How to Plan a Learning Vacation

In 2013 we took our kids on their first visit to Washington, D.C. It was our oldest daughter’s “8th Grade Washington Trip”. We did a lot of research and preparation ahead of time to help make the trip both more affordable as well as enjoyable while still hitting as many of the sites as we could. Planning ahead for a learning vacation is essential to having a smooth trip as well as one where you get to see/do the most during the time you have.

How to Plan a Learning Vacation from Starts At Eight. Includes tons of tips and resources for planning a learning vacation from hotels, to food, and mapping an itinerary, planning your trip will be easy!

I am currently planning our second trip to Washington, D.C. for our son’s “8th Grade Washington Trip” (although it will actually happen during his 9th grade year). As I look back at my daughter’s Learning Vacation Memories Scrapbook from our first trip I am surprised that we only spent 2 full days in Washington and then we hit Arlington on our way home. We were able to do and see a lot in that time frame!

Planning a Trip to Washington D.C. from Starts At Eight

Here are the things we learned from taking our first trip to Washington, D.C.:

Since taking that trip, not only do I have more things I have learned about planning a learning vacation but I also have new resources for doing so!

DK Eyewitness Travel Books

To help me along with planning our learning vacation to Washington, D.C. I found these DK Eyewitness Travel Books. One of the things that I LOVE about these books is that they are updated every year! That means if you are going to travel to one of their destinations, you know you are getting the most up to date information!

1. DK Eyewitness Travel, Washington, D.C. 2017

What’s Inside:

• Detailed itineraries and “don’t-miss” destination highlights at a glance.
• Illustrated cutaway 3-D drawings of important sights.
• Floor plans and guided visitor information for major museums.
• Free, color pull-out map (print edition) marked with sights, a selected sight and street index, public transit map, practical information on getting around, and a distance chart for measuring walking distances.
• Guided walking tours, local drink and dining specialties to try, things to do, and places to eat, drink, and shop by area.
• Area maps marked with sights and restaurants.
• Detailed city maps include street finder index for easy navigation.


• Insights into history and culture to help you understand the stories behind the sights.
• Suggested day-trips and itineraries to explore beyond the city.
• Hotel and restaurant listings highlight DK Choice special recommendations.

2. DK Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Washington, D.C. 2017

What’s Inside This Pocket Sized Travel Book:

• Itineraries help you plan your trip.
• Top 10 lists feature off-the-beaten-track ideas, along with standbys like the top attractions, shopping, dining options, and more.
• Comprehensive laminated pull-out map includes color-coded design, public transportation maps, and street indexes.
• Maps of walking routes show you the best ways to maximize your time.
• Additional maps marked with sights from the guidebook are shown on inside cover flaps, with selected street index and metro map.

DK’s famous full-color photography and museum floor plans, along with just the right amount of coverage of the city’s history and culture, provide inspiration as you explore. A free pull-out city map is marked with sights from the guidebook and includes a street index and a metro map.

This laminated pull out map will become your new best friend! No tearing in your pocket or getting wet from drink or weather conditions! This map will hold up with you on your travel journeys!

Other DK Eyewitness Travel Books

Besides Washington, D.C., DK Eyewitness Travel can take you to cities like Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.

Or to countries like Belgium, Brazil, China, England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and the United States.

DK Eyewitness Travel has a website with all their travel destinations listed, as well as the option to sign up for all their travel news, tips, features, offers and inspiration.

How to Plan a Learning Vacation

1. Location Research

Where will you stay? If you are looking to visit a high tourist area it might be cheaper to stay just outside the area and get transportation in. Or maybe you really want to be in the middle of things so you choose to spend your money on a hotel in a prime location.

Do you have friends or family nearby that you could stay with?

If you have a larger family renting a home or condo for the stay may be a cheaper and more comfortable option.

What’s included? Things like free parking and a continental breakfast can really add up to big savings when you are traveling. Do you want a refrigerator and microwave, or small kitchen. Having these can really help cut the food budget cost down as you wouldn’t need to eat out as often.

2. Transportation

What will your transportation be?

  • Does the hotel have a shuttle for where you want to go?
  • Are you close enough to walk?
  • Is it better to keep your car parked and take public transportation?
  • What are the local transportation options? Uber, taxi, bus, subway, etc.

3. Site Seeing Plans

1. Make a List

When deciding on our site seeing plans for our learning vacation we started by making a list of the “most important” things we wanted to see. After you know what is most important, you can begin creating a plan.

2. Check Hours of Operation

The first thing to check is the hours of operation for each of the places you plan to visit. Some museums are closed on Mondays in order to be open all weekend, some places close early or open late. It is good to be sure you know when each place is open as you begin to map your route. Along with this be sure to check the Carry-In Policy – as you don’t want to have items with you that will prevent you from entering or that you will have to discard or leave unattended in order to enter. (This happens with places like the White House, and museums.)

3. Map a Route

Make a final list by day and time. You can even mark corresponding places on a map to easily take you from one place to the next.

4. Consider Meals Ahead of Time

Think about what, where and when you will eat ahead of time. Food can be one of the most expensive parts when traveling with a family. If you can get a hotel with free continental breakfast be sure to take advantage of that. You can often grab a piece of fruit or small box of cereal to have as snack later in the day.

If you can have a hotel with at least a small refrigerator consider packing some foods you can keep in there and then pack in small cooler bags in a backpack for your days out.

If you can get a suite that has a small kitchen you can plan even more meals in which will greatly cut the food cost.

If you must eat out be sure to have looked ahead of time for inexpensive family options. Drink water instead of ordering drinks, use coupons if you have them, and carry snacks to keep hunger at bay.

5. Things to do While Traveling

I wanted to give you a couple of tips for while you are actually on your learning vacation.

  • Don’t be afraid to veer from the itinerary if circumstances change.
  • Be in the moment of the things you are seeing.
  • Take free literature and pamphlets, in fact, take extra! They will help you remember what you saw, give you extra information and facts to absorb later, and can become a valued part of your Learning Vacation Memories Scrapbook! {More to come on this later.}
  • Take photos, and not just photos of monuments and buildings. Take photos with your family members in them, they will mean more later. Take pictures of activities you do or smaller things you might not find easily on an Internet search. {For instance on a trip to NYC I took photos of my daughter “handstanding” in front of things – like our cab, or in the landscape looking at the city from the Statue of Liberty. She is a gymnast and this became the “thing” during that trip.}

6. Create a Vacation Memory Scrapbook

After your trip head to the local craft store and have your kids pick out a scrapbook and supplies to create their memory book. It seems like a large undertaking at the time, but is SO worth it in the years to follow.

After our first trip to Washington, D.C. our daughter created a scrapbook to commemorate the trip. It included photos, maps, pamphlets, facts, personal insights, and more.

Our Vacation Memories Scrapbook post is COMING SOON! It will include tons of sample photos and suggestions for creating your own learning vacation memory book!

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