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In summer of 2012, I found myself considering a move from Madison, Wisconsin, to Chicago, Illinois. Wisconsin was the only home I had known during my formative years, specifically Madison, where I went to college and spent a few bonus years after.

Ah, Madison! I grew up in a small Wisconsin town, so Madison was it for me. Besides being my version of a food paradise, it had a vibrant nightlife and music scene, tons of bike lanes and a general ease of getting around town. It had a little grip on my heart.

Fast forward to the end of 2012, and after a few visits to Chicago and some white-knuckled driving, I found myself with bags packed and moving south to my new city. I did the roommate thing for a while, used a hammock for a couch and found Chicago has A LOT of Green Bay Packer bars… Here are five of my favorites you can check out for yourself:

I love Chicago like I love my small hometown, and now I even buzz around Lower Wacker Drive like the Dark Knight himself; but the transition took a little getting used to. So here’s some advice I wish I would have had back in 2012 on making the big move from Mad-town to Chi-town.

Don’t Settle on the First Neighborhood You Hear About

There are so many great neighborhoods in Chicago, each with its own set of unique offerings. Madison has neighborhoods too, of course, but far fewer because, well, geography. Living there eight years, I also knew Madison’s neighborhoods inside and out. I felt overwhelmed by Chicago and was moving without a job, so I asked a few friends where I should look for apartments.

Everyone recommended living in Lincoln Park. While LP is definitely a nice area, I wish I had known about the up-and-coming, urban, yet less-congested feel of the South Loop or the West Loop. Or even Lakeshore East. I didn’t discover that hidden gem of a location until about a year in. My point is, do a little research before locking in on one area. Learn about the culture of each area and its selection of restaurants, bars, stores and conveniences. Time Out Chicago and Choose Chicago are a couple of great places to start. If you’re moving here with a job, consider the commute time from each location. Don’t look at the distance alone. Try Google Maps to estimate driving times around the city, with traffic factored in. Google also shows you travel time estimates for public transit trips. Better yet, research the residential options within walking distance to work. A little research will save you big time stress and make for a happier transition.

Embrace the CTA and Public Transit

On the first day of my freshman year in college, I ditched my random dorm roommate in Madison in order to go figure out the bus system. My zeal for exploring public transit has transferred to Chicago, but I recognize that this might not be a hobby for everyone. Chicago’s CTA system, which includes the “L” train and buses, is surprisingly straight-forward. I strongly recommend living within close walking distance to any L stop. Download an app that tells you when your next bus or train is coming, down to the minute. I use an app called “Embark CTA,” but you can find a whole bunch of app options here. If you’ll have to commute to work, do a practice run on the train before your first day. Bottom line – you’ll be using public transit if you live in Chicago, so get out there and go for it!

Pictured: Wall art in my apartment depicting the Chicago L trains. I really love them!

Chicagoans Love to Bike Too!

Madison is one of the nation’s most bike-friendly cities, and I used to love riding to work or just for fun. Guess what – Chicago is super bike-friendly, too! Why was I only picturing New York City-style, traffic-packed streets as my bike routes, when I should have been picturing glorious Lake Shore Drive? Much like Madison, Chicago also has its own bicycle sharing system. It’s called Divvy and it’s awesome. It offers over 580 stations around the city and over 5,800 bikes! If you bring your own bike, lock it up with a u-lock or two, even for short term (I learned this the hard way). Shortly after I got here, I developed an addiction to indoor cycling. Turns out, the city is also loaded with several different cycling studios, which has been an unexpected perk. I particularly love Flywheel, but if you’d like to explore a variety of fitness studios in the city (cycling and much more), try a membership with ClassPass. It’s fun way to try new places at a bit of a discount, compared to purchasing classes directly from specific studios.

It Costs More, But You Make More

One of the biggest differences between Madison and Chicago, besides the obvious population difference, is the cost of living. Expect to pay more for things in Chicago, but expect to have more opportunity to earn – and to make more. At first I didn’t get this. Parking fees, higher rents and gas were driving me nuts, so when I first moved, I relied heavily on discount sites like Groupon (especially for those cycling classes mentioned above). I found relatively cheap street parking and I made myself stick to a monthly budget. But as time went by, I started to realize how much more money I was making. I think my Wisconsin friends living in Chicago would agree that the income potential here definitely balances out the higher cost of living. And now it really feels like Wisconsin is a bargain when I go back!

Don’t Cry Yourself to Sleep Over the Farmers’ Market

I exaggerate, but really, don’t. For eight amazing years, I was lucky enough to have the Dane County Farmers’ Market – the nation’s largest producer-only farmers’ market – right in my backyard. It’s the biggest and it’s the best, and I think everyone should go experience it. But Chicago has the Green City Market – the city’s only year round sustainable market, and a bunch of other really cool things too, such as festivals, distilleries, museums and comedy shows. Don’t run home to Wisconsin every weekend; stick around your new home and check out the Wells Street Art Festival or maybe visit Rhine Hall Distillery. Join a social sports league like those offered by S3 to meet new people. I’ve done all of them and I’m willing to bet that you won’t regret trying them too!

There you have it fellow Wisconsin-ites. Chicagoans are actually a lot of people just like us – just on a bigger scale. If you’re ready to make the move from Wisconsin and need help finding an apartment in downtown Chicago, drop me a note at stephanie@hotspotrentals.com or contact us at hotspotrental.wpengine.com. I love Chicago and I bet you will too, but one thing will never change…Go Packers!

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