When I hear the word vacation, I usually picture myself lying on a white sandy beach, surrounded by turquoise water, without a care in the world. Vacations have always been a time to unwind and let my brain get much-needed rest and relaxation, but a recent trip to Washington, D.C., changed my perspective.

Last month, I traveled to our nation’s capital with a group of classmates. I had the opportunity to spend an entire day exploring the sites and take in all that D.C. has to offer. If you’ve never been to D.C., you probably can’t imagine how many different museums the city has to offer, with nearly all of them being free. Some of the most memorable events of that day included visiting the Holocaust museum, having a picnic on the National Mall and having the opportunity to take a private tour of the west wing of the White House.

After my trip, I realized that while I’ve always viewed vacations as a break for my brain, going on a vacation with the purpose of stimulating my brain was an amazing experience.  I ended my trip feeling just as relaxed and refreshed as I have after any other vacation, but I also felt invigorated and very motivated to tackle the rest of my school work for the semester head on.

Here are a few tips that helped me during my first educational vacation.

 

Get an early start

I would suggest trying to visit the well-known attractions early on. Depending on what time of year you’re visiting your chosen location, you should plan on waiting in lines for some of the more popular spots. Make sure to give yourself a little extra time, so the wait doesn’t cut into the time you might have saved for something special.

I would also suggest choosing a hotel that offers complimentary breakfast. It’s cost effective and saves you the hassle of trying to find a place to eat that satisfies everyone in your group.

Don’t forget to ask your hotel if they have any specials going on with local transportation providers because cab fares add up faster than you think.

 

Have an itinerary instead of a schedule

Plan out your day(s) ahead of time; poor planning can lead to a very stressful vacation. Discuss your ideas with your travel companions and decide which attractions you absolutely must visit, and try to visit them toward the beginning of the day. Keep in mind my previous tip!

The internet is a useful tool for figuring out how much time you might need for each attraction. Usually, when you Google a location, you can see the “How Long People Usually Spend Here” tab, and that will give you a rough estimate of how much time you should allow for that location.  

 

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Photo provided by Madison Winters.

 

 

Know your location

It’s always a good idea to have a map of your location. I suggest putting a star on the map where you’re staying, so even if you forget the address, you’ll be able to navigate your way back without having to drain your cell-phone battery.

 

Buy a map and try to plan activities in the same general area at the same time — this cuts down on cab cost.

 

Do your research

Taking a little while to figure out which of the local attractions you’re most interested in visiting could save valuable time during your trip. A single Google search can lead to hundreds of results, so give yourself time to survey your options.

 

By doing a little research, you’ll also have a better idea of how much spending money you should plan on bringing. For some attractions, you might be able to purchase tickets online ahead of time, which will also help cut down waiting time.

 

I would also recommend researching local restaurants. I know it may feel more comfortable to go to a chain restaurant that you’re familiar with, but vacations are the perfect opportunity to try new things.

 

 

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Photo provided by Madison Winters. Madison Winters poses in front of the White House during her educational trip to Washington, D.C.

 

Following these tips made it easier for me to relax during my trip, so I was able to fully enjoy all of the museums, monuments and other attractions. I know that putting the word “educational” in front of vacation makes it seem a little serious, and vacations are supposed to be the furthest thing from serious, but by following these tips, you should be able to kick back, relax and let your brain just absorb all that your chosen location has to offer.

 

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