Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sarah's Guide to Surviving a Government Shutdown

Well, I guess it’s a good thing I saw the lion cubs when I did because there’s a good chance that starting Saturday those little guys won’t be on display to the public.

Yep, that’s right, we’re talking government shutdown today.

A little tid-bit of information about me: Like so many other 20-somethings living in Falls Church/Arlington/DC, I work for a government contractor that shall remain nameless. And I work exclusively on federal projects. Yesterday I received an email informing me that all employees working on contracts affected by the government shutdown would be forced to use vacation time throughout the duration of the shutdown, and that we would not be permitted to bill to training, general business development, sick time, or comp time during the that time.

Womp womp.

It’s cool, I mean I didn’t need that time to go on vacation with my family this summer or enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. But if I’m forced to take vacation hours, I would really rather spend them on, oh, I don’t know, maybe an actual vacation? Which got me thinking…why not take a vacation? I mean one of the greatest things about DC is all the free stuff there is to do here, and if none of it’s open, why not get out of town?

Tips for Planning Your Forced Vacation

You have to be very careful about planning your government shutdown-forced vacation. After all, it’s not like planning any other vacation. You have no idea how long this forced vacation will last, so you have to find an activity that you can get to quickly (to maximize destination time and minimize travel time), and that you can get home from quickly in the event that Congress magically comes to their senses and realizes that holding their hands to their ears and yelling, “I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you!” is not exactly the way to reach a compromise.

The key is to use exactly the amount of vacation time you’re forced to take, but not end up in a situation where you have to take extra time because you can’t get back quickly enough. This pretty much eliminates the possibility of airplane travel, unless you are super lucky and have a family member that works for an airline and you can fly standby for free.  You also probably want to keep costs down since, let’s face it, you might be forced to take more vacation time than you have, which is also known as leave without pay.

Air plane art found here.
I recommend leaving tomorrow night if the shutdown looks extremely likely and taking what would amount to a weekend trip, but then extending it if you aren't allowed to report to work come Monday. So what are some good options for DC government employees and contractors? I’ve gathered some options that you might find useful.

Head to the beach. This option is probably a no-brainer, and one you’re itching to fit into your schedule anyway. If you’re like me, you’ve reached your palest point of the year. Even though we’re into spring, the weather hasn’t been quite warm enough to get you outside on a regular basis, and last summer’s tan is gone and gone. So head to one of the southern beaches and get a little sun. South Carolina is only 8 hours away! The more people you can pack into a hotel room, the cheaper it will be.

Weather in potential beach destinations this weekend and next week:

Ocean City: Kind of chilly honestly, in the high 50s – low 60s
Virginia Beach: A little warmer than Ocean City, mid 60s – low 70s
Nags Head: Mid 60s
Myrtle Beach: Low – mid 70s
Hilton Head: Mid 70s

Photo found here.
Go camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains or Virginia foothills. A bit of a caveat here: In order to go camping, you’ll have to find a place that isn’t run by the National Park Service because the National Parks will likely be closed along with the federal agencies. Still, if you can find a state or local park, grab a few friends, borrow some camping gear, and take a quick camping trip. You may also want to find a place where you still get cell phone service, since you'll want to know when Congress has finally passed a budget and you can go home.

Visit a friend In NYC. There are many express buses that run directly from DC to Penn Station in New York City. You can pick them up near Chinatown, in Union Station, and even in places like Rosslyn and Bethesda. The best part? You can get most of those buses for $50 round trip or less. And since you’re riding by bus, you can wait till the day of to schedule a reservation and be home in 4-5 hours.

Visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water. I’m a bit of an architecture geek, and I’ve been enamored by Falling Water since an art teacher showed my 6th grade class a picture of it. The architectural icon is only about 4 hours away, and you can order tour tickets online for $22. If you’re really trying to get adventurous, you can extend your trip to Pittsburgh, which is only about an hour and 15 minutes from Falling Water.

Photo found here.
Go back to college. If you live in Arlington, you and 10 of your closest friends all probably graduated from a Virginia state school, and a few of you probably still have a sibling in college. Shack up with them and party like you used to before this whole grownup nonsense set in.

Take the distance out of your relationship. Every one of my serious relationships has involved anywhere from 2 – 12 hours of distance at some point, so I know that this one might be dumb to mention because most of you that are in a distance relationship have probably already considered this option. Since you have the time off, take the opportunity to go visit your sweetheart. Even if they’re working, you can probably kill time by yourself during the day and still spend time together in the evening. Maybe you’ll even get married and be able to tell your children, “Hey, remember that whole week we got to spend together because of the 2011 shutdown?” It’s a beautiful story, isn’t it?

Just get out there. Some of you are probably thinking, wow, all of these options sound like so much fun, except that I don’t know anyone else that is forced to take time off. That’s a fair argument. But I’m banking on the fact that most people who will be forced to shutdown probably work for a company that’s pretty big, or a federal agency that has a large office. There’s bound to be someone in your boat that wants to go somewhere. Get some of your colleagues together that you’ve been meaning to hang out with outside of work and go somewhere.

Wherever you go, remember to keep your smart phone or your computer nearby so that you can access your office email and keep tabs on the latest updates from the Hill. That way you'll be able to have a better idea of just how long your vacation might last and plan accordingly.

Whatever you do, just don’t waste those precious vacation hours. Spring is the season of rebirth! Do something spontaneous and turn this forced shutdown into your adventure of 2011.

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