Grapeshot Travel Story – Alicia goes to the U.S.A


Name: Alicia Scott

Place Travelled:
U.S.A – including Indianapolis, New York City and Chicago.

Travelling to Butler University for a short-term media exchange, Alicia immediately took to her surroundings. With a study plan consisting of television production and creative media, Alicia was given the opportunity to soak up the atmospheres of CBS, Google and Fox studios: a covetable experience for anyone studying media here at Macquarie. Due to competitive admission standards, such an opportunity is only offered to the most diligent of students. On that note, we hope this travel story inspires you to study hard and pursue alternative perspectives

What was your favourite city and why?

New York City is absolutely mesmerizing – the sheer size of Manhattan, the world-renown art and history museums, Central Park, and the ethnic hubs of Little Italy and Chinatown are all highly recommended experiences. But it was the music and arts culture in Chicago that won me over.

While I was only there for four days, I managed to see live music every night in Chicago. I was so lucky to catch Rise Against play a hometown show supported by Letlive, which are two of my favourite bands. The whole Butler squad went to the family-friendly Sheffield Festival and got jiggy to one hit wonders Rusted Root who were headlining (I know, step back people). One evening we were walking through Millennium Park on our way back to the hotel when we stumbled across Columbian band Ondatrópica playing to an open arena of people jiving with their hips to salsa, jazz and funk tunes.

Although it is the third largest city in the United States, Chicago didn’t have that ‘big smog’ feeling that New York City has. It was a lot calmer, a lot less dense, yet still packed full of opportunities and attractions.


Five items that were absolute must have on your trip? 

  • Uber app – Ubers are everywhere in the U.S. and almost always cheaper than a cab. In Indianapolis, most taxi companies have dissolved from the competitive prices of Uber and public transport is almost non-existent.
  • Camera – NYC is the photographer’s dream so bring that SLR and get creative.
  • Cash passport – a multi-currency card that is compatible with all ATMs. It is super easy to transfer more money once you’re overseas and you don’t have to worry about fees.
  • S. sim card – this might not be essential for everyone as you can get by just fine using wifi. It is handy if you’re travelling with a group of friends who you can call/text any time and not worry about finding the nearest McDonalds for patchy wifi.
  • Thongs – Useful for hostel showers and water activities but easy to forget if you’re travelling from winter to summer seasons. Don’t ask for a pair of thongs in America.

Did you find any sights or activities down the road less travelled?

My time in Chicago consisted of two days of program-related activities – including visits to Google’s office and NBC studios – and two days of leisure. On the third day, my friend Cam and I wanted to make the most of our independence so we decided to hire bicycles from our hostel and ride around North-West Chicago without really knowing where we’d end up.

Riding through the outskirts of the city with only a few screenshots of maps on my phone, I was able to explore a part of Chicago that offered a genuinely local experience in contrast to the glamorous tourist attractions in the city centre (which I also experienced).


Cam and I ended up parking our bikes on Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square, one of the lesser known arts and culture hubs in the district. Street art revitalised run-down parking lots and showcased the work of local talented artists along the main boulevard. I scored the best knitted-sweater of my life for six dollarydoos at a thrift shop and bought a rare zine by Bosnian skateboarder and photographer Sergej Vutuc. We ventured into a hipster bar/arcade with retro pinball machines and silkscreen art covering the interior walls, and chatted to the co-owner of Gallerie F, an open-door gallery that specialises in gig posters, fine art prints, and street art. Going beyond the conventional attractions and seeing a different neck of the woods is always going to be fulfilling, especially if modern art and DIY culture is your thing.


#TBT to the weirdest thing to happen to you on the trip? 

Truth be told, weird things happened every day in the states. One of the weirdest (and coolest) nights was had in downtown Indianapolis with the entire Butler squad (what my travel group commonly referred to ourselves as). One of my unnamed friends was meeting up with a date that they met on Tinder, who worked at a local music venue.

The squad had dinner in an average mid-west diner then headed over to Joyful Noise Recordings, where said Tinder date was meant to meet up with said friend. There were a bunch of lo-fi indie rock bands playing for $10 so we all tagged along, and it was lucky we did. It turned out that the Tinder date had left early, so we ended up getting our groove on to some funky haphazard experimental music and having a blast. That night, the local underground scene was shook by the bunch of Australian exchange students dancing (more like flailing limbs everywhere) in the back corner to bands we’ll never listen to again and people who’ll never judge us again. So I guess in that instance we were the weird ones.


 Mandatory student austerity question: What was the budget like? 

Student exchanges are fab because you not only automatically receive a $1,500 mobility scholarship to go towards the cost of your trip, but you also can apply for a Government OS-HELP loan of up to $6,500 that will be added to your HECS loan. Even if you think you’ll have enough savings, I’d definitely recommend taking a loan just in case.

Flights are obviously the biggest expense when travelling overseas, so it is worth booking early and looking out for cheap deals. Return flights to New York set me back around $1,750 and domestic flights came to around $500. We were advised by MQ exchange prior to booking that flights could cost up to $2,500. Before I had even left Australia I had already spent around $3,000 on flights, a passport, travel insurance and a student visa.

Of course once you leave the country, it is entirely up to you what experience you want to have and therefore how much money you’ll spend. While clothes, food, alcohol and general expenses are relatively cheaper than Australia, expect to spend big dollars when travelling to some of America’s, and the world’s, biggest cities. On top of that, have you seen how crappy the exchange rate is?

Accommodation is super expensive in New York, ♫ Concrete jungle where dreams are made of ♫. Choosing a reputable hostel such as Hostelling International over a cheap hotel can easily save you 50-75 per cent for a place to sleep and store your luggage. The same can be applied to Chicago.

In the Mid West, things are much cheaper than the Big Apple. Keep your cash passport topped up with money for Uber because, as I mentioned before, it’ll be the main type of transport you’ll use to get around. If you’re a media student looking into the Butler University short-term exchange, factor in costs such as groceries, meals, upfront student fees, excursions, general spending money and some emergency money too.


#Foodbucketlist: Best eats? 

Sorry coeliacs but this question is reserved for the best food ever, and that is pizza. New York pizza and Chicago pizza have long been rivals and, having tried them both, I can confidently say which one I believe to be the winner. The best pizza I have ever had was a deep-dish margarita from Gino’s Restaurant in Chicago. People line up for hours to try this pizza and it is easy to see why. I can’t even explain the crust… the base of the pizza is sort of like the crust of a pie but it is crispy and buttery and so delicious.

The size of New York pizzas was impressive. My friends and I dined at Mama’s Pizzeria, a no-frills family-owned restaurant in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It was conveniently right near our hostel so we could collapse into a food coma straight away.

 What advice would you give to other people who are traveling?

  1. MONEY – don’t stress over it. Set yourself a budget and be realistic in terms of what you can afford, where you will be eating, what attractions you’ll see, etc. If your financial situation allows you to travel (because it is a luxury experience), don’t let the cost of a trip deter you from going. It is totally 100% worth it.
  2. OPEN MIND – take everything as it comes. Try and not cling to preconceived ideas of how you will engage with a particular place and be open to new things.
  3. COMMUNICATION – this is so important. Whether you are travelling with a friend, partner, or near-strangers (as I was), communication and transparency is key to fostering a healthy travel relationship. Talk it out and be willing to compromise.

 My travel mantra is…

If you don’t have many expectations you are guaranteed to find travelling enjoyable. Keep your eyes peeled and ears tuned to the targets because you will learn from and engage with a whole new world that isn’t available on your front doorstep.