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Tag Archive: Frugal Road Trip Ideas

East Coast Road Trip: Old Town Alexandria & Downtown D.C.

Welcome to my 14-day series on our East Coast Road Trip where I share our adventures along the way, how we’re doing this on a budget, honest reviews of attractions & restaurants we visit, and money-saving tips and ideas. If you missed it, read Day 1 here and Day 2 here.

Day 3 was a day full of lots and lots and lots of walking! I decided to skip my morning workouts on the days where I know we’ll be walking a TON because I figure I will be getting plenty of exercise! 🙂

Silas wanted to go on a morning walk with me, so we started the day by exploring Old Town Alexandria. It’s such an adorable area with so many cute shops, yummy looking restaurants, and just old town flair!

We found Payne Street so of course we had to take a picture! 🙂

We stayed a few blocks from the King St. Metro in Alexandria so that we could park our car in the gated parking garage the hotel had (we had to pay $20 per day for this, but it was worth it to not have to worry about our car getting broken into, etc.) and then take the metro into D.C.

This worked out really well and meant that we could easily get around the city, but didn’t have to mess with driving in the traffic or finding places to park.

The International Spy Museum

Our first D.C. stop was the International Spy Museum. This was on our must-do list and, despite the long lines and crowds, it didn’t disappoint.

The kids had been here before with Jesse (when I was in South Africa) and had long talked about coming back so I could experience it.

A few things we learned:

  • It’s really crowded in the D.C. area around the 4th of July. And the Spy Museum was a hot attraction… which meant that there was a long line waiting out the door when we got there. You can book your tickets online and by-pass this line.
  • However, we got our tickets free from a 5-attraction Washington, D.C. Explorer Pass we purchased with credit on Groupon. Even though we had these tickets, we still had to stand in line.
  • Tickets are regularly priced at $21.95 for adults and $14.95 for kids (ages 7-11). Children 6 and under are free. If you are planning to do multiple things in D.C., I’d highly recommend checking out the D.C. Explorer Pass. Even if we hadn’t gotten it free with credit from Groupon, it would have saved us quite a bit of money.
  • You can bring food and drink into the museum, you just can’t eat or drink in the museum. For those who have babies and toddlers, note that you can’t bring strollers into the museum, but you can check them at the coat check area.

When you first enter the museum, you choose a cover identity and then you keep that identity throughout the whole museum. They have a few different kiosks where they ask you questions about your identity to see how well you’d do at remembering facts and dates as a spy.

The museum is not as interactive as I expected and I think it’s geared for older kids and adults. Our kids really enjoyed it, but they also are obsessed with spy stuff and history. I wouldn’t recommend it if your kids are younger (say 8 years or younger) or if they aren’t really interested in spies/history.

The museum covers a lot of ground: the history of spies through the ages, spies in different wars, cool spy equipment through the ages, James Bond, information and displays on what it takes to be a spy, and a large section on spies in World War II.

My favorite exhibit, by far, was Spies Among Us which traces the impact that deception and spies played in the success of D-Day and the atomic bomb.

One of the other cool things about the museum is that it has the “largest collection of international espionage artifacts ever placed on public display. Spanning the history of espionage around the globe, many of these artifacts have never before been seen by the public.” Read more here.


CitySights Double-Decker Bus Night Tour

After we left the Spy Museum, we walked for blocks and blocks to get to Union Station where we got our tickets for the CitySights Double-Decker Bus Night Tour.

We got these tickets with our D.C. Explorer Pass, but you can also purchase tickets for the bus tour only from Groupon (it’s cheaper to get the 3-attraction or 5-attraction Explorer Pass, if you’re planning to use that, but it’s still quite a bit less to buy the Groupon for the bus tour only than to get it from CitySights).

There was a LONG line of people going on the bus tours, but they were able to accommodate everyone and their staff was very friendly and helpful.

We loved this tour and would definitely recommend it. Not only was our guide incredibly knowledgeable, you could tell he absolutely loved his job and loved inspiring others and sharing interesting stories.

The bus tour was around 3 hours long, with a stop about 2 hours in at the FDR Memorial/Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and Iwo Jima Memorial.

The weather was perfect, the sky was stunning, and I got all sorts of amazingly beautiful pictures. It was really fun to get to have such a great view of so many of the historic sites in the DC area — and to get to see so many of them in such a short timeframe!

We finally made it back to our hotel at 11 pm. Day 3 of our 14-day road trip was a success!

