If there is one thing I have learned after 20+ years of solo travel, it’s how to pack more efficiently and take precautions when it comes to my travel documents, valuables and personal identity. Below are my “Pre-Travel Packing and Safety Tips.” Of course, these practices are not restricted to solo travelers. Therefore, I recommend you share them with any family or friends with whom you may be travelling.
Share your flight, hotel and travel itinerary with one or 2 family members or close friends. Include hotel(s) phone numbers and e-mail addresses.
Chicago Athletic Association was restored last year into a wonderful hotel, dining destination and playground for the city’s visitors and residents alike. This turn-of-the-century building from the 1890’s is an architectural treasure with a vast and wild history.
The facade and interior are finished in a Venetian Gothic style. The halls and walls echo the rich history of the many movers, shakers, musicians and other colorful characters who put Chicago on the map. The bold, the bawdy and the bad-asses.
The woodwork in this historic Stagg Court is stunning!
The elevator walls are made from the re-purposed wood of the tennis courts here.
The historic swimming pool lies underneath this party room.
Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you all had a fabulous holiday season and are excited about all the good things 2016 has to offer. I know I am! Before I wander too far down the new year’s path, I wonder…How did you get your groove on during 2015? Personally, I experienced several musical highlights last year at Buddy Guy’s Legends, The Chicago Theatre, City Winery and beyond. What’s more? I attended all of those shows solo!
Live concerts are part of my “holy trinity.” (Travel and food make up the other two-thirds). I love many genres of music but blues and rock are what really get my blood pumping.
I started off 2015 with a live show by my absolute favorite musical artist of all time, Beth Hart. Beth and her kick-ass band performed at Park West in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. I have seen her perfom several times including in Dublin, Ireland and New York. It was a treat to sit right up front, near the stage again, during this performance. Definitely, the highlight of 2015 for me.
Beth Hart, my favorite voice of all time!
As expected, I met several avid Beth Hart fans while standing in line in the snow , waiting for the doors at Park West to open. We exchanged personal stories of other Beth Hart shows we attended in the U.S. and abroad, as well as our experiences meeting Beth, her husband, Scott and the other members of her band. Of course, we discussed our favorite songs, too!
Pj Barth is one of Beth Hart’s stellar guitarists
In April, I headed over to The Chicago Theatre to catch Joe Bonamassa. Joe is a stellar blues artist who has recorded albums with Beth Hart such as “Don’t Explain,” “See Saw” and “Live in Amsterdam.” Joe has been building an impressive blues career, since he was a young boy.
Joe Bonamassa, blues artist
I chatted with some other Joe Bonamassa fans in the historic and gorgeous lobby of the Chicago Theatre over cocktails.
In May, I returned to Tthe Chicago Theatre to see the legendary Jeff Beck on blues guitar. He came onto a nearly bare-bones stage, without any flashy merchandising. Just his bandmates. He absolutely killed it that night. In addition to his own stellar songs, Jeff treated the audience to incredibly touching renditions of “Danny Boy” and “The Thrill is Gone.”
When you have an opportunity to see a living guitar legend (age 70), you take it. Even if you have to go solo.
I am a huge fan of Buddy Guy. Lucky for me, I live just 5 blocks from his Chicago club, Buddy Guy’s Legends. I have been honored to see Buddy perform live and to meet him several times. He is in residence every January for the entire month. During that time, he plays with different musicians every weekend. This year, I also attended Buddy’s 79th Birthday Bash.
Buddy, his family and friends were there mingling with the rest of us. He got up on stage later in the evening to sing. Then, we all sang “Happy Birthday” to Buddy before we shared slices of his birthday cake and imbibed on some Buddy Brew beer:) I had fun chatting with Buddy and his many other fans. Top night!
Buddy accepts some birthday gifts!
The lucky raffle winner of Buddy Guy’s guitar….was not me :(
Birthday cake and “Buddy Brew” beer
James Bay, an up and coming British musician, was at Buddy’s party. He performed a song that night as well.
