5 Tips for Visiting Washington, DC on a Budget

…..or maybe more appropriately titled, How We Were Able to Afford Our Daughter’s “8th Grade Washington Trip”

5 Tips For Visiting Washington, D.C on a Budget

We have just returned from a 4 day journey to Washington, D.C. Taking an “8th Grade Washington Trip” is just as much a public school right of passage where we live as going to the prom is. Therefore we decided that our oldest child’d 8th grade year was just as good an excuse as any to travel to our Nation’s Capital.

Like many homeschooling families our life is arranged around a tight budget, which means we had to keep our expenses to a minimum on our trip. I wanted to share 5 really big ways in which we were able to keep the monetary cost as low as possible on our trip.

1. Don’t Stay in The City

We researched reasonable hotels that were outside the city, but close to a Metro Station with a reasonable length train ride to/from the city.  We found the cost and convenience of places in Alexandria, Virginia to be reasonable. We ultimately chose to stay at Hawthorne Suites because of the reasonable cost and extra amenities such as a continental breakfast, free parking, free shuttle to the Metro Station and free light dinners. The suites were spacious and the full kitchen offered us the option to bring all of our food with us.

2. Don’t Drive Into Washington, D.C. – Take The Metro Instead

With this option you may save yourself more of your sanity than your budget, but either way it is worth it! Traffic is unbearable in D.C. and not only is parking difficult to find, it is also very expensive. You can save yourself money on the Metro by traveling at Off Peak times and by minimizing the number of trips you take.

3. Take a Walking Tour

There are multiple tour bus companies that will take you from site to site around the city. We were told ahead of time that these might not be the best option due to the buses getting held up by the traffic in the city. Another reason we opted out of these was because of the cost for 5 of us to ride was rather large. Instead I found, purchased, and printed these low cost City Walking Guides. What was nice about these printable packets was the brief background and description of each site. We hole punched, them and put them into a ten cent 3 hole folder to carry with us on our journey. Before our trip the kids and I reviewed the maps, circled what we wanted to be sure to see, and planned our route based on those sites.

4. Avoid Buying Food

For a family of 5 just the cost of food when you are traveling is pricey. Just ice cream out can cost $15-$30! Instead of buying lunches and drinks plan ahead and pack backpacks with soft sided coolers for lunches and water bottles. We carried a water bottle for each of us and refilled every time we saw a drinking fountain.

5. Take Advantage of Free Points of Interest & Volunteer or Ranger Led Tours

We were surprised by the many FREE options available. The National Mall has Park Rangers available all day to answer questions. One of our favorite sites was the Botanical Gardens. They gave Family Field Journals to the kids that were fun and informative (and FREE). Another place that gave out extensive and fun packets was The Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building. Places like the White House Information Center have Rangers that run tours on the grounds at frequent intervals.

I was pleasantly surprised how full a trip we could have on such a small budget. To read more about our trip and glean more money savings tips and tricks for Washington, D.C., head over to my blog and check out my post, Tips & Tricks For Touring Washington, D.C. on a Budget.

About the author


Heidi lives in upstate New York where the winters are long & cold, but where she truly appreciates the lack of extreme weather such as tsunamis and hurricanes! Her house is filled up with her loving husband of 17 years, 3 busy children, & 2 dogs (Muffin & Oscar). Homeschooling started out as a trial run with a child beginning 2nd grade, & almost 9 years later has become a lifestyle which brings great joy. You can often find her behind her camera, or working something out in Photoshop. With 3 children homeschooling multiple ages is the norm in their house. You can find her writing at on her own blog, Starts At Eight where she often focuses on homeschooling high school, elementary unit studies, and books/reading.


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  • We made a huge trip around the country and spent one short day in Washington D. C. but it was ridiculously hot and we must have walked 100 miles. Afterwards I remembered my friend tell us to do the trolley – it would be worth it. Nice after thought. So we saved a lot of money but did not see much. I long to return and visit all the amazing things! Thanks for the tips

  • Washington D.C. hosts many lively festivals year round. Join in one the nation’s largest Independence Day celebrations on July 4. Each April film buffs from around the world enjoy the Washington DC International Film Festival. Music lovers gather every June for the DC Jazz Festival. The city also has a thriving theater scene. See a live stage show at The National Theatre, walking distance from the White House. The Shakespeare Theatre Company gives free performances throughout the year at the Sidney Harman Hall in Downtown D.C.

  • I was wondering if you could describe what types of foods were provided for the “light dinners” at your hotel there in Alexandria? We’re planning to go to the D.C. area for the first time this next school year, and it would be helpful to know more specifically what was provided in the evenings. Thanks!

    • Hi Julieanne,

      The foods were things like pasta and meatballs, baked macaroni and cheese, soup or stew, hamburgers & hot dogs. Nothing fancy but free and perfectly edible. They also had some wine, beer, and soda at this time that was free as well. The dinners are only Monday-Thursday.