Dude, Where’s My Car? – Transportation Around the Washington Metropolitan Area

To be honest, I’d rather enjoy a dental appointment morethan the ever-so fascinating subject of public transportation in D.C..But this is still an important topic for those of us living on tight schedules or budgets. Here are some tips to help you get around in the capital.

As CAPAL interns, we are paid a fixed stipend to work 8 hours a day for two months. This is pretty common for most summer interns across the country. But this also means that, for every extra minute that we either spend working or commuting, we are not compensated.

This might not seem like a big deal at first, but consider the following example. If I spend an extra half and hour per day getting to work, or 2.5 hours every week, I’d be spending a total of 20 extra hours unpaid after 2 months. Personally, I find no enjoyment from riding in the Metro, driving my car in traffic, or walking to work every day. And if there were a quicker, more efficient way to get to work every morning, I could find much better ways to use that extra time I’ve saved. If we assume that my free time is slightly more valuable than, say, the minimum wage, then i’d incur an opportunity cost of roughly $160. For anyone living on a budget, this is a pretty decent sum. And for those of you interns who drive, cutting time also saves you gas, which is even more extra money.

Again, $160 might not seem like a lot of savings for 2 months, but it’s actually about the price of 2 weeks worth of groceries, 3 round-trip tickets to New York City, a new work outfit,  or 320 Reese’s Cups. And 20 extra hours is basically an extra day of summer vacation. For college students living on their own for the first time, finding simple ways to save, in general, goes a long way. Cutting small things here or there adds up to a significant sum over the course of 2 months, and one of the most obvious and easy ways to do so is by cutting daily commutes.

Metro: For those of you who live in DC (excluding Northern Virginia residents), buy a SmarTrip Card either online or at any nearby grocery or convenience store. SmarTrip Cards save $1 per trip on MetroRail and $0.20 on MetroBus. Traffic is very easy to predict, as WMATA reports arrival times and any delays very accurately to the exact minute. During rush hour, the tunnels for MetroRail do get crowded, and some people get left off of a train and have to wait for the next one due to congestion. However, trains arrive very frequently for most stops, and the worst that can really happen is a 10 minute delay.

MetroRail stations are very accessible and chances are that there are many, if not only one, stations located within reasonable walking distance from where you live. For smartphone users, the app iTrans DC is an interactive map that shows all MetroRail stops and lines. The app also provides live updates for delays and construction. You can also plan your trip with the app, and it will give you a good estimation of your arrival time. Sometimes, there are many different Metro lines that will get you to the same destination. Use Google Maps, which factors in Metro and walking time, to determine which route saves the most time. Also, some routes that take more time and require more walking might actually save you money.

Driving: Taking a car to work in DC is not so predictable. Traffic varies depending on construction work, weather, and accidents. And because the roads of DC are very narrow, bumpy, and filled with seemingly random stoplights and stopsigns, rush hour is very congested. Drivers are very aggressive, and many bikers swerve in and out of driving lanes. If your commuting route is strictly located in DC, I would advise against driving. Because of the heavy traffic and small streets, driving will actually take more time. Adding in the cost of gas and the high prices of urban parking, using the Metro is a more cost-efficient method as well.

Bike riding is also another viable option in DC. There are plenty of biking lanes and trails throughout the entire city. However, aggressive car drivers and traffic along with confusing roads might make this a less safe option. And especially in the summer, heat and humidity will ruin your clothes after bikerides.

For interns living in Northern Virginia, the answer is less clear. The Metro does extend to certain areas in Arlington and Alexandria, but if you live anywhere else, you would have to walk a good amount or take a busline and transfer to the nearest MetroRail station. Take my case for example. I live midway between Alexandria and Arlington. If I were to use public transit, I would have to first take the 16D busline to the Pentagon Metro station. Then, I would ride 5 stops to arrive at the King Street Metro, which is near my work at NCUA. This would take 1 hour (one way) and cost a total of around $5 per day. However, driving only takes 15 minutes, and parking is provided. The amount of gas I would need costs around $2.50 per day. So by driving rather than taking the Metro, I would save $2.50 per day and 1.5 hours of driving. In other words, I’d save around $14.50 per day! So if you live close to a Metroline in Northern VA, I would still go with that. But otherwise, driving will save lots of time and money.

