Not too long into our adventures on the east coast of America we hit a rather large, ugly obstacle. Budget. Yes, we quickly realised that moving around and staying in any of the eastern states would come at a huge cost, something that didn’t work well with our budget of $30 a day. A bed and breakfast in Washington DC would cost us our whole budget alone, per night, and hostels were out of the question since I was 5 days away from turning 18. Not mentioning New York, a state which we knew we would have to sleep over in for at least 2 nights to make the most of it. So to make things work and keep our budgets in order we ditched 2 hostel mattresses and replaced them with bus seats for 2 nights.
Welcome to Washington!
We took a Megabus from Philly at 10pm and arrived in the capital no later than 2:30am, before grabbing a quick snack from McDonald’s and heading out into the warm night to start exploring. Our day (or night) went like this.
3am: Nothing is open at this time, surprisingly. But we walked out of Union Station and headed directly for the Capitol Building straight in-front of us. Lit up in all it’s glory, it was actually a decent sight. Although it was dressed in scaffolding at the time, this building definitely looked better by night.
4am: Walking in a straight line heading North we passed through the Smithsonian and all it’s museums (Night at The Museum was all too real when we passed by the Museum of Natural History) and ended up at the Washington Monument. Yes, it is exactly what it looks like: A big stick in the middle of a grass field. BUT, you can actually ride an elevator to the top of this ‘stick’ for free if you line up early enough. No problems for us here.
6am: If we weren’t backpackers before this, then we definitely are now. We slept on a park bench in front of the White House. I guess as strong as you think you are, sleep deprivation will always get the better of you.
8am: After a quick breakfast at Starbucks, we raced back to the Monument to secure our tickets to the top. This is definitely a must do in Washington, if you can get up early enough (7am) to line up at the ticket booth. The views of Washington from 500ft up are fairly spectacular, although the windows are small and it gets fairly tight up top with the amount of people the squeeze up there.
10am: As the title suggests, on this day we took many steps. We walked back to the Smithsonian and began our self guided tours of the Museums. First stop, the Museum of Natural History. If you’re into evolution and seeing models of animals standing behind glass barriers, then this place is for you. Me? Not so much. I enjoyed the Aerospace museum as much as my tired, swollen feet would let me, and for all the aviation freaks out there, this place is definitely for you.
2pm: Probably the best museum we explored was the National Archives. In here you can see original copies of America’s historical documents, such as the Declaration of Independence. *Tip: The line to see this Declaration of Independence is always crazy, so come at about 4pm half an hour before the museum closes to get the end of the line. We even got a great security guard who explained the history of it all.
5pm: 35,000 steps into this crazy day trip our feet were just about falling off. We planned to check out the National Art Gallery, but since it was closed by the time we got there we decided to check out the Sculpture Garden instead, where we also found a very inviting fountain that you can rest your feet in. And fall asleep at.
7pm: If you want a cheap dinner in Washington, make sure you catch the food courts before they close! We had a quick burrito before making our final journey on foot to the Lincoln Memorial. This place was far too crowded, which made it even more surprising when Jessie bumped into her old school teacher! Completely unexpectedly, they exchanged stories of their lives since they last met and then we headed back to the Union Station to catch our Megabus back to Philly. *Pro tip: If you ever walk as much as we did, switched from sneakers to flip-flops twice and your feet are still killing you, try going barefoot. The cold evening grass on your bare feet is more amazing than you might think. Maybe I was just overcome with tiredness.
All in all, 53,453 steps were taken over a 30.4km distance in the space of 20 hours. Washington should definitely be done, and as much as I couldn’t help but think the Smithsonian area was built for tourism, the city and memorials gives a completely different, genuine experience of the capital.