Last winter my 7th grade daughter brought home information about the school trip to Washington, DC. She wanted to go, but said she’d rather do DC with the family instead of her friends. Once the shock wore off, I started planning almost instantly. Being organized is the key to exploring DC with the kids.
Plan Ahead & Reserve, Reserve, Reserve
Unless your kids are fans of waiting in long lines, do your homework. Have a family discussion, decide what you’d like to do and get busy making reservations. Nancy’s said it before, “Exploring Washington DC with kids is simply better with a plan,” and I couldn’t agree more.
But putting together that plan was a little trickier than I anticipated. Once your family agrees on what to do, you need to figure who to contact to make it happen. For example, tours of the White House must be requested via your Member of Congress, but making reservation to see the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives is something you can book on your own online.
If you want to go to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing during what they call peak season, or in other words all school holidays, I’d recommend you go through your Member of Congress as well. Free, same day tickets are available, but you may have to be up before the sun to get in line to get them.
I know it’s hard, but pack early and then take out half of what you packed. I’m a big fan of packing smart and light (see my travel packing tips for advice on how to make this reality). That doesn’t just apply to your suitcase. It’s a must for the backpack you’ll be lugging around DC all day as well. And it’s not just because I want you to save your weary back.
Security is everywhere in DC. Pretty much every monument and museum has a security checkpoint. We went through security to get in to a food court one day. You go through three security checks before you make it through the doors of the White House. It’s like being at the airport over and over again. Everyone’s rules about what’s allowed and what’s not are different, so less is best. The less you have, the less time you’ll stand in line at security checkpoints.
You can schedule tours every hour on the hour, but that doesn’t mean you or the kids will enjoy three tours a day, four days in a row. Leave plenty of breathing room in your itinerary. It’s really easy to overschedule yourself in DC because there’s so much to do and that feeling of not wanting to miss out. But DC is no different than anywhere else, in the sense that you can’t do it all in one trip. Visit, get a good taste and plan on going back.
Breathing Room = Flexibility
DC is a great walking city. Whether it’s an adult only kickball game or a sculpture that requires you to climb it and rub its nose, expect fun filled surprises as you move from one stop to the next. Surprises take time, so make sure to have plenty of breathing room built into your day. Good surprises are worth the time, and time allows for recovery, which can make bad surprises not so bad.
My family had more than one sprint through the city after getting stuck on not one, not two, but three broken Metro trains. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not knocking the transportation system. Moving that many people from point A to point B is bound to have some kinks, but I think we had more than our fair share during our visit. Nothing earth shattering, but very frustrating. In each instance, we made it everywhere we needed to be in just the nick of time, but there was definitely some running involved.
If my girls were toddlers instead of tweens and teens, we would have missed our time slot for the Washington Monument. After the second day of our Metro mayhem, we built in more pad time. It also greatly weighed in on our decision to drive into DC on the last day of our visit. Since it was Sunday, it was a piece of cake to find parking.
Get a Good Map Before You Go
A quick google search and you have plenty of DC maps to choose from. A map is such a simple thing to get online, but yet something I bet most folks don’t think of or use to their advantage. Having a good idea of DC’s layout helped immensely when planning daily itineraries. For example, I made sure to plan on visiting the National Portrait Gallery on the same day as the Spy Museum because they are right across the street from each other.
Less walking, equals happy families. And happy families make for great trips.
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