Saturday, May 12, 2012

Washington DC–vacation for the cheapskate

Getting there

This particular vacation plan was born when I got a JetBlue email advertising cheap flights. My boyfriend and I perused the offerings out of Boston and decided that $39/ticket was more than a little reasonable and that we would be visiting DC again! And this time, we were going to make a real trip out of it, not the less-than-a-day wandering we did two years ago. It was fun, but you really cannot enjoy much that DC has to offer in ~8 hours!

Sleeping – on the cheap

Midday snooze at the hostelSeriously, don’t be afraid of hostels! Check out HostelWorld for ratings and reviews. We stayed at Duo Housing and it was great (recently changed management, hence the iffy ratings!). The staff was super friendly and helpful, we got a “10-cent tour” of the hostel and the manager, Marc, even gave us maps and circled places to check out (as well as places to avoid). We got some of our local transportation tips from him as well. Staying in the largest room (6 bunk beds) was the cheapest option, at $24.50/person/night. That’s at least a quarter of the cost of the cheapest, but least sketchy motel in the city, let alone a damn hotel! Staying in the city is pricey, but hostels (especially when they have nice amenities, such as linens, towels, BBQs on Sundays, and free WiFi) make it totally doable.

Getting around – cheapskate style

First things first, whip out your map and bookmarked Yelp reviews and figure out where you want to go! I guarantee your plans will change once you’re there, but it helps to have an idea. Locate the nearest metro stations to your destinations and use Google Maps to estimate distances and best travel routes from place to place. BE PREPARED TO DO A LOT OFIMAG0040 WALKING. DC is on a grid, and things can seem deceptively close. Unless you are used to walking 10-15 miles a day, those .5-1mile walks will really add up without you noticing, until you feet and calves start hollering. They’ll thank you later.
If, based on your calculations & map perusals, you think you want to use the Metro, I highly recommend investing in a 7-day rail pass. Note that you have to pay to get on and off the subway! The Metro site should help you estimate costs, but the 7-day pass is around $30 and you will probably spend more than that if you’re in the city for a few days at least, if you just load up a card with cash. The buses are apparently pretty irregular, according to our trusted hostel manager, so we didn’t even bother with those. Instead, we used the Circulator buses a few times. They went on routes that were a little more practical for us, and $1 per ride is not bad. It’s a private owned bus system, so the buses are very clean and regular.
Where NOT to go
Our wonderful hostel manager circled a few places on our map to avoid. DC is unfortunately not the safest place, and there are a lot of crime-ridden areas. One area to avoid was the west side of 11th St NW, right across the street from Duo Housing! That side of the street is essentially ghetto. I’m afraid I can’t remember the other places we were informed to avoid, but don’t be afraid to ask the hostel managers for tips. If they’re any kind of decent, they’ll help you out.
My Go-To recommendations
View from the paddle boat
  • If it’s in-season, take a paddleboat out on the Tidal Basin. Don’t forget your sunscreen! $12/hr for a 2-person boat.
  • Smithsonian Museums are FREE and there are a bunch! Check out their events and sites for hours and exhibits. The Air And Space Museum is really fun, especially for kids. We only went to the Castle (original Smithsonian) this time around and even that was pretty cool.2 years ago, not very clean.
  • There are a number of national monuments in Washington DC, most are free to explore (except if you want to go up to the top of the Washington Monument, which is currently closed for renovation). Walking the Mall is totally worth the trek in good weather. Unfortunately that is also under renovation this year, but I bet it’ll be gorgeous next year with the Reflecting Pool all cleaned up!
  • I would highly encourage anyone to go to the National Museum of Crime & Punishment and the International Spy Museum! They aren’t free, but many souvenir shops will have brochures and guide books with coupons in them, including for reduced admission. The Spy Museum also has some really fun spy adventures you can sign up for (we did Spy at Night two years ago, it was awesome). It ain’t cheap, but it’s totally fun. You can get coupons for admission by visiting gift shops and picking up their free guidebooks.
  • Georgetown Cupcakes was recommended by the hostel manager, but we didn’t get around to visiting.
  • Ben’s Chili Bowl is especially famous now for Obama going there, but mostly for their absolutely delicious chili dogs. GO HERE. YOU MUST.
  • So many tasty, tasty desserts!P Street by 14th NW has a lot of pubs, restaurants, a Whole Foods, and boutiques. Walk up 14th and check that area out for sure. Stop in at Commissary DC for some delicious eats, sourced from a local farm in Maryland.
  • If you’re going to splurge, go to Co Co. Sala. Despite the tiny food portions, for dinner and dessert, you will totally fill up on the decadence of it all. They even have 3 and 5 course dessert options, which I would love to do if my sweet tooth ever goes crazy.


Please let me know if you enjoyed my (not very) little guide and if you have anything to add about places I mentioned, places to go, places to avoid, travelling on the cheap etc. Thanks!

Magnolias, my favorite tree flowers
New phone background, early-blooming cherry blossoms!
So bright

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