Five things to know when planning a Washington, D.C. vacation

Chances are that a lot of the visitors to the Nation’s Capital this week are visiting town for the Rally for Sanity, March Against Fear or the Marine Corps Marathon. Combine this with Halloween, which already draws record crowds to places like Georgetown’s M Street for annual parties, and you can assume that D.C. will be experiencing significantly higher-than-average traffic this weekend.

Here are five things you need to know to blend in – or at least assimilate – during your stay:

1. Learn how to ride the Metro. Properly.
Nothing annoys locals more than tourists who don’t know how to ride the metro. Make everyone’s lives easier by putting enough money on your fare card (or investing in a plastic SmarTrip card if you’re planning on using Metro parking) and by familiarizing yourself with a Metro map before visiting. When using the escalators, follow the cardinal rule: walk on the LEFT and stand on the RIGHT.

2. The Mall is not a shopping destination.
The National Mall, where, if you’re visiting for the Rally or March, is where you’ll spend most of your time, is not a shopping plaza. Do not expect a visit to Nordstrom or the Gap to be on your itinerary. Bounded by the Capitol on one side and the Washington Monument at the other, this grassy stretch features many Smithsonian museums, but very few shops (unless you really like gift shops, in which case we’d suggest the one at the National Gallery of Art — it’s quite good).

3. Pay attention to traffic rules.
One way streets, traffic circles, and strange parking restrictions? We have lots of those. Pay attention when driving, and by all means stay off your cell phone. Not only is talking whilst driving illegal, but attempting to snap a photo on your iPhone while navigating Dupont Circle is likely to get you or that innocent bicyclist into an accident.

4. Dress … appropriately.
Yes, D.C. gets a lot of flack for its lack of fashion sense. But that doesn’t give you an excuse, dear tourist, to trudge along in your “I heart DC” hoodie and Obama-emblazoned fanny pack. Nor should you sport six-inch hooker heels. We are not New York – runway models will not be discovered on the street. We are not Seattle – grunge is not cool. Think classic with a touch of prep and you’ll blend right in.

5. Leave the politics at home.
This one may seem strange, particularly with midterm elections fast approaching and a Rally or March to attend. But please, don’t engage the locals with your opinion of how Obama is amazing, or how you wish Sarah Palin would be our next President. We live and breathe this stuff daily, and chances are … we know more than you. Unless you’d like to listen to a 15-minute diatribe of statistics, quotes, and overtly partisan speeches … keep your opinions to yourself. Or at least among your fellow tourist bretheren.