Thursday, February 8, 2018

Top 10 Tips for Visiting DC with your family

As I planned my trip and shared with friends that we were going, someone (Christie) asked me to compile my research so they can use it when they visit in the next year.   How did she know I research everything? 😋 Confession I didn't research a ton for this trip but we learned a lot as we went.  I didn't get a single guide book from the library until a week before we left! I knew what Lydia wanted to see, I knew what history she had studied in school.  And we used that for the framework of our trip.  We didn't try to see Arlington National Cemetery or the Holocaust Museum, while they are awesome places to go, she wan't mature enough or have the context to visit such places.  Seeing the names on the Vietnam Memorial and the Gold Stars on the WWII memorial was enough for her to process about the sacrifices made for our free nation.

1. Contact your US Representative/Senator:  
If you want to tour the Government Buildings including the White House, Capitol, Pentagon, State Department, Supreme Court, or FBI the best way arrange those tours is through your US Representative or Senator.  White House tours book 6 months or more ahead of time from what I heard and can still be hit or miss.  Our Representative even sent us a Visitor's Guide to the area.  Check their official website for the best way to contact them.  Mine had a web form for scheduling tours.  Ours also arranged our tour of the Library of Congress. 

Library of Congress Reading Room
2. Be prepared for Security. In this world we live in, Security is a given.  Most buildings we went in beside the Ford Theater had security similar to airports.  Most we could bring in water bottles, one we could not even bring in packaged snacks.  So check the rules where you will be visiting and be prepared.  We traveled light with just one large purse.  I discovered at the airport when we left the buckles on my cute boots were metal.  It was inconvenient the day I wore them to have to be wanded at each building we entered so think ahead at what you pack.

3. Use the Metro:  
I was surprised how little I remembered as a teenager when I first went to DC but I did remember how much we didn't drive our rental car and how convenient the Metro was.  This visit we bought 1 week unlimited riding passes and booked a hotel near a metro stop and rode like a local all week.  We also discovered some of the buses will also take the Metro card as well making it even easier to get around.

4. Plan to do LOTS of Walking.  Without a car we knew we would be walking everywhere, we just didn't expect exactly what that would mean.  Our first day we walked 5.5 miles and we didn't get to DC until after lunch!  We brought reasonable cute shoes and walking shoes by the end of day 2 we gave up on the reasonable cute shoes and we were ALL about comfort!

5. National Park Junior Ranger Program: This program is not specific to DC but available across the country at any National Park Service area and is suggested for kids ages 5-13 although anyone can participate.  These are workbooks kids can complete for a given location and turn in for Badges and sometime Patches.  It makes a great FREE souvenir and guide for exploring the park area.  And as a homeschooler its a great record of the trip and learning for their portfolios. 

National Mall & Monument Jr. Ranger Book
6. Passport Books: While the kids collect their Junior Ranger badges, I enjoy collecting cancellations stamps in my Passport Book.  Each park area has dated stamps that you can use to remember the trip.  Its also a great way to plan a family vacation and see what sites may be on your way to a given destination and make a side trip.  You can purchase Passport books online or at any National Park in the gift shop.  

7. Choose the theme of your visit. There is so many exciting things to see and do in DC that you could never do it all in one visit.  Choose a theme to your visit and focus on places related to that, knowing anything else you get to see and do is extra.  For us it was the monuments. They are what Lydia kept talking about seeing and we made them a priority, exploring them on foot as well as a moonlight bus tour. We had planned to visit the National Cathedral before we left but changed our plans so we could spend more time on the mall and more fully enjoy all the monuments.  Guess we have to come back for the Cathedral!
"Mom, I can't believe I'm really here!"
8. Plan ahead for special hours and closings: As we were reminded as we visited the Government Buildings.  Regular Business is occurring in many of the building we visited and toured. And like local government offices they close at 5 each day and are only open 5 days a week.  Some of the  museums and attractions are open later.  The Monuments are lit 24/7 and have Park Rangers available until 8 at night.   Also many the National Park Service Areas close for routine maintenance seasonally.

9. See the Monuments at night. The one special thing I wanted to see was the Monuments after dark.  There are Park Rangers on site until 8 pm which makes them safer and the shorter days of winter made this realistic.  They are magnificent with the dramatic lighting and there extra things you can see at night.  On our Bus tour our guide pointed out Kennedy's Eternal flame and the Lee Mansion in Arlington National Cemetery that we could see from the Lincoln Memorial in the darkness.  

10. Eating near the National Mall/Capitol: I expected to be able to find bistros and delis for lunches while we were out exploring.  While those are available further out from the Capitol and Mall the closest places are cafeterias in the Smithsonian and Government Office Buildings.  While I was disappointed to not be able to have quite the culinary adventure, it was good to have options and know where to go once we figured it out.  

Hopefully learning from our trip can make your next trip to DC one full of memories.  Check out the details our trip starting HERE. 
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