Take Your Scout Troop to Washington DC
You Can Do It Cheap!
Destination: Washington DC With Your Troop!
We DID IT! We (my co-leader & I) took 8 Brownies to Washington DC and survived! I want to share some of the information I have gathered to help you plan a trip for your Girl Scout or Boy Scout troop trip to Washington DC.
I have been to Washington DC 4 times, the most recently on August, 2009. I have updated the photos in this lens with the photos from our most recent trip.
This information was designed to help Girl Scout & Boy Scout troops, but families can also use the information to create a unique experience for themselves!
Are you planning to visit Washington DC for the "Rock the Mall" event in June, 2012? There is probably something here for you!
Unless otherwise stated: All photos copyright GSLakeMom.
Why Should I Take My Troop to Washington DC?
Washington DC is a city full of things to see for ALL ages. And the best news - most of these things are FREE. Perfect for families, Scout troops and schools. The problem with the city is that many schools within driving distance send school children to the city at some time from 5th grade through middle school. So parents may say - why should I pay for 2 trips for my child to go to Washington DC?
So - your challenge as a Troop leader is to make it different from a school field trip they could take. You can make it unique by where you stay, how you get there, what you see/do while you are there and maybe do a service project (how about placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Solder?!). You can also have the troop experience something they may not experience as a school group - The DC Metro! This is a great way to get around Washington DC and a great experience for everyone! There are also some Girl Scout patches (and I'm sure Boy Scout as well) that can be earned while in Washington DC.
You can use a tour group to organize your tour. You can still tell them what attractions/monuments you want to go to. They will do ALL of the leg work for you. The cost will be similar to what it will cost for that child to go on the school trip and possibly offer a similar experience.
There is so much information on Washington DC on the Internet and there are so many FREE (all of the monuments!) things to do in the city that the only real costs are lodging, transportation and food. It is really simple to plan a 3 day trip to Washington DC!
Planing, Planning, and More Planning
When taking a group on a trip there is a lot of planning to do. You have to look at costs for a larger group and take into consideration what your council requires before you can take a big trip. Please submit all proper paperwork to your council before you get too far along on the planning process (before deposits are made!). Once you get their approval - full speed ahead!
- Transportation - how to get to Washington DC - cheap!
- Lodging - different places to stay that are reasonable for a group.
- Attractions/Memorials - This one is super easy in Washington DC!
- Dining - How to eat in Washington DC - cheap!
- Fund raising- Ideas to raise money to get to Washington DC
Transporation to Washington DC
There are many different ways to get to Washington DC. You could get all your parents to drive (making sure that everyone has the proper paperwork!) to the city. Then you have to worry about parking or making sure that everyone gets there and no one gets lost on the way.
You could rent a full-size van. (Check with your council for the proper procedures.) If your troop size is small enough this could be a viable option. There is the cost of renting a full-size van and gas to consider.
If you are working with a travel group, you will have the option of a tour bus. They can be very comfortable to travel in. They usually have DVD player to keep everyone occupied while traveling. They get to worry about parking, etc.
For those on the other side of the country, there is the option of taking an airplane. This could also be a new experience for the troop - a first airplane ride. Depending on your location will determine how cost effective this option is for you and your troop.
Another option (the one that we used!) is to take the train. This is an experience that many may not have had before so this may be something that makes it unique enough for some parents to feel better about 2 trips to Washington DC. We got a really great group rate price for the train! The travel time is similar to traveling by car or bus. We arrived at Union Station which is right in the middle of downtown Washington DC. The only "problem" with the train is that we had to take our suitcases and walk with our group to our lodging in the city. This could be a problem for some groups. Our troop were great little troopers! The walk took about 30 minutes. Everyone had rolling suitcases and backpacks to make it easy. The other troop that we traveled with got a taxi to take their luggage to the hostel. The cost was reasonable enough. If we had to do it again, on the day that we departed we would have taken the taxi to the train station. It was a warm day and the girls were tired from walking all day.
Train PhotosClick thumbnail to view full-size
Lodging in Washington DC
There are a lot of options for Troops when it comes to lodging (Girl Scout & Boy Scout troops are famous for their use of creativity for lodging!). You are only limited by your imagination (and budget!).
Your first option is a hotel room/suite. These can be costly, especially when you have a chaperone per room (please check with your council on proper procedures). If you are lucky to find suites (two rooms) you can put more than 2 or 3 children per room and you may be lucky to have a kitchen with your suite. This can make breakfast one of your cheapest meals on your trip.
Another option troops have used is a church facility. You can contact churches in the area to see if this is an option (or maybe your church has a sister church in Washington DC). This can be a very positive option for troops (sometimes this is free!). However, the troop will need to bring ALL sleeping gear (sleeping bags, etc.) with them. Depending on your mode of transportation - this could be cumbersome! Another concern is transportation in the city. Find out how far the church is from a DC Metro station. If it is close, you can take the metro into downtown (where most of the action is).
