A Week in the Nation’s Capital: 6 Great Washington DC Experiences

When Your Buddy Moves to Washington DC, You Visit

Nothing is more educational and historical than a trip to Washington D.C. So, when a buddy of mine moved there this winter to start a new job on Capitol Hill, I decided to pay him a visit. Thankfully, by the time I arrived some local DC movers specializing in residential moves had already moved everything into his 3rd story apartment, so no work was needed on my part. When I got to town, I unhitched the Airstream at an RV park on the outskirts of town and spent a week exploring his new neighborhood in Alexandria, with frequent trips into DC to explore the famous landmarks. Here were the highlights of my trip:

1. The White House

If you are a political buff, the White House is a must-see. While everyone can stand outside the fence and look in, there are also free tours available. We scheduled ours a couple months in advance since they operate on a first come first serve basis. If you’re lucky you can even see members of the President’s Cabinet or legislators visiting on important business.

The White House is even more impressive on the inside!

The White House is even more impressive on the inside!

2. The Lincoln Memorial

Built in honor of our 16th and tallest President of the United States, the Lincoln Memorial sits at the west end of the National Mall overlooking the expansive Reflecting Pool. Strong Abe sits proudly in his chair, gazing on the future of our country. There are two urban legends based on the statue: the first of these purports that General Robert E. Lee is carved on the back of Abe’s head, and the second suggests that the statue’s hands sign the words A and L to represent the president’s initials. But don’t take my word for it, see for yourself!

3. Any of the Smithsonian Museums

Nineteen museums and galleries make up the Smithsonian Museums. You could spend years wandering through these museums and still not see everything there is to see. There is so much to learn at any one of these museums and so many interesting things to see that I spent 3 days exploring their halls. My personal favorites were the Air and Space Museum, National Museum of American History, and the newly unveiled African American History and Culture Museum.

4. International Spy Museum

For a fun afternoon excursion, head down to the International Spy Museum. Learn all about the secret world of espionage, hear about the history, and see the tools of the trade. Perhaps you will even get to go on a top-secret mission yourself!

The Lincoln Memorial is a must-see, plus it's free!

The Lincoln Memorial is a must-see, plus it’s free!

5. The National Mall

The National Mall refers to the park that lies between the Lincoln Memorial and the United States Capitol building. The Washington Monument sits right in the middle, just south of the White House. You don’t need to be a history buff to appreciate and enjoy this park; it’s truly a must see for any Washington DC tourist. If you go during the spring, you may be lucky enough to see the cherry blossoms bloom. Take a tour or simple enjoy a picnic on the grass. No matter what you are doing or when you go, the National Mall is a sight to see.

6. National Zoological Park

Who doesn’t love a zoo? The National Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the country and one of the best. Their most famous residents are the giant pandas (see the videocam of BeiBei here), but the zoo is also home to over 300 different species. Plus, admission is free! Whether you are traveling with your family or solo, like me, the National Zoo is fun for everyone.

Exploring DC is an unforgettable experience that every American should strive to do at least once in their lives. From here, I’m headed out for a week of solitude (and work) in the Shenandoah National Park.

FAQs About My Design Services

There are several questions that I seem to get on a recurring basis from interested prospects and clients. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about my design services:

Front-end versus back-end, what’s the difference?

Front-end refers to the design and development of the user interface. This is what the user sees when they land on and navigate through your website. Far more than being just “pretty” graphics, full front-end design and development requires extensive knowledge and implementation of coding that makes the site sleek, yet functional. If you want to see just how much front-end has changed over the evolution of the internet, check out what the original Amazon homepage looked like when it first launched 21 years ago!

Backend refers to all the behind-the-scenes technology that makes everything run and includes the database, application, and server. Everything that is entered on the front-end has to be stored in a database on a server so that it’s accessible the next time a user logs in.

For a much more thorough explanation of the differences, check out this great blog by teamtreehouse.com.

Before I even start coding, I like to sketch out my designs with pencil and paper.

Before I even start coding, I like to sketch out my designs with pencil and paper.

