Although summer is the busiest travel season and most accommodation rates are at their peak, there still is a way to enjoy an affordable and fun-filled weekend getaway without breaking the bank or becoming one of the many throngs of travelers stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic!
And it just requires access to a nearby military installation and a little thinking…
So we all were getting a little restless a few weeks ago, feeling as though every weekend was the same. It was like rote behavior starting with “time to get up” followed by “what’s for breakfast? What’s for lunch?” A mid-afternoon chorus of “I’m so bored” declarations followed by parental suggestions like “go find your friends” or the dreaded “read that book I bought you in June”.
Being that we are all baseball fans, my husband and I decided that we would take a little weekend jaunt with the boys to catch the Nationals vs Rockies game, then take time Sunday to explore the National Mall. Perfect!
So we pulled up the militaryliving.com lodging for Washington D.C. And as luck would have it, we were completely surprised and thrilled that Nationals Park was like “can you pass me the salt” close to the Washington Navy Yard. And there was even a Navy Gateway Inns & Suites! But the NGIS at the Navy Yard is reserved for Flag Officers. No problem. Plan B.
A stone’s throw across the Anacostia River is Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling. Perfect. And they offer both a Navy Lodge and NGIS lodging. The Navy Lodge – Anacostia was booked, but we were in luck with the Navy Gateway on base! We had a reservation for a two-bedroom suite, full kitchen and a living area all for $105. Affordable accommodations: check.
So then we moved on to acquiring tickets for the game. We pulled up the JB Anacostia-Bolling MWR site and the Tickets & Travel link, and quickly found the Tickets & Travel Brochure to see what the military discount would offer. It was a pretty good deal in that baseline seats were $51 each with a $15 food credit voucher for each ticket. We were thrilled – discounted tickets and a voucher for the mandatory hot dog, popcorn and lemonade. Fun-filled activity: check.
Saturday morning we were up and out by 10am. The weather had been a little shaky, and we were wondering about traveling north to D.C. as we watched the Weather Channel report of major flooding in both D.C. and Baltimore. We were like, “hmm”. But being the troopers that we are we hit the road!
We thought that by leaving at a decent hour on a Saturday morning in Hampton Roads that we would find relatively light traffic on I-64 to I-95. We could not have been more wrong. We were convinced that the mandatory evacuation from Hatteras, NC due to the power outage had landed us right in the middle of the mass exodus north! Then we thought that it might clear up once the 4-lane downsize to 2-lanes in Newport News jockey was done. Wrong again. We knew there was construction on the highway because we had been that way the weekend before when we went to a wrestling tournament where our older son was participating. Even then it was a Sunday and congested, but not bad. But, we continued hoping that it would thin out. Nope. Not a chance.
At this point we are only about 45 miles from home and wondering if we are going to make it to D.C. We decide that we will give the road less traveled that runs parallel to I-64 a shot. Good ole US-60! Soon we were alone in the world with barely any traffic at all. We all thought that the secondary route reminded us of Michigan, which is where my husband and I are both from. The pine trees and hilly areas reminded us of northern Michigan. Plus it was raining and the temperature had dropped to 70 degrees smack-dab in the middle of summer. That is so typical of a Michigan summer. Hot one day and without warning, snowing the next! Fellow Michiganders, you all know that this is a true statement!
Anyway, we travelled on following the GPS in the truck. Now, before I go further, I should tell you that we have encountered some strange roads and odd turns because we followed this thing and did not consider the common sense rule. This might just happen again is all I am saying. So, the GPS dumps us just south of the I-295 and I-64 interchange. We are back on the highway and are pretty sure that our excellent secondary route would put us ahead of the mass exodus pack. We were really thinking we had secured the checkered flag in this race! That is until we saw the sea of red taillights ahead. Dang it! Bumper-to-bumper traffic: unintentional check.
But we were sure it was just a slow down because of the 295/64 merge north. Well, that was not the case. There was some much needed road work scheduled for a busy summer weekend on one of the most travelled highways in the U.S. Plus it had begun to rain. At this point, we are just north of Richmond and haven’t even hit the true I-95 “Bermuda Triangle of Traffic”- the never failing slowdown at Dumfries and Manassas. So we decide it’s time to find another secondary route and exit east toward Ashland, VA. We decide that 301 north is our new chosen path. It’s too bad that our GPS Wizard of Oz didn’t see things the same. It kept trying to get us to turn around and refused to recalculate and see things our way. Finally my husband asked me to figure out the settings so it would think more like us. The task was completed and we were on our way. Once the two-lane became a four-lane highway, we were cruising right along and before we knew it, we had crossed the Potomac over a ridiculously high two-lane bridge with only concrete barriers carefully placed next to one another into Maryland. Smooth sailing: check.
Things were moving right along and we now making good time again. But we had already been traveling for about four hours and had another hour to go. No big deal. We had enjoyed the nostalgic route, wondering what all the old drive-up gas stations and motels had once looked like in their glory days. We talked about the Pixar Disney movie Cars and how that movie was really about the effects that superhighways had on small towns and rural areas along old two-lane routes like the iconic Route 66.
