Ask Lonely Planet: More bang for your buck at Washington DC party

1 comment
Washington DC is the place to experience Independence Day in all its glory, but accommodation prices close to the action are steep. Photo / Thinkstock
Washington DC is the place to experience Independence Day in all its glory, but accommodation prices close to the action are steep. Photo / Thinkstock

My partner and I are looking at travelling to Washington DC in order to experience the Fourth of July celebrations. How long in advance do we need to book? Do you have any specific accommodation recommendations? I imagine that hotel prices go through the roof for the holiday and would like to organise something well-priced in the vicinity of the main attractions.

- Natalie Wilson

Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett & Lee Slater write:

Independence Day is a big deal in the US, and nowhere are celebrations more fervent or spangled with as much razzmatazz as the capital itself.

An estimated 700,000 revellers congregate at the National Mall, where the bulk of the fun takes place. You are right in thinking that accommodation is at a premium around this time, but with a bit of research and advance planning, you should have no problem finding digs that won't require you dipping into the Federal Reserve.

Start looking now and plan to have something booked by the end of February. You can often find much cheaper rates by booking your accommodation online and scouring the web for travel deals - a $500 room can drop to $250 after 10 minutes of Google time.

Comparison websites are a good place to start: try kayak.com and orbitz.com.

There are also sites that specialise in DC hotels: capitolreservations, dchotels.com and wdcahotels.com.

Generally, the closer you are to the action, the more expensive your accommodation is going to be. The White House Area and Foggy Bottom - the president's 'hood - are full of luxurious, often historic hotels that cater to visiting dignitaries, movie stars and high-profile politicians. Prices are as inflated as the guests' egos.

A little further out, areas like Capitol Hill to the east, and Dupont Circle, Kalorama and Adams Morgan in the northwest, offer a number of different sleeping options including smaller hotels, B&Bs and guesthouses. These are often cheaper and more interesting places to stay than the generic hotel chains downtown.

BB Online and Bed and Breakfast DC handle bookings for many B&Bs, furnished apartments and vacation rentals in DC.

Get in the party mood by visiting dcpages.com or the website of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, a multicultural shindig that will take place on the National Mall while you're in town.

COSTING AN OE

How can I estimate a budget to save for a trip to Europe - in particular to France and Italy - and to America, say New York and the West Coast? In the past, I have tried to estimate in advance how much I may spend on a daily basis, but it was difficult not knowing how much food, travel, activities and train fares would cost in a foreign city. I tend to travel with a flexible schedule, so accommodation and transport are purchased when needed. My travel is on a budget level.

- Connie

Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett & Lee Slater write:

We always start by setting up a budget in an Excel spreadsheet. That way you can recalculate the figures very easily, and - if you take your laptop with you - track your expenditure against it as you go.

We divide our expenses into two groups: pre-trip and on-the-road. Airline tickets will be the biggest pre-trip expense and depend on where and when you want to go. You can get ballpark ticket costs and compare them with others on websites such as hipmunk.com and expedia.com, but be aware that prices will increase closer to your departure date.

Other pre-departure costs are visas, insurance, immunisations and travel gear such as luggage.

As for your daily expenses, try itemising them as accommodation, transport, food and drink, activities/attractions, and shopping. Make sure you include must-do "big-ticket" activities such as guided tours or pricey museums. You can check current prices on the internet or in a Lonely Planet guidebook.

Our guidebooks provide comprehensive pricing on everything from cheap cafe meals and accommodation, through to Broadway shows and bus fares.

Lonely Planet's Europe on a Shoestring is specifically aimed at the thrifty traveller; the USA guidebook has similar advice. Save money by downloading chapters from our website shop.

No matter how you plan, no budget will capture everything. Prudent travellers include a healthy buffer for unknowns.

* Connie will receive a copy of Lonely Planet France ($55) for her question.

- NZ Herald

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