Washington, D.C. is a hub for political, nonprofit and business activity. It’s also a well-loved destination for tourists – as well as the host of business meetings and conferences, large and small.
As a long-time D.C. resident, I know the experience of visiting Washington can be confusing and exhausting, not to mention expensive. So, to you – the out-of-town TransparencyCamp 2014 visitor – I want to share some tips to make your visit as enjoyable, productive and inexpensive as possible. But double-check the decisions you make; we offer these suggestions without warranty and with the understanding that there are many good ways to visit Washington.
Assuming you don’t already have a place to crash, your first decision – after registering for TransparencyCamp and making transportation plans – is finding a place to stay.
TCamp will take place George Mason University Arlington Campus at 3301 Fairfax Drive, Arlington, Virginia – almost exactly halfway between (and a generally easy walk from) the Clarendon and Virginia Square Metro (subway) stations, on the Orange line.
There are not many hotels near the venue, though the Highlander Motel is a walkable and inexpensive option. For the best variety of lodging with easy Metro access to the venue, scout out:
- Rosslyn (home of the Key Bridge Marriott and the Holiday Inn Rosslyn at Key Bridge), or
- Crystal City (see hotels for the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport) for hotels.
Last year’s venue was on the Orange line too, so if you stayed in a desirable hotel then, you might consider it again and – like most Sunlighters – commute out to TCamp.
Getting from the airport, train or bus station
Metro Washington is served by three airports, a major rail station and a variety of intercity bus (coach) lines.
The nearest airport, with mostly short- and medium-distance flight, is Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). It has its own subway station, and the Blue line connects to the Orange line at Rosslyn station so you can easily get to TransparencyCamp.
Long-distance, overseas and discounted flights are more likely to arrive at Dulles International Airport (IAD) or Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI).
Options for getting from IAD are outlined here, but when I go there myself, I choose the cheapest option: the $6 (exact cash or SmarTrip card) 5A Metrobus to and from Rosslyn. If you have much more than a carry-on bag, or arrive during the morning rush hour, you might try the Washington Flyer Coach Service which costs $10 and connects to the West Falls Church Metrorail station (Orange line) to continue to TCamp, or further for the District of Columbia.
Options from BWI are a bit more complex. One way is to take the Penn Line MARC commuter train to Washington Union Station, and then connect to Metro: Red line to Orange. BWI provides a connecting, free shuttle bus to the train station. Buy a ticket ($6) from a machine in the station and cross the overhead bridge to the far platform for D.C.-bound trains. See the inbound timetable here; and the returns here.
Since the last TransparencyCamp, the MARC Penn Line trains run on the weekends, but infrequently, should you return on Sunday. While many mainline Amtrak trains call at the BWI Rail Station, ticket prices are much higher, particularly for the high-speed Acela service. Be warned: There is no overnight service.
Cabs from IAD and BWI airports are available, but expensive.
Intercity rail (Amtrak) and some intercity buses disembark at Union Station with easy connections to Metro. Megabus (in particular) can offer shockingly inexpensive travel from many large cities and college town in the eastern third of the United States and Canada, if you can take the long ride and if you book far enough in advance.
Navigating public transportation
TCamp will be held at George Mason University Arlington Campus between the Virginia Square (slightly closer) and Clarendon Metro stations.
Recent changes to Metro system means that (except for the 5A and B30 airport buses, for which there is no surcharge) cash fares cost more than using a rechargeable SmarTrip card.
SmarTrip cards cost $10: $2 for the card, plus $8 fare. Since there is a $1 surcharge each time you ride Metrorail without one, it would pay for itself in one metro round trip. It may be filled with a credit or debit card in subway stations and some stores (and there’s a value to not having to fiddle with change or small bills). You can buy SmartTrip cards at any Metrorail station, plus area stores like CVS.
Washington’s bike-sharing service Capital Bikeshare is a good option for short-term biking. It has 24-hour and 3-day memberships, but you will need a credit or debit card to use it.
Identifying special needs for food
Washington and vicinity has a rich array of dining options at different price points.
Kosher dining, however, is particularly hard to come by, with no known options in northern Virginia and few options in the District of Columbia. Halal food is somewhat easier to find in the general area, particularly in the region’s many Afghan and Persian restaurants.
Vegetarian and vegan diners will have a comparatively easier time, even in non-vegetarian restaurants. We will also provide a vegan option for lunch each day at TransparencyCamp. For dinner, consider Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurants, a staple of the Washington restaurant scene that almost always have well-developed vegan options. For a list of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, see VegDC.org.
Finding other services
Foreign visitors can find a list of Washington embassies here.
Unfortunately, call shops, known worldwide for cheap international telephone service, are unknown in Washington.