Detour Boston: How the New Detour App Is Changing the Way We Vacation
Why “Hire” a Seasoned Guide?
I once hired a guide to take me on a tour of the pyramids at Teotihuacan. I was surprised when he started the tour at the exit and we walked against the flow of traffic toward the entrance as the day passed. He explained that this would help us avoid crowds. It also meant we could hike the tallest pyramid during the cool of the morning rather than at high noon. That’s the kind of insider information you get from a good guide. And it’s worth every penny.
The DETOUR App
If a seasoned guide is valuable to you, I’d like to introduce you to Detour — the app that made a recent weeklong stay in Boston feel like an “experience” and not just a vacation.
Detour is a mobile app that lets you have the experience of taking the guided walking tour you would get if you happened to be related to the guy who owns a coffee shop in the North End. It’s the engaging history lesson you would get if a professional comedian with an affinity for Revolutionary War history happened to be one of your old college roommates and wanted to show you the town.
How Does the App Work?
Much of the same thoughtful genius has been designed into this app. You simply download a tour that interests you (we paid about $8.00 for each tour we downloaded) and the app does the rest. Find your way to the starting point, and press “Play.” Great audio narrations are the most important part of the experience, but there are lots of mostly idiot-proof additions to the interface (which is constantly being refined). Because the app uses geo-location, the narration automatically progresses as you move along. If you get lost, you can take a look at a map to get you back on track. Photographs and verbal instructions help you avoid wrong turns.
What Detour Gives You a Live Guide Can’t
Detour gives you the flexibility of a professional-quality tour but with a much more manageable group size — specifically a group of one. If you happen to be traveling with others, simply sync the tour so you’re all hearing the same thing at once.
Pause the tour to poke your head into a lobby to take a look at a unique piece of art, or stop and buy a fresh Honeycrisp apple to munch on as you walk without annoying your guide. Snap all of the photos you like without holding up the group. If it starts raining in the middle of your tour, you can head to the hotel and finish your tour later in the week. The app will even help you summon an Uber to get you to and from the start and end points.
You get all the flexibility of a personal, professional tour guide for about the price of a good bowl of clam chowder.
Go At Your Own Pace
The Detour app puts that guide in your hip pocket, but also gives you the freedom of going on your trek after-hours, on your own, or with 2 or 3 good friends who walk at your pace — as opposed to 30 shuffling senior citizens with garlic breath and umbrellas.
Your guide will take you through the small alley into that one small bakery that is so off-the-beaten-path that you’re not likely to find it on your own (you know, the one that supplies all of the local restaurants with freshly-baked Italian bread every day). While there may be bakeries within walking distance that do a better job of tourist-trap marketing, your Detour tour guide has the inside scoop about where the locals go to buy cannoli.
Some Disadvantages of the Detour App Experience
The main disadvantage I can think of is that it’s easy to be so engaged with the app that you may forget that you synced your trip with a friend and he is still tagging along with you. The narration continues as you walk from place to place. When the narration pauses while you walk to the next stop on the tour, you’ll often have the option of listening to themed music that adds to the ambiance of the experience.
As a consequence, if you don’t use some caution, your headphones will limit interaction with the people you are traveling with. My husband and I learned to let one of our earbuds hang loose much of the time we were walking so that we could converse with one another.
Getting to the End of the Tour is NOT the Point
And what’s the point of knowing where to buy the best cannoli in Boston without actually tasting some? You have to be conscious about actually pausing the tour periodically to breathe in aroma, take a closer look at a sculpture or painting, or have a conversation with a shop owner. The detours we went on actually encouraged this. The app will make you mostly deaf to the sounds going on around you. Don’t let it make you dumb and blind too. Pause and engage with your surroundings now and then to get the most out of the experience.
We completed 3 Detours during our trip to Boston, and we are looking forward to the day when users can add ratings, tips, or comments so we’ll have a better idea what to expect from each individual experience. Is the “Nerd’s Guide to Cambridge” more about hands-on experiences with technology or is it basically walking around looking at buildings? A lot depends on how you engage with the app. Can you enjoy a tour of Revolutionary War pubs if you don’t drink alcohol? The answer is yes, but right now the app doesn’t clarify that. Allowing users to review the tours is an important feature that still isn’t available at this writing.
But in the meantime, take the risk. You’re supposed to be on vacation! Here’s hoping this app continues to evolve into a tool that will allow you to explore the world in a whole new way!