So what exactly to you do?

I specialize in front-end design and development. Once we’ve discussed a vision for your site and I have a good feel of what you’re looking for, I create a beautiful, functional web design that can be integrated with technology on the back-end for a user-friendly experience.

What about the back-end?

I won’t just leave you hanging with the front-end! I work with a team of hand-selected back-end freelancers that do work I can trust, to make sure that all of the back-end development is completed for your site. Both the front-end and back-end development are included in our negotiated price, so that after your final payment, you have a site that’s up and running.

If I want you to design my site, what’s the process?

Start by contacting me! We’ll schedule a meeting to go over what your company is about, what you’re looking for in a site, target audience, etc. I’ll also show you examples from my design portfolio so I can get a better idea of the look you are going for. From there, I’ll start the design process, which takes anywhere from a month to two months depending on the complexity. I touch base with bi-weekly check-ins to let you know the status of your project and adjust expectations as needed for its completion. During this time, I also work with my back-end team to ensure the entire package can be delivered on-time.

You might think my services are expensive, but the final product is customized so you get exactly what you want.

You might think my services are expensive, but the final product is customized so you get exactly what you want.

What kind of coding do you do?

Front-end development currently centers around HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. HTML relates to the content and structure of the site, while CSS is what is used to change the appearance of the site and dress it up (fonts, formatting, etc.). JavaScript is the coding language that’s responsible for animation or any other changes after a site loads. Backend developers use other languages you may have heard of such as PHP, Ruby, Python and others. For more click here.

Why is it so expensive?! Couldn’t I just get the same thing using free software?

All of my development is highly customized work, which requires extensive coding knowledge and lots of resources to design and implement. I ensure my clients receive high-quality deliverables that are exactly what they want. We don’t stop tweaking until you are fully satisfied. That said, my services aren’t for everyone. If you own a smaller mom and pop shop, chances are you may not be able to immediately afford a customized site solution.

If you’re working on a tight budget, there are plenty of great companies that offer basic sites for free, without much customization. I’d highly recommend looking into WordPress, which is the platform used by 26% of all websites. WordPress has a wide array of themes from which to choose and the interface is user-friendly and easy to navigate. Even if you start on WordPress, you can always come to me later for a more customized solution.

Now you’ve designed my site, which looks great, what’s next? How do I get people to actually see it?

Once you are happy with your site, the next thing you’ll need to focus on is getting traffic to your site. You may have heard of the term Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. In a nutshell, SEO is all about optimizing your site in order to get more traffic. SEO is far outside the realm of what I do; you’ll need to hire an agency that specializes in digital marketing in order to implement a sound SEO strategy. I refer all of my clients to Austin, TX SEO firm Moonraker Marketing. These guys are awesome at what they do and can definitely get you the results you’re looking for!

Traveling through a Land Frustrated by Fracking

My recent travels took me through Colorado, winding my way east from Utah along I-70 and then north from Denver with a stop off in Boulder before heading to Fort Collins and on to the Pawnee National Grassland. Colorado was always a favorite spot for family vacations growing up. In the winters, we would pack our skis and snowboards and head to Breckenridge for the holidays. This always felt special, because the closest thing to a white Christmas at home was building sand castles on Florida’s white sand beaches. The summers we didn’t spend at the beach, we would occasionally fly out to Colorado for a week of hiking, fly fishing, and breathing in the crisp morning air of Colorado summers – a far cry from the oppressively humid clime of our home state. It was in Colorado that my brother and I spent one of our college summers tackling 14ers, pushing our bodies beyond what we knew we were capable of. All that to say, Colorado holds a special place in my memories and in my heart.

Colorado has long been a favorite of mine, and this latest trip was no disappointment.

Colorado has long been a favorite of mine, and this latest trip was no disappointment.

