Washington DC: Visiting our Nation’s Capital with Less Capital

the white houseTo celebrate my mother’s birthday in February, my father assigned me the task of planning an affordable 4-day family vacation for 7 to Washington DC in April. I took the job very seriously because I pride myself on planning terrific trips and finding fabulous deals, and now I needed to prove my skills to my family.

We decided to drive, keeping costs low to transport 7 people from NY and NJ to DC. Although gas and tolls add up for 2 cars, it’s still cheaper than flying or taking the train (I get sick on buses so that is not even an option, although I’ve heard that the Bolt buses are good.) You can get detailed driving directions from Google Maps.

Next, I had to determine where we would stay. Living in Manhattan, I’m a big proponent of the ‘location, location, location’ mantra, and wanted to be sure that we’d be able to enjoy the city within steps from our hotel. I went to my favorite website for finding great rates at great hotels, Travelzoo. Most of their listings are at chain hotels which allow you to make reservations in advance and cancel within 24 hours of arrival without any charge. I reviewed the 6 to 10 options presented for DC on a weekly basis for a month or so. Whenever I found a hotel that seemed like a good fit, I would make a reservation. So yes, by the end of the month, I had at least 5 reservations at hotels around the city. Since we were celebrating my mom, I decided to choose the hotel that was closest to Embassy Row, my mom’s favorite neighborhood in DC, and a bit luxurious. I picked The Fairfax at Embassy Row near Dupont Circle, for $99/night on weekends, and $149/night on weekdays. And then I quickly cancelled all the other reservations so I wouldn’t forget!

I like to use local newspapers and magazines to help me determine where I am going to eat and what I’m going to do because they tend to provide all price ranges, give a good listing of free events, and stay up to date for local city dwellers. The Washington Post has great reviews in their “Going Out Guide” and “Visitors Guide” listings online. And, best of all, the site has a tool that enables you to save specific places to a list that you can print out and bring along on your trip. Also as a resource, Time Out magazines and guides never disappoint.

My whole family loved The Fairfax (my nephews don’t know that one of the other hotels had a heated indoor swimming pool.) Our rooms were larger than my apartment and beautifully appointed. We were 2 blocks from Dupont Circle’s restaurants, small museums, and the Metro stop. There were apples and newspapers waiting for us every morning, and candies and chocolates each night. We frequented Kramerbooks for breakfast each day (one of the spots on my list!), a much more affordable option than the hotel restaurant. And of course, we ventured off the list for some meals based on recommendations from the hotel.

lincoln memorialJust like in NYC, once we got to DC, public transportation was the easiest and most cost effective way to get around (and my nephews loved the extremely long escalators at the Dupont Circle Metro stop.) And most important, in DC all the best attractions are FREE – the Lincoln Monument, World War II Memorial, Washington Monument, all the Smithsonian Museums, and more!

Just so you know (because we didn’t), if you want to check out the White House, the top of Washington Monument, or Congress, you need to book or request a ticket up to 6 months in advance from their websites. It’s very easy to plan everything out if you go to The Washington Post’s Visitors Guide. However, we did happen upon one of the two weekends per year they allow visitors on the White House lawn to view the gardens, see the trees the Presidents planted, and be steps away from the Oval Office and Sasha and Malia’s swingset!

It proved to be a great, affordable family vacation, and everyone agreed that I should be responsible for planning all future trips. (Yikes!)

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