We caught local traffic jams a few times driving from Dulles International Airport to Arlington in afternoon rush hours which added at least half an hour to our drive time. That's why I drove much earlier to the airport not to miss my plane back to Europe.
On weekdays 7.00 am - 9.00 am and 4 pm - 7 pm. Those afternoon's hours worked worse for me than the morning ones.
Unique Suggestions: 1. USE INTERSTATES
The traffic jams were caused by traffic lights on our multilane highway (US-50). When we caught the interstate (I-66) it went much better (there was low traffic exclusively on right lanes to some, more popular exits). My recommendation in Arlingtom is to use I-66 and I-395 as often as possivle to avoid numerous traffic lights which make traffic very slow. Although sometimes it looks strange: completely empty streets in Arlington (on my picture) and crowded interstate. Anyway traffic goes faster on the interstate unless any lane or any ramp is closed due to accident (I didn't see any in Arlington).
2. CHECK CURRENT ROAD CONDITIONS
If you have access to internet you can check it just before your drive here.
Listen to the local radio stations to catch up-to-date info. When I noticed my satellite radio in a car driving in rush hours in this area, I easily find info for commuters on each news station.
3. DRIVE IN 2 OR MORE PERSONS IN A CAR
And use HOV Lanes or High Occupancy Vehicle lanes marked clearly (signs and rhomus painted on the lane) along I-66 and I-395 in Arlington where they have like seperate freeways with seperate exits and ramps. You save time in rush hours.
Most of locals drive alone and theey have to hate those HOV Lanes which steel them a lane exactly when they are in a hurry. I liked them :-). In western part of the USA like in southern California HOV Lanes are called and signed as Car Pool lanes. Those lanes in Arlington and Northern Virginia were HOV Lanes exclusively in rush hours (read the time indicated on signs), whereas in California usually 24 hours.
Fun Alternatives: 4. USE GPS - my recommendation
If you have GPS in a car and smart software you are lucky, the software do it for yourself and choose the faster itinerary for you at any time. GPS is the most usuful just in such area of high traffic like Arlington and Northern Virginia.
Use efficient metro system - my recommendation.
I visited the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in the Arlington Cemetery. There are a few drastic pictures of wounded victims of wars displayed there. Just one example in my picture: Army nurces cut held bandages from newly-arrived patient in 2nd Surgical Hospital, in Vietnam (1969). Well, it's understable but... I didn't find any warning about it. Thus, it eventually may be a tourist trap for parents visiting the memorial with kids.
Unique Suggestions: You are warned. Don't take your kids there, if it maybe a problem for them.
Fun Alternatives: If you are U.S. citizen especially, take a kid there and... sue the museum. You will eventually get a lot of money for next travels :-).
I wanted to visit the Arlington House or the Custis-Lee Mansion located at the top of the hill (views!) at the Arlington National Cemetery. Why? Because it was home of Robert E. Lee and his family for over thirty years and it currently houses Robert E. Lee Museum. I started to be very interested in complicated history of the Civil War in Richmond, Virginia when I saw the Museum of the Confederacy and the monument of the beloved general of the South - Robert E. Lee.
I climbed up the hill and wasn't let inside, I couldn't join the Arlington House tour because of lack of the ticket which was free but... must be picked up way in advance.
Unique Suggestions: Call +1 (703) 235-1530 and book the tour. Then, get the ticket when you arrive at the Visitors Information Center of the Arlington National Cemetery.
Fun Alternatives: Keep smiling and enjoy the views over Washington, DC. Well, my views were not spectacular but somewhat secret because of October morning fog.
The Arlington National Cemetery was a very special place for me for many reasons. It was a place to walk in peace and quite and think over the past and future... But unfortunately were mowing grass there using horribly noisy vehicles, like on my picture. We had to shout one to each other when we passed by and even in a half mile distance we still heard the very irritating loud of these machines.
Unique Suggestions: Well, put acoustic earmuffs on. They should hire them at the Visitors Information Center, I think, or keep off the noisy machines.
