Monuments, museums, metros, miles, and memories were made on our teen trip with our homeschool co-op.
On a Monday morning, two crowded vans left Eastern NC bound for Washington, D.C. For many of us, it was our first trip to our nation’s capital. As a first-timer, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I spent most of my time soaking it all in, not really worrying about seeing it all. Along the way, I took note of things that went really well, and things I might would do differently. I’ll share with you what we did, and some tips on how to take a small homeschool group of teens to D.C.
Transportation & Lodging
- Renting Vans – this was one of the best things about the trip! We rented two passenger vans. Our fearless co-op leader drove one of the vans with all of the teens. Riding together really made it seem more like a class trip with friends. It’s just not quite the same if you ride with mom or dad and meet at the destination. The other van was the “mom van”. We had one brave dad take all of us moms and three younger siblings of the teens. The just under 700 mile round trip was a great bonding experience for all!
- Hotel – We stayed in Alexandria, Virginia at the Holiday Inn Alexandria-Carlyle. This was a great choice because is was less expensive than staying in D.C., had a free breakfast (which is a time and money saver with a group of teens), and was within walking distance to the metro. One bit of information I learned is that rates are typically cheaper in the D.C. and surrounding areas on the weekend than during the weekday.
- Metro – that was an experience in itself for someone who has never been on one! It is a fast, inexpensive way to travel to and from the city without the stress of driving. The attendants encounter many tourists daily, and we found that they are more than willing to help. They showed us how to get our SmarTrip® card loaded and got us heading in the right direction! I enjoyed the rides to and from the city, and it is definitely the best way to transport a group. A couple of things to note: We stayed out late the first night and the metro area was sketchy. We also used the metro at 5:00 on a Tuesday, and it was packed! Next time, I would pay more attention to the clock.
On the evening of our arrival, we toured a few of the monuments. They are absolutely stunning in the evening, and a lot less crowded. We did not get around to seeing all of them because we had to make sure we were back to catch the metro to our hotel. We visited the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and the World War II Memorial. It was nice to get group pictures without waiting for others to move over. Expect to do a lot of walking if you are going by foot. Scooter rentals are available, however, with so many of us that was not an option. The Circulator is a great way to get around, just make sure you check the time, as it does not run very late.
Our Tuesday was filled with museum hopping. Wrangling our group from the breakfast buffet and refilling the metro cards put us at a slightly later start to our day. I’m not usually one to keep a rigid schedule, but today an itinerary would have helped. We still managed to get in some great museums.
Our first stop was the National Air & Space Museum. My main interest was the Wright Brothers exhibit, and it did not disappoint. I recently visited Kitty Hawk, and it was really cool to see the original Flyer.
Next, we visited the National Museum of Natural History. It was full of cool things, and BUSY! Bone Hall was one of our favorite sections. The massive amount of evolution exhibits that were very “in your face” at every turn was disappointing. The museum is beautiful, but the layout is not very accommodating to the amount of visitors.
Our last museum was the National Museum of American History . We were able to go through this one rather quickly. I was underwhelmed at the sparse exhibits. Perhaps I was just tired, but I was expecting more. I did leave with a great souvenir – Smithsonian-opoly. We will enjoy playing and learning more about the museums for years to come!
No matter if I’m traveling with a group, or just with my own family, I do not like to pack activities in every minute of the trip. I don’t want to feel like I need a vacation when I return from vacation. Down time is always welcome, and I highly recommend a low-key evening, or half a day where ever you go! After our (packed liked sardines) 5:00 metro ride back, the kids enjoyed a swim at the hotel. The moms enjoyed a time of relaxation on the adjoining patio. We even had pizza delivered! After dinner, we walked to a nearby Cold Stone Creamery for some dessert. The teens had a great time just hanging out when we returned.
The National Zoo
On the day of our departure, our drivers braved the busy streets of D.C. and we stopped by The National Zoo before travelling back to NC. Like everywhere else, there was a big crowd. The pandas were a big attraction, as well as the orangutans that were crossing the ropes above. The zoo is on a steep hill, so depending on what parking lot you are in, take the zoo bus and start at the Asian Trail side….the rest of the walk will be downhill. After two days of walking for miles, this was great advice!
A Few Other Thoughts
Washington D.C. is a great place to go with a group of teens! There is so much to see, and it’s impossible to do it all in a couple of days. Enjoy what you have time for. You never know what to expect the first time at a new place, and there are always things you would do different next time. I thought for the short time we were there we did a lot, and it did not cost a lot of money. The museums, monuments, and zoo are all free of charge. Next time I visit, I would do much the same, but focus more on things that are only in D.C. I would see the other monuments, and visit things such as the Capitol, the White House, Ford’s Theater, Arlington National Cemetery and a few other “only in D.C.” attractions.
We also went during spring break, so perhaps earlier in the year would be a less busy time. My only other tip would be to enjoy the teens. Give them great memories, show them new places, and let them experience new things. I consider our trip time well spent. Teens are an interesting and fun group to be around. We were able to see new places, friendships were strengthened, and memories were made. That’s what it’s all about.