‘Till Next Week,



FEED THE INTERNS: Five Tips for Eating Well on an Intern’s Budget

1. Set a monthly budget for yourself.

Interning in one of the the country’s fastest growing food capitals, it is all too easy to burn a hole in one’s wallet by eating out at the many fine restaurants that dot the DC/NoVa landscape. Therefore, it is a good idea to keep track of your food expenses by setting and adhering to a budget.  If you’re a finance dork like me–or just really anal about your spending habits, you should create a Google or Excel spreadsheet, save your receipts (or remember the amount you spent) and record the amounts.

 Here’s a peek at mine(conditional formatting, FTW):


Note: If you also have a sweet tooth like me, you’ll want to set aside a budget just for cupcakes and macarons [I will literally starve myself for a week just to destroy a six-pack of those suckers–don’t tell my parents].

You should set two budgets–one for groceries and another for eating out. I eat at the pace of a gerbil, neglect to eat meat and vegetables and love my carbs, so a budget of $90 for groceries should tide me over for the entirety of my ten week internship. For the average adult, however, I would recommend $60 for a month’s worth of groceries and $70 (or less, preferably) for eating out. Another alternative for the smartphone users out there is Mint, a (free!) online budgeting tool that you can link to your bank accounts, credit cards and etc. to keep track of your spending.

2. Keep some basics in the pantry.

There are a couple inexpensive items that every intern/college student/broke graduate/starving artist should always have on hand. Peanut butter, Eggs, Milk, Bread, Oil, Pasta, Tomato Sauce and the requisite ramen. Off the top of my head, I can think of a few meals/snacks you can scrape together with just these ingredients: peanut butter sandwiches, egg sandwiches, egg noodle soup, peanut noodles, french toast, croutons, spaghetti and more. When you’re broke, you’ll eat anything (trust me…) and you’ll find inventive ways to create meals. This quote from one my favorite French authors, sums it up nicely: “L’esprit de l’homme est capable de tout” or the mind of man is capable of anything. Spill that tea, Maupassant.

My “pantry” (above), Brittney’s pantry (below)

ImageFact: Brittney subsists entirely on teriyaki sauce and Lean Cuisine

3. Mayonnaise is your best friend.

On the topic of mayonnaise, you can never go wrong if you have this condiment in your fridge (unless you’re like Mama June). It pulls the simplest things together in a form that you can throw onto a sandwich or roll. Got any leftover rotisserie chicken? Shred the meat, dump it in a bowl, add a dollop of mayonnaise with a shake of pepper (heck, throw in some diced celery if you want some texture), mix it all together, slap that shiz in between two pieces of toast and you got yourself a meal! If you see that your eggs are expiring soon, boil those bad boys, chop it up and repeat above. Chicken salad, egg salad, potato salad, salad salad–take your pick!

 4. Cook everything in bulk.

As an economics student, I maximize my utility/happiness by refraining from cooking as much as I can help it. Swear to god, I am almost too lazy to function (but not nearly as lazy as Daniel). Anyways, here’s the dealio: cook up a pound of spaghetti (lasagna, pasta salad, kimchee fried rice, whatever!), store it all in tupperware (sauce and pasta in separate containers), pop it in the fridge or freezer and nuke it in the microwave when ready to eat. Follow the above steps and you will be set for the week for less than the cost of a burrito bowl. Cha-ching!!

5. Follow these other tips.

  • Browse and take advantage of the circulars/weekly specials/coupons of popular supermarkets in your area, such as Safeway, Giant, Trader Joe’s and Whole Stipend Foods.

  • Pay attention to expiration dates for dairy and meat products. If an item is expiring soon, such as a roll of sausage, cook it as soon as possible and store it in the fridge for later consumption. Milk and eggs are usually good for a week after the sell by date–you also have the option of freezing your milk or any anything else for that matter.

  • When ordering a dish at the restaurant, immediately ask your server to pack up half the portion of your meal in a to-go container and serve you the other half. This way you won’t be tempted to gorge on your food–plus, you’ll have another meal for later.

  • Attend company or organization-sponsored events in DC which often provide FREE catered meals as well as plentiful opportunities to network with interns and stay informed about current issues. See: Brookings, National Journal, OCA. Also, be sure to RSVP to these events. Shout out to the CAPAL-sponsored WLP, every Wednesday evening at 6:30 in the Capitol Building!

