After years of solo travel to Washington, D.C. for work, Buddy and I finally had the opportunity to take a mother and son vacation to the nation’s capital. After a fun trip and lots and lots of walking, I am sharing my Top 5 Helpful Washington, D.C. Travel Tips for a Fun Vacation with Your Teen.
Buddy also shares his Tip for teens traveling to D.C. with their parents for the first time.
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Top 5 Helpful Washington DC Travel Tips for a Fun Vacation with Your Teen
1. Plan your trip together
As I mentioned in a previous post about traveling with teens, it can be challenging to get my teen excited and motivated to do anything. This includes travel and exploring new places. Involving teens in trip planning means that they are more likely to be interested and engaged when exploring new places.
What did this look like? For our D.C. trip, Buddy and I worked together to plan our days of site seeing.
A week prior to the trip, I gave Buddy a list of museums, monuments and other tourist sites. I asked him to pick the top 5 places he would like to visit. Knowing that there are so many things to do and see in Washington, D.C., and that we were highly unlikely to see them all in one trip, I told Buddy that we might not have time to see and do all of his 5 choices. But that we would try. I also had him identify 2 additional sites and experiences in case we were unable to get timed tickets to his top choices.
Buddy chose the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the National History Museum, and the International Spy Museum. The National Holocaust Centre and Museum and the National Natural History Museum were his back up choices.
We visited 5 of his 7 choices. The museums and monuments were the highlight of the trip. Buddy says “I liked seeing all of the Memorials and the government buildings. My favorite museum was the International Spy Museum.”
Two notes about our trip planning
First, while museums that are a part of the Smithsonian Institute are free, others are not. For example, International Spy Museum is not a part of the Smithsonian Institution and there is an admission. A quick visit to the website of the museum that you would like to visit for up-to-date information is recommended.
Second, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia is approximately a 45-minute drive one way from DC without traffic. Given that we stayed in DC and did not have a rental car, the Udvar-Hazy Center was too far for us to visit on our trip. So, we opted to visit the National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall instead. We agreed that next time we visit D.C., we will to fly into Dulles and spend a day at the Udvar-Hazy Center.
If you are flying into the area and staying in D.C., it may take some extra time and planning to get to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center if this is a site your teen is interested in visiting.
2. Consider accomodation
When visiting Washington, D.C. with your family or teen, we highly recommend you consider renting an Airbnb. Here’s why.
Reason #1: A Kitchen
A vacation rental with a kitchen will offer the option of preparing meals and snacks for your teen throughout the trip. This can help you save some money while traveling. While visiting D.C., I made all of our meals except for two, a dinner at Founding Farmers (reservations are recommended) and breakfast at Jimmy T’s Place (cash only!), at the Airbnb.
While we ate breakfast and dinner at the Airbnb, for lunch I prepared a sack lunch and snacks for us every day. We used these eco collapsible meal kits, which we brought with us from home, for our sandwiches and snacks. This meal kit collapses and fits well in a carry on. Buddy carried our lunches and snacks in his backpack. The snacks were a life saver when we were hungry and needed a snack break on the National Mall. We also brought our own refillable water bottles, which really came in handy!
Reason #2: Experience life in a different place
Staying in a vacation rental home can give teens a sense of what it might be like to live there. For example, immediately after checking in to our Airbnb, Buddy and I walked to the nearby Trader Joe’s. After our shopping trip, we carried our bags (in the rain!) back to the Airbnb to make dinner. This was a new experience for him as he is used to grocery shopping in the family car.
When asked what his favorite part of his first trip to Washington DC was, Buddy responded “the Airbnb, because I got to see what it would be like to live there.” We stayed in a great Airbnb in Capitol Hill, literally across the street from the Supreme Court. Check out the Movement Postcard we filmed in front of the Airbnb with the Supreme Court as our backdrop!
A quick note, I had a difficult time finding an Airbnb for two with more than one queen bed. I opted for renting a place with a couch bed.
3. Prepare your teen for a lot of walking
Prepare your teen for a lot of walking. Even if you take the Metro or a ride share between sites, you and your teen will still walk a lot! This is in addition to all the standing you will do at the museums while taking in the exhibits. Comfortable shoes are key because feet will hurt after a while! I wore my Teva’s every day in D.C. and they were super comfortable!
There are Lime scooters in D.C. Unfortunately, scooter transportation was not a good option for us. This was because we could not get the group ride function was not working on the app. That meant that I could not rent more than one scooter at a time. Buddy rode the scooter while I speed walked behind to keep him in my sight!
Hopefully, the group ride option on Lime scooter works for you and you and can rent scooters with your teen. The scooters really do help when your feet ache from walking and standing all day.
4. Be prepared to get your timed tickets right when the portal opens
This is a big tip! And not just when traveling with a teen, but when traveling to D.C. in general.
Several monuments and museums have timed tickets, such as the Washington Monument. You will want to check out the websites of the places you are interested in visiting to see when you can get timed tickets.
Different museums and monuments have online portals opening at different times. For the places that require a recreation.gov account like the Washington Monument, consider creating one ahead of time.
The day you want to secure your timed ticket, note the time the portal opens and be ready with the website pulled up 2-5 minutes before the tickets become available. Remember to refresh the page! Also, have your credit or debit card on hand as some places charge $1 per ticket. Tickets sell out within 1-2 minutes of them becoming available. You must act fast!
This was our experience.
- Attempt #1: I visited the Washington Monument back in the time when you could get a ticket in person by showing up to the monument early. Those days are gone! During our lay over in Dallas, I logged on to my recreation.gov account on my phone and refreshed the page constantly to try get tickets to the monument for the next day. For some reason, I was unable to confirm the tickets on my phone. We did not get the tickets that day.
- Attempt #2: It was our first full day in D.C. I made sure that we were at our Airbnb when the portal opened. I had recreation.gov pulled up on my laptop and my debit card ready. Right at 10am, I refreshed the page and got two tickets to the Washington Monument for the next day. Success!
National Holocaust Centre and Museum:
- Attempt #1: I woke up extra early the next day to log on to the site at 7 am when the same day ticket portal opened. I had the site pulled up on my laptop and was ready when right at 7 my computer decided to do an update. By the time it restarted 4 minutes later, the tickets were sold out! Oh well!
5. Bring your teen’s Passport to Your National Parks® passport book
Consider getting your teen a Passport To Your National Parks® passport book. There are so many Monuments where teens can collect stamps in the Nation’s Capital. Finding the passport stamp stations can be something for them to do while visiting the many monuments. This was important as teens can get bored easily. Plus, a passport book can give teens something to look back on and remember when they grow older.
We bought Buddy a passport book a few years ago and he had a great time collecting stamps in D.C. He usually gets 1-2 stamps per domestic trip, but during our trip to D.C., he at least tripled that number!
“Always be with your parent because you will easily get lost. The city is very congested.”
Overall, we had a great time in D.C.! We look forward to our next mother and son trip to our nation’s capital.
Have you traveled to D.C. with your teen? What tips to you have to add? Are you planning a trip to D.C. with your teen soon? Let us know in the comments below!
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