Signing Away Your Health

On this trip through Colorado, I noticed something that hadn’t really caught my attention before: oil rigs dotting the beautiful landscape of northern Colorado. Perhaps my senses were heightened because of documentary I had recently watched called Gasland, in which filmmaker Josh Fox reveals the impact of natural gas drilling in communities throughout the United States. In the film, he visits with residents in one area of Colorado whose lives have been flipped upside down by agreeing to sell mineral rights on their property to oil and gas companies. Many residents see the dollar signs and hastily sign away their rights, while others happen to just live on land that’s adjacent to an area being drilled. Either way, thousands of people in Colorado and other parts of the U.S. have had to deal with the ramifications of oil and gas drilling, and in particular, a new method of drilling called fracking.

Fracking on the Niobrara Shale

Northern Colorado lies along a portion of the massive Niobrara shale play, a large oil and gas-rich region that also runs through Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. While the area has been drilled for years, it wasn’t until the past decade that companies adopted the practice of fracking. This newer process pumps waters and chemicals deep into the ground at a high pressure, fracturing the shale and releasing oil and gas. While considered revolutionary by the oil and gas companies because it allows drillers to reach previously unreachable pockets of trapped oil and gas, this method is the worst nightmare of environmentalists and most landowners.

What’s the Risk?

Why is fracking so bad? One of the main cases against fracking is the use of a proprietary blend of chemicals that is pumped into the ground, which poses a water contamination risk for humans and animals. No one is entirely sure what chemicals are involved, but communities where fracking takes place have experienced an increase in birth defects, cancer, and nervous system disorders, among other maladies. If you need convincing that the water is contaminated, just watch what happens when a resident who lives near a fracking site lights her tap water on fire. Additionally, fracking has been linked to increased seismic activity, putting millions at risk from man-made earthquakes. If that wasn’t enough, each well uses up millions of gallons of water.

Current Tone in Colorado

These facts are especially startling in light of the number of wells in Colorado that now use hydraulic fracturing. According the Bureau of Land Management, approximately 95% of new wells in Colorado are fractured. At the moment, a drop in worldwide gas prices has put a lot of Colorado drilling on pause, but it’s just a matter of time before operations resume and expand. Across the state, anti-fracking activists, also referred to as “fractivists”, have begun petitioning the state government to regulate fracking more heavily. They hoped to get two anti-fracking measures onto the November ballot, but were shy of the verified signatures needed to do so.

Many fractivists push for cleaner, renewable energy sources like the solar energy captured by this solar farm outside of Denver.

Many fractivists push for cleaner, renewable energy sources like the solar energy captured by this solar farm outside of Denver.

Striking a Balance

As someone who loves Colorado and its incredible people, I hope that organizations like Yes for Health and Safety Over Fracking will continue the fight for responsible and transparent drilling practices. I’d hate to see the Centennial State ruined by greedy oil money, but I also understand that the oil and gas industry provides lots of economic benefit through jobs and the purchase of mineral rights. In Colorado, and across the country, the oil and gas industry has a lot of cleaning up to do.

Practical Matters: Life in an Airstream

You don’t often hear of people downsizing from an apartment to an Airstream, but about a month ago that’s what I did. My small Airstream Sport is about 16 feet by 8 feet so at 128 square feet, my personal space was shrinking to almost a tenth of my apartment space in Austin. Traveling the States for a year in this tiny contraption meant leaving many of life’s luxuries behind.

Decluttering

I first scoured my apartment for items that I could get rid of by selling on Craigslist or donating to Goodwill. Made some good money selling a couple of old Macs on Craigslist and took all of my unwanted clothes, Abercrombie circa the 2000s, to Goodwill. Since I plan on having full-sized living quarters again when I return, I didn’t want to get rid of my furniture. I hired some hourly movers to haul the non-essentials to a storage unit in San Antonio. I’m not sure if I’m returning to Austin, so I figured I might as well store things near my brother.