Book I finished today: Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents (I know it’s a heavy title; I’m reading some books on this trip to help me as I walk with one of my kids who is struggling and am trying to think through what I can do now to help prevent issues down the road.)

East Coast Road Trip: Blacksburg, VA to Alexandria, VA (Frugal Family Fun)

Welcome to my 14-day series on our East Coast Road Trip where I share our adventures along the way, how we’re doing this on a budget, honest reviews of attractions & restaurants we visit, and money-saving tips and ideas. If you missed it, read Day 1 here.

We started Day 2 of our East Coast Road Trip in Blacksburg, VA and ended it in Alexandria, VA. It is SO beautiful in this state! I just can’t get over it!

Using Groupon to Save On Our Vacation

A few years ago, I used to post a lot of Groupon deals here with my referral link (which meant that I would earn referral credit every time someone purchased a deal).

Back in the beginning, Groupon had some really, really fantastic deals and, as a result, we collected a lot of Groupon referral credit. We used it to buy a number of Groupons and then, all of a sudden, the credit stopped working.

In fact, we just plain couldn’t order anything from Groupon at all with our account. It would try to place the order, it would spool forever on the order page, and then it would time out.

I contacted Groupon multiple times and they couldn’t help me. I figured they had just flagged our account because I had maxed out the referral credit (sadly, this has happened multiple times in the past with other companies and I have had thousands of dollars in honestly-earned referral credit taken away just because they said that too many people redeemed a deal through my blog).

As a result, we stopped ordering from Groupon (since our account wouldn’t work) and I kind of forgot about it and about the few thousand dollars in credit I still had on Groupon. And life went on.

But recently, I was on Groupon again and decided to try using the credit again and it WORKED! This was right when we were in the middle of planing our 14-Day Road Trip and it couldn’t have been more perfect timing!

So you’ll see that we are using Groupon for most of our deals on this trip — because not only does it mean we get in at a discount, but since we are buying the Groupons with referral credit, it actually means we’re technically getting in for FREE!

Before we head to a new area, I’m searching on Groupon to see what deals they have available. You have to look closely at the fine print because many area only good for two people or are only good during certain dates.

I’m specifically looking for places that will allow us to buy five passes and that will allow us to use them in one order. This narrows down the possibilities, but so far, there are still some great options that we’re finding!

The Smithfield Plantation House

The Smithfield Plantation House was one such option we found on Groupon. It’s usually $8 per ticket, but we bought the Groupon to get admission for 6 for just $18 (they were running a special to get an additional $6 off tickets through July 6, 2017).

We loved the tour. It was just an hour long, but I couldn’t believe how up close and personal they let you get with everything in the house — including furnishings that were really old and valuable.

Our guide was really fantastic and made the tour so interesting. You could tell she absolutely loves bringing history alive to people!

The grounds were so beautiful and peaceful and it was amazing to hear how much history went down right in this house and area. Our whole family enjoyed this tour and would recommend it — especially if you love American History like we do!

Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea

We left the Plantation with our sites set on making it to Alexandria. However, we only made it as far as Salem, VA before we were all really hungry. We decided to stop in Salem, VA and look for a local coffee shop.

So I googled “coffee shops” and we found this gem: Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea. We instantly fell in love! It was adorable, the food was really good, and the service was excellent.

(One downside: the bathrooms weren’t very clean. I’m not sure if they’d just had a rush of customers that morning or if the bathrooms usually aren’t very clean.)

The Rest of the Day

We then headed to Purcellville, VA to stop by Patrick Henry College, where Jesse went for one year before he moved back home to marry me. What memories!

We didn’t get out and walk around because it was getting late, but it was fun to show our kids the area where Jesse lived for awhile and to reminisce about when I came to visit him there with my dad and brother (my first time to go to DC!)

It was such a good day and we enjoyed so much laughter together, there was very little arguing, and I’m so glad we decided to go on this Two-Week East Coast Road Trip.

Books finished today: The Upstairs Room (read aloud to the kids, we really enjoyed it, but I had to edit out some crass language) and Design Your Day (great, quick read).

To be continued…

Want to follow along with our trip in real-time? Follow my personal Instagram account here where I’ll be sharing a daily recap + videos and photos via Instagram Stories.

Frugal Road Trip Idea: National Museum of the United States Air Force

Frugal Family Fun: National Museum of United States Air Force

A few weeks ago, we drove to Ohio for an ice-skating competition that Kaitlynn was competing in. Jesse had asked me if we could drive down a day early because he’d heard about this museum in Dayton called the National Museum of the US Air Force that he wanted to check out.