Fun Alternatives: Aren't there any less noisy vehicles to cut the grass? Maybe they should spend some money for new equipment? If not... visit the cemetery anyway, no alternative.
Urszula and I wanted to eat dinner in a restaurant called Chesapeake Grill because we wrote in the leaflet of Hyatt-Regency Crystal City hotel, let me quote:
"A hidden treasure of sight, sound and taste. Our rooftop restaurant will dazzle you in every way. Delight in one of the most recognizable skylines in the world..."
"One of the most recognizable skylines in the world" you can see on my picture (other hotels of Crystal City). Well, on the opposite side there was another view over... the Ronald Reagan National Airport and the Potomac River. It was not a treasure of sight for us but a treasure for the Hyatt Regency business office. Rather it could be, but with the expense of over $40 for a small dinner the restaurant was completely empty.
My conclusion is not to trust any advertisements. I can rely much more on tips written by my fellow VT-ers :-).
Unique Suggestions: Pay and enjoy the food (hopefully great) and wine (good choice), we didn't.
Fun Alternatives: Walk 15 min. northwards and choose what you want at 2-3 times lower prices. We chose local Jaleo and chain Chili's and had great food both times.
Stay in Sheraton National hotel and enjoy really one of the most recognizable skylines in the world from its 16th floor but there is no restaurant there. BYOB.
The first really interristing attraction I saw in Arlington were spectacular, fully panoramic night views over the Pentagon building and Washington, DC which I saw from 16th floor of Sheraton National Hotel. I couldn't wait to see the views at daytime.
The next morning I was excited when we (Urszula, Kathy, Nat, Chris and I) took an elevator to 16th floor of our hotel to see the views.
Well, the views were spectacular at all but look at these huge, irritanting, ugly, monotonous buildings on the first plan of my picture. What a bad surprise. They dominated and blocked the view and obscured the lower part of Pentagon which I didn't see so clear at night. I wanted to put them down ASAP.
Unique Suggestions: Although these buildings belong to military as well as suruly the Pentagon building ((headquarters of the Department of Defense) I personally would put them down and create on that large area for example green space - recreational area (park). Hmm... I do suspect that both local authorities and natives would prefer to add additional lanes to local highways to lower traffic jams in rush hours.
Look at oposite direction, down to lovely neighbourhoods of Arlington.
Fun Alternatives: Take an elevator to the restaurant on the top floor of Hyatt-Regency Crystal City hotel. Enjoy the views over Washington, DC, the Potomac River and ... the National Airport. Hmm... no Pentagon to see there.
I traveled from my hometown (Tychy, Poland) to Days Inn Arlington where I booked a room for the first night on American soil.
From Tychy to Warsaw Airport (WAW) I traveled by car. My plane (by Dutch KLM) from Warsaw to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam (AMS) was delayed almost 2 hours because of some technical problems. So, I missed my plane from Amsterdam to Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD).
My airlines (KLM/Northwest) not only delayed my flights but loss my luggage, too. I was looking for my 4 suitcases loong time on carouselle and... nothing :-(. We got depressed, we didn't have any clothes to change, nothing - just USA travel book and some basic cosmetics at midnight in foreign airport at the beginning of so long and busy trip.
Unique Suggestions: DELAYS
No , way - go to your airline representative at the airport to rebook your flight. The airlines usually first try to rebook all passengers without their knowledge but YOU must always accept it. I had 2 options in Amsterdam:
1. to get a transfer to a hotel and fly the same flight but the next day,
2. to go first to... Detroit Wayne County Airport (DTT) and then from Detroit to Dulles.
I chose 2 and finally I arrived at Dulled about midnight instead of early afternoon which was... no way, even acceptable for me, but not the lost luggage.
I reported immediately my lost luggage at KLM/Northwest reclaim luggage office in Dulles. I had to show them my airline and luggage tickets (bar codes for each peace of luggae). I gave them my cell phone number. They wanted to send my luggage to any address I could give them in the USA. Well, I was too flexible and I decided to call them next day to ask about the luggage. My luggage was lost in Amsterdam (I was told that... in Amsterdam it's quite common) and came to Dulles next day. I got it 2 days later after my visit to Richmond, Charles City, Williamsburg and Mount Vernon.
