Inauguration Day Survival Guide

So, you want to go to the inauguration? Here are some tips to help you prepare.

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Black America Goes to Washington »

With an estimated 4 million people expected to pack the National Mall for President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration on January 20, it’s certainly a reasonable option to watch it on TV from the comforts of home. But for many of us, catching history from the sidelines won’t do. If you are among those determined to be in Washington, D.C., for the swearing-in of the country’s first Black President, here are tips for making your trip a success.

DO book your travel immediately. For you last-minute planners, stop procrastinating before it’s too late. Many airlines are adding additional flights, but if you have trouble finding a trip, don’t panic! D.C. has three airports—open up your search to include them all. Amtrak has also boosted the number of trains going to Washington on Inauguration Day, but tickets are going fast.

DON’T give up on finding a place to stay. If you could not convince your friend’s cousin to crash with them, you might be tough out of luck. But there is still a chance to find a hotel. According to Destination D.C., the city’s tourism office, 627 hotel rooms were available as of January 7, and 12,254 rooms in the entire metro D.C. region. But be forewarned—some of their prices are steep. Another option is to browse apartment listings on Craigslist, to find rooms that are open for rent on the days preceding the inauguration.

DON’T plan on using your car. Driving in Washington is notoriously nightmarish on any given day, but it will be nearly impossible during Inauguration Week. Not only will there be increased traffic, but many streets will be blocked off for the inauguration ceremony and parade. If you’re driving to D.C., park somewhere outside the city and plan on using public transportation.

DO get to know the Metro system. We know it’s not chic to ride the subway with a glitzy ball gown, but D.C.’s metro system is the best way to get around. However, expect long lines and crowded trains. To save time, purchase your farecard online in advance, and arrive at the station early (officials advise heading out at 4 a.m., when service begins). Brush up on the Metro’s expanded inauguration schedule and routes at wmata.com.

DO consider keeping toddlers at home. You might want your baby to witness this moment, but will he really remember? Space and security constraints have prohibited spectators from bringing strollers on Capitol grounds. You can always hold your little cuties, but your arms might go numb.

DO get there bright and early. This isn’t a concert, so your girls won’t be able to save you a space. Although the swearing-in ceremony begins at 11:30 a.m., tight security screenings are prompting smart ticket holders to arrive as early as 7 a.m. If you’re among the majority of attendees who don’t have tickets, the National Mall will be open, but massive crowds will make getting there tough, so plan to show up well in advance.

DON’T try to have a sleepover on the Mall. If you were thinking about beating the crowd by pitching a tent, rolling out your sleeping bag, and spending the night outside on the Mall, you’ll have to reconsider the plan. Camping out has been banned by federal officials.

DO dress for the weather. Yes, it's a historic occasion, but it will be better to dress warm than cute. The average temperature in Washington on January 20 is 37 degrees. Wear layers, comfortable shoes and even consider bringing a blanket. It is also often rainy this time of year, but umbrellas are prohibited from inside the security perimeter, so bring a poncho or raincoat.

DON’T count on making phone calls. You will feel the urge to call your friends and tell them that you just saw the back of Obama’s head, but not so fast; you might get a busy signal. Because of the millions expected in D.C. on Inauguration Day, cell phone reception may be hampered by overloaded systems. To reduce the stress on cell phone lines, send your friends a text instead.

DO consider the bathroom situation. This might be the most important thing to note. The Metro is shutting down all bathrooms inside its stations for security reasons. In their place, about 150 portable toilets will be set up outside—which is a little shorthanded when millions of people are expected to be riding the system. Bathrooms in the Smithsonian Institution’s 13 museums on the Mall will be open until 5:30 p.m., but know that lines and security checks will await you there.

What other advice do you have for people attending President-elect Obama’s inauguration?

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