Girl Scout or Boy Scout campsites - You have campsite that you use in your council - did you know that you can use other council's campsites? The costs are very reasonable. However, the types of campsites vary from council to council. One council might have mattresses on beds and another council might have a tent - that you have to put up yourself. (You might also have limited bathroom facilities also!) Find out your options before you go. Transportation to the city can be a problem with a campsite. If you are driving, you can drive your group to an outlying DC Metro station and take the Metro to downtown.
Universities - During the summer, all those dormitories are vacant. Some of the local colleges and universities will rent out their spaces during the summer. Again, you will need to check on the chaperone situation, find out from the school all the information you can and then check with your council. The advantages could be the cost, there are real beds and full bathrooms and most of them will be convenient to Metro transportation.
Youth Hostels - These can be a very inexpensive route to take for a troop. They can be dormitory settings (think big room with bunk beds!) and shared bathroom facilities. So any traveler "rents" a bed for the night. You could be staying with a family from Ohio with your troop. Check with the facility and your council before proceeding for Safety concerns. Our group stayed in a hostel-type lodging. We are renting out the entire building for our stay (this is to conform to safety standards). The cost is approximately $30 per person which will include breakfast. The location was perfect - 3 blocks from the Capitol and 7 blocks from a Metro Station. The beds are bunk beds and there are limited bathrooms & shower facilities (4 bathrooms & 7 showers). The breakfast is a cold breakfast (toast, oatmeal and cereals) so if your group likes to eat a heartier breakfast, you may need to supplement! There is a great market (Eastern Market) that you pass on your way to the Metro station. It is recently re-opened and looked like it had a lot of great stuff. Our troop didn't have time to explore, but the troop that went with us did and enjoyed it!
The "Planned" Attractions/Memorials in Washington DC
WW II Memorial with Washington Monument in the Background.
I could not possibly cover ALL the attractions/memorials that are available in Washington DC. Every troop is different and should have a different experience. I will look at how we are going to make this trip unique and different from a school group trip.
Old Post Office vs. Washington Monument: The Washington Monument is THE monument that everyone can relate & associate with Washington DC. However, most school groups will probably go to the Washington Monument. AND if your troop does decide to go - tickets are required, but free. BUT you have to pick up the tickets early in the morning on the day you want to go up the monument. I believe there is something they will do for groups. We plan to go to the second highest point in Washington DC - the Old Post Office Clock Tower. The view from the tower is suppose to be spectacular - with the Washington Monument in the view!
Arlington Cemetery/Tomb of the Unknowns: Most tour groups will visit Arlington Cemetery. Many groups can request to place a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknowns. You have to send a letter to Arlington Cemetery directly to request this option. There is also the possibility that you could perform a flag ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns. How special and unique would this be?!
White House/Capital Tours: These have to be arranged with your local Congressman/woman. If your troop is small enough, maybe they could get a chance to visit your Senator/Congressman/woman's office and talk to them about their job.
Bureau of Engraving & Printing: Where the money gets printed! This tour seems to get forgotten by a lot of schools but could be very educational for your Scout troop (think badge tie ins!).
National Zoo: The National Zoo (part of the Smithsonian package) is off the beaten path but could be worth the visit. The DC Metro will take you directly to the zoo (no parking fee). There is no cost to get in. The park has many different animals to choose from. The newest part of the zoo - the Asian experience - is where the pandas are located. Our troop has gone to a different zoo every year - and we make it a point to see something unique at each zoo. We haven't seen pandas before so they are on our list to visit.
National Archives/Library of Congress: With the popularity of the National Treasures movies, the National Archives and the Library of Congress have become more interesting to our Scouts. Get them to watch the movie and try to prove or disprove some of the ideas from the movie.
Washington DC PhotosClick thumbnail to view full-size
Our "Actual" Attractions/Memorials in Washington DC
I believe that someone once said; the best laid plans of men...! I don't remember the rest of the quote, but I'm sure it must have gone something like this - best laid plans give you good ground work, but be prepared to throw something out!
My advice to Scout leaders (or families) is to plan BUT allow yourself to drop things if timing becomes an issue. One of our biggest mistakes was not allowing "walking" time between destinations. We had a fairly large group (15) and 15 people do not all walk at the same speed! We should have done a "Google" walking map to calculate time between destinations and then added 5 - 10 minutes!
Old Post Office or Washington Monument: We walked by both, but didn't go in either! In our final planning we decided that we would not have enough time to go to the Old Post Office. If we had to do it over again, I think we would have added the Old Post Office to our agenda. This would have been a good thing to do on the first day to give the troop a picture of the whole city - the city that they would be WALKING around for the next couple of days!
Arlington Cemetery/Tomb of the Unknown: Our final itinerary had us going to Arlington Cemetery and taking the Tourmobile of the Cemetery (cost $7 per person). Unfortunately we did not get a chance to do this. Due to timing issues (WALKING) we had to put it before the girls and let them choose between Arlington or American History Museum. They chose the American History Museum. If we had it to do over again - I would have set up the laying of the wreath (probably better for an older troop) and had more time set aside for this destination.
White House/Capitol Tours: As per the websites we went through our Congressman and Senators offices to inquire about White House and Capitol Tours. We did not get to go on a White House tour. With President Obama in the White House, I would recommend requesting tours at least a year in advance! There is a White House Visitor Center that we visited. We spent about 45 minutes there. There are some nice exhibits, the adults enjoyed them, the girls did not. There is an area in the center that has activities for children (puzzles, coloring pages, etc.) Then it is a short walk to the White House for a photo op outside.