We were allowed to spend up to $50 per person for "emergency" stuff like cosmetics, basic clothes etc. We spent less for some basic clothes in Wall-Mart and gave the money back when we got our luggage back.
The arlines gave us a check for a taxi from Dulles to Days Inn Arlington as well. So we didn't have to pay for it.
Fun Alternatives: Flight delays and loss of luggage are unpredictable (they often happen together), sometimes delays caused by weather are known before...
So, the only alternative is not to travel by air (impossible from Europe to the USA, though) or at least... not to have any check-in luggage.My only suggestion is to pack more wisely than we did. Always have the most needed staff in a plane with you (basic cosmetics and clothes change for 1-2 days, I mean).
Excuse, this tip is not specific to Arlington. I will transfer it to my USA or... World page.
My first purpose to come to Arlington was... to rent a car in Budget at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). At that time, for a car I wanted to rent (mid-size for 31 days with unlimited mileage) this Budget car rental had the least expensive offer for me.
I made a reservation for a mid-size car through internet in Poland, printed out my confirmation and took it with me. I had to give my credit card number on the secure webpage to be identified. Budget allows to make reservations for up to 28 days, so did I. Later on, during my trip, on 28th day, I had to call them to prolong it.
I HAD TO CANCEL MY RESERVATION
As my flight was delayed I called to my rental agency from airport in Detroit to change time of my hire for the next day. I had to find out and give my confirmation number to do that. In real I cancelled the previous internet reservation and made the new one by phone. Luckily they didn't charge me for too late cancellation althouth Budget Terms & Conditions said: "Failure to cancel a reservation at least 24 hours before scheduled pickup may result in a 1-day rental charge".
When arrived I showed my confirmation reservation paper, printed out at home to the guy at Budget and... problems started.
NO CAR FOR ME
I hardly wanted to rent Buick Century, the car I hired and traveled around western part of the USA a year before but NONE was available when I arrived. Keep in mind that you can't book specified model of a car but a car of specified category (mid-size in my case).
OVER $600 MORE
But real tourist trap for me was when the guy at Budget counted the total price for my car and asked me to pay over $600 more than I myself counted before and expected. I simply couldn't bear that.
Unique Suggestions: My advice is to stay calm, ask again firmly but polite on what you need, take time, do not hurry up and do not agree to pay more... just in case... there are a few other car rentals just next desks. Haha, I finally paid... a little bit less than I expected and I hired two classes better car although the negotiations took me over. 1 hour...
The only inconvenience was that I lose time and later on I saw less in Richmond. Poor Nat (b1bob) had to wait long for my delayed arrival...
I RENTED BETTER CAR :-)
I didn't accept the offer of any other car than Buick Century at first. The guy started to call to Budget car rental at Dulles airport but there were none there as well. Then he called to a few other car rentals, I suppose. Finally, he proposed me a nearly new Buick LeSabre and told that it's better model than Century. Indeed, it's a Premium car, two classes higher in Budget classification of vehicles than Century. He offered to hire it for me at the same price. Surely I wasn't familiar with the LeSabre (there are no Buicks in Poland) but I agreed.
I PAID LESS :-)
I didn't agree to pay almost $600 more for my long-therm car rental (or better to say for the full insurance) than I counted at home. The basic price with all taxes added was counted and printed out on my reservation paper, but not full insurance fare which I checked in advance by phone with great help of Nat (b1bob). I asked the guy to count it again and again which took ages. Luckily there were no more costumers behind me that time. Hmm... the result was the same. I almost got depressed.
Fun Alternatives: Continued.
Finally the guy, who was all the time very nice, started to call to Budget upper staff and after a few calls... a blast. He told "sorry, I am quite new to long-therm rentals for foreign visitors, you are the first I ever met, I made a mistake, sorry, you were right, Sir" or something like this. The key to lower price was over $400 lower, discounted price for LDW (Loss Damage Waiver) for long-therm (over 28 days) rentals. The guy at Budget should know it or at least find it fast in his computer.
