My recent trip to D.C. was quite budget friendly! I’d heard D.C. was one of the most expensive cities in the world to visit but I was prepared to keep my costs down. Here are my top 4 ways to do D.C. on a budget. Affiliate links are included in this piece and I may receive a commission if you click or purchase anything from the retailer.
First, create a budget for your trip. You should know your fixed costs before you arrive then estimate how much you’ll spend on unknown factors. For instance, your housing and transportation to D.C. should be a fixed cost but you may have to guess at how much you’ll spend on food and fun.
My transportation costs were a mixture of fixed and approximate. I used airline points for my ticket to D.C. and then had access to a WMATA card to get around the city. The card had $10.00 on it when I received it and I loaded another $10.00 on it daily.
One way to keep your air transportation to D.C. down is to use an aggregator to shop for flights. WayAway (AD) is such an aggregator and a great option to search for flights. All search options should be on the table thanks to the current excessive costs of flights!! Although I didn’t use WayAway on this trip, I have used subscription-based aggregators pre-Covid to find flights.
I did have one unexpected transportation cost when I had to use a ride-share to get to the Virginia suburbs. I always compare the costs between Uber and Lyft and choose the one that is cheapest.
My D.C. housing costs were $ZERO because I stayed with friends, but I love a great hostel or AirBNB when I travel. My unbreakable hostel rule is I DO NOT SHARE A ROOM AND REQUIRE MY OWN BATHROOM. I have never had a problem finding a hostel that met my requirements. I would stay in a dorm if I knew everyone in the room, as in, it was a group trip. I haven’t had the opportunity to stay in hostels (AD) in the United States, but D.C. has several on hand. HostelWorld not only lists hostels but now includes budget-friendly hotels. Take a look at if if you’re the #HotelMotelHolidayInn type.
It’s possible that I will return to D.C. and need to spend at least part of the time in paid housing so I’ll use HostelWorld (AD) and will also use WayAway’s (AD) cash back program. I believe in using all of the tools to create my budget-friendly trips!
My food budget is always estimated mostly thanks to my IBS. I avoid gluten, dairy, garlic, and am mostly vegetarian. I did choose some restaurants that seemed diet-friendly and decided what I would eat and therefore knew what it would cost. I didn’t consider how hot D.C. would get and I would actually need to eat more food than I usually do.
Budget-friendly food options include the food trucks parked along the National Mall, the USDA Farmers Market (where I enjoyed some wonderful gelato), and purchasing food from a local grocery store. I used to travel with food I knew would not cause an IBS flare-up but I have managed my condition really well and don’t HAVE to do that anymore. I still bring a few RXBARs (AD) to ensure I have something to eat if I’m away from a kitchen for too long.
My fun budget is probably more important to me than my food budget. I am going to have a good time when I travel and am prepared to pay the cost of that good time. I knew I would be visiting as many of the Smithsonians as I could and the admission to them is free. Now, they do accept donations so keep that in mind. I’d also planned to visit the Frederick Douglass house but it was closed, the Air and Space Museum, it was closed, and the Spy Museum at $29.95 but I became ill from the heat the day before and had to have a lie-in.
I did purchase tickets to the presidential plantations of Monticello, Mount Vernon, and Montpelier and there was a bit of a discount because they were purchased online. Montpelier was a last-minute decision and although I had not budgeted explicitly for it, I hadn’t spent much money at all so it fit within my budget.
An unexpectedly fun thing I did was ride the Capital Wheel and that $15.00 was worth every penny! They offer several packages that include photos, sodas, and souvenirs but I opted out of those. The BEST things about the Capital Wheel were the views, the air-conditioning, and the PRIVATE GONDOLA!!
Those are my top 4 ways to do D.C. on a budget. I’ll continue to update this post as I discover new methods to make the city financially welcoming to everyone. Do you budget for your trips or do you wing it? Do you have any suggestions or insider secrets for visiting The District? Tell me everything!