Before we knew it, we were within 20 miles of our destination. Looking more closely at the GPS route, we saw that it had us going left soon. We made the turn and immediately knew that this was one of those “shortest” routes rather than common sense. Dang it. I thought I had nipped that in the bud. Oh well. We finally came out on Hwy 210 north to our destination only to find soon enough that we were being led through old neighborhoods and hilly streets, which actually was kind of cool. We gave the GPS credit for that one.
We came upon the southern gate to JB Anacostia, making our way to the NGIS front desk. We had never been to this base before. It was pretty peaceful there along the riverbank! We asked the front desk associate about getting to the game and if there was a shuttle. No shuttle, but we could park at the post office at the main gate and catch the bus to the metro station. We thought maybe we would just drive to the metro station, park and catch a ride. She looked at us kind of funny, then politely told us that parking there might not be in our best interest. Noted. So then we asked about where the commissary was located so we could find the ticket office and purchase our game tickets. It was only 4pm and we made the assumption that the office would still be open. Our bad. The Tickets & Travel office on base wasn’t even open on the weekends. I made a mental note to double check that tiny fact in the future.
So after the not-so-glowing look of approval for parking at the metro station, we made a wise decision to google how far the Navy Yard was and to park there. We couldn’t believe that it was just a hop, skip and a jump away to the tune of four short miles. We then went to our room and could not believe how big it was! It was very clean and spacious. We then hit up the Exchange for some snacks and drinks, then decided to make our way to the Navy Yard.
We put the Navy Yard address into the GPS and set off. We traveled north through the base through what was obviously the older architecture of the Navy buildings which were pretty neat. But wouldn’t you know it, the GPS took us to the farthest north gate that was closed. We were so busy looking around and oohing and ahhing at the fact you could see Nationals Park and the Washington Monument from the base that we overlooked the state flag-lined entrance right there along the Defense Intelligence Agency building.
Once we left the base, we soon found that our GPS traveling companion had once again calculated the shortest route. We ended up traveling through the Bellevue area where I think for the first time in my life, I actually saw a true depiction of absolute poverty. I mean not just poor, but living in poverty. It disheartened me that just outside the gates of a beautiful base was a world only five blocks east that had been completely left behind. And although it was stark, we agreed that it was a more common-than-not reality of so many inner cities.
As we drove along, we were amazed at some of the truly cool houses and architecture present in the historic Anacostia section. And as we drove, we saw this awesome old brick wall lining the street. We were trying to figure out what had previously been housed there and surmised that it might be an old Army fort. We made a note to ask someone.
Soon enough we came upon the 11th Street gate to the Navy Yard. We asked about parking there for the game and the gate guards gladly shared with us that there were two parking structures that we were welcome to use. They also pointed out that just outside the gate was the convenient Riverwalk Trail that in approximately one short mile would put us right outside the stadium. Parking safely and free: check.
We headed out the gate and made our way on the Riverwalk trail to the stadium, making sure we had our ID’s for re-entry to the base. As we neared the stadium, the energy of the stadium greeted us and after a few obligatory stadium pictures, we made our way to the ticket office. Although the ticket office on base had been closed, we still did receive a military discount at the stadium. My younger son did not have his ID with him, but the ticket lady was nice enough to just go ahead and give him a student discount. Affordable tickets: check.
Unfortunately, the Nats lost that night, but it was a great experience and we certainly created some lasting memories. The walk back to the base was safe and we actually were amidst a throng of folks who already knew of the parking benny. FYI, parking anywhere else a ½ mile or less from the stadium ranges from $15-$50.
We headed back to the base for a good night’s rest before our plans to head back into the city the next afternoon. In the morning, we decided that we would check out the Furnari Dining Hall on base for breakfast. They had a Sunday brunch that was pretty good, but the best part was the view of the river and D.C. from the dining hall! For about $35 we had a plethora of breakfast selections and a fantastic view!
As we headed toward the National Mall, we once again came upon the brick-walled area that had piqued our interest the day before and decided to pull into one of the gates. We could see that an old plaque indicated that it was the former St. Elizabeth Hospital, which was the first federally operated psychiatric hospital that had opened in 1855. The gate guard told us that the facility was being renovated and being used as the Headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security – St Elizabeth Campus. He let us through to turn around and we were amazed at the old buildings we were able to catch a glimpse of. Truly pretty cool.
We continued on and rather easily found parking on F Street (which was free because it was Sunday) right before the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Building and made our way to the White House and then on to the National Mall where we viewed the memorials before making our way to the Air and Space Museum. We were a little remiss that we did not have more time to spend there, but it was getting late and we had about a two mile walk back to our vehicle. We stopped at one of the many food trucks parked along the streets and had some ice cream and slushies and hiked back. We passed the Trump International Hotel and noticed that directly across the street was the William Jefferson Clinton Federal Building and had a good laugh at the irony of the two buildings being so neighborly.
We were once again on our way even as we planned our return trip sometime in the Fall. We missed seeing the Arlington National Cemetery, the Capitol Building, and of course a White House Tour, available with proper planning through the Visitor’s Office and its guidelines. We took the back roads once again, but turned off US-301 south at US-17 and headed traffic-free towards Hampton Roads!
It was a great overnight trip to D.C. and was very affordable as we utilized our military benefits and discounts to enjoy our nation’s capitol and a Nats game! We are not sure where our next trip will be – but we will definitely “Travel on Less Per Day the Military Way!™”
Contributed by Trenna Nees