I told Jesse that would work for us to go a day early but I didn’t know whether I’d be able to go since I might be so backlogged on work and projects that I’d need to stay at the hotel. {My full-time assistant was completely offline that week on a hiking trip and one of my other part-time assistants had a baby. So I was in over my head trying to do my normal tasks and projects, blog, and take care of a multitude of extra responsibilities.}

I didn’t want to have to miss out on the museum and time with the family but the reality of having your own business is that there are many blessings and a lot of flexibility, but there are the occasional drawbacks — like weeks when you have to pull double shifts!

Jesse was very understanding as we’d known this very, very busy two week period was coming and I was already having to shift a lot of things around in order to be completely present for Kaitlynn at her competition.Frugal Family Fun: National Museum of United States Air Force

Because I didn’t even think I’d probably get to go to the museum, I didn’t research it at all. In all honesty, what Jesse had told me (“It’s a museum about the USAF and there are a lot of planes.”) didn’t sound all that exciting or interesting. I’m not much of a museum person if it’s just planes or old historical artifacts, so I doubted I would miss much.

However, I really, really wanted to get to go to the museum just to have that fun memory with the kids and Jesse — even if the museum was going to be really boring to me. So I worked late in the evening the night before and was able to get everything done so I could take the afternoon and evening off.

I had asked Jesse that morning, “So how long do you think we’ll be there?” He responded, “I can’t imagine much more than a few hours.” We decided to get to the museum around 1 p.m. since it closed at 5 p.m. and that would give us four hours there. We figured that should be ample time.

Then we pulled up to the museum and realized it was more like a MUSEUM COMPLEX than a museum. In fact, there were four huge buildings and lots and lots of cars and people.

Oops. Apparently it wasn’t the little plane hangar we had envisioned!

Frugal Family Fun: National Museum of United States Air Force

FREE Admission!!

We found a parking spot, trekked inside, and went to buy our tickets to the museum. With how big and nice it looked, I was now concerned that the price of admission was going to be much more than we were expecting. My guess was something like $20-$30 per person. And I was kicking myself that we were only going to be there for four hours if we were going to pay that kind of money to get in.

Imagine our surprise when the guy at the information desk said, “Oh, there’s no admission price. It’s FREE!”

FREE??!! Jesse and I looked at each other and realized that things were off to a good start!

Then, we looked at the map and saw more about what the museum was about. Yes, there were lots and lots and lots of plane, but I was so surprised to see that they had a whole, huge section dedicated to World War II.

If you don’t know, I’m a huge World War II buff. I’ve read countless books and am fascinated by anything to do with that period in history.

FREE + World War II? You better believe I was happy that I came!!

Note: There is a charge for the Air Force Museum Theatre and flight simulators, if you want to do those. Otherwise, everything else is entirely free!

Frugal Family Fun: National Museum of United States Air Force

The Exhibits

Early Years Gallery — The museum started with a history of flight and how planes used in wars in the early days. It was really interesting to see how quickly technology had advanced in such a short amount of time. It was also hard to imagine how scary it must have been to fly some of the early models of planes — especially during the wars.

Korean War GallerySoutheast Asia War GalleryCold War Gallery — We ended up having to skip these exhibits because we didn’t have enough time, but we would have LOVED to have go through these. The little that we saw of them looked amazing and we all agreed wholeheartedly that we wished we had had two days to explore all the exhibits!

Frugal Family Fun: National Museum of United States Air Force

World War II Gallery — We all absolutely loved this exhibit. It was incredibly interesting, very well done, and very informative. And even though I’ve studied and read so much about World War II, I still learned a lot.

We found the section about downed pilots who escaped enemy territory without being caught to be riveting. They showed different methods and means that these pilots used to travel through enemy territory to safety. There were also lots of intriguing facts about prisoners of war and prisoners who escaped.

There was a traveling exhibit dedicated to the Holocaust that was really touching — especially for our kids. For them to see photos and footage of what happened during the Holocaust impacted them in a pretty powerful way.

Frugal Family Fun: National Museum of United States Air ForceFrugal Family Fun: National Museum of United States Air Force

Missile Gallery — This was pretty amazing! To see a sort of real-life Missile Silo and to be standing next to the missiles felt surreal.

Space Gallery — We loved getting to walk inside a full-size representation of a NASA space shuttle payload bay and look inside the CCT-1 cockpit and mid-deck areas. We were shocked at how small the area was for the crew. I can’t fathom being holed up in such a small area for a week or so on a mission with multiple other people!