We did secure a very easy tour of the Capitol through our Senators office. The tour is conducted by staff from the Senator's office. It is the same tour that the general public takes, but you avoid the long lines and larger crowds. Word of warning: the Capitol is VERY STRICT about what is allowed in the building. We were not allowed to take any containers (filled or empty) into the building and of course no food. Photography is allowed.
Bureau of Engraving and Printing: This one made it to the final itinerary and we actually made it to the tour (barely!)! Everyone enjoyed this tour. I thought the girls might be bored with it, but they were interested in the process. In the gift shop, anyone can stand next to a chart to gauge how much they are worth in shredded $100 bills (you're worth millions!).
National Zoo: This one also started and ended on our itinerary! However we picked a busy day (Saturday) and a hot one (even though we went in the morning!). We only went to see the Pandas but we were still there 2 hours (start to finish). The Panda house allowed you to see them up close and the outside environment enabled you to see them in their natural habitat. The Panda house was very crowded and it was difficult to keep up with 8 girls (even with 7 adults!). My advice would be if you are visiting the Zoo with your troop, do it on a weekday.
National Archives/Library of Congress: We did go to the National Archives, but I have a feeling it was not one of our troops favorite places. We did have a pass that allowed us to avoid the general entrance, but after that we were a part of the crowd. We stood in line 20 minutes to be able to get into the room to see the "famous" documents - Bill of Rights, Constitution, and Declaration of Independence. After that there was additional waiting to see the documents. Many of the girls grew tired of waiting and waited for the rest of the troop to finish. Many commented that the room didn't look the same as it did in the National Treasures movie. If we had it to do over again, we probably would eliminate the National Archives or wait until the girls are older to understand the significance of the documents. Photography was allowed, but no flash.
Memorials/Monuments: We planned to visit most of the memorials/monuments at night - when it was cooler. For most of the memorials/monuments this was a good choice. The crowds were less, the memorials and monuments look beautiful at night. Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, WWI Memorial and Jefferson Memorial are great places to visit at night. You can get some amazing photos of Lincoln at night and WWII Memorial was amazing! However some memorials loose something at night. We visited the Vietnam Memorial and the FDR Memorial at night. The Vietnam Memorial did not make the same impression as it does in the day light. The FDR Memorial was ok at night, but I believe it could have been better in the daytime.
Favorite Washington DC Attraction!
What is your favorite Washington DC Attraction/Monument/Memorial?
Dining in Washington DC
Finding something to eat could be the straw that breaks your budget - but it doesn't have to be! There are ways for your group to eat cheap!
Breakfast - Find a hotel that serves continental breakfast! Continental breakfasts run from pre-packaged muffins and dry cereal to scrambled eggs, Belgian waffles, sausage, gravy, etc. When you make your reservations at your hotel ask what is served for breakfast. If your group can survive on muffins and cereal, go for the muffin hotel! If not, choose the scrambled egg hotel! You could also select a hotel that has kitchenettes - then you can buy/cook your own breakfast in the morning.
Lunch - At first, lunch might seem overwhelming. There is a McDonald's at the Air & Space Museum, but it's not your neighborhood McDonald's! The prices are a little higher! The Smithsonian Museums offer many different dining packages that are very reasonable. The lunch options range from $5.25 (Happy Meal) to $16.00 at the Museum of the American Indian. You can also get lunch vouchers for the Old Post Office and Union Station. There are a variety of types of food at either of these locations. We had vouchers for two different meals at Union Station.
Dinner - Here is where you can afford to spend a little more money. Treat the group to a night at Hard Rock Cafe or Pentagon City Mall or Legal Seafood. All of these will offer unique experiences for your troop. Some may offer group rates and/or a private dining room. Our group had dinner two night while in Washington DC. The first night we went to Ben's Chili Bowl. It was a great experience for the girls. Ben's has been in the same location for over 50 years. It is famous for it's hot dogs and for the people who have visited. It is worth a stop. For our second dinner we went to Hard Rock Cafe. The girls had a great time, but for the money, it may not have been the best option. The food was good, but nothing special.
Fund Raising for the Trip!
Your fund raising options are limitless! Of course you will probably need to start with your council sponsored fund raising item (GS cookies!) to be able to do additional fund raising. Please follow proper council procedures before proceeding with any extra fund raising.
Your local major department stores may have a Charity Day event where your non-profit sells "tickets" for the department store sale and you keep that portion of the money and possibly any additional money Car washes or yard sales can also be a big money maker for your Scout troop.
Summary - Have Fun!
This is all about your Scout troop and having a great time in a new location. Remember to review with your troop following the trip how everything went. What was their favorite site? Food? Activity? What would they do differently? It is all a learning adventure - just don't forget the adventure part!
When we returned we reviewed the trip with the troop. If we had to do it again, we would add an extra day and not do so much the first night (early to bed!). This would have given us a little more breathing room to enjoy the places we went instead of feeling like we were rushing from one activity to the next.