Passport to vacation fun without leaving Chicago

The legendary Phileas Fogg circumnavigated the globe in 80 days with his personal valet Passepartout. Few of us possess Fogg’s wealth and even fewer can claim a quaint French servant with whom to travel; but because we live in Chicago, it’s still possible to have an around-the-world travel experience. Chicago families have long enjoyed exploring the ethnic neighborhoods of the city. With spring and summer vacations just around the corner, it could be the perfect time to add a new twist to a familiar pastime.

One summer, my son and I, along with another family,  planned a travel adventure in the city that we dubbed “Around the World in Eighty Days,” after the famous Jules Verne novel. Throughout our weeks of travel, we read the book aloud and watched the funny movie version starring Jackie Chan. We made all our excursions on Fridays and managed to visit five or six different neighborhoods for a memorable summer that combined both learning and fun.

It’s easy to plan your own trip, tailored to the needs of your family. Whether you decide to visit one or two neighborhoods, or make it your spring or summer vacation theme, it can be an entertaining and enriching experience for everyone in the family.

Here’s how to get started.

Sit down with a list of countries and their corresponding neighborhoods and decide which of them you would most like to visit. Use a globe and a Chicago neighborhood map, marking possibilities with sticky notes or pins. Make as many choices as you think you will have time for. Here are a few suggestions:

  • China – Chinatown
  • Greece – West Loop
  • India – West Ridge/
  • Rogers Park
  • Italy – University Village/
  • Little Italy
  • Mexico – Little Village and Pilsen
  • Poland – Avondale
  • Sweden – Andersonville
  • Vietnam – Uptown

To lend a touch of reality, it is fun to have passport photos taken at a nearby Walgreens or CVS. They cost about (there are often coupons available online). Make a mock passport out of construction paper and glue the photo inside. Plan to have the children carry their passports with them and date or stamp the pages after each trip.

Prior to the day of travel, try to learn something about the country you will be visiting. Make use of books, magazines and the Internet to gather information. If you are acquainted with a person whose ethnic background reflects the country you are interested in, or know someone who has visited the country, set up an interview by phone or in person and let the kids ask questions.

Drive only if you must. It is much more fun to take trains and buses, and most neighborhoods are easily accessible by public transportation. Plan to have lunch, or at least a snack, that includes something native to the country you are visiting. Be prepared for a variety of reactions. For example, our children quickly gobbled up the basket of warm, chewy naan the waiter brought to our table at a restaurant on Devon Avenue; but when he showed up with bubble tea, they stared at the milky substance and tapioca pearls at the bottom of the glass with apprehension. The first sweet sip was greeted with tentative smiles. The second taste brought some of the pearls up through the straws and into their mouths. My son’s eyes opened wide as he pushed the glass in my direction.

Consider allowing your children to purchase a small souvenir at one of the shops. Buy a postcard and mail it to a friend. Encourage them to keep a journal in which they can write about or draw some of the highlights of their trip. It is also fun to take photos and put them into small keepsake albums to remind the children of their travels.

For help in planning peruse Lonely Planet’s new Chicago edition (February 2014) in print or e-book at (free at the public library). Maps and pamphlets are free at the Chicago Cultural Center and excellent, detailed information is available at (click on neighborhoods).

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