic alternative! Highly, highly recommend.

  • Statue Cruises to Liberty Island and Ellis Island ($)
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Liberty Island. View from the boat.

 

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Ellis Island

The statue cruise was a really great affordable way to see both islands round trip with one ticket. This company has two boarding ports, one on the New Jersey side at Liberty State Park and one on the New York side at Battery Park (you can not get on at one and off at the other). We bought our tickets and boarded at Battery Park, the ticket cost was only $18 with both islands included in that price. This price includes: access up to the Fort Wood section of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, priority entry into the Boarding Queue which saves you wait time at the departure point, access to the grounds of Liberty Island and Ellis Island and audio Tours of both islands. There is another ticket option with statue crown access for $21 (tickets can also be purchased online, but we had no problem getting ours quickly in person when we went at 2:30pm). The boat begins boarding at 8:30am and again every twenty minutes with the last boat boarding at 3:30pm. Please take note that each day after 2:00pm you have to pick between getting off at Liberty Island or Ellis Island (still paying the full $18) due to the time restrictions. This happened to us and it turned out to be just fine. We decided to chose Ellis Island as Liv and I both have relatives who came through Ellis when coming to the United States for the first time. The boat stops at Liberty Island first and even though we didn’t get off at that point, we were able to take wonderful pictures of the Statue of Liberty from the boat (see above). The second stop is Ellis Island where you can walk around the grounds (great views of the NYC skyline), read the names of everyone who came through Ellis as well as check out the indoor museum. I would definitely recommend this on a beautiful day where you can sit on the top deck of the boat and enjoy the view, but they run the boat rain or shine and there is a lower deck where you can ride as well.

A couple other places that you’ll definitely want to check out are Radio City Music Hall (they offer tours), the new World Trade Center as well as the memorial, NBC Studios (they offer tours), the MET and The Shops in the bottom level of the famous Plaza Hotel. More not pictured: Madame Tussauds wax museum, the Top of the Rock observation deck at Rockefeller Center and the Empire State Building observation deck.

I hope all of these places can be added to your itinerary for when you visit! NYC truly makes you want to wake up, do things all day and stay up all night. I know you’ll have the best time!

Sincerely, Sienna

NYC! (traveling on a student budget)

New York City is a wildly popular summer vacation destination and one I’ve been dreaming of doing for quite some time. As it’s known, NYC is an expensive location especially for students, but I am here to tell you it can be done affordably!

Recently one of my best friends (Liv) and I spent four full days in the city that never sleeps and had an incredible time! The NYC post will be split into two parts, this as the first being tips on how to keep the trip within your budget; we’ll talk about travel, AirBnB housing, rush Broadway tickets! The second part will consist of experiences you won’t want to miss out on when you make your visit. The city awaits!

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The NYC skyline view from Liberty Park on the New Jersey side.

To begin, after searching through endless expensive flights we decided to make it a road trip! A daunting task it may sound like but in all honestly, it wasn’t so bad! From where we live in Michigan the drive time was 10.5 hours total; we alternated at the wheel every few hours and split the gas cost. The 10.5 hours flew by with the constant laughter, storytelling and belting Broadway songs for hours on end, if you take this trip with friends the drive truly is surprisingly enjoyable!

The area where we significantly saved the most money was in the decision to use AirBnB rather than stay in a hotel. AirBnB is an online service where hosts around the world list their space for travelers to stay in at affordable prices. You can make a free account online and begin searching for vacation rentals, homes, apartments and rooms for rent. Though we were a bit hesitant on this idea at first, when researching through the housing options we found it is very safe and easy to figure out. Make sure to read the reviews and profiles of potential hosts before you book. Look for verified phone numbers, read everything about the listing, the description, the amenities and the rules. We rented a room in Jersey City, New Jersey which was only a 15 minute subway ride into NYC. The room was wonderful as it had it’s own kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. You can find rooms within any price range depending on location and the amenities the room includes. I would say that a nice and safe room that students my age would be looking for could range from around $50 to $100 per night with Jersey City being the example location. To compare this to what you could expect to pay for a hotel in Manhattan, the cheapest single hotel rooms we could find were all above $250 per night; Liv and I did not even pay that much in total for our ENTIRE three night stay. AirBnB was new to both of us but it turned out to be a great choice that I would highly recommend!

If you’re anything like Liv and I you would never travel all the way to New York City without seeing a Broadway musical! As a theatre fanatic myself, I knew just how expensive Broadway tickets could be. Most shows sell tickets with prices ranging from $80 to even over $200! Feeling discouraged when thinking we may not end up seeing a show, I was thrilled to learn of something called “Rush Broadway Tickets”. Rush tickets are sold only on the day of the show and are available to anyone willing to wake up and get to the box office early and spend some time in a line, you can get greatly discounted tickets to the majority of shows on Broadway. Most rush tickets range in price from $25-$40. There is no set number to how many tickets they have left to sell for rush but you are limited to two per person only. The seat locations vary with different shows, from front row to rear mezzanine depending on show popularity and the number of tickets already sold. Not all shows offer rush tickets, but many great ones do. Almost all shows do also offer an online lottery opportunity; some of the lotteries draw for free tickets and some draw for discounted tickets. You can enter the day of the show online and will find out if you won a couple hours before the show begins. The reason we stuck with only doing the Rush option was because we knew we wanted to see a show that night and didn’t want to risk the possibility of not winning the ticket lottery. If we had been there for a longer period of time, the lottery would have definitely been something we did. So, when searching for a show we wanted to see that also offered Rush Tickets, I found a fantastic chart listing the shows and times their box offices opened each day of the week. To make sure we got tickets to at least one show we made a mutual list of our top three shows we would like to see from the orange rush tickets list. Our first choice that one of us would wait in line for (Chicago the Musical), our second choice that the other would wait in line for (School of Rock), and our third choice if we weren’t able to get tickets to either of those (Tuck Everlasting). All of the box offices opened at 10am so we arrived around 9:30am which in hindsight I would actually recommend getting there even a little earlier to be safe. We split up, Liv when to the Chicago line and I went to the School of Rock line. (All of the Broadway theaters are very close to each other, splitting up was safe and easy – Chicago was on 49th street and School of Rock was on 51st). Liv had about 15 people in line before her and I had around 12. Keep in contact with whomever you split from so you don’t both end up buying tickets for two separate shows! When doing this also remember that each person ahead of you is able to buy two tickets each and the tickets their selling aren’t necessary next to each other. The Chicago line actually ended up being quicker and Liv bought the last two tickets they were offering at $37 each! Needless to say we were ecstatic and show was unbelievable!

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I hope this was helpful to anyone looking to visit the city at an affordable price! If you have any questions feel free to comment and stay tuned for the second part of this post on other experiences you won’t want to miss when you book your trip!

Sincerely, Sienna