Mhde Askar Gives Chicago Visitors 6 Tourist Mistakes to Avoid

Travel blogger Mhde Askar continues his travels in Chicago filling in his readers on mistakes to avoid when visiting America’s “Second City.” Almost as important as figuring out what to do when you visit a new city is knowing what NOT to do. Here are Askar’s tips on the top six tourist mistakes that Chicagoans hate to see visitors make:

mistakes to avoid
GOING OUT OF YOUR WAY TO VISIT NAVY PIER. Most tourists make the pilgrimage, but to the locals, this is Chicago’s answer to Times Square. Crowded, overpriced and overblown, this carnival attraction of a riverfront is actually slim on fun activities and really only exists to separate you from your money. Check out one of Chicago’s less glitzy, more satisfying riverfronts or beaches instead.
WAITING IN LINE TO CLIMB WILLIS TOWER. Formerly the Sears Tower, Willis Tower used to be the tallest building in the country. It has now been dethroned by One World Trade Center. With so many ways to fall in love the Windy City, do you really need to wait hours in line for a few minutes taking in a birds-eye view from the Observation Room atop the SECOND tallest building in the world?
EATING FAST FOOD BECAUSE YOU ARE ON A BUDGET. If your only solution to a light wallet is dollar menu at Mickey D’s, expect a lot of facepalming from the locals. With a little luck, one of them will set you straight — Chicago is one of the best places to eat on a budget. For just a few bucks you can snap into a famous Polish sausage, award-winning hamburger, or an all-beef Chicago dog with all the fixings. If you really brought the appetite, try the only-in-Chicago dripping goodness that is an Italian Beef sandwich. In Chi-town, even the broke eat like kings. Oh, and don’t put ketchup on the hot dog. It’s only on the condiments table as bait to expose the tourists.
GOING HOME AFTER A MIDNIGHT LAST CALL. Many venues have last call at midnight. Don’t despair — it’s not bedtime yet. The one-time capital of bootlegging is replete with bars and clubs that stay open until 4am or even 5am on the weekends. Check out Kingston Mines, Celeste, or East Room for an all-night party.
TAKING CABS. Talk about breaking your budget … This is not Los Angeles. Chicago is one of America’s few cities that has a world-class public transit system, including ubiquitous buses and the famous “L” train. Winding between skyscrapers and alongside the Chicago River, some L routes feature the best views in town.
FORGETTING YOUR SWIMSUIT. Maybe not in the winter. But hey, did you know Chicago is a beach town? Lake Michigan may not be the Pacific Ocean, but give it a chance. The blue vista stretches all the way to the horizon, and hot spots like Oak Street Beach are just as good as any ocean beach to take in some summer fun with a refreshing dip or some beach sports.

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Mhde Askar Releases List of Top Travel Accessories for 2019

Travel blogger Mhde Askar is back with product tips his readers can use to travel in comfort and style. More people travel now than ever before, and inexpensive, high quality accessories have flooded the market with ingenious fixes to on-the-road issues. Askar runs down some of his favorites:

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GDTK PASSPORT HOLDER. This stylish leather passport billfold has spaces for credit cards, boarding passes, and business cards to keep all your critical travel documents in one place. The GDTK Passport Holder features RFID blocking technology to guard your personal information.
TRTL TRAVEL PILLOW. Unique among travel pillows, the TRTL wraps around your neck like a scarf and features underwire to support your head at an ergonomic angle. The TRTL offers a creative, portable solution to the challenge of sleeping while upright.
SHACKE PAK – 4-SET PACKING CUBES. If you are used to a cluttered suitcase full of wrinkled clothes, packing cubes will change your life. The Shacke Pak of four packing cubes allows you to tightly compartmentalize your clothing categories for easy access and limited wrinkling.
ETEKCITY DIGITAL LUGGAGE SCALE. Never get surprised by steep baggage fees again. This handheld pendulum scale travels light and tests the weight of bags up to 110 pounds.
MISSLO PORTABLE NYLON SHOE BAGS. You can’t keep your suitcase clean by continually throwing in dirty shoes. Keep the grime of the road off your other travel essentials with this four-pack of handy zip-up shoe cases.
BOSE QUIETCOMFORT 35 (SERIES II) HEADPHONES. These are the gold standard in noise canceling headphones. To listen to music or movie audio in peace, free of any surrounding white noise or chaotic din, Bose QuietComfort leads the pack.
FORGE TSA-APPROVED TRAVEL LOCKS. Locking your luggage against intruders has never been easier with these low-profile combination luggage locks, engineered to be durable and travel light.

