How to Plan a Dark Tour or Halloween Vacation
People have been compelled to visit sites of tragedy throughout recorded history. Whether out of curiosity, catharsis, or some other interest or need some people are drawn to scenes of infamous crimes, battlefields, disaster locations, etc. The practice goes by a number of names, including dark tourism, grief tourism, and necrotourism. Recent years have seen a rise in visitors to dark locations.
Recent years have also seen an increased interest in the paranormal, at least partially due to TV shows such as Ghost Hunters. More people are also traveling to sites of reported supernatural activity. Very often the sites of paranormal interest are also scenes of crimes and tragedies and the two types of tourism (paranormal and dark) overlap. While people may visit these locations throughout the year, there is a notable rise in visitors during the Halloween season. Halloween, itself, has become big business in the past decade.
Some (but not all) businesses and communities embrace the tourist dollars that are brought in by interest in dark events in their past. Tourists can pay for guided tours of Jack the Ripper’s murder scenes in Whitechapel, London. Other folks pay to spend a night in the reputedly haunted house in which Lizzie Borden’s father and stepmother were murdered. It has been a popular bed & breakfast since the 1990s. Salem, Massachusetts, once the site of a hysteria that resulted in multiple wrongful executions and other tragic behavior is now a cheerful place to celebrate Halloween.
It is possible to plan an entire vacation around visiting such locations. It may not even involve having to travel far. With research a person may find that there are more dark/paranormal locations near to their home than they’d expect. In some areas the number of locations can be dense enough that it is easy to plan a driving trip with short jaunts between sites.
Determine who will be going on the trip with you.Whether friends or family, they should have an interest in the subject matter of the tour. It can be an unpleasant experience for them, yourself and anyone else along if one person is uncomfortable with the nature of the locations being visited.
Involve anyone else going on the trip in the planning of it.This will further generate interest and can be fun in its own right. Besides, with more than one person researching the trip, you are more likely to turn up a location or opportunity that would have been otherwise missed.
Pick a primary geographical location or theme for your trip.A geographical location can be chosen based on proximity to home, a specific point of interest, density of dark locations, other non-dark tourist features that may also appeal (you can always take a break from Salem’s witches to go whale watching), or any number of other reasons an area might appeal. Picking a theme for a dark journey can be satisfying for someone with specific interests. Themes can range from something simple/general such as Halloween events/festivals and haunted locations to complex/specific such as visiting sites of political assassinations or places that were used in the filming of horror movies.
Research the locations and the area surrounding them.Utilize the internet, books, magazines, DVDs, etc. to perform your research.
Find out if there are there locations of further interest nearby that you weren’t aware of and can include in the trip.
Find out if tourism welcome at the sites of your interest.For example: Amityville, NY and Burkittsville, Maryland are not pleased with the attention brought to them by the films "The Amityville Horror" and "The Blair Witch Project." You may wish to reconsider your trip if the location isn’t friendly to this form of tourism.
Research how much will it cost.Finding out the cost of guided tours, museum admissions, and other attraction costs will help with planning the budget for the trip.
Look for available lodging and its cost.Another handy thing to know for your trip budget. It pays to look into surrounding areas. For example: The demand for hotel rooms in Salem, MA in the month of October drives the price up and makes it prohibitively expensive for some folks. However the city of Danvers has average-priced lodging while only being 15 minutes away (it also has quite a few locations tied to the Salem Witch Trials…including the actual execution site).
Find out if the locations actually still exist.What can you expect to find there? Some locations of interest are not oriented for tourism. Some may in fact be sore points with the local community. They may have been torn down or altered over the years due to either natural change or a community’s need to have an infamous crime scene removed due to a need to heal and move on from the unpleasantness.
Think about what time of year is the best for your visit?Some locations have events that only occur on specific days of the week or year. Do you wish to visit on the anniversary of a particular event associated with the location? Visiting some locations near an anniversary or during the Halloween season may lead to dealing with crowds, lines and other associated drawbacks of peak time for a particular location. However, it may also feature tourist opportunities unavailable during non-peak time, such as guided tours limited to specific times of year, festivals, etc.
Pick up an Atlas or maps of the area(s) to be visited.Print out maps from websites which allow you to get directions from one location to the next.
Plan some visits to non-dark sites and/or downtime for your trip.This is especially important if you are traveling with people who are not as into the subject matter of the dark locations as you. It can also be a good idea to plan breaks and visits to more lighthearted locations to avoid becoming depressed if the area you are visiting might bring yourself or other travelers down. Taking a guided tour of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland or visiting the site of the former World Trade Center in New York City may affect you in ways you don’t plan for. Also, you are on vacation…you should plan time to relax and not burn yourself out by trying to cram in too many locations/activities.
Pack appropriately for your trip based on weather conditions for the location in that season and length of stay.Make sure to bring your camera or camcorder to capture the moment. Take into account the luggage of fellow travelers if the trip is by automobile.
If you are traveling by automobile, make sure that your vehicle is in shape for the trip, especially if traveling long distances.
- Some Internet Resources
- Creepy Crawls by Leon Marcelo: Contains travel tips as well as information on horror film sites, haunted locations and scenes of infamous crimes.
- : This web site lists sites of hauntings and UFO encounters across the United States.
- : This resource for hotel stays lists haunted hotels and bed & breakfasts around the world.
- : This user-driven online encyclopedia has many articles that can be of use to a dark traveler.
- : This web site includes places where celebrities died and are buried.
- : This site lists haunted locations and Halloween attractions.
- : A database for dark travel. The user-driven content informs those who planning trips as well as allows travelers to share their own experiences after a trip. The database covers the entire globe.
- : A resource for locating graves; particularly the graves of the famous and infamous.
- Some Books and Magazines
- Haunted Heartland by Beth Scott & Michael Norman: A compilation of haunted locations throughout the Midwest.
- Hell House" by Alison Rattle & Allison Vale: Lists Haunted and tragic locations around the world.
- Haunted Attraction Magazine: A publication for the Halloween/Haunted Attraction industry. It can also be a good resource for finding locations to visit.
- Rue Morgue Magazine: Issues have a regular feature called the Travelogue of Terror. The feature explores dark locations around the globe.
- Exercise proper behavior for the location you are visiting. As mentioned earlier, some locations don’t like the attention paid to them due to movies or infamous crimes. Some locations, such as Burkittsville have experienced vandalism, trespassing and other unpleasant tourist behavior since the release of "The Blair Witch Project." Residents of Wisconsin largely want to forget the horrible deeds of serial killers Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer. Depending on the location, it may be best for you to keep tight-lipped about the nature of your visit. Please don’t participate in vandalism. This includes taking souvenirs such as pieces of a location. Please don’t trespass. While there are plenty of locations that are open to visitors, there are also plenty that are private property. In these situations, it is better stick to observing the location from a public location. You should be able to take photos legally from a sidewalk or the street. Even so, be prepared to move along if someone becomes concerned with your activity. Causing a scene only leads to further problems for fellow dark travelers down the line.
- If an area is unfriendly to dark tourism, consider travelling somewhere that is friendly to it instead.
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