When you drive 12 hours to Chicago to avoid the chaos you’ve heard is the O’Hare International Airport, you prepare: energy drinks, water, healthy snacks and an amazing playlist. What you don’t prepare for is the assault on your eardrums from your hubby’s chainsaw nose taking down several hundred miles of redwoods it usually takes 10 people to hug. We’re talking serious snore sawing here, folks.

Now, I could’ve blared metal, but I’m a nice person. Once we arrived at River North, faces met pillows, and I was out like a light. Fortunately, Hubby’s nose had met its quota for the night. The next morning, of course, he greeted me the smell of coffee and a sheepish grin — I’m no good without that first cup to start the day. When I packed my bags, I left room for souvenirs to bring home to family and friends as gifts for the holiday season. So, enjoy the unfolding tall tale of our adventure in Chicago last year, and wait for the payoff. It’s big: We found the secret to giving the best holiday gift in Chicago.

We Did What Tourists Do

We had to see the second-tallest building in the U.S. — the Willis Tower — since Hubs likes his architecture. Unfortunately, we waited in line for the Skydeck and realized we should’ve gotten a fast-pass ticket, even if it’s the price of three delivery pizzas. I wondered if a miniature replica of the building would be a good stocking stuffer for my hubby, but we were too frustrated to look around for that.

A local mentioned we should check out the John Hancock building with a drink in hand at the Signature Room on the 95th, which boasts similar views of the city without the pain, with additional views of Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and the rest of Illinois. There’s a wait for a window seat, but it’s not as bad. It would’ve been nice to have a whiskey to sip while waiting in line, I thought, as I stared at the Willis Tower with narrowed eyes.

River North is just north of downtown Chicago, filled with adorable — and expensive — art galleries, antique shops and a billion restaurants representing the foods of various cultures, from Brazilian to South Indian: Seriously, try the Klay Oven. We haunted River North, wanting to know every nook and cranny and act like we knew a thing or two after settling in for a few days. We were trapped in our tourist bubble.

Thankfully, it burst. The Art Institute of Chicago had a gorgeous collection of old masters, including Impressionist works. I love Monet — so does Mom — and wanted to live in the room they elegantly stockpiled with his works.

Unfortunately, a Monet wouldn’t fit in my bag, and taking one off the walls would land me jail time. I couldn’t bear seeing my mother and husband visit me in jail, so I settled instead for another Monet print for Mom, who modeled her kitchen décor after the artist’s kitchen. Comments on the art led to conversations and better advice about how to do Chicago right.

Doing Chicago Right: The Quest for Deep-Dish Pizza

As we ventured outside of our River North bubble into Hyde Park, Pilsen, Lincoln Square and more, each with its unique vibe, my bag continued to fill with souvenirs. Unfortunately, our time in Chicago was almost done, and my souvenir bag was littered with pitiful stocking stuffers and impersonal tourist junk. Mom had plenty of Monet prints. My Cubs fan cousin obviously had Cubs gear. What else could I get for my family during my visit to the Windy City?

Nearing the end of our adventure, we realized we hadn’t tried Chicago’s classic deep-dish pizza, but we couldn’t fall for the tourist traps or return to our bubble. And so, the quest began.

I should also offer a word of advice, should you take up such a quest yourself: Wear stretchy pants. My ricocheting pants button must have scratched a passing car with its pizza-fueled ferocity. Take my advice and don’t be ashamed to break out the elastic.

We tried indigenous deep-dish pizza at the oldest pizzerias, such as Vito & Nick’s and Pat’s — all forget-your-name good. We’d heard of Pequod’s, Giordano’s and Lou Malnati’s, where most tourists head — for all the right reasons — and only had room left for one more by the end of our quest. Cue the ricocheting pants button. Giordano’s was right there in Lincoln Square. So, we went in and ordered, and the slice was everything reviews promised and more.

This Eat, Pray, Love-st‌yle pizza adventure isn’t about the quest for the best and most authentic Chicago deep-dish pizza. It’s like finding an Easter egg in a movie or video game. You’ve heard the obvious rumors about what makes the experience great, but wait — there’s more.

As the bounty of cheese stretched from the slice and I stuffed my face with its glory, of course, our server chose that moment to tell us about Giordano’s ability to ship pizza basically anywhere — that’s right, pizza care packages exist, and are the perfect holiday gift. A cheese goatee formed on my jaw. My eyes widened in disbelief and glee as I realized I had found Narnia, stumbled onto Platform 9 ¾ and found Santa’s freaking pizza workshop!

Want Chicago-st‌yle pizza in the Louisiana bayou? OK. Craving deep-dish in Ohio? No problem. Pizza makes a great gift for just about anyone, especially family you won’t get to see during the holidays.

I felt like Oprah gifting pizza to everyone. Mom gets pizza in Cali! Cuz gets pizza in Washington state! Everybody gets a pizza! I should mention that my cousin’s also in college, and this was the perfect thing to give him before his holiday break. Imagine stressing out over your exams, and a delicious, handmade deep-dish pizza arrives, shipped right to your door by FedEx. Some people eat Chinese on Thanksgiving. Why not gift pizza for the holidays? No one hates pizza, and if they do, something is very, very wrong. The truth is you can never go astray with pizza, and you’ll win the holiday season with all your family and friends.

When my hubby destroys an entire forest with his chainsaw nose, he knows not to buy flowers and has learned to level up from coffee in the morning. All it takes is three little words: pizza care package.