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When visiting a big city (or any destination, for that matter), the massive question for the woman over 50 traveling by herself is, “am I going to be safe?”
I will be the first one to tell you that I’m not brave. Call me old-fashion, but I do believe that there are specific destinations that women traveling alone shouldn’t try to conquer. Just shouldn’t.
Chicago isn’t one of them.
According to the Chicago Tribune, 58 million people visited Chicago in 2018 – a record-breaking number for this city. (I’m waiting for an update for 2019).
Conde Nast’s Traveller magazine voted Chicago “the number one big city.” Again, for 2019. And I expect my city to win for 2020.
Chicago is known for its world-class architecture, the fantastic food scene, and great cultural experiences. There’s plenty to see, do, and take in.
Okay, so what about Chicago’s lousy reputation?
Is Chicago safe to visit alone?
It has a bad reputation for crime, right? Is Chicago safe to visit alone for the woman over 50? Should you put Chicago on your list of travel destinations to conquer this year?
The answer to that question is yes.
Chicago isn’t even one of the top 25 dangerous cities. Official FBI numbers for crime rates for 2019 don’t come out until September of 2020. However, for 2018, Chicago was listed as number 55 out of 100 (#1 being the worst).
We are nowhere near being the most dangerous city in the United States. The reputation of Chicago being an unsafe city, has been blown out of proportions.
The city goes to great lengths such as foot patrols, cops on motorcycles, horseback, and on bikes to make sure that residents and visitors are safe. The police are everywhere.
The City of Chicago Police heavily patrols the downtown area and all neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods, including the downtown area, are patrolled by Chicago Police and other entities such as the Northwestern University Police, Cook County, Illinois State Police, and other law enforcement departments. In the neighborhood of Hyde Park, you also have the Secret Service who patrols President Obama’s Chicago residence.
And there is always a neighborhood Chicago cop or two who live in the area.
So like I said…feel free to enjoy yourself but do it safely.
Staying Safe in Chicago
Yes, parts of Chicago can be dangerous. But don’t most cities (both U.S. and abroad) have areas that are considered not safe? With a little street-savvy and awareness of how you’re presenting yourself, you will be fine.
- Just like any city that you visit, always be aware of your environment.
- Try not to appear touristy.
- If you’re like me and love carrying huge-ass purses, make sure the bag has a shoulder strap that you can wear across your body.
- Never leave your purse on the back of your chair. Especially if you are enjoying a meal at one of Chicago’s many sidewalk cafes/restaurants.
- Do not take shortcuts through alleys. No matter how tempting.
- When going out at night, stick to well-lit sidewalks, main streets, and parks. The lakefront is gorgeous at night. Full of good people with neighborly and friendly mid-western values. Join them and enjoy the amazingly beautiful city that is Chicago. I never get tired of the welcoming energy of my city.
- Enjoy yourself.
What neighborhoods to hang out in Chicago (especially if this is your first time)
Most of everything you will want to see, like museums, top attractions, and tours are located in downtown Chicago.
The downtown area is a mixed business and residential community. Any of the following neighborhoods in the downtown Chicago area are safe and ideal for the woman over 50 traveling solo:
I highly recommend exploring outside of downtown Chicago if you have the time. Here’s a list of just a few areas that are great for getting to know the “city of neighborhoods.”
- Lincoln Park
- Hyde Park
- Wicker Park
- Logan Square
Drop your name and email below and receive a cheat sheet of the 10 Best Areas to Stay in Chicago
Traveling by yourself to Chicago? 10 Solo Travel Tips!
So I’m not going to lie. Traveling by yourself to an unknown city can feel a little intimidating, a little weird. To make it feel less…umm, scary and mysterious, I recommend the following tips:
- If you’re within driving distance of Chicago…shore up your confidence with a day trip or two or three – to ease into the whole solo travel thing. This is a great way to build up to going on longer trips. It will also allow you to gain confidence in yourself as a solo traveler. Some of my coolest day trips were right in my hometown of Chicago. Every once in a while, I would spring for a room at a nice hotel in the downtown area and do an overnight stay.
- Create an itinerary – that will keep you stimulated visually, creatively, and actively. Create a schedule of your activities to follow but feel free to veer off should you find something along the way you want to explore or try.
- Share your itinerary – with a family member or friend. And it wouldn’t hurt to leave a copy of it in the hotel room or at the hotel’s front desk…just in case. Use technology (your smartphone) to check in with family and friends, periodically while on your journey with a quick text, email, or phone call.
- And speaking of safety – Always, always be present mentally and aware of your surroundings. Go with your gut if a situation feels unsafe, abort…abort. There’s nothing wrong with being extra cautious when traveling by yourself. As tempting as it might be to wander around a city at midnight (don’t laugh…I’ve done it), it’s probably not a good idea. If you want to go out after dark to take in a concert or the ballet, take Uber or a taxi.
- Travel light – I recommend resisting the urge to overpack and carry a backpack. You will love the freedom of not lugging a suitcase everywhere, and it decreases the chances of lost or stolen luggage. Read my article on the benefits of traveling with a backpack by clicking here.
- Open a checking account dedicated to travel expenses – put away money in an individual checking account for your travels. This will keep you on budget, and you won’t be tempted to gamble away your rent money (done this too in Vegas). Make sure you have plenty of extra cash in this account for emergencies. Having a dedicated travel credit card is excellent also. However, I recommend only utilizing the credit card to hold your hotel room reservation, or for any financial holds, the hotel will likely put on your card. Once a trip is over, you should only have good memories and fantastic travel pictures, not expenses that you now have to pay off.
- Pre-purchase tours and other activities – before leaving for your solo trip. This way, you don’t have to worry about dipping into money earmarked for expenses while on your journey. However, leave room in the budget for those last-minute decisions to do tours or activities that were unplanned. Again, use your smartphone to store digital tickets, i.e., airline tickets, tours, etc. on your device. This will cut down on “oh, shit, I forgot my reservation number.” My favorite websites for purchasing tours are Viator and Get your Guide.
- I recommend downloading the following apps: Google Maps, Yelp, and Uber.
- Make physical copies of your passport, driver’s license, birth certificate – and any other essential travel documents just in case you lose them on the way, or they get stolen you will have a copy of it.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed – Chicagoan love to talk about their city, so don’t be scared to ask for directions or suggestions. I’m an introvert, but there have been times during a trip when I’ve struck up a conversation and was rewarded with some fantastic insight into my life or someone else’s.
Is Chicago safe to visit alone? Yes! Don’t let the exaggerated hype about it being the most dangerous city in the United States stop you from enjoying Chicago. There are so many great reasons to visit Chicago – fantastic food, culture, famous landmarks, and of course, the people. The possibilities for an attractive, fun-filled good time is endless.
In short, make Chicago your next travel destination.