Storage is at a premium in my tiny new home, so I left most of my stuff behind

Storage is at a premium in my tiny new home, so I left most of my stuff behind

What Made the Cut

On board the Airstream, space is extremely tight. There’s a small closet and limited storage compartments, but my Land Cruiser does offer additional storage. Here’s what I brought along with me:

  • Clothes: 2 pairs of jeans, 2 pairs of shorts, 5 long sleeve shirts, 5 short-sleeve shirts, 1 Patagonia pull over, and 1 heavy jacket (though I’ll be close to Florida by winter so hopefully won’t need to use this). All of these clothes easily fit in the hanging closet
  • Activewear: It’s hard to hike and run in traditional clothing, so I brought a pair of hiking pants, running shorts, and a few breathable shirts
  • Shoes: One pair each of running shoes, hiking boots, boat shoes, and flip-flops
  • Dishes: 4 plates, 4 bowls, 4 glasses, 4 forks, 4 knives, 4 spoons. At any given time I can only seat 4 people comfortably for dinner, so I figured this was the most I’d need. Plus, not having more clean dishes available forces you to wash the dirty ones more often.
  • Kitchen items: I frequently make smoothies and protein shakes so a blender was a must. For my coffee addiction, I brought a compact coffee grinder and I’m improvising with my collapsible coffee pour over device that I usually take camping. I brought one kettle, one large pot, one deep pan, one large knife, one paring knife, a thin plastic cutting board, one mixing bowl, and a few kitchen utensils.
  • Linens: Two towels, two washcloths, and one set of bed sheets. I keep a laundry basket in the back of my car and do laundry as infrequently as possible.
  • Recreational things: I plan on doing a lot of backpacking and fishing this year, so I did bring along a bin with all of my backpacking and camping gear, as well as my fly rods. This easily fits in the back of the car.

This experience has already taught me how little we really need to get by. I can see why the Tiny Home trend has gotten so much attention recently. Living without the extra clutter and noise of stuff feels extremely liberating.

Other Logistics

Things you don't need in your Airstream: piles of old, ugly clothes

Things you don’t need in your Airstream: piles of old, ugly clothes

  • Internet: I had an old iPhone with a removable SIM card, so I went to TMobile and purchased their mobile hotspot plan. Now I have internet wherever I can get cell reception. Most RV parks do offer free wifi, but the hotspot comes in handy when wifi isn’t available, and since I need to be connected to do my work, it’s essential.
  • TV: The Airstream came with a space for a small mounted TV near the foot of the bed, but most of the time I just end up watching Netflix or Hulu on my laptop. Now that I’m done binge watching Breaking Bad, I spend more time working and reading than watching TV.
  • Books: I kept my Austin Public Library card, and can check out eBooks through the Kindle app on my phone for free. I honestly don’t know why people still buy books.
  • Laundry: I keep a laundry basket in the back of the Land Cruiser for dirty clothes, so they aren’t cluttering the trailer. I can usually stretch clothes two weeks before needing to spend an afternoon at the laundromat. Having fewer clothes means I waste less time deciding what to wear and doing laundry. I also don’t see people as often so the definition of “clean” has changed a bit.
  • Showering: The bathroom is a little tight so I try to only use the shower when absolutely necessary. Most campgrounds have showers available that make life much easier.
  • Septic: Yep, you do have to dispose of your waste at some point. Since my tank’s not full yet, I haven’t tried this. I’m sure I will have a whole blog on this when it happens.

Selecting an RV: How I Chose Airstream

Life Before Airstream

Before purchasing my Airstream, I lived in a 2-bedroom apartment in a downtown Austin apartment with a roommate. Rent was steep, over $1300 a month just for my portion of the rent plus utilities. I didn’t really want to sink money to a house in Austin, because I knew I wanted an adventure, but also knew I wanted to stop paying exorbitant amounts on rent.

My favorite Austin foodtruck may have been my original inspiration for buying an Airstream. This silver bullet serves up some fatteningly delicious doughnuts.

My favorite Austin foodtruck may have been my original inspiration for buying an Airstream. This silver bullet serves up some fatteningly delicious doughnuts.

After looking into various travel options, I arrived upon touring the country in an Airstream. It was affordable, offered wonderful opportunities to live an outdoorsy lifestyle, and enabled me to still have the comforts of home. Plus Airstreams are having a moment right now thanks to hipster food trucks that have made them popular with millennials. So, I started my quest to find the perfect Airstream.

