You may not hear much about people travelling long distances for 120-degree weather or internationally renowned “phallus festivals”—but plenty of tourists are doing it. In an age of globalization and instant communication, these weird travel trends are coming into the spotlight more than ever before. Here’s what you should know about some of the world’s weirdest travel trends. My strangest thanks to Smarter Travel.
(Photo: Vera & Jean-Christophe via flickr/CC Attribution)
Extreme Heat Tourism
High season in Europe may have gotten so crowded it’s pushing the locals to extremes—including escaping to Death Valley’s record-breaking temperatures. A new crowd of heat-seeking travellers show up in American deserts each summer—so many that the National Parks Service opened up to ABC News last year about the overwhelming aroma of eggs that’s becoming increasingly common as heat-seeking visitors test the 120-plus degree weather (that’s 50 degree C) by frying eggs in the hot sun. Tourists have suffered heat stroke and even died of heat exhaustion hiking Death Valley in recent years, and the National Parks Service has been urging visitors to stay hydrated and consider the consequences of their heat-chasing travels.
No, I don’t mean signing up to colonize Mars—actual space travel is a bit more complicated than the space-themed tourism that’s on the cusp of a boom. Las Vegas is pioneering a new era of galaxy-inspired entertainment with a $2 billion Mars colony theme park in the works. Mars World is slated to have a Rover space tram, concert venues, and an animatronic petting zoo, and will likely open in 2021.
If you’re looking to get a bit closer than a theme park to the wonders of space, keep your eye on Virgin Galactic. Richard Branson’s Virgin Airlines created a spaceflight company that’s developing commercial spacecraft it hopes to soon have in orbit. Currently, about 700 paying customers are supporting the effort in an attempt to get a spot on one of the first Virgin Galactic human spaceflights. The price is likely to be sky-high.
Couples seeking answers to fertility woes have created their own odd market of travel—conception tourism, which can range from phallic-themed travel and festivals to visiting sites rumored to have worked miracles on barren couples.
Kanamaya Shrine in Japan has an extremely odd backstory that includes a woman cured of a phallus-rejecting reproductive organ, and is consequently frequented by fertility-seekers. It’s also the site of an annual “Penis Festival” that attracts international conception tourists. The phallic celebration is on the weirder end of this trend, however—other conception sites include the Miracle Chair of Naples, Italy; and Osun Sacred Grove in Nigeria. Both bear folk stories that claim their magic can increase or correct a woman’s fertility, so it seems there’s a spectrum of conception attractions for this niche.
Movie Fandom Vacations
Modern-era movie fandoms are creating booming business beyond Hollywood itself— Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings have led hoards to the United Kingdom and New Zealand, respectively. Whether it’s wandering Hogwarts at Gloucester Castle in England or milling about Hobbiton’s theatrical set in costume in rural New Zealand, fans of acclaimed movies and books are likely to find a way to visit their beloved, albeit imaginary, world.
With space tourism on the horizon, it’s almost impossible not to wonder if Star Wars will soon take its tourists beyond the new Disney World attractions and filming sites and into the galaxy.
With conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan raging on, there’s apparently a group of travellers heading to the very battle grounds refugees have been fleeing. Warzone tourism is alive and well thanks to tour companies that will actually take people to the front lines of conflicts for an “adrenaline rush.” A company called War Zone Tours, for example, will take participants to Iraq, Lebanon, Mexico, and different countries in Africa in an effort to show “what is really going on in the places you had previously just seen on the news.”
This trend calls into question whether or not tourists heading to warzones are creating a spectacle of harrowing places that see high death tolls and endless destruction. Some war tourism operations have even been criticized for attracting potential fighters of ISIS and other terror groups, according to CNN. While flocking to death and destruction for entertainment may seem tasteless, there’s certainly an increasing market for it.
With the Olympics coming up in Brazil, Rio is likely to see tourists in its Olympic stadiums as well as in its favelas, or slums. Touring dangerous, overcrowded neighborhoods is nothing new—India’s largest slum, Dharavi, has seen its fair share of wealthy Western tourists for years now. But the trend seems to be gaining momentum.
Locals often say heading into impoverished areas for tourism is akin to making humans into zoo animals, while those who participate are organizing tours that claim to give back to the communities they explore. It’s unclear if educating yourself about those less fortunate helps or hurts that population, but at the very least you should ensure that whatever money you’re spending in a slum goes back to its people and not those touting it as a tourist attraction.
Getting Off the “Eaten Path”
Bizarre food is one thing, but near-poisonous delicacies and live meals are another. Eating wriggling insects in South America and deadly puffer fish in Asia is a trend that’s arisen with the increased popularity of authentic, local travel experiences. This trend has also been possibly fueled by likes of Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern, who have eaten poisonous and raw delicacies on television. Note that getting off the “eaten path” could cost you your life if you’re ingesting ill-prepared furu, a partially poisonous fish; or accidentally popping seeds of ackee, actual “forbidden fruit” in Jamaica.
While it’s not exactly “weird” anymore, the rise of legal cannabis in cities like Denver and Seattle are to thank for an immense rise in tourism, especially following tightening of marijuana legislation for tourists in pot capitals like Amsterdam. Travelling to toke was normal in Amsterdam until the Dutch government recently reclassified cannabis as a hard drug when it comes to visitors. Now, however, Americans don’t need to leave the country for legal weed—getting high in Colorado, Washington State, Oregon, and Alaska is completely legal now, and 10 more states are voting on the possibility of legalizing recreational marijuana in late 2016. A vacation rental site that calls itself the “Airbnb of THC” even boasts marijuana-friendly accommodations, so a number of cities in the U.S. may be turning into the new Amsterdam.