How not to get from San Francisco to Washington DC

I think every trip has to have at least one monumental fuck-up.

On this trip, it was me being too smart for my own good trying to get us from San Francisco to Washington DC. And it wasn’t really that monumental at all – it was just a few little things that added up to a wasted day in DC.

First mistake – The Red Eye

Virgin America VX86 – San Francisco to Washington DC.

The flight we booked took off at 11:20pm from San Franciso (SFO) and landed at 7:20am the following morning at Dulles Airport (IAD).

I booked this flight six months in advance, and at the time had some brilliant thinking around it.

As I said above, the flight takes off at 11:20pm and lands at 7:20 the next day. That’s actually a five hour flight as you’re crossing time zones. My thought was that we could sleep on the plane, therefore not only saving money on a hotel, but also be saving time by not wasting it sitting in an aluminium tube when we could be sightseeing.

Brilliant? No.
Shortsighted? Absolutely.

Not a wink of sleep was between either of us.

Second mistake – Dulles

For those who don’t know, Dulles is one of the airports for Washington DC.

This is what Dulles airport looks like at around 8am on a public holiday, in case you're wondering.

This is what Dulles airport looks like at around 8am on a public holiday, in case you’re wondering.

I’m not sure why, but I thought Dulles was the only airport in Washington. It’s actually not even in DC – it’s in Virginia, and is around 50km from Washington.

Third mistake – Memorial Day holiday

Did I mentioned that being the last Monday in May, it was Memorial Day? In the nation’s capital? Of one of arguably the world’s most patriotic countries?

Fourth mistake – Planning to go to the Air and Space Museum

Well, no – planning to go to the museum was a terrific idea. Not quite thinking it through was the mistake. You see, as I mentioned, we landed at 7am. The Udvar-Hazy Center (Space Museum) doesn’t open until 10am. Three hours of waiting around Dulles airport.

One of the reasons we decided to go to the museum was because it was situated next to the airport. That still ended up being a $30 cab when we finally left the airport after trying as hard as we could to enjoy the one gift shop that was open.

The wrap-up

All in all, it wasn’t the colossal fuck-up that it felt like at the time, but we probably could have done it better with a bit more planning.

The museum was great, and we’ll write about that shortly, but we were zombies walking through as we hadn’t slept in around 35 hours.  We also had to rent a number of lockers there to stow our backpacks while we went through the museum.

The queue wasn’t too bad, as we did get there before the doors even opened, but we were told later that many people pre-purchase a tour.

It was also unseasonably hot, at around 40 degrees C, so comfort wasn’t brilliant.

The cab into DC to our hotel was about $90, which was  unexpected.  Not only was it a long distance, we were also hit with a multitude of roadblocks due to Memorial Day.

By the time we got to our hotel in the early afternoon, we were absolutely exhausted and promptly fell asleep, effectively wasting the rest of the day.


What would we have done in hindsight?

  • Flown out of SFO earlier to get to DC the previous evening, even if it was pretty late OR pay for First Class on the flight we took to try and enable sleep.
  • Flown into Ronald Reagan Airport.
  • Spent Memorial Day in the heart of DC and seen the parades (and maybe Obama).
  • Gone to the Air and Space Museum the next day, without all our luggage. Maybe even hire a car and seen a bit more of the outskirts properly, like Arlington Cemetary.
  • Although it didn’t affect us due to being their so early, I’d probably pre-purchase a tour if going again.

As I said, it all worked out in the end and we’ll write about the rest of our adventures in DC shortly.

The Red Eye was the catalyst that did us in- any of the other things could have been surmountable, but dealing with it all on no sleep just made it all feel too hard at the time.

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