First-Time Traveler: Finishing an East Coast tour in Washington D.C.

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The first time I traveled thousands of miles away from home was three years ago. In my 20-odd years, I had never left the country until my trip to study in Taiwan.

With a poor grasp on Mandarin, no where to stay for my two-month study and still awaiting an acceptance letter from a local university, I bought my airplane ticket anyway. My dad was excited for me to visit his hometown, Taipei, but concerned that my answer to his many travel questions was “I don’t know.”

I really didn’t know what I was going to do for lodging and how to navigate around, but my want to have an adventure made not knowing okay.

And although this East Coast trip was a lot more “local” and better planned than my overseas trip, my travel buddy and I had the same desire for adventure — to explore new surroundings and experience its culture.


Washington, D.C., was a perfect ending to our trip. The clean and efficient subway, the history, the architecture, the power suits — there was definitely something movie-esque about it.

On Friday, we dropped off our things at Liaison Capitol Hill, a hotel bought with my credit card points like in Boston and Philadelphia. Then, a friend picked us up and took us to Ben’s Chili Bowl, a favorite of Bill Cosby and the Obama family, who are also the only ones who can eat free there. The restaurant seemed to be a favorite among many others, too. There was a long yet quick-moving line that wrapped around the building when we got there.

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Satisfied by the chili dogs, burgers and fries, my friend dropped us off at our first museum visit, Newseum. The newest among the many museums in D.C., Newseum costs about $22 per adult for a two-day ticket but it is well worth it.

The museum goes behind-the-scenes of how news is made and offers reporter-insight on moments in news history. It includes interactive news rooms for guests to play as anchors, artifacts like cameras that captured historical moments and a bullet-proof vest from a reporter on assignment in a warzone and, even, pieces of the Berlin Wall.

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Afterward, we went to our night National Mall Segway tour appointment with City Segway Tours, which originally costs $70 per person. Thanks to a promotion code on the tour’s Yelp page, we took the tour for a discounted $55 per person. A guide took us to the White House, the United States Capitol, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial and other well-known sites.

The tour was terrifying for me for most of the night tour since I have a habit of clumsiness that has resulted in many scars on my face, knees and elsewhere. My travel buddy saw my look of fright and tight grip on the handle bars as we were guided to each site via sidewalks and bike lanes. He tried to comfort me, telling me I wasn’t going to die like I insisted. I thought I had a close call crossing the road once. He disagrees.

After the horrifying three hours (okay, really horrifying for two and a half), we celebrated my survival with a late dinner at a local favorite pub known as Clyde’s.

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Saturday was our last full day (and the most windy day with winds up to 27 miles-per-hour) in D.C. We spent our day trekking from museum to museum — starting at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, which has an extensive dinosaur fossil collection as well as my favorite exhibit, one dedicated to precious gems and the 45-carat Hope Diamond.

We followed our visit with a stop at its sister museum and home to the Wright Brothers plane, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, and another Smithsonian, the National Museum of the American Indian, where we ate delicious Native American food from the five regions at its impressive cafeteria.

In D.C., Smithsonian Institution has more than 16 museums and art galleries that are rich with history and insight in human culture. If you’re ever in the nation’s capitol, make sure to set aside at least a day or two to visit these free museums. You won’t regret it.

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Next, we dropped by Newseum again to get our two-day ticket’s worth, then finished our museum tour at the International Spy Museum. Tickets were priced at $18 per person, another pricey museum we felt was worth the cost.

At the museum, we pretended to be spies, picking up aliases and equipping ourselves for deceit. The museum had “intel” about real spies and spy artifacts dating from the Colonization to World War II and beyond. I got a kick out of the
lipstick pistol and other disguised spy gear as well as the many spy
wars between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

I left the museum very paranoid and suspicious that everyone around me was a spy. My travel buddy, on the other hand, left wanting to become a spy more than ever.

We later met with a friend at an American brewhouse, Mongolian grill and Japanese sushi bar, all wrapped into one, for dinner. It was a great way to finish our sightseeing in the East Coast before we flew back to Los Angeles. My travel buddy and I were a little saddened yesterday that our trip was finally over (mainly because we had to go back to work the next day).

During our winter stay, we noticed a lot of the attractions and sites were undergoing construction or had fewer hours of operation because it was the off-season. Still, it wasn’t easy checking off our crammed “things to do and see” list with a short stay in each city.

Our trip had its roadblock moments, including not enough time in the day, a nightly collapse in the hotel from exhaustion, the heavy editing of our list, freezing cold weather at times, among others.

But, in the end, we were happy and satisfied with all that we did and what we saw. Because, after all, we got our adventure.

(Photos: First-time travelers on a night segway tour; pieces of the Berlin Wall at the Newseum; Lincoln Memorial; Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History; antenna from the World Trade Center at the 9/11 exhibit in the Newseum)

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