Frugal Family Fun: National Museum of United States Air Force

Presidential Gallery — Even though we loved the World War II gallery and the other galleries, our excitement was through the roof when we got to the Presidential Gallery. Why? Because we got to walk inside and tour the presidential planes used by Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower as well as the Boeing VC-137C 26000, which was used by eight presidents — Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton!

It was kind of overwhelming to be in the plane that carried John F. Kennedy’s body after he was shot and to think of how we were walking in planes that had carried such high-ranking people who have impacted our country so profoundly. We were pretty much all in awe — even though it was the end of the day and we’d done a lot of walking!
Frugal Family Fun: National Museum of United States Air Force

Frugal Family Fun: National Museum of United States Air Force
Frugal Family Fun: National Museum of United States Air Force

FREE Daily Tours

While I think there’s so much you can learn just by going through the museum yourself, you can learn even more with their numerous tour options. And did I mention all of these are FREE?

Daily Guided Tours — The museum offers free guided tours of the museum daily. These last approximately one hour and 30 minutes. Advance registration is not necessary. Find out more here. 

Self-Guided Tours — You can explore U.S. Air Force history by listening to these podcasts on your computer, in your car, or while walking around the museum galleries! The self-guided audio tours feature specific topics in U.S. Air Force history as they are highlighted throughout the museum’s exhibits. You can download the podcasts before visiting the museum. Find out more here.

Behind-the-Scenes Tours — Behind the Scenes Tours are regularly scheduled, free guided tours of the museum’s restoration area. Participants are shuttled to the restoration hangars, located about one mile from the main museum complex. Tours are offered every Friday (some exceptions) at 12:15 p.m. Advance registration is required. Find out more here.

Frugal Family Fun: National Museum of United States Air Force

Tips For Making the Most of Your Museum Visit

Pack a picnic lunch — You cannot bring outside food or drink inside the museum. You also cannot eat or drink except in designated areas in the museum — such as in the restaurant areas. From what we saw, they were quite strict with these rules.

However, you could definitely pack snacks, drinks, and a picnic lunch and go out to your car to eat it. I didn’t see any picnic tables, but there was a lot of space outside where you could spread out a blanket and have a picnic.

Note: The food at the restaurants was quite expensive from what I saw (you can see some of the prices here). I kind of felt like they had it priced like they did to help cover some of the museum costs. 🙂

Bring a stroller — If you have younger kids, bring a stroller. Even if your youngest is 5 or 6, they will likely tire from all of the walking and it would be easier to push them around so their legs could rest for awhile. Almost the entire museum is stroller-friendly.

Be prepared for lots of walking — Like I alluded to, it’s a HUGE museum with four separate buildings. Wear comfortable shoes and plan to do lots and lots of walking. There are some places where you can sit down and watch various movies about an exhibit, but there weren’t a lot of comfortable places to sit and rest your legs that I saw.

If you needed to take a break, though, you could go sit in the cafe area. You wouldn’t need to purchase anything to sit there and when we were there, it was pretty deserted (however, we were also in there around 3:30 p.m. — so we probably missed the lunch crowds).

Bring your camera — There are no restrictions on taking pictures and, believe me, you will want to take lots of pictures. Or at least I sure did! 🙂

Spend some time researching the museum’s website I wish I had done this! The museum’s website is very comprehensive and detailed and will give you lots of helpful advice to make the most of your visit. I’d also recommend deciding ahead of time which areas you want to spend the most time at. You can’t do it all, so going into it knowing your priority areas will help make sure you actually make time to hit those!

Plan to stay the whole day — We wish we had planned to stay the whole day! There is so much to see and do and we want to go back! If we did it again, we’d plan to go through two buildings, then go back to the car and get some lunch and have a picnic, then come back in and go through the next two buildings.

I think it would take a good 6-8 hours to go through all of the exhibits at a non-rushed pace. This wouldn’t allow us to stop at read all the signs, by any means, but I think 6-8 hours would be enough time to make it through everything and spend some extra time in those areas where your family is most interested.

The museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. The museum is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Frugal Road Trip Idea: National Museum of the United States Air Force

More Road Trip Links:

Have any Frugal Road Trip Ideas for our family to explore next?

I’d love to hear! I’m hoping to share more detailed review posts like this of attractions and museums that I think you all might be interested in so leave a comment or shoot me an email if you have a suggestion for other great frugal attractions or museums you think our family should visit!