Shopping for an Airstream

Spacious enough for me, but not sure how this would sleep 4 like the manufacturer suggests

Spacious enough for me, but not sure how this would sleep 4 like the manufacturer suggests

I started researching Airstream models online and discovered that Airstream makes both towables and motorized vehicles. While the motorized fleet is nice, the idea of basically living in a bus for the next 12 months sounded cramped. I also liked the idea of having my own bathroom and kitchen facilities on board. I drive an old Toyota Land Cruiser, which has towing capacity for a small RV, so I started looking into the towable options, which had everything I was looking for. I knew that aside from my brother or an occasional friend meeting up with me, I’d be on the road alone, so I didn’t need a huge trailer.

After doing my initial research online, I found an RV dealer in Fort Worth that specializes in Airstreams and drove up to check out a brand new Airstream Sport 16 they had just gotten in. The Vogt RV Airstream lot was filled with a large variety of Airstream towables, with everything from the Bambi Sport 16 to the massive Airstream Land Yacht. Tempting and pretentious as owning a “yacht” sounded, I stuck to my original plan to shop the more economical Sport 16.

The Layout

When you walk into the Sport 16, there’s a generous-sized dinette to the right that measures about 7.5′ by 3.5′. I needed ample table space since the trailer would also serve as my office space for the next 12 months, and I like to spread out with dual monitors. There’s a small range, microwave, and mini fridge in the pint sized galley, plenty big enough for 1. The bed is surprisingly spacious, measuring 4′ by 6.5′ with an LED TV mounted on the far wall. Rounding out the space is a cramped but workable bathroom with working toilet and even a shower.

After working on the price a bit, the friendly sales guy closed the deal and that day I towed my brand new Airstream back to Austin to start packing.

Bro Time: Hiking & Exploring Big Bend

I was lucky enough to have a big brother who wanted to tag along for the first couple weeks of my trip. After we finished moving my stuff into storage close to his home in San Antonio, we hit the road towing my Land Cruiser – first stop Big Bend.

The Drive to Big Bend

Leaving San Antonio at 6 a.m., we headed northwest on I-10 through Boerne and Kerrville, before I-10 shoots due west around Junction. By 10:30, we reached Fort Stockton and pulled off to refuel both car and bellies. Some quick Yelp research revealed Mi Casita as a local Tex-Mex favorite, and this close to the border we couldn’t resist. Murals depicting lush landscapes, florescent lights buzzing overhead, and spices wafting from the kitchen made this exactly the authentic Tex-Mex stop we were looking for, and we weren’t disappointed. This was our last chance to indulge ourselves before a week’s worth of camping food so we gorged. An enchilada plate, quesadillas, and a smothered burrito later, we were happy and back on the road.

When you get to Fort Stockton, you feel like you are just about to the park, but then you are still another hour and a half from the park entrance. This drive is down two-lane roads passing through expansive ranch land. As you continue, the mountains start looming larger and larger. We finally got to the park entrance at 2 p.m. and had to drive even further in to reach the main visitors station.

After a long day of driving to get there, the mountains welcomed us to Big Bend

After a long day of driving to get there, the mountains welcomed us to Big Bend

Airstream Camping

We spent the first two nights camped in the Airstream at the Chisos Basin Campground. There were no hookups available, so we didn’t get to test out the new bathroom facilities, but the campground did have toilets and running water. The first night, we grilled out and grabbed beer from the little tourist shop up the hill by the lodge. Always up for whatever is local, we found “The Beer from Out Here”, a beer from nearby Big Bend Brewing Company in Alpine, TX.

Our first full day in the park, we went and cached water for our backpacking journey the next day on the Outer Mountain Loop, dropping water at Juniper Canyon Road and Blue Creek Ranch. The park has a very unreliable water supply, especially during the warmer months, so it is advised that you either carry all of your water in, or cach it along your route. For the 3-day hike we were planning, carrying enough water with the rugged and steep terrain was nearly impossible, which is why we opted to store, as many hikers do, water along the way. That evening, we prepped our backpacks, drank more beers, and hit the sack early in anticipation of our early departure.