James Bay, British guitaritst/singer
Here are some other musical highlights which helped my get my groove on in 2015, despite the fact that I attended these shows solo:
Chicago Blues Fest in Grant Park:
Shemekia Copeland and her band came in from NYC.
Willie Dixon’s family celebrates his 100th birthday at Chicago Blues Festival
Dana Fuchs, Doyle Bramhall II and Jimmy Vaughan gave great perfomances at City Winery Chicago:
Some of you may remember Dana Fuchs from the movie, “Across the Universe”
My other favorite contemporary goddess of blues, Dana Fuchs!
Doyle Bramhall II
Walter Trout made an appearance at Buddy Guy’s Legends:
Grace Potter kept us all on our feet at The Chicago Theatre:
Devon Allman brought some rock ‘n soul to Cubby Bear in Wrigleyville:
Last but not least, I rang in the new year with Robert Randolph & The Family Band at City Winery in Chicago. I was invited to dance on stage with some other fun women. Of course, I accepted! After the show, I was able to hang with Robert and the band for a bit. Groovy cool way to say goodbye to 2015 and hello to 2016!
I rang in the New Year with Robert Randolph & The Family Band
Great hang backstage with Robert Randolph & The Family Band
So, there you have it. As much as I love to attend live shows with friends, they are not always available or interested in the bands I want to see. The thought of missing my favorite musical acts simply because I would have to go solo is unacceptable.
For those of you who feel self-conscious about attending a concert solo, I urge you to get over it. Remember, you already have something in common with the other folks who are in attendance. You both love the same singer/band and are excited for the show.
Are you afraid of visiting Chinatown? I meet many folks from different cities who say that Chinatown is scary or intimidating. But, why? Perhaps it’s that most Chinatown neighborhoods have so many restaurants and shops in very close proximity to each other. Or, maybe, the fact that there are so many signs in Chinese, Korean or other Asian languages is off-putting. Some folks fear crime (I think they watch too many bad movies!). Whatever the reason, one thing I hear all the time from people is that they would never consider going to Chinatown solo.
Me? I love the fact that I live so close to Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood. It’s such an interesting and fun place to meander around, while exploring various types Asian cuisine and culture without a passport. Last Friday, I headed over to MingHin Cuisine for a lovely solo lunch.
MingHin is located just a couple of blocks west of the Cermak-Chinatown ‘L’ stop, along the CTA Red Line and the McCormick Place ‘L’ stop, along the CTA Green Line. The #62 Archer bus will take you directly there as well.
MingHin is easily accessible via the cta trains and buses.
The focus here is on Cantonese cuisine and they have a fabulous dim sumservice. Since I was dining alone, I decided to leave the many dim sum options for a return visit with a few friends. That way, I can justify ordering several items at once
Here’s how my lunch went down:
I arrived at 1pm and MingHin was packed. I was greeted immediately with a smile and asked how many people were in my party. When I mentioned that I was a party of one and that I would like to sit by a window, the host did not balk at all. He swiftly eyeballed the available table options in this rather large space and escorted me to a large window booth.
I really appreciate it when a restaurant welcomes solo diners without stuffing us in a dim corner
In less than a minute, my server appeared and helped me through the large menu and specials. Since I was committed to eating strictly vegetarian that day, I began with this spicy Szechuan eggplant dish with sweet and hot peppers which comes with a side of white rice. Usually, Minghin makes it with some ground pork. However, they were more than happy to leave it out for me.
Don’t forget the extra chili sauce!
It’s been a while since I’ve had a really good version of this eggplant dish and MingHin’s really satisfied my craving. It was delicious. The eggplant was cooked perfectly. So often when restaurants attempt Szechuan eggplant, they overcook it, until it’s a pile of mush. MingHin got it right! It will become a staple for me here.
Nice and spicy Szechuan eggplant
Next, I decided to get my protein on by ordering a simple, pan-seared tofu in soy sauce. My server explained that I would have to wait 10-15 minutes for this dish because they make it “to-order.” This was a very good sign. It informed me that I was not getting some stale tofu dish like so many busy Chinese restaurants prepare in advance. When it hit the table, I was not disappointed. The tofu was medium-firm and perfectly crispy on top. The soy sauce was the perfect seasoning. This tofu dish was a great follow-up to the super spicy eggplant, as it helped to cool down my palate.
