2 Days in D.C. on a College Budget

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If you’re anything like me, you love to travel, experience new things, and explore exciting cities–but you’re broke because of this stage of life called college, which limits the opportunity to successfully travel.

But let me tell you from experience, it is possible! This article will highlight all of the things I did and the places I went for a 2 day D.C. trip, all under the cost of $75.

Planning Logistics

Let me start out by saying, my roommate from SCAD (who you can find all over my instagram) came to visit me in Maryland for a week, and she is doing this budget-friendly traveling with me.

First things first, you need to plan out some details before you hop on a train, bus, or plane. The first thing we planned out was how many days we wanted to spend in D.C., which also includes who we would stay with if we wanted to go for more than one day (sometimes if you don’t have any connections for a free night stay, your options are limited for how long you can stay). We both decided we would like to stay for 2 days, to see everything we wanted to. Fortunately, my uncle lives right outside of D.C., a short metro ride into the city, and happily took us in. That saves you a lot of money, and gives you more time to spend at your destination.

Tip #1: Reach out to a friend or family who live near a place you want to travel to and ask if you can crash on their couch/air mattress. You’d be surprised how many people will say yes.

The second part of the trip logistics that need planning is the transportation. There are lots of different modes of transportation to choose from, some cheaper than the rest. We chose to drive to my uncle’s house, park the car (free parking, curtesy of a guest parking pass), and metro into the city.

Once we knew how long we would be in D.C., where we would stay the night, and how we would get to where we want to go, it was time to get the trip rolling.

DAY 1

Anna and I woke up around 8am, got ready and packed small bags for the next day. Something to take into consideration while traveling is the weather. D.C. was going to be particularly chilly the days we would be there, so we packed our clothes accordingly.

We arrived at my uncle’s house around 11am, dropped our stuff off, and headed for the metro station.

Walking into a metro station can be kind of overwhelming if you are not used to the hustle and bustle of a city. We needed to buy 2 metro cards to allow us to get around the city for that day. The metro does this great thing where you can buy a day pass, allowing you to get on any public transportation with the pass all day. We honestly didn’t know how much money to load on the card anyway, seeing that we didn’t know how much or how little we would use transportation, so the day pass was our best bet. We each purchased a day pass for $14.65.

After you get your pass, you’re good to go for the rest of the day! Make your way down to the rails, find a map and coordinate which train to hop on to get you to your destination.

Tip #2: Metros run differently in different cities. The metro in D.C. is based off of colors: red, blue, yellow, green, and silver. Each one goes in a certain direction, with various stops throughout the city. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the metro system of your city before you start riding all over town.

Once Anna and I got into D.C., we decided to hit up the Hirshhorn museum. Free to the public, the Hirshhorn is filled with modern art, some feel-good pieces, some thought-provoking, some flat-out weird. Either way, if you’re an art-lover, definitely check out this museum.

After the Hirshhorn, we wandered through the back doors into the garden of the Smithsonian castle. We had no idea what is was at the time, but we knew it was beautiful.

After we looked at the garden, we started walking around, taking in what we could see of D.C. By the time we were walking at this point, it was around 1:30, and our stomach’s were rumbling. We came across this cute cafe overlooking an ice-skating rink, called the Pavilion Cafe. Anna and I warmed up with some broccoli cheddar soup, and a spinach feta pastry (we love cheese, can you tell?), finished with a hot cup of tea. This meal was around $10, and totally worth it.

Once we were warm, full, and happy, we started walking towards pretty buildings, not knowing really where we were entirely, or what we would find. Turns out, we were surrounded by some pretty awesome monuments and museums. We could see the National Monument, the Capitol, the Air and Space Museum, the Museum of Natural History, the National Gallery of Art, the National Archives. We were in museum heaven.

Did you know that almost all museums in D.C. are free and open to the public? What a wonderful treat! We explored the Museum of Natural History first, blown away by the amount of different exhibitions we could see. This is a great museum to spend time in. There is so much to look at and discover, all for no cost.

After this museum, we walked over to the National Archives, home of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights; pretty much every document that makes our country what it is today. The security guards were super friendly here, and would take you/show you/tell you everything you wanted to know about these documents.

After the Archives, we headed over to the Air and Space museum. We found lots of rocket ships and space things (I should be a tour guide with that lingo). I think both Anna and I enjoyed reading about Amelia Earhart the most. What a #girlboss. If you haven’t read about her story, go look her up. She’s amazing.

By the time we left the Air and Space museum, it was dark, and our feet were definitely feeling the amount of steps taken in our feet. But, you can’t go to D.C. without seeing the White House, of course. So we got on a metro train, ride over to that side of town, and found the house. Honestly, it was a little underwhelming. Yes, it was beautiful, but it’s just a normal mansion. Like I’ve seen better. But still cool nonetheless.

Real talk: anna and I took the metro in the wrong direction trying to get home, and it ended up taking us almost 2 hours. It was rough. Don’t feel bad if this happens to you.

DAY 2

After a good night’s sleep on my uncle’s air mattress in the basement, we made our way back into the city around 9:15am.

(Another day pass was purchased for $16.)

Anna found this abandon church online with a beautiful mural painted on it, and we wanted to check it out. That’s where we started our Thursday. After a metro ride and about a mile of walking in the chilled air, we found the church, in an underwhelming neighborhood, standing bright and fun in the morning light.

Once we took in the fun colors of the church, we walked to a coffee and brunch cafe called Slipstream. It was cute and hip, played good music, feel-good ambiance, and amazing food. I got an egg sandwich (which sounds simple but the way they do their egg sandwiches are fancy and amazing) and a dark chocolate mocha. Anna got avocado toast with an egg and goat cheese mousse. Y’all. Goat cheese mousse. If you haven’t experienced that, do it. Both of our meals were around $10.

Once we were filled up on goat cheese mousse (yes, I shared the cheese mousse with her, something that magnificent shouldn’t be experience alone), we got on a metro toward George Washington University, which houses a textile museum. This museum might have been my favorite that we went to. Filled with beautiful textiles from all over the world, Anna and I swooned for about an hour. This museum was also free to the public.

After the textiles, we met up with my friend Cam, who is currently working in the Senate. This was such a fun, unexpected thing to do!

Tip #3: reach out to anyone you might know who works in the city you are visiting. I’m sure they would love to show you around.

Cam was able to give us a full VIP tour of the Senate and Capitol building, showing us the underground trolley, Senator offices, and lots of beautiful architecture (free of charge). So thankful for him and this wonderful tour!

To end our day 2 adventure, we headed over to Georgetown. First stop: D.C. cupcakes for dinner (duh). Y’all, I don’t know if you ever watched their show on TLC, but their cupcakes are amazing. I’m not sure if foodgasms are a thing, but I think I definitely had one. Anna and I each got 2 cupcakes for $7.

After the cupcakes, we walked around and shopped, falling particularly in love with a shop called & Other Stories. Filled with chic, French-designed clothes and accessories, this store is a dream. Their customer service is amazing, their products are high-quality, and they even give you complementary body lotion with your purchase. If you come across one of these stores, you won’t regret going in it.

We ended our evening by going to a couple more shops, and then heading back to Maryland.

Traveling and experiencing different cities doesn’t mean you have to spend a ton of money, which Anna and I are trying out this week (stay tuned for 2 days in New York on a college budget).

Traveling is about experience, about learning about yourself and the world you live in. Don’t get caught up on the things you can’t afford, and instead focus on all of the things you can. It doesn’t cost much to make memories with a good friend. Go try it.

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