Hiking the Outer Mountain Loop

We had a lunch with spectacular views from the top of Emory Peak

We had a lunch with spectacular views from the top of Emory Peak

This hike is a strenuous 30-mile hike, and as the name suggests, loops in a circuit around the Chisos Mountains. We had obtained back country permits for 3 nights, but really wanted to cover it in just 2 nights.

  • Day 1: We set off from the Basin hiking up the Pinnacles trail. Even with water cached, we still had to carry pretty heavy packs, and this first section was a doozy. In the first 3.5 miles, we ascended 1600 feet and had sweeping views of the the Basin below. Stashing our packs in the bear proof boxes, we slackpacked our way to the top of Emory Peak, the park’s highest peak and had a brief lunch of jerky, nuts, and lots of gatorade. The second half of the day, we hiked at a leisurely pace, descending 3000 feet over 6 plus miles into the desert below. We had cached water at both recommended locations, so we went and fetched our first supply at Juniper Canyon Road. With a backcountry permit, you can pick your campsite as long as it’s far enough off of the trail. The first night, we laid our packs out without a tent and saw the most spectacular stars I’ve ever seen in my life.
  • Day 2: We woke up day 2, and brewed some coffee with our portable pour over (totally worth the extra weight). After a breakfast of granola with evaporated milk and dried fruit, we strapped the packs on and headed out on our ten-mile hike. By 11 a.m., we were pouring sweat – it was really hot and the trail was really rocky and exposed, with lots of elevation changes. We stopped to examine the ruins of Dodson Ranch and snacked on GORP while we took a breather. We made it to Homer Wilson Ranch and excitedly retrieved our 2nd stash of water for the cache bin. Some generous soul had left behind 2 beers labeled “free”, so we were treated to happy hour by an unknown but very loved friend as the sun started setting. A few rounds of cards, and some macaroni and cheese later, we settled into a deep sleep by 8:30, wiped out from the day.
  • Day 3: The final day of our epic hike, we started with an arduous 2500 foot ascent. Panting our way up the 5.5 mile trail into the woodlands, we stopped frequently to hydrate and chow down on serious quantities of salty snacks. But the hike was worth it. From the switchbacks we saw increasingly stunning views and finally arrived on flat trails carving through the Laguna Meadow. The final three miles took us down into the Chisos Basin, where we could see our gleaming Airstream waiting for us at it’s parking spot near the Chisos Mountain Lodge. Completely drained but content and feeling accomplished, we guzzled beers and chowed down steaks at the lodge.

Big Bend was an epic start to my epic journey across the country.

The Journey Begins – One Year in My Airstream

I am embarking today on the adventure of a lifetime – a one year road trip around the country in my newly acquired Airstream. This trip has been a longtime coming, but everything just recently fell into place for me to finally do it.

Originally from Florida, I majored in computer science and landed a job doing web development for a major corporation right out of college. I started helping friends with their websites on the side, and soon built up a big enough referral base to quit my day job and do my own thing. My business, ScreenGrab, specializes in helping small businesses with their web design. Working for myself means I can live anywhere, so a few years ago, I left Miami to be closer to my brother in San Antonio and get in on the Austin tech scene. I love everything about Austin – the breakfast tacos, the workout culture, the tech nerds, the incredible music. Working for myself has enabled me to make the most of this vibrant and eclectic city. I’m that guy paddleboarding on Town Lake during the middle of the afternoon when everyone else is inside tethered to a cubicle, because I have the luxury of setting my own hours. Life is pretty awesome.

As much as I love Austin, I’ve been itching to travel. With my job, all I need is an internet connection, so I can literally go almost anywhere in the world. But rather than jet-setting, I’ve opted to go the cheap route and travel the country in an Airstream. There is so much of this country that I haven’t seen, and traveling in an RV makes it affordable and convenient. So I found the perfect 1-person Airstream, packed up my stuff and put it in storage, and today I’m hitting the open road to explore the country. Glad you’re along for the ride!