June is conference month so Travis did a lot of coming and going. Early in the month he had a conference in D.C. I’d never been to D.C. So in a fun turn of events, we decided to go domestic. Who knew domestic travel could be as daunting as international travel?! (Feel free to answer “Duh.”)
In a classic move I way over-booked our time. The itinerary seemed straightforward enough: Fly into D.C. Visit friends, see some sights. Then Gran and Pop would fly into town and Travis would fly out (his next stop: a conference in London). We’d rent a car and drive down to Charlottesville. Monticello one day. Luray Caverns just north of the Shenandoah National Park next day. Then back to D.C., all done and relaxed from our vacation.
Ha! So much for the smugness of the seasoned international traveler. This domestic jaunt was awesome, but actually gave me a lot of perspective and new travel rules.
To start, I think domestic flying is actually harder than international flying. The big international flights have larger planes with two aisles. It’s great, the kids can do laps and figure eights like little hamsters on a wheel. Also, the international airports are actually easier to navigate (tons of signage in multiple languages so if by some chance the English doesn’t make sense to me I can piece together the correct direction from my (low-level) French or Spanish and the arrows). They have better food options – I found organic yogurt and good trail mix, albeit ridiculously overpriced. And, most importantly, international flights just seem to run on time better than domestic. This could be just a perception, but I don’t know. It feels like it holds true.
What does this have to do with our trip? Well, inevitably if you travel enough you encounter flight delays and challenges. And hoo boy, this time did we. This segues nicely into my first new rule of travel.
Rule #1: Make sure you know what airport you are flying into. No-brainer, right? And yet. Turns out the Washington-Dulles airport is not in Washington. Did anyone else know this? I didn’t pause to check out the Reagan National Airport and instead just bought tickets to Dulles. Then with flight delays due to weather we landed at 11 pm at night, 45 minutes from D.C. Thank heavens for wonderful friends who will drive to pick you up!! Additionally, Travis had a travel agent booking his triangulation of flights to DC, London, etc. and ended up flying into Reagan, where a taxi only cost $17.00 into the city. Know your airport. It’s a good rule.
Rule #2: Make certain you stay in the right place. With young kids we’ve found that renting an apartment works better than hotel rooms. A separate room for us, or for the kids, makes it easier to maintain some kind of bedtime. And having our own kitchen means we can bring food home from restaurants, shop at the local grocery stores (which I love doing anyways) and get kid-friendly food for snacks and meals. Of course, do your research! I rather botched our location on this round and Travis had to walk over half an hour to the conference site. With all the map and GPS apps at our disposal it doesn’t take too much effort to nail the perfect location. Oh, and pack that booster seat. It’s worth it.
Rule #3: If possible, pick a destination with friends or family. Having my friend meet us at the airport was huge, and she even picked up some groceries for us so breakfast was all set in the morning. And the next day she helped me figure out which Metro line to take to meet up with her, then took us around the museum where she works and out to her favorite lunch place in the sculpture park. Behind the scenes we got to see botanical specimens like the double coconut (aka “butt-nut”!). These things can all be done without friends, but it’s like having a walking guidebook when you are distracted by a new place and two young kids. And it’s extra eyes and hands on kids! Grandparents are also wonderful travel companions.
Rule #4: Get outside, get on public transport! James absolutely loved the Metro, and I think Lytle enjoyed it as well. We looked at the map, talked about the stops and counted down to ours, we enjoyed the escalators and tunnels. And every time we encountered a new playground James thought he’d traveled to heaven. All the walking, playtime, and fresh air helps when bedtime rolls around after the excitement of the day.
Rule #5: Put a bit of a hold on food rules and focus on restaurant behavior. If I’m not nagging James about what he’s eating, and he gets to pick out his own drink, he’s inclined to be better behaved. We all get a treat (good behavior for me, lemonade and french fries for him), and isn’t that what vacations are about?
New base rules learned, we dove into the trip. The photos speak for themselves, we had a lovely time! Once in D.C. I totally got googly-eyed at our nation’s capital. It was really fun to feel like a giddy tourist. The Museum of Natural History and the Space Museum were both a huge hit with James, and Lytle exercised her toddler right to lay down in the middle of a crowded room or throw a fit just before entering the home of Thomas Jefferson so Mom (yes, me) misses the tour of the house and instead wanders the necessaries (the wine room, the ale room, the brandy room, etc.) picking up left behind shoes.
Well, we made it. Round trip to Charlottesville and back. American history, natural history, and government. We will definitely travel domestically again. And my last two rules to abide by?
Rule #6: Think hard about whether or not you should rent a car, and then decide the best place to pick it up and drop it off. City driving is not for everyone, consider choosing a location on the outskirts of town. Make sure you plan your drives around your kids’ tolerance for car time. James still reminds me about the bridge in D.C. we went over not once, not twice, not even three times but yes, four times while trying to find the playground on the map and then the entrance ramp to the freeway. A playground and a ramp! That’s all I wanted! Now, I’m a decent city driver and navigator thanks to years of city living, but no one could easily navigate D.C. on their first try. I think it’d be easier to navigate Rome’s cobblestoned streets driving backwards while drunk on a Vespa (no, I won’t test that theory, but I stand by it). Sufficient to say, I think James heard some adult language. Nothing he hadn’t heard before, but I flatter myself to think that he picked up some new and creative combinations.
And Rule #7? Just add a glass of white wine. Then start planning your next trip!