We’re wrapping up another summer tourist season here in Washington, D.C. & entering into the second most dreaded time of year: the influx of school groups. I’ve lived in America’s capital for over 10 years now & have firmly planted my roots as a settled Washingtonian (or that’s what my mortgage company tells me). I’ve had friends & family come visit over the years & helped lots of tourists on the street, so I’ve seen more than my share of D.C. visitor mistakes. Here are the 7 I see most often & how to avoid them during your trip to Washington:
1.Staying super far out: Repeat after me potential D.C. visitors: just because the Metro goes there doesn’t mean you want to stay there. Sure, I battle Metro (& it absolutely is a battle) every day to & from work, but who really wants to spend 45 minutes of their vacation sitting on a delayed train? Metro delays/breakdowns/accidents are a thing of daily life in D.C. & savvy daily commuters know how to find out about issues quickly (if you’re waiting until Metro makes an announcement, you’re too late) & the back up bus routes or alternative stations to get around problems.
Solution: Don’t stay at a cheaper hotel at the very end of the line & ruin a day of your vacation by spending half of it trying to get there & back. Trust me: the King Street Metro station is further than it looks.
2. Not budgeting for our high cost of living: If I buy my lunch at the small take out cafe across from my office, I can easily spend $12 on a sandwich & bottle of water. If B & I go to dinner at the little Italian bistro in our neighborhood, we can easily drop $40 on a Wednesday night. Even Metro charges $1 more per ride if you use a paper ticket. All these little things add up quickly, especially when you’re eating out three meals a day. I’m pretty used to our high prices, yet every time I travel to Ohio to my in-laws, I’m surprised I can get a draft beer for less than $8 or a glass of wine for less than $12.
Solution: Do some research, make sure to set a realistic budget for your trip & look for deals. Our Kimpton hotels, which offer an afternoon wine happy hour, are awesome. The food truck culture in D.C. is huge – falafel from D.C. Ballers eaten in one of our green spaces is the perfect lunch. There are tons of free concerts & outdoor movies around town all summer. We’re also huge fans of farmers markets here – there’s usually one each day of the week somewhere in town.
3. Wearing uncomfortable shoes: When you visit D.C. you will walk. A LOT. I personally commute in flats & flip flops because I walk several blocks to & from the Metro (2 miles total if I don’t hitch a ride with B part of the way). Trust me visitors, they call it Capitol Hill for a reason: it’s up a giant hill. And ladies, change out of those high heels. If I had a dollar for every pair I have had to have reheeled due to D.C.’s love of brick sidewalks, I could buy an entire closet of shoes.
Solution: Wearing comfy shoes does not have to mean wearing bright white Morty tennis shoes. Be smart with your feet.
4. Getting lost: D.C. should be the easiest city in the world to get around: letter streets run east-west, numbered streets north-south, state streets diagonal. You can even figure out an address using the letters & numbers: 1100 C Street is at the corner of 11th & C. 600 14th Street is at the corner of 14th & F (F is the sixth letter of the alphabet; remember that there is no J Street – it may or may not be because Pierre L’Enfant hated John Jay).
Solution: Remember the letters & numbers trick. When in doubt, ask. I probably give a visitor directions at least once a week (they’re usually looking for the White House, which they’ve overshot by about four blocks by the time they get near my office).
5. Only seeing the tourist sites by bus. Our monuments & memorials are spectacular. But they’re best experienced up close. I see too many visitors riding around in charter buses or those awful double decker tourist buses, enjoying the air conditioning & never experiencing the monuments up close.
Solution: Use a bus to get your bearings, but get off the bus to truly appreciate these works of art.
6. Never leaving the National Mall/Penn Quarter/Chinatown/Metro Center: One of the best things about D.C. are its neighborhoods. The places I list above? These are not where the majority of Washingtonians live & play. It’s where some of us work, but after work, most people flee to awesome, authentic neighborhoods. Many of them aren’t right on a Metro line, most of them are on some sort of bus line, all of them are accessibly by Uber or Lyft (don’t take a cab here – they’re not great).
Solution: Set aside one day of your trip to soak in at least one of D.C.’s great neighborhoods. Capitol Hill on a weekend, especially around Eastern Market, can’t be beat. My own neighborhood of Del Ray, just nine miles outside D.C., feels like being in small town America.
7. Standing on the left. For the love of everything, please stand to the right on the escalators on the Metro. You’ll make every single person just trying to go through their daily commute happy.
Solution: Just stand on the right. Please.