Just in case you don't find good deal... there are a few other car rentals just next desks.
UGLY ARCHITECTURE, CROWDED METRO STATION
I arrived by Days Inn shuttle van to Rosslyn metro station in the morning. The area around was not beautiful, I mean architecture, look at my picture. The stations itself was clean but busy and full of fast running commuters.
LIKE AN INVADER FROM THE MOON
There were short lines to fare vending machines. Well, at first I didn't know how to buy a ticket. I asked a guy in a kiosk by the gates but... I didn't understand his reply by loudspeakers, he was Black and spoke strange English. I asked one guy on a line but he looked at me like at an invader from the moon (maybe I looked like that :-), ordered me to have a change first and vanished.
THEY DIDN'T WANT TO CHANGE MY $10
Well, indeed, I had notes of $10 whereas the vending machines could give a change up to $4.95. I could use my credit card but... I went upstairs to change $10. There were a few fast food restaurants and stores there. At the first two there were signs displayed: we don't change any money or something those lines. At the next two I was told shortly: no. Well, at the next restaurant pretty, young lady took pity on me and with charming smile changed my $10. Good for me.
Unique Suggestions: Keep smiling and... get away from this area; nothing interesting there, well, maybe some shopping/eating opportunities. Try not to travel in peak hours.
Fun Alternatives: Read carefully my transportation tips on metro here. Have a change or credit card ready (in advance) to purchase metro farecard/pass.
I arrived from Poland to the Washington Dulles International Airport at night and spent first night and half of the next day in Arlington. After long and delayed flights with lost luggage, short sleep and a jet-lag I took a shuttle van from Days Inn motel to Rosslyn metro station
On the way I saw the USA I didn't know (almost) from my previous trip to the West and Southwest of the USA. Surprisingly, instead of a compact city with skyscrapers surrounded by never ending residential areas of mostly pretty houses with yards, I saw... look at my picture... huge, tall and ugly appartment buildings...
Well, my first impression was that Arlington is a kind of ugly sleeping room for nearby Washington DC. Some visitors may have the same first impression. Now, I think that my first impression was a kind of tourist trap.
Unique Suggestions: Keep in mind that negative first impression of a new country or city is often wrong. If I followed it I would immediately came back and never visit so beautiful countries like Morocco or Tunisia for example.
Fun Alternatives: Discover quite different, more beautiful face of Arlington like I did. Go to visit large green space of Arlington National Cemetery. And keep in mind that the only really urban and business area (not beautiful at some places) of Arlington stretches along the corridor of a metro line. Houses with yards cover most area of Arlington.
I arrived to Dulles International Airport with 10 hours delay with lost luggage and no clothes to change. My only dream was a shower and a clean bed in my Days Inn Arlington motel ASAP.
My transportation to my hotel at around midnight was next problem. I had to get a taxi. Well, finally I didn't have to pay for the taxi (about $40) as the airlines got me the cheque for a taxi drive to Days Inn and I was told to show it to... Taxi Dispatcher. Oh my God... I didn't know what that secret word "dispatcher" meant. Where is it and what's that???
Unique Suggestions: I asked but being dog tired I didn't understand the explanation of a guy from the airlines, too. Luckily he sent someone with us to help us to get a taxi. Well, now I know - taxi dispatcher is a guy who sends taxes/ manage the traffic of taxes at a large and busy taxi stand. He had an earphone and microphone and called taxis driving to particular directions and specified whether the taxi should be for smoking or non-smoking... Oh, my God, I discovered quite new job, not for me though :-). I never saw any Taxi Dispatcher in Poland or anywhere else before.
Fun Alternatives: I realized how poor (if not hopeless) maybe the situation of a foreign travelers who can't speak English (or, say, Spanish) in the USA. Even purchasing a ticket (hmm... they have fares, not tickets in the USA) in a vending machine is impossible.
No alternative, learn English! Take a pocket vocabulary or palmtop with the software supporting translation from your language to English and vice versa.