Next week, credit union leaders and advocates will descend on Washington, DC, for CUNA's annual Governmental Affairs Conference. The nation’s capital offers access to key decision-makers in Congress, a genuine melting pot of cultural and culinary experiences, and an abundance of historical monuments and museums. With so much to do, how do you choose? Here are a few insider tips to help you make the most of your visit.
How To Master DC's Public Transportation System
If you take nothing else from this post, remember the following phrase: “Stand on the right, walk on the left.”
This is the rule of thumb for escalators throughout the DC Metro system. This simple social contract keeps the flow of people moving.
Don’t stop at the bottom of an escalator, doing so creates a potentially dangerous “clot” of people to pile up behind you. Walk far enough into the station so you're clear of the crowd before stopping to gain your bearings.
Always put enough money for your trip AND your return on your Metro card.
Download the WMATA’s app to stay abreast of any alerts.
Why Your Smartphone Is Your Best Friend
Before coming to DC, download the following apps. Familiarize yourself with them so you can use them on the fly:
Uber or Lyft: Forget hailing a cab. Order a car for pick up and transportation to and fro. This is especially useful if you don’t have cash handy.
OpenTable: Need a dinner reservation? This app can help you find a seat at top spots all around town.
Waze: Powered by Google, this mapping and direction app alerts you to detours, speed traps, and traffic snarls.
Free WiFi Finder: Connectivity is king.
Postagram: Turn that photo of you and Joe Biden at Ben’s Chili Bowl into a postcard that you can mail to all the folks back home.
Washington DC: A to Z: This one-stop guide tells you where to shop, where to eat, and where to catch good music.
How To Avoid Bad Souvenir Purchases
Sure, you can buy an NCIS ball cap or a “You Don’t Know Me / Witness Protection Program” T-shirt from scores of sidewalk vendors. But the embroidery won’t survive the trip home and the shirt is probably made from fabric so thin it will be transparent after a couple washings.
Instead, think about buying a print from the National Portrait Gallery or pick up some astronaut ice cream while you’re at the National Air and Space Museum. If you’re visiting your representative or senator on the Hill, ask for a program, a pen, and a picture. Or pick up something during your visit to the gift shop at the DEA Museum & Visitors Center.
Why You Should Try Something Different
Everyone visits the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. These are must-sees, for sure, but there's more to DC than a single mile of historic landmarks.
For example, plan a trip to the U.S. Air Force Memorial, sit on Albert Einstein’s lap, or awaken a sleeping giant. Instead of — or in addition to — walking through the Capitol, tour the Library of Congress or the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Take an authentic bite out of DC at food trucks like DC Slices, Pepe, and Basil Thyme, who make top-notch vittles available curbside.
Spoiler alert: House of Cards isn't real. We all love it. We all binge watch it. But we never appear in a background scene because most of the filming takes place in Maryland. Don’t bother looking for Freddy’s BBQ Joint or the Underwoods’ residence.
GAC attendees are tasked with heavy responsibilities during their few days in DC. But that doesn't mean you can't have fun while you're at it. Push outside your comfort zone, and you'll find an interesting DC experience awaits.
Callahan's head of talent development, Leigh Anne Terry, moved to the DC area in 1998 after spending her first 22 years in West Virginia. After almost 18 years of DC living, Terry still doesn't claim to be a “local” but is happy to share what she's learned about living in our nation's capital city.