Friday, May 7, 2010

Field Trip Friday: A Trip to Washington D.C.

Here we are back again. I've decided to highlight a trip we made to Washington D.C. several years ago. We arranged to meet friends in DC so I arranged a few tours in advance. Unlike other Field Trip Friday posts (which you can now access easily from the navigation bar at the top of my blog) this post also includes a bit about the preparation that goes into planning a trip. It's a wee bit longer than I'd like for it to be, but I think you'll find it helpful- especially if you plan to take a trip to D.C. anytime in the future. So bear with me. Next week will be shorter- I promise!

So far, Washington D.C. has been one of our all time favorite field trips/vacations. I say field trip because like so many of our trips, the inspiration to visit came from reading a book about George Washington for our history program. Like so often happens while homeschooling, one book led to another and the introduction of George Washington led to an interest in Washington D.C. and the American Government. Why read about D.C. in a book when we could visit and turn it into a field trip? That’s exactly what we decided to do but we needed to do it with the least amount of money possible. We ended up with a budget of $1000 designated to our trip, but our final actual cost was less than $600 for our entire 6day vacation. Want to learn how we did it?

First, we compared lodging costs. Our options were between a hotel and campground. Some of you may also consider a Bed and Breakfast, Hostel or if you are military, it may be possible for you to stay at Andrews AFB billeting. Hotels tend to be pretty expensive in D.C. and since up to that point, we’d always enjoyed camping we settled on the second option. We found an awesome campground near D.C. called Cherry Hill Park. This campground is the closest campground to D.C., the staff is wonderful and extremely helpful and the bus line to the metro stops right at the park to pick up any travelers heading to the Capital. Easy enough! Cherry Hill Park is primarily an RV park but they do offer some tent sites for those of us that are up for the challenge of tent camping. You will also find yurts, cabins, trailers and cottages to rent. We were in D.C. early in the season and stayed during the end of March so several days ended up a bit rainy, but we stayed warm enough in our sweatshirts during the day and sleeping bags at night. If we had chosen to travel later in the year, we could have enjoyed the outdoor pool and other amenities that the park offers. We stayed at the park for 4 days/3 nights and paid about $50 a night for our site, about 7 years ago. I would certainly stay here again.

Day 1- We packed our minivan and headed east to D.C., about a six hour drive from our home. We were pleasantly surprised when we saw our campground and loved the staff- very helpful. Our only complaint would be that our tent site was a bit noisy because it wasn't too far from the Interstate, but it was a pretty, wooded site in close proximity to the restrooms and bath house. Something you always want to be aware of when you're tent camping!

After settling in we decided to drive into D.C. and take a peek at the monuments. By the time we had maneuvered our way through traffic, the sun was beginning to set and the monuments were lit up beautifully. We managed to see a couple when all of a sudden, it seemed like police and security had appeared from nowhere surrounding the monuments and ramps to the highway! This really freaked us out because we had no idea what was going on- we cut our tour short and began our drive back to the campground. The experience had been a bit unnerving to all of us and I began to wonder about our safety.

Sometime during the night it began to rain and I imagined us dripping wet as we toured the U.S. Capital first thing in the morning. Not to worry, we awoke to a beautiful spring day with no visible rain clouds in the blue sky.

Day 2- We awoke early so we could make a fire to warm up to and cook & eat breakfast before the bus arrived around 7 take us to the metro station. The majority of our firewood had gotten wet so I had a difficult time getting a good fire going. After eating a hasty breakfast, extinguishing our fire and hiking the short walk to the front entrance of the park, we entered the bus that would take us to the metro. The metro was certainly a new experience for us and we were disappointed to learn that the pass I thought I could buy to save us money wasn't valid for the hours that we'd be traveling into D.C. The metro would cost quite a bit more over our stay, but after our experience driving into the city, my husband and I agreed that the additional fee would still be worth it.

Being a new experience, my children were apprehensive to step off the platform and onto the crowded metro. We had to literally push my 8 year old into the car. Poor kid! He was scared to death, because the Madrid subway bombings had just happened and he was sure that would happen to us. We all managed to find seats, although not together. My husband and children managed to sit together while I was forced to sit beside a woman that was dressed beautifully and heavily perfumed. All I could think about was how she must have cringed when I sat beside her smelling like smoke from our campfire! I could just imagine her sharing her horrible experience with her friends at lunch!