TRAVELON BAG BUNGEE. If you struggle to herd multiple suitcases through crowded streets and airports, this bungee assembly daisy-chains your bags together, allowing them to be rolled as a unit.
EMBODY CARE ADJUSTABLE FOOTREST. Travelers with weary or painful feet will find this adjustable footrest to be a lifesaver on long flights and train rides. Relieving the pressure on your foot improves posture, circulation, and can even reduce lower back pain.
ALPHA KEEPER WAIST BELT. The waist belt is a time-tested solution to protect cash, credit cards, passports, and other valuables from pickpockets. Worn tucked under your shirt or waistband, the Alpha Keeper protects your personal information with RFID blocking technology.
GLOCALME U2 4G MOBILE HOTSPOT. The GlocalMe U2 uses SIM technology to create a mobile WiFi hotspot from local 4G cellular data in over 100 countries. Up to five devices can be connected wirelessly to the 4G data network through this hotspot.
BESTEK UNIVERSAL POWER ADAPTOR. The only power adaptor you will ever need, the BesTek adapts to every country’s voltage ratings and allows you to power up to seven devices at a time.

Mhde Askar’s Must-See Sights of Chicago

Travel blogger Mhde Askar continues his tour of Chicago, in search of the top spots both on the beaten path and off. Some attractions are tourist magnets for a reason; others can be overrated. Askar breaks it down to the best of the best. Here are the destinations on a tour of Chicago that Askar considers the best of the best for 2019:

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MILLENIUM PARK. Home of the classic Cloud Gate (a.k.a. “The Bean”), Millenium Park is 24.5 acres of tranquility in the heart of the big city. The Bean is just one of many pieces of contemporary art you can enjoy on a pleasant walk amid trees and gardens in the shadow of majestic skyscrapers.
ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO. Over 300,000 works of art make their home at this cultural institution. Spend an afternoon admiring the masterworks and then sup on world-class Italian food onsite at Terzo Piano.
GARFIELD PARK CONSERVATORY. Plant lovers rejoice — the greenhouse at Garfield Park is one of the largest conservatories in the country, home to over 600 species of plant. Organized into rooms by plant family and climate, the ferns in the fern room are some of Illinois’ most ancient indigenous species.
WRIGLEY FIELD. Nothing says “baseball” like the iconic, 100-year-old ballpark that houses the Chicago Cubs, right down to the manually-operated scoreboard. Day games almost never sell out. Don’t be ashamed to walk up to the box office and ask for the cheap seats — there isn’t a bad seat in this classic stadium.
MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART. One of the largest collections of its kind, the Museum of Contemporary Art hosts a revolving door of exhibitions of contemporary masters. No two visits are alike, so it’s worth making this museum a regular stop if you visit Chicago often.
THE GREEN MILL. Al Capone and his contemporaries used to frequent this venerable jazz joint, which served up both music and booze all throughout prohibition. Chicago’s top jazz musicians still frequent the stage at The Green Mill.
THE 606. For a unique pedestrian experience, walk along this abandoned “L” train line throughout the trendy neighborhoods of Bucktown, Wicker Park, Humboldt Park, and Logan Square.
THE SECOND CITY. This celebrated comedy club produced some of the greats — Joan Rivers, Bill Murray, Tina Fey, and Steven Colbert, to name a few. Still a coveted gig, few places in the country are more reliable for a laugh than the Second City.
MUSEUM OF SCIENCE AND INDUSTRY. The building that houses this museum was built in 1893 for the World’s Columbian Exhibition. Fascinating, family-friendly exhibits include a mirror maze, a WWII-era German U-505, a simulated tornado, and a massive model railroad patterned after the rail journey from Seattle to Chicago.

Diving into the World Class Sports Franchises of Chicago

Chicago is a sports fan’s dream. With two Major League baseball teams and legendary franchises in basketball, football, and hockey, Chicago’s top athletes attract a worldwide fanbase. Visitors don’t have to settle for the view from a TV screen — Chicago’s sports are meant to be experienced live. Askar breaks down how, when, and where to see the legends of Chicago sports:

 

Chicago Sports

THE CHICAGO CUBS. Where: Wrigley Field, Lakeview When: Late March through Late September An iconic sports franchise deserves an iconic home. The winners of the 2016 World Series have a doozy in Wrigley Field, a name practically synonymous with baseball. Tucked in the northern Lakeview neighborhood, at over 100 years old recent renovations have not diminished the majesty and history of one of America’s truly great ballparks. Don’t get overcharged for advanced tickets — the Cubbies’ schedules allow for multiple day games. Face value tickets are almost always available, and there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

 
THE CHICAGO WHITE SOX. Where: Guaranteed Rate Field, Bridgeport When: Late March through Late September 2005’s World Series winners, the White Sox have been around since 1901, making their home at Guaranteed Rate Field in the south side neighborhood of Bridgeport. The neighborhood is replete with taverns and tasty budget eats. A trip to see the White Sox play at the “ole ball game” is a magical day in any Amercan’s book.

