We spent Columbus Day weekend this year on a roadtrip to Washington DC. This is the second time we’ve done a family roadtrip to visit some close friends in the city. Driving from the Boston area, it’s about an 8 hour drive.
I put this in the “short” roadtrip category. Some people think that’s crazy, but keep in mind that I used to do roadtrips out to South Dakota every summer, and Florida a lot when I was younger. 448 miles? Pssshhh, that’s nothing. We drove overnight Friday/Saturday morning on the way down, and drove back Columbus Day Monday. For anyone out there planning roadtrips with kids, I strongly recommend driving overnight when/if possible. This particular trip was a 3 day span, for 2 adults and 1 kid.
Anyway, I thought I’d analyze the spending of the trip a little bit. Don’t worry, right next to rock climbing and traveling, in the “Things I like to do” section, is over-analyzing spreadsheets. Yeah, I’m a hit at parties.
Also, the Peru trip post will be coming soon, I promise! There’s a lot more data to analyze there.
Planning and Budgeting
Here are the numbers I projected for costs:
- Accommodations: $67 (staying with friends, they only required I bring them some things from Boston)
- Gas: $124.75 (~900 miles roundtrip, 20 miles to the gallon, $2.50/gallon, …I know I need a more efficient car…)
- Tolls: $40 (underestimated this one, there really should be some website or app for accurately calculating toll costs for US roadtrips…any developers out there?)
- Food: $300 ($20/meal, 5 meals per person, 3 people, we brought food with us too, this only includes the food actually purchased in DC and en route. THis is higher than I’d normally budget, but the friends we were staying with like to go out to eat.)
- Accommodations: $67 (this didn’t change of course)
- Gas: $106.56 (pretty close on this one, actually!)
- Tolls: $71.45 (TOLLS. So many tolls)
- Food: $172.66 (way over-budgeted this one!)
- Things I didn’t budget for originally: $35 (public transportation and souvenirs)
So, I definitely overshot the gas and food budgets, and totally underestimated the tolls. I am amazed that Delaware charges $8 for the 20 mile portion of the trip that’s within their borders. $4 from the New Jersey border, $4 to get into Maryland, and the same on the way back. I bet they make a killing off of the toll booths on I-95 and I-295. The toll on the way home, New Jersey into New York was $14. Not to mention the NJ Turnpike…$14 both ways. Anyway, DC isn’t an expensive city as long as you keep your food and accommodation costs low. I know this is easy for me to say, since I was able to stay with a friend. So many of the attractions are totally free!
In total, the trip cost about $487, or $244/day, or just over $160/person. So, $80 per person per day. I should mention though, if you were to take out gas and tolls (use a bus to get there or something), and reduced food expenses by cooking at home or finding good happy hour deals, you could do DC for under $50 a day. At $50/day, you’d still eat well, be able to see all the monuments and Smithsonian museums (free), and have some money to get around on the Metro system in the city.
DC is a great place to explore. It’s an easy city to navigate, the Metro is a great public transit system, and the city has so much to see. Best part? Half the great stuff to do is free!
The first day we were there, we did all the monuments. We walked the entire area, and hit the Washington Monument, World War II Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, MLK Memorial, FDR Memorial, and finally the Jefferson Memorial. A lot of walking, and a lot of great sights! I think all the memorials in DC are very well done, and I’d say a few are so well known that they’re downright iconic, so it’s definitely worth seeing everything.
My personal favorites are the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the Jefferson Memorial. The Lincoln is always busy, but off to the sides it’s a bit more quiet. I sat down on the floor here with my son, and we read the Gettysburg Address, and then Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address on the opposite side of the memorial.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial also typically has a lot of people looking on, but the facade of the memorial is striking. I love the way the polished black stone draws you into the memorial. When you look a few feet back, you see your reflection. As you move closer, the names of the veterans start to materialize. Combined with the notes, personal mementos, and flowers laid at the foot of the wall, it’s a very humbling effect. If I may make a suggestion, check out this memorial at night. The lighting is great and it’s less crowded.
About a 15 minute walk south lies the Jefferson Memorial. We got there in the early evening, and the sunset displayed its colors brilliantly on the structure as well as the surrounding tidal basin, as you can see in the photo above. The Jefferson Memorial also has excerpts lining the inside, with quotes from the Declaration of Independence and Jefferson himself, among other things.
The second day was a bit lazier. We woke up late and wandered down to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. I’m not a huge fan of zoos in general (I lean more towards the “let them be free” side of things), but my son loves the zoo here. And, I must say, this one in particular is beautifully done. The animals have tons of space, and the zoo itself is huge, plus it’s free! How’s that for you frugal folks?
I’ve also always wanted to walk around the Arlington National Cemetery, but we didn’t get there this trip. It’s a bit further out from the area of the city we were in, but I’ll be sure to see it next time. That’s on my list for next time, as well as the International Spy Museum. This trip was really more for spending with a friend we haven’t seen in some time, but it was great to see some of the city too!
A Note on the DC Metro and Manufactured Spending
For those of you interested in manufactured spending, I have a strategy to consider. The Washington DC Metro allows users to mail back unused tickets, and get a full refund in the form of a check. In my experience, it takes about 2 weeks to get the check in the mail, from the date you send your form and the unused tickets in. I’m sure this depends on where you live/mail times. Someone that lives in Washington DC will probably get theirs much faster than someone who lives in the middle of Wyoming.
Anyway, here’s how it works. Buy your Metro tickets with your credit card. It posts as a purchase (obviously), and falls into some kind of transportation category, as seen here. Then, send back any tickets you don’t use fully, and get a refund! Just ask one of the attendants in the Metro for a form to send in, tell them you’re from out of town, they won’t bat an eye.
Of course, this only works for folks close to (or visiting DC), and I’m not sure if frequent use would send up a red flag anywhere, but I’ve managed to do it both times I’ve been to DC recently. I also wonder if this works with other metro/subway locations? My only other public transit experiences are New York and Boston, and I’m not sure on either of those…