When we began planning our trip to D.C., I had contacted our representative's office and they had arranged two tours for us. One was to be a guided tour of the U.S. Capital Building beginning at our representative's office. We were surprised that security didn't seem to be nearly as awful as we had expected and arrived at the office just as our friends arrived to meet us. Although we had planned to visit D.C. together, they were staying at Andrews AFB with friends.

We were disappointed to find that our tour guide had not shown up for work and was apparently stuck in traffic. Imagine that...anyway, they found a replacement and we rode the elevator below the building to tunnels that wound there way beneath the city and across the street to the Capital Building. I'm grateful that we were able to go on the tour, but we were disappointed by our tour guide. She was not trained to give tours so we probably could have learned just as much from a self-guided tour. Our favorite part of the tour came when we were given passes to the House of Representatives Visitor Gallery. The kids would have been content to sit there and listen to the proceedings, but we were only permitted to stay for a brief period of time.

At the close of our tour, we joined our friends on the lawn of the Capital Building to eat some of the snacks that we had packed and decided where we would head to next. It's not that we didn't have any ideas, we were full of them. The kids ran off some energy and my 8 year old, an avid pocket knife collector, found a pocket knife on the ground. Of course he wanted to keep it, but we knew we wouldn't be able to pass through security with it in our possession, probably the reason it was discarded in the first place. He decided to bury it under a nearby tree in hopes of returning before we left town to reclaim it.

After relaxing and posing for pictures on the Capital steps, we decided to make our way to the Smithsonian Castle, the Smitsonian's first building, now the Visitor Center and home to the administrative office. On the way, we passed the National Air and Space Museum (the mall building) and decided to drop in and explore. Although I do remember that we enjoyed this museum, space museums aren't my favorite so I didn't really pay much attention- should I admit that?????

We finally made it to the Castle, watched a short film that gave an overview of the museums, bought some postcards and my husband announced that it was time to begin making our return trip to the campground. I did read prior to our visit that while visiting D.C. you should only try to shove in three activities each day. You will be tempted to fit more in, but anymore and it will be overwhelming.

Day 3- Up early again. Pretty much followed the same routine as the day before, but I didn't want to choke the person sitting beside me on the metro so we ate cold cereal and muffins before catching the bus. A tour had been arranged for us at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. This was my children's favorite stop in D.C. We loved the tour and left the tour amazed that people fight over money which is essentially only paper.

After our tour, we grabbed timed tickets for the Holocaust Museum and then wasted time by walking to the Museum of Natural History. The boys were in awe when they saw the dinosaur bones on display. My daughter loved seeing the gem collection, the highlight of which was the Hope diamond. The insect exhibit would have been fascinating, but it was too crowded with school groups to be enjoyable. I was fearful that I would loose my children so we quickly made an exit, thinking it would be nice to visit when there weren't as many field trips taking place in the building.

By now, it was time to visit the The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. We drug our aching feet back across the mall lawn and continued to stand in line listening to the people in front of us discussing what the best exit route would be in case of a terrorist attack. I figured if it would happen while we were there, we'd be doomed.

The Holocaust Museum was my favorite attraction in D.C. but it is not for the faint of heart. My kids were probably too young for the museum, even though we had read simple books about that time period. The simulated train car/elevator ride to the exhibit terrified my daughter. There is a children's exhibit for young children that is really nicely done, but my 8 year old didn't really understand what was going on. I had to explain to him that the exhibit chronicled the life of one family during the Holocaust.

Heavy hearted, we made our way back to the campground where we were joined by friends for fun and fellowship. Day 4 will begin the next leg of our trip- on to Assateague Island National Seashore for some relaxation or so we thought......Total cost for this leg of our trip: $390 which included lodging, gas, metro & bus fees, food, souveniors, firewood and ice.

There you have it, our Washington D.C. Field Trip. I'd love to see where you've been, even if it's an older field trip- that's great too. If you link up, feel free to grab your badge- I just ask that you link back to this site. Until next week~ Happy Field Trippin'!


  1. I have always wanted to go to Washington D.C. and colonial Williamsburg. Your trip looked great. Maybe someday.

  2. What a great trip! I'm only 90 minutes from DC and yet I've only been about 5 times, isn't that awful. There is SO much to see and do.


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