Hope these tips are helpful and that these tips save you a couple bucks…or pennies, at the very least!

Until next time, fellow un(der)paid interns!


The Intern Day

Hi everyone! This is Julie and I have the honor of greeting you every Tuesday. I’m a noob blogger so please excuse any sacred blogging rule I break.

The four of us will be discussing different themes every week and each day, we will write about our own personal take on the week’s theme. As Brittney mentioned, this week is “Intern Lyfe”.

How do I explain my day? I work from 8-5. But what happens during those hours?

I’m currently a law school student working as a legal intern. So each day is different. A lot of the work depends on what cases are on the table and their current status. But most days, i’m researching, writing memos, or in a meeting with the other attorneys. At the end of the day, the department tries to make sure that you have a great learning experience. The work is hard but everyone is willing to stop what they’re doing and explain anything to you as long as you ask.


But I’ll be honest. I was not expecting this type of nurturing environment. I’ve heard so many stereotypes about lawyers that I guess I started to believe in them.

Most people in the office understand that this is an opportunity for you to get the most hands-on experience you can get. But there are also many interns who only look for something to put on their resume. The people you work with will only be willing to teach you if you make an effort to get to know them and learn from them. I guess this is pretty much how you differentiate between interns who are resume buffing and interns who genuinely want to learn. As for me, I’ll take on any opportunity for a project. I’m eager to meet someone new and I’ll walk into random offices with open doors. I’ve spoken to people about a wide range of topics from Supreme Court rulings and opinions to the Pinky and the Brain trying to take over the world. I hope that the gap between my age and the current college interns out there aren’t too far removed that you guys wouldn’t know about Pinky and the Brain…

Networking is the not-so-secret to success. Any and every opportunity can lead to something even greater. So interns out there! It’s not worth it to stay in a bubble. Get off your bum and get to know the people in your office.

I wouldn't be able to survive without Westlaw, coffee, and highlighters...

I wouldn’t be able to survive without Westlaw, coffee, and highlighters…

This post turned from talking about a typical day at my internship to an encouragement for other interns to do something more than just wait for work to come to you. But I want you guys to learn from my own experiences. I’m hoping that you guys can share your own experiences here and others. Some of this stuff might seem obvious but being in the workplace can frighten some people and the obvious suddenly seems impossible. I’m writing this to tell you that there is no reason to be nervous or scared and I’m sure that people will be glad to take a mini-break to talk to you.

So I’m glad that I was able to put my 2 cents in for this week (: I hope that this little tip helps at least one or two interns out there. Look forward to Daniel’s and Laura’s post later this week!

Until next Tuesday!


The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

Welcome to Capitol Goods, a blog by four students interning in Alexandria, Virginia and Washington D.C. Our placement organization CAPAL, an Asian-American leadership group, has forced us together given us the opportunity to document our summer here in this blog.

Each of us has been assigned one day per week to post, and we’ll be covering topics like the events we attended, the cool spots in D.C. and VA, significant Asian-American political issues, as well as stories of our professional development. We hope that our experiences and tips can help out future interns. Here’s a picture of your 4 mentors now: (I’m the cute one in the green shirt, and I’ll be the one cheering you up on Mondays).


This week’s theme is “Intern Lyfe”, ’cause we ’bout that lyfe and we will be posting about the following topics:

Tuesday: Julie will be taking you through a tour of her day as an intern.

Wednesday: Laura will be giving you her tips on buying food on a budget and stretching out your stipend dollars.

Thursday is our “snippet” day, where we will upload “snippets” of our intern experience like the music we listen to, funny conversations we’ve had, photos from our adventures and crazy quotes from Daniel (he initially wanted to name this blog “Capitol Punishment”.)

Friday: Daniel will share his tips on finding housing and transportation in the area.

Although the main goal of this blog is to help out and entertain fellow interns and future scholars, I’m also excited to document our progression and development as young adults and friends. The title of this post, after all, is from the movie “Casablanca”, and I sincerely hope that this summer and the fun that comes with it will be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.



P.S. We had to take the above photo about 50 times because Daniel KEPT LEANING OVER.