Don’t let the simplicity of this dish fool you!
The space at MingHin is huge, bright and decorated very nicely. A departure from the typical plain digs at many Chinatown joints, regardless of the city.
Eyeballing other patrons’ dishes while I await my lunch :)
MingHin was awarded the 2016 Michelin Bib Gourmand distinction which means that it is budget-friendly. This fact should keep your wallet happy
Overall, this was a really yummy and comfortable solo dining experience. MingHin took very good care of me and made me feel most welcome I felt perfectly safe all by myself
MingHin Cuisine is located at 2168 S. Archer Avenue. It is open 7 days a week from 8am – 2am. There is new location near Grant Park at 333 E. Benton Place. Click here for more information.
Would you go to a comedy club alone? No? Up until 2 days ago, I never considered it. But, I desperately needed a good laugh and to get “out of my head.” It seemed silly to forego such an outing simply because friends were unavailable to join me that day. After all, how different could it be from going to a movie, the theatre or a concert alone? I decided to find out.
I do not frequent comedy clubs nearly as often as I did years ago. Of course, it was an activity I enjoyed with a group of friends. Nevertheless, lately I’ve been thinking that I need to put this back in my recreational repertoire So I hopped on-line to see what the local comedy clubs had scheduled for this week. Chicago has a long and storied history of amazing comedians and an assortment of stand-up sets and improv shows (Zanies, Second City, etc). It did not take long before I noticed that Laugh Factory in Lakeview was featuring a unique show entitled “The Social Takeover.” Here’s how it works:
The 4 comedians who took the stage to do individual sets earlier in the evening return to the stage together to “take over” the Facebook pages of willing audience members. Those Facebook pages are projected onto a large screen, so the audience can watch what ensues. Then, the comedians create hilarious posts and send messages to the participant’s Facebook friends.
Nothing good could come from this!
On the night I attended this show, the 2 willing audience members just happened to be recent high school graduates. You can imagine how much material the comedians had to work with, as kids that age overshare every detail of their lives! HOLY SHIT! This was fun. I spent the next hour wiping away tears of laughter and most of the make-up which ran down my face. These comedians worked with lightening speed at creating jaw-dropping havoc in real-time.
The bit that makes this Social Takeover so funny is the audience participant sits behind the screen which displays their Facebook page. So, they are unable to see everything happening such as the replies received from their Facebook friends ( or soon-to-be “EX-FRIENDS”) about all of the strange, rude and outlandish things “he/she” has posted.
The comedians and the audience (myself included) had such a great time. Those shell-shocked participants had fun, too. Although I could see occasional moments of fear and regret in their young faces. They were probably wondering how they would explain all of this to the Facebook friends they offended (HA!). Of course, at the end of each “takeover” the comedians put up a final post to the participants’ pages with the Laugh Factory Logo and a picture of them all together advising that it was all a joke. I am only sorry that I don’t get to know how much trouble it really caused for them when the sun came up the following morning 😉
I am so happy that I did not miss out on this HILARIOUS show. I had a great time. There was nothing uncomfortable about going alone. I certainly did not laugh any less than I would have, if I had gone with friends. I chatted with some friendly people on line while waiting to get into the club. And, I had a nice talk with a couple of the comedians who performed that night.
The only thing that happened which I find mildly annoying was that the Laugh Factory employee who escorted the patrons to their seats wanted me to sit in a place with an obstructed view of the stage. This sort of thing happens on occasion in restaurants, too. Sometimes, venues don’t like the sight of a solo person in clear view of the rest of the restaurant or venue. How rude! Other times, they presume that since you are “flying solo” that you would prefer to be seated in the shadows. Ridiculous! Regardless, of the scenario, remember that “No one puts Baby in a corner.” Do not be afraid to speak up and ask for the best possible table. I did just that and sat second row center that night