I have been thinking about going to Washington, DC for almost 6 years! Ever since my daughter came home in 2010, I have dreamed about taking her to see the Obama White House. I obsessed about it! Having my black daughter visit the White House while a beautiful black family occupied it meant everything to me! But I also had to wait until she was old enough to have clear memories, for the trip to make an impact, and for her to be able to recognize and appreciate the parallels between her life and that of a black family living in the White House. The day, and our trip, are finally here – My daughter will be 6 soon and we leave soon on our long anticipated trip to Washington, DC. We are all so excited!
I wanted to share my planning tips and will write a follow up post when we get back to review how all the planning matched up with what we actually ended up doing, and how we all enjoyed the trip.
One year in advance
- Decide what time of year to go. Think about school schedules and how busy it will be in Washington, DC. Fall and spring are peak seasons and summer tends to be busy due to school vacation time. If you have flexibility and don’t want crowds, visit at the end of August/early September, or after Thanksgiving to mid January. Remember to watch for special events and conventions that draw unusually large crowds to the city.
- Start becoming familiar with areas and neighborhoods in DC to help you decide where to stay. Also think about what different types of accommodations will work for your family. There are many great hotels ranging in prices. There are also many options for alternative accommodations such as vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts.
- Figure out how to get there – There are a few options for flights from Burlington International airport and prices range from $200-$450 per person depending on how far in advance you book. The Amtrak Vermonter train is a less expensive option than flying. The train ride takes about 12 hours. Keep this in mind as you would lose 2 full days to travel if you took the train. The drive takes nearly nine hours without stops. Totally doable depending on the age and temperament of your kids. If you decide to drive, consider the cost of parking in the city, which tends to be on the expensive side.
- With all of this in mind, set a budget. The time of year and the types of accommodations will help you set a reasonable budget for your family. Also remember that there are many free attractions in Washington, DC.
Six months in advance
- Reach out to your State Representatives or State Senator to request White House and Capitol tours. The earliest you can make this request is six months in advance of your trip so make sure that by this time your dates are confirmed and are not going to change. The request can be made through your US Congress Representative or Senator. You will need first and last names as well as addresses and social security numbers for everyone who will be attending the tours with you.
- Think about what other sites you want to visit as many will require advance reservations during peak times. Examples include the Holocaust Museum and the Washington Memorial. This is something we did not think about and since we are going to be visiting during the busiest time of year, I am worried we will miss some attractions.
Three months in advance
- If you are going at peak time, secure your accommodations. We are renting a house and got a great deal. I was torn between the amenities of a hotel and having more space in a vacation rental. We decided on a house mainly because we are meeting friends in Washington, DC and renting a big house will give us the space we need. It is also more economical than renting several hotel rooms. Sites like Homeaway, VBRO and AirBnB are great resources if you choose this route. If you are looking at a vacation rental, make sure you read the reviews and really pay attention to the location. Having the Metro within walking distance, and being near grocery stores and restaurants are important considerations.
- Book flights if flying. Search tools such as Google Flights and Hopper will assist you in getting the best deal.
- Arrange pet boarding/care.
One to two months in advance
- Plan your itinerary. You should have confirmations on the tours that were arranged by your State Representative. We requested the White House and US Capitol Tours. We planned the rest of our trip around these two events since the day and time of these tours was predetermined. We only have 4 full days in DC so it was important to decide on what attractions we wanted to see and plan out our days. We used Google Maps to mark the points of interest we wanted to visit. This helped us plan a better itinerary based on geographic locations of the sites.
One week in advance
- Confirm your accommodations, flights and seat assignments.
- Start packing, keeping in mind there will be a lot of walking. Comfortable shoes and layers will be essential.
- Download DC specific apps, ie Metro, National Mall App and Smithsonian Mobile.
- Start hoping and praying that you will get a glimpse of one of the members of the first family!!! At least that is what I will be doing!!!