As a self-proclaimed amateur traveler and Army wife, I have traveled quite a bit in the U.S. While we’ve had a few lousy experiences and wasted time on attractions that weren’t worth the money, we have never had a bad experience quite like we did in Washington D.C.
A trip to Washington D.C has been on our Fort Bragg Bucket List since before we moved here. D.C is less than a 5-hour drive from our home in Spring Lake, which is perfect for a weekend getaway.
Much of our misery on this trip can be rightfully blamed on my lack of planning. However, we would have had a much better experience if some one had told me these 5 things before we went.
Your iPhone’s Walking GPS is USELESS in Washington D.C
On our first day in D.C, the girls and I were on our own, since my husband had to work. I figured we would go to the Smithsonian Zoo since IT’S FREE!
The plan was to take the Metro to the Cleveland Park station and walk to the zoo from there. Everyone suggested getting off at this station, since the zoo is downhill and it’s a “quick and easy walk.”
We exited the Metro station via the longest escalators I’ve ever seen and started walking. Things didn’t look right to me, since we were walking into a residential area. So, I turned on my phone’s GPS (with the walking feature) and saw that we went the wrong way.
No problem, we turned around, took a left, and started walking downhill.
Surely, we were headed in the right direction – even the Metro driver (conductor?) said the zoo was downhill from the station.
We walked and we walked and we walked, never straying from the blue path outlined on my phone. We could even see the zoo to our right, but we were outside the fence.
Eventually, we walked around the perimeter of the zoo until we finally came to an entrance, but it was a long and confusing walk. What could have been a half mile walk turned into almost a mile and a half trek.
The kids were tired, sweaty, and cranky and our day hadn’t even really begun yet.
My husband’s phone did pretty much the same thing the next day when we tried to visit the White House. Do yourself a favor and get directions before you go or stop and ask someone. DON’T rely on your iPhone’s GPS if you are on foot.
The Zoo is Built on a Hill…a Long Freaking Hill
I think it’s worth mentioning that the Smithsonian National Zoo resides entirely on a hill. And that hill is almost a mile long!
The main path through the zoo, Olmstead Walk, is 0.8 mile long. This main pathway branches off into smaller paths that take you through different habitats to see the animals, usually looping back into Olmstead Walk.
It certainly didn’t help that between getting lost and our GPS blunder we had already walked almost 2 miles BEFORE even entering the zoo. But now, we had to walk almost a mile UPHILL and then turn around a walk back down. Not to mention the smaller pathways to see the animals.
I wasn’t the only one that struggled with this hill. Everywhere we looked, we saw people panting and sweating their way to the top.
Despite the miserable walk, we still had a good time. Plus, my girls got to see the panda bears that they were soooo excited about!
(The Smithsonian Zoo is 1 of only 4 zoos in the U.S. that has panda bears.)
You Will Walk Until Your Feet Fall Off
Getting lost and going to the zoo aren’t the only reasons that your feet will hate you. Walking the National Mall is a FULL DAY of cardio.
Since it was the kids’ very first trip to D.C. and my first time as an adult, I wanted to see all of the major monuments at the National Mall. What I didn’t realize was exactly how big this place is.
The National Mall is TWO MILES long!
It contains or borders dozens of monuments, memorials, statues, gardens, museums, and government buildings. In order to see all of the major monuments and memorials, you would need to walk up one side and down the other. This means that you would walk more than 4 miles. (And that doesn’t include going to see the White House or your walk to and from the nearest Metro station.)
Even though we wore comfortable shoes and took breaks, our feet were killing us at the end of the day. We had blisters and our feet ached to the point that we were limping by nightfall.
The silver-lining was that we were able to see the monuments at different times of the day/night.
The Scooters are Worth It
Washington D.C. is joining the cities of the West Coast by offering dockless scooters on it’s streets.
After the first miserable day of endless walking, it didn’t take us long to decide to download some of the apps and rent scooters to get us around the National Mall and to the White House.
WHY didn’t we do this on the first day? WHY did we wait?
We could not have made it through the second day without the scooters to help us get around. Plus, they were tons of fun! The kids weren’t big enough to have their own, so we had to double up (probably against the rules…shhh). Even riding with mom and dad, they still loved it!
The scooters were 100% worth the hassle of downloading the apps and learning how to pay for them. They were also worth every freaking penny that we paid.
The Crowds are INSANE
Again, due to my complete lack of planning for this trip, we didn’t realize that we were in D.C during the week of the Cherry Blossom Festival. The day that we went to the National Mall was the same day as the Blossom Kite Festival. Needless to say, the crowds were insane!
I knew that the cherry trees were in bloom and that there would be larger than average crowds. However, I was NOT prepared for the crowds of the Blossom Kite Festival.
Apparently, it’s a really big deal. People travel from all over the world to attend the competitions and workshops that place during the festival. There have been estimates of 20,000 visitors at the Blossom Kite Festival in recent years.
The insane number of people in Washington D.C that weekend made it impossible to do everything that we wanted to. The Metro stayed packed, restaurants had lines out the door, the sidewalks were jammed (you can ride scooters in the bike lane!), and the museums were impossible to get into.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that insane crowds are limited to the Cherry Blossom Festival. There are countless events, marches, protests, and rallies that take place in our nation’s capital. A quick Google search will tell you what kinds of crowds expect during your trip to Washington D.C.
Food Will Cost You an Arm, a Leg, and Your Firstborn
According to Smart Asset, the cost of restaurant food in Washington D.C is 45% higher than the national average. However, going from Fayetteville, NC where the cost of living is below the national average, the cost of food in Washington D.C seemed outrageous to us!
Thankfully, I took some snacks with us, but we still had to buy lunch and dinner.
To give you an idea of how expensive the food is, I am ashamed to say that I paid $18 for 2 ice cream cones! Not extravagant, fancy ice cream either – just regular old vanilla ice cream with sprinkles.
Between the aching feet, the sore quads from the uphill trek at the zoo, the insane Cherry Blossom crowds, and spending wayyy too much money on food. Our first family trip to Washington D.C was kind of a flop.
Our nation’s capital is truly an awesome city. With MORE than 160 monuments and memorials, you will never run out of things to do or see. And even though we had a bad trip (this time!), it doesn’t mean that I regret it.
This trip was definitely a learning experience. My husband will do another rotation there during the summer. And I am determined to make our return trip a success!