Planning: Normally I do a lot of research and planning before I travel. However, I try to build in some flexibility so that we aren’t over scheduled or lose the opportunity for unplanned discoveries along the way. It’s definitely a balance. Knowing the best place for parking ahead of time instead of driving in circles for 30 minutes can be invaluable when you want to get the most out of your day.
One of the things I discovered while researching our East Coast trip is that we could fly into Washington DC and fly out of New York City for about the same price as a round trip flight from the same location. So that influenced how our trip played out as you will discover as you read the rest of this post.
Washington DC: We were fortunate to have family members that live in Virginia and welcomed us into their home for this part of our trip. This helped our hotel budget a ton and we loved getting advice on our daily plan from “locals”. Almost everyone had given us the advice of not trying to see “everything”. You can’t. So we made a list of our family’s top picks and made sure those activities were fulfilled.
October is a fantastic time of year to go. It’s not crowded at all because school trips are usually scheduled in the Spring and family trips are usually in the Summer. The weather is nice, not too hot or cold.
Day 1: The American History Museum. We all loved it. Nothing like seeing tangible items that you’ve heard or read about all your life… Thomas Edison’s lightbulb, George Washington’s personal telescope used during the Revolutionary War, the orginal Star Spangled Banner, even the Ruby Slippers from Wizard of Oz. My favorite of the museums.
Our Self-Guided tour of the Monuments: Washington Monument, World War II, VietNam Memorial, Lincoln Memorial. Why is Ryan on the ground? He wanted to look at the Washington Monument from that perspective. I would have never thought to look at it that way – pretty cool.
The VietNam Memorial was particularly moving since my dad was a Marine in the VietNam War. We wanted to find my dad’s best friend, Patrick Hoppe. I even have the honor of being named after him. (My middle name is Patricia) After searching for awhile we finally did an internet search and discovered we were standing right in front of the block where his name is engraved.
We ended our walk playing on the lawn, enjoying the sunset view, and resting our feet after walking over 7 miles.
Day 2: Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Because of the time of year, we were able to walk in without getting tickets ahead of time. It’s a short tour where you get to see how money is made. Since I love paper and printing I found it particularly amazing and the rest of the family loved it because… it’s money!
The Natural History Museum. Great for younger children! Every animal you can think of – and some you never knew existed.
Natalie saved up some of her own money to do the Butterfly exhibit which you have to pay a small fee to experience. She loved it. Butterflies land on you!
Our favorite activity of Washington DC was the Monuments at Night Bike Tour. (If everyone in your party is over 16 you can do the Segway version of the tour.) We were able to see some of the memorials we didn’t see in the day – including the Jefferson Memorial, the Martin Luther King memorial, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Even the memorials we had already seen during the day, are completely different at night. The guide gave us interesting and entertaining information. And our evening became even more exciting when it began pouring rain (the only rain of our whole trip). Ponchos are included so we just continued on our tour and it was awesome.
Day 3. In the morning we split up and the girls went to the National Art Gallery and the boys went to the Air & Space Museum. For the Art Gallery – have a plan. Choose specific artists or type of work/time periods you want to see and go to those sections. You’ll feel more rewarded and less overwhelmed.
One of the great things about our experience is that our children have a more personal connection with what they are learning in school. Right after we got home, Natalie was learning about Van Gogh in school. I reminded her that she had seen several Van Gogh paintings in person! We even printed out some photos including the one on the right in front of a Van Gogh and she brought them to school to share her experience with the class.
The National Archives: You can’t take any photos here. It was pretty amazing to see the documents that changed America’s History face to face like The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Our last morning in DC we had a tour of the Capitol scheduled with our Congressman. The tour was filled with little tidbits of interesting facts and the drama of how everything all works. Plus because it’s a private tour, you can ask questions about anything that comes to mind, which can’t really happen in a large group with headphones.
After our Captiol tour we started our road trip to Philadelphia.
Philadelphia: We didn’t have a lot of time, but we were able to make the last tour of Independence Hall. There is a reverence in that building that you can just feel. After a few sites and a Philly cheese steak dinner we stayed at a hotel in New Jersey.
New York City: The next morning we finished our drive to NYC. We turned in our rental car in favor of walking and subway travel. Hotels are expensive and not conducive to a family of seven. Our best bet was finding a great deal on Priceline and getting two rooms with double beds. If we were staying more than 2 nights we’d probably go with another plan. With only 2 and a half days for NYC we had to pack it in.
We were able to go on a bike ride through Central Park, hang out in Times Square, see the Statue of Liberty (from afar), visit the 9-11 memorial, and we splurged on tickets to a play on Broadway. We saw Cinderella!
Traveling with a big family has it’s challenges, but we had so much fun learning and experiencing new places together. We made lifelong memories! If you have any travel ideas or tips for traveling with a big family – please share!