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Posted at 08:49 PM ET, 07/05/2011

How to be a non-nerdy tourist in D.C.

Every time I walk past one of those fire-engine-red double-decker buses, I wonder why anyone visiting the city would want to explore the area from the confines of a sticky vinyl seat. But I do get the sentiment. For tourists, an all-inclusive service that shows them valued sights and teaches them a thing or two makes sense. But why does it have to be so doofy?

For Avi Millman, 28, a trip to Rome in 2008 made him realize that playing tourist was similar to being in a scavenger hunt.“This would actually be a lot of fun if it were actually a game and you could absolutely see everything you would otherwise wouldn’t see,” Millman said.

That sowed the seeds for Stray Boots, a New York-based company that creates scavenger hunts/city tours — possibly an answer for tourists who want to sighstee without upping the nerd factor.

His game, which just launched a D.C. version, is a text-messaging system that communicates with players to find locations and get answers and facts.


A person pretends to have fallen to the bottom of the “Exorcist” steps. (Courtesy Stray Boots)

“It’s a little different than creating a tour,” said Avi. “The most important thing is walking the streets and finding really interesting and weird stuff.”

The tours/hunts generally last two to three hours, but there are no time constraints. “If you’re in Georgetown and you really want to visit this cupcake shop, you can.” (Gee, wonder what shop he’s talking about...)

There are similar hunts in D.C. and other cities, spanning a general city theme with a cash prize or team building with a dash of culture.

With summer in full swing, tourists just need to think outside of the duck-tour-shaped box. Considering people take photos when they travel, a photo safari is something any budding photographer or teenager with a digital camera can appreciate.

Washington Photo Safari specializes in photo safaris; its stops include the monuments, memorials and neighborhoods like Adams Morgan to explore local street art. But these tours also focus on photography topics like shutter speeds and F-stops. D.C. tours does half-day photo safaris that heads to stops like the Reflecting Pool and Union Station.  

There are also bike tours to choose from. Pick a bike that works for you, a time slot and set out on tours including the Capitol and the Cherry Blossoms - day or night. But my money’s on trying out something a little less orthodox. Now that D.C.’s own Capital Bikeshare program has become wildly popular, my advice for adventurous tourists is to rent a bike, grab a map and create their own tour.  

So readers, tell us all about how you do the tourist thing. Have you been on any of these tours or hunts? Are they worth venturing out and trying something new? Did we miss any unusual ways for tourists to explore D.C.? Let us know, in the comments below.

By Fahima Haque  |  08:49 PM ET, 07/05/2011

 
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