 

THE CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS. Where: United Center, Near West Side When: Early October through Early April Move over, Canada … Chicago’s six-time NHL Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks are a force to be reckoned with. Avoid parking nightmares on game day by taking the special #19 United Center Express bus that commences service ninety minutes before game time.

 

THE CHICAGO BULLS. Where: United Center, Near West Side When: Mid October to Mid-April With six division titles, having never lost an NBA series, and producing more superstars of the sport than any other team, the Bulls are in a class by themselves. Catch the magic during the regular season at the United Center arena that they share with the Hawks. For shorter lines, skip over to the South Atrium entrance, where you have the added benefit of a photo opportunity with the commemorative statue of Michael Jordan.

 

THE CHICAGO BEARS. Where: Soldier Field, South Loop When: September through late January Football mania takes Chicago by storm in the fall. Seats at Soldier Field to see “da Bears” go on sale in the summer and typically sell out well in advance, so plan ahead or suffer at the hands of scalpers. Don’t the party in the parking lot — the tradition of tailgate cookouts before a Bears game is venerable bordering on mandatory.

Mhde Askar Explains Why Travel Agents Still Provide Value

Travel blogger Mhde Askar is on the road again to bring readers tips and tricks that make for an unforgettable trip. Travel agents used to be integral in trip planning. In 2019, however, everything from airfare to cruises to secluded temple visits can be booked online. Travel agents have fallen out of favor.

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It may take some searching, but great travel agents are still out there, and can make a huge difference in the quality of a trip. Askar breaks down why more travelers should consider enlisting the services of a qualified travel agent:

 
DON’T SWEAT THE DETAILS. Yes, you can do it all yourself online, but who has the time? A dedicated travel agent can listen to your travel aspirations and book you a plug-and-play itinerary. Your travel agent may have specialized knowledge of your destination. If you want to do five or six different activities in a weekend, that’s five or six research projects to find the best vendor before you book. Your travel agent may already know the best vendors and can book you with a click of a button. He or she may even have suggested activities you never would have thought of once you explain how you love to travel. All you need to do is show up with your suitcase and bathing suit.

 
GROUP TRAVEL. Even simple trips become complicated when navigating a large family, class, bachelorette party, or work junket through multiple activities. A travel agent can be a lifesaver in hashing out the logistics of multiple plane tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars, excursion passes, and trip booking. Though his or her vendor relationships, he or she may have access to group discounts not available online. Which brings us to …

 
PERKS AND ADDED VALUE. Through years of contacts and relationships, a really good travel agent has the resources to make your trip “extra.” He or she may have access to sold-out events, private tastings at exclusive restaurants, perks and amenities like breakfast or spa treatments at your hotel, and behind-the-scenes tours not available to the general public or bookable online. A great travel agent could be the difference between “blah” and “WOW!” on a trip to the same destination.

 
POSSIBLE SAVINGS. Services booked through a travel agent will often cost a little more. Considering the added convenience, this is to be expected. It is not, however, guaranteed. Travel agents may have access to “preferred vendor” fares and fees that could actually save you money overall. Don’t count out a travel agent if you are on a budget. Remember, time is money too.

 
TROUBLESHOOTING. Any experienced traveler knows that even the best-laid plans can go off the rails. A good travel agent is your personal concierge, ironing out issues as they happen, a one-stop-shop that you know will pick up the phone if you wind up stranded, lost, or separated from your luggage. It’s hard to put a price on that peace of mind.

Mhde Askar on Deducting Expenses for Business Travel

Mhde Askar weighed in on common misconceptions about business travel and the deductibility of travel expenses. Many business owners find it necessary or advantageous to travel for business purposes. If they can travel to such world-class destinations as New York, Las Vegas, or the Virgin Islands, so much the better! Business owners also know that expenses incurred while traveling for business are tax deductible. Mhde Askar emphasized that this is true … to a point. Askar delved into the nuances of deducting travel expenses across the following categories:

Travel Expense Deductions

 

TRANSPORTATION. Business travelers can deduct airfare, train fare, bus fare, taxi fare, Uber or Lyft rides, car rental fees, tolls, and parking fees while on the road. Take note of a big exception – the gas to refill your rental car cannot be deducted. Many business travelers don’t realize, however, that the standard deduction for miles driven — currently 54.4 cents per mile — applies to rental cars as well as if you were driving your own car. This can help offset the gas expense if you incur one.

 
LODGING. Hotel lodgings are tax deductible, but many business owners do not realize that mini bar purchases and pay-per-view movies purchased from hotels are not. If you incur incidental expenses like these, make sure to get an itemized bill to avoid trouble.

 

MEALS. Even if you have only one meeting while in town, it is still expected that you will eat three meals a day at restaurants. Before you splurge on the Lobster Thermidor, take note that only half of your dining expenses are tax-deductible.

 

TIME FRAME. Expenses for business travel apply to time frames of one year or less. If you do business in a new city for up to 11 months and 30 days, you can write off all your expenses. Over a year, the assumption is that you live there. Day-to-day expenses in your city of residence cannot be written off.

 

FAMILY TRAVEL. If you choose to take family or friends along with you on your business trip who have no role in your business activities, be careful — only your expenses can be deducted. Yes, your family can stay in the hotel or ride in the cab you will expense to the company, but if the family dines out, only your meal qualifies as a business expense for tax purposes. Ditto their plane and train tickets.

 

UNREASONABLE EXPENSES. This is a catch-all category, thinly defined for a reason. If the IRS suspects you are expensing a pleasure cruise on their dime, expect them to get physical. By all means have fun on your business trips but exercise common sense when reporting your taxable income.

Mhde Askar on the Best Neighborhoods to Stay in Chicago

Travel blogger Mhde Askar continues his tour of Chicago, delivering his readers practical advice to make the most of a visit to the Windy City. Selecting the right neighborhood in which to stay makes a big difference when visiting a new city. Chicago has a plethora of neighborhoods to choose from, and your choice will have a big impact on the character of your trip. The good news is that from culture to nightlife, sports to peace and quiet, Chicago has something for everyone. Here are Askar’s recommendations of the best neighborhoods to stay in Chicago:

 

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BEVERLY. Off the tourist’s track, this historically Irish south side neighborhood features rolling hills and some of the city’s best architecture, including a Frank Lloyd Wright house and churches that resemble castles. Rub elbows with locals instead of tourists at the Irish pubs on Western Avenue.

 
CHINATOWN. Compact but colorful, a stay in Chinatown is an experience. Fill up on noodles or dim sum in one of many authentic Chinese restaurants on Wentworth Avenue, then go exploring amid the art installations, mosaic tile murals, temples, and pagodas.

 
DOWNTOWN. Chicago’s central business district has charms of its own, not the least being Millennium Park (home of “The Bean”). Stay in an upscale high-rise hotel and you will be steps away from high-end shopping, Michelin star restaurants, and breathtaking art and architecture.

 
GOLD COAST. Live like a movie star in this Midwest Malibu. Wealthy and trendy, the Gold Coast is a land of mansions and high-rises, boutique shopping and upscale casual dining. Kick it on the beach, or party like a rock star at posh nightclubs along Rush Street. For the culturally minded, the Newberry Library runs fascinating exhibits from its extensive collection of rare books.

 
HYDE PARK. It’s hard to beat a stay in a vintage hotel in historic Hyde Park, on the doorstep of the University of Chicago and the Museum of Science and Industry. The ivy-lined streets and classic architecture charm locals and visitors alike.

 
KENWOOD. Visually arresting and family-friendly, Kenwood is a morning person’s delight. Walks along the coast of Lake Michigan will take you past art deco high-rises, Frank Lloyd Wright creations, and past former homes of Muhammad Ali and Barack Obama.

 
LINCOLN PARK. A hub of arts and culture as well as nature, Lincoln Park earns its name with 1200 acres of green space, including a free zoo and one of the world’s largest plant conservatories. This neighborhood also contains the theater district and the Chicago History Museum, as well as boutique shopping and dining.

 
MAGNIFICENT MILE. The Wrigley Building and the John Hancock Center form the backdrop for this shopper’s paradise — all the trendiest shopping and dining you could imagine, bustling with retail frenzy.

 
SOUTH LOOP. If you’re here to see da Bears, make camp here on the doorstep of Soldier Field. Then, if you’re feeling highbrow, trek over to Museum Campus to experience the world-class aquarium, planetarium, and other cultural wonders, amid the best of Chicago — the waterfront, the skyline, and great food.

 
WEST LOOP. West Loop may be too rough for some travelers, but for the bohemian soul looking to stay ahead of gentrification, this up-and-coming artist’s enclave features offbeat dining, pumping nightlife, and an arresting urban dreamscape of factories and warehouses.

 
WRIGLEYVILLE. Popular among the locals, Wrigleyville is serene and family-friendly by day, pumping with music and celebration by night. When the Cubs are in season, you can’t skip